Saturday, June 25, 2011

Teaching and Contrasting Cultures using “Dust in the Wind”, “Winds of Change” and “Blowin’ in the Wind”–Part 2

Teaching and Contrasting Cultures using “Dust in the Wind”, “Winds of Change” and “Blowin’ in the Wind”

By Kevin A. Stoda, international educator in Taiwan

In the first part of this article, I wrote about how using the song “Dust in the Wind” in a junior high class here in Taiwan was one good way to teach culture—not just culture about my home state of Kansas—but about Western culture (to students in East Asia).
I also noted that even in China there is a creation myth, whereby man was made by a goddess from clay. In this way, western imagery about “dust” and “man returning to dust” were made more understandable. Moreover, the “dust or clay” metaphor has special meaning to people of Western faiths. In that class period my Taiwanese students better understood a common western belief and how pervasive the idea was in Western tradition.
In addition, through my other focus on the word “wind” in the Kansas’ rock classic song, I was able to reflect on imagery from the Wizard of Oz, which many of my junior high students had been introduced to during an English summer camp at the same school the year before.
A week after my short lecture on (a) “Dust in the Wind”, the song, and (b) after the cloze listening activity of “ Dust in the Wind” followed by (c ) a comparison and contrasting of the Chinese and English versions of ““Dust in the Wind”, I subsequently introduced my students to another modern western classic song, “Winds of Change” by the Scorpions, a famous German rock band. In this way, my metaphors are better linked in students’ minds and at some future date they may be able to recall the ideas presented at some future time in their lives, e.g. when watching a movie or when reading lyrics of a song
I shared with my Taiwanese students the background to the newer classic, “Wind of Change”, made famous in the years just prior to their birth. I related the song to my students as special event, marking the end of the Cold War in Europe in the years just prior to the ending of major tensions in their own parent’s lives, i.e. the end of Taiwanese-Chinese confrontation during the Cold War.
“The [German rock band] Scorpions were inspired to write the song “Wind of Change” on a visit to Moscow in 1989, and the opening lines refer to the city’s landmarks:
I follow the Moskva [River]
Down to Gorky Park
Listening to the wind of change
The Moskva is the name of the river that runs through Moscow (both the city and the river are named identically in Russian), and Gorky Park is the name of an amusement park in Moscow.”
More importantly than that, though, is the fact that the song was written by a German band traveling in the USSR under Gorbachev’s Perestroika. This has had the significance of helping break down 44-plus-year-old-walls between the Soviets and Germans.
I explained to the Taiwanese that WWII in Europe led to the deaths of tens of millions of peoples. The country that had suffered the most in that horrific war with Germany was the Soviet Union. (During the bitter WWII period of life under Nazi German attacks and occupation, it is estimated that 10 million to 25 million Soviet citizens died. These include death during the war due to combat, hunger, persecution, purges, war, fighting, and–you-name-it.)
“The lyrics [of “Wind of Change”] celebrate the political changes in Eastern Europe at that time – such as the Polish Round Table Agreement the increasing freedom in the communist bloc (which soon led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union), and the clearly imminent end of the Cold War.”
In short, in the days leading to the Collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Iron Curtain in 1989, the German band (Scorpions) members went to the Soviet Union to share their music and to meet their nation’s former- and formal enemies face-to-face. Only, in this way, could Germans begin to show themselves to be only moving Eastward in Peace. Only such a peaceful approach could salve the memories of WWII (and eventually the Cold War), i.e. finally laying to rest the past for new generations.

Interestingly, in the lifetimes of the parents of my very own junior high students here on Taiwan’s Matsu Islands—located just off the coast of mainland China—a wind of change occurred at roughly the same time, i.e. in the 1980s and 1990s. There was political reforms called for and fought for, especially in Taiwan during this period.
Simultaneously, the Taiwan army here in Matsu and the Chinese armed forces slowly began to stand down from confrontation here. At one time at the height of the Cold War, there were nearly 60,000 Taiwanese troops on these tiny islands—only kilometers from mainland China. (Several attempted invasions from both sides ended with comparatively few casualties in the 1950s and 1960s. Thank God.) Now, there are less than a 1000 troops and most of them are just short-term conscripts—simply out fulfilling their national obligations, i.e. not typical hard-fighting marine-types.
On the other hand, knowing-full-well that my junior high students had not personally faced that Cold War nightmare in Matsu, I chose to look at and reflect on another East Asian land to explain what had happened in Europe in the late 1980s. I asked them to look at the Korean Peninsula and asked them to imagine the walls and fences on both sides of the borders with a no-man’s land and/or DMZ in between. Next, I explained that “winds of change” was an older western metaphor about political and social situations changing abruptly. “Winds of Change” are seen as a precursor to people standing up for what is right and getting ready to march for their freedom. It is also a call to new national or international consciousness.
Finally, I shared personally that in January 1989, I, too (like the Scorpions), had traveled from West Germany to Moscow to meet Soviet citizens face-to-face. Soon winds of change were sweeping across the continent. Later, in December of that very same year, I climbed over the Wall at the Brandenburg Gate—then walked unscathed down the famous Unter-den-Linden Street into East Berlin.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Only a year and half earlier I had gone to the Berlin Wall (approximately 50 meters from that exact same location where I climbed over on December 31, 1989 at the Brandenburg Gate), an East German guard had shouted at me from a watch tower to move away from that very fence. (The tower had been located between the River Spree, the German Reichstag, and the Brandenburg Gate). Nearby were two crosses to mark where on two different occasions East German had died trying to cross over that same fenced in area.

In summary, in my own classroom experience, the song “Wind of Change” contains a metaphor and a tale that even fairly young East Asians can identify with 22 years after the events which inspired them. I know this because my students took notes on the lecture (& handed the notes in for my checking) and because they enjoyed singing, humming, and whistling along with the music of “Wind of Change” as we did a cloze listening activity. Furthermore, they could see and comprehend in the continuing divisions in East Asia (e.g. the Korea example) that people needed to consider listening to the winds of change—and eventually taking appropriate action to remove walls and build down tensions.

Part 3 of this article will be on the introduction of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” and my attempts to connect once again “the winds of change” metaphor, while sharing a bit more about Western culture and music.



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