Almost a decade ago, when I was traveling in Asia, I met the father of a then year 1 boarder who asked me to keep an eye on his son, a new boy who was struggling with homesickness.
For the next 4 years, I had breakfast with this UCC student almost every Saturday morning, and I watched as he gradually made friends and found his way here at school. Even as we got to know one another, though, our conversations remained somewhat stilted, in that they consisted primarily of my asking him questions about his classes, about the swim team, and about his family.
Over a bowl of Raisin Bran one Saturday morning a week or so before he was to graduate, I pointed out that while he had always been polite and occasionally even expansive in his responses, the young scholar had never initiated a conversation. As a matter of fact, he had never so much as asked me a single question. “So go ahead,” I encouraged him, “ask me anything about English, politics, the IB, the US, the world, or even the meaning of life. If I don’t know the answer, I’m more than willing to bluff!”
The soon to be Old Boy paused for a moment, and then — ever so slowly– said these 4 words, words that have stayed with me ever since: “Why no white rice?”
His words stung me. Clearly, this son of Confucius was speaking metaphorically. Was he raising a point about conformity, about the insidious push towards homogeneity? Was he offering a pointed criticism of the school’s desire to increase diversity? Was he indirectly questioning the IB learner profile? Or had he anticipated the Supreme Court’s overturning affirmative action programs and other race-based initiatives?
These and other thoughts raced through my mind, and I found myself completely perplexed. After a few agonizing moments, I ever so gently asked if he could elaborate. My companion gave me a look of complete disgust, before pointing to his plate and saying, “Why do we always have brown rice? I prefer white.”