Sunday, February 1, 2009

My Hip-Hop Nephew

Doggy is a 15-year-old Chongqing kid, who tells me he's a B-boy ("B" for "breaking"). His English comprehension and pronunciation are surprisingly good, given that he hates school. I asked him how he learned his English, and he said from rap music. He loves 2pac and T.I., and urges me to download their music from, where one can find Chinese translations of the songs as well. His favorites are "Don't Worry," "Life Goes on," and "Dead and Gone." He calls the lyrics "touching."

"Why do you like those songs?" I asked.

"They are more real," he told me. Apparently he views Chinese songs as not real, too much propaganda.

my nephew Doggy

He wears a cool colorful brand jacket and big loose pants with a great number of buckles and pendants; the pants hang low exposing his boxers and the legs flow down over his shoes, inimically American. The ever present baseball cap adorning his head is the source of constant arguments as it so often twists askew. The adults blame him for looking like a loafer, not a middle school student, and he defends himself for just having different fashion taste. As a concession to his aunties and grandparents, he has been keeping his hats straight during my visit.

He refuses to drink the plain boiled water his parents and grandparents exist on. Instead he buys bottles of sweetened ice red tea. If he can't get hold of his favorite drink for more than a day, he becomes visibly agitated. So his mother, a retired government worker, allows him that luxury. And this again causes arguments between family members who love him and have high hopes for him. I keep my mouth shut when they argue.

His mother, my older sister, who never got a college education because of the Cultural Revolution, wants nothing but good grades from him. Doggy, on the other hand, cares mostly about Street Dance. Every afternoon he assiduously practices on the living room floor, too small a space for his 1.83m frame. His mother often complains about his indulgence in hip-hop culture. "Only boys with bad grades like Street Dance," she said. And Doggy rebuts, "You don't understand!"

He constantly worries about growing taller. The taller one gets, the harder to dance well, he said. He sometimes gets leg cramps, and his mother thought he was growing so fast he needed more calcium. I was requested to bring American calcium for him. But Doggy's first question for me was, "Will calcium make me taller?"

It's puzzling to me that he's so tall. Chongqing men are known to be short on average. Perhaps it's because his generation gets better nutrition, perhaps not. One theory my sister has is that he liked to eat chicken, and chicken might have been fed with hormones. But Doggy said four boys in his class are even taller. They might have all eaten hormone-fed chicken then.

He has taken dancing class from Chongqing New Dance Society. There may be over a hundred such hip-hop dance societies in Chongqing, he told me. When I asked whether the government interferes with such organizations, Doggy said, "Of course not! Why should they?" I told him when I was 15 no one was allowed to launch a private organization, not even a math-study group. He looked confused and did not know what I was talking about.

Here are a few photos I took when Doggy was practicing:

In addition to dancing he likes comic books and graphic novels, as long as they are not from Japan. I can’t figure out where the distaste for Japanese things comes from, but made in America is great. He also dabbles in writing and drawing. Here is a sketch of Jackie Chan he did for Bob.


Gary said...

Interesting to me the international appeal of hip-hop music given that it is essentially "social protest" music here in the USA. How does he relate to the lyrics?

Leo said...

“I told him when I was 15 no one was allowed to launch a private organization, not even a math-study group. ”

I know various extracurricular interests and activities groups throughout 70s and 80s. I don't know what you are talking about.

Xujun Eberlein said...

Leo, if you are younger than me, you might indeed not know what I was talking about. I was in a middle school in Chongqing between 1969-72. At the time the once-destructive "Red Guards" had reincarnated into an official organization in lieu of the Youth League in middle schools. Any other organizations had to be approved by the officials (the so-called "revolutionary committee" in the school). I tried to organize a math-study group in my class. This scared my teacher who told me to dismiss it right away, which I did.

Gary, I'll ask Doggy about this and get back to you (if I still have access to the internet).

Alfonso said...

When Mr Deng said that thing about opening the window to let in some fresh air and not minding about some fleas that could get inat the same time, he was surely not thinking about this ;-)