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the Macao story

By Marvin Ferguson,2014-05-18 16:23
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the Macao story

    from the other side of the delta towards a pedagogy of creative empowerment for women

Christopher Kelen

    University of Macau

Abstract:

    This paper presents texts and textual/pedagogic practices towards the creation of a new literature in English: namely stories written in English for and about Macao, by

    young women at the University of Macau and in the wider Macao community.

    This paper documents from the teacher/researcher‟s perspective – relevant

    pedagogic/heuristic processes and writing produced over the last five years from the

    „Poems and Stories of Macao Research Project‟. The general aim of the project has been

    to foster a culture of reading by creating a community of writers: specifically, by

    creating a community of writers and of writing from and about Macao. The tangible

    goal through this process is the exemplary one of creating a world readable literature

    from a place-based aesthetic. Participation in the project has been almost entirely by

    young women, mainly ethnic Chinese and native speakers of Cantonese, writing in

    English as a language foreign to them. This fact reflects the simple demographic reality

    that classroom teachers of English in Macao schools and students of English literature

    and language in the University of Macau‟s English Department are ninety plus percent

    female.

    Macao is an important and longstanding site of intercultural exchange and a place with impressively hybrid cultural credentials. From the late Ming through to the

    end of the first Opium War, Macao was the principal portal between China and the West.

    Despite the credentials making this dot on the map a place of particular interest for the

    student of East-West cultural exchange, despite active local cultural industries and

    impressive recent achievements, Macao remains in the shadow of Mainland and

    particularly Hong Kong culture. Macao is a place where local self-consciousness is

    overshadowed by regional and national senses of identity; a place which though having

    important stories to tell, yet has some trouble believing in itself. Perhaps it is because of

    this general lack of self-confidence (as well as certain economies of scale) that a local

    literature in English is yet to emerge. In these circumstances whatever the general

    patriarchal constraints of context an opportunity presents to create a women‟s

    literature and to provide young women with a mainstream role in the creation of a new

    literature in English.

    The hope is that this project and its processes will be exemplary for those who wish to empower women through the teaching of Creative Writing and related

    curriculum in a foreign language.

     1

from the other side of the delta

    towards a pedagogy of creative empowerment for women

Christopher Kelen

    University of Macau

    This paper presents texts and textual/pedagogic practices towards the creation of

    a new literature in English: namely stories written in English for and about Macao, by

    young women at the University of Macau and in the wider Macao community.

    This paper documents relevant pedagogic/heuristic processes and writing

    produced over the last five years from the „Poems and Stories of Macao Research

    Project‟. The general aim of the project has been to foster a culture of reading by

    creating a community of writers: specifically, by creating a community of writers and of

    writing from and about Macao. The tangible goal through this process is the exemplary

    one of creating a world readable literature from a place-based aesthetic. Participation in

    the project has been almost entirely by young women, mainly ethnic Chinese and native

    speakers of Cantonese, writing in English as a language foreign to them. This fact

    reflects the simple demographic reality that classroom teachers of English in Macao

    schools and students of English literature and language in the University of Macau‟s

    English Department are ninety plus percent female.

    Macao is an important and longstanding site of intercultural exchange and a

    place with impressively hybrid cultural credentials. From the late Ming through to the

    end of the first Opium War, Macao was the principal portal between China and the West.

    Despite the credentials making this dot on the map a place of particular interest for the

    student of East-West cultural exchange, despite active local cultural industries and

    impressive recent achievements, Macao remains in the shadow of Mainland and

    particularly Hong Kong culture. Macao is a place where local self-consciousness is

    overshadowed by regional and national senses of identity; a place which though having

    important stories to tell, yet has some trouble believing in itself. Perhaps it is because of

    this general lack of self-confidence (as well as certain economies of scale) that a local

    literature in English is yet to emerge. In these circumstances whatever the general

    patriarchal constraints of context an opportunity presents to create a women‟s literature and to provide young women with a mainstream role in the creation of a new

    literature in English.

    The hope is that this project and its processes will be exemplary for those who

    wish to empower women through the teaching of Creative Writing and related

    curriculum in a foreign language.

    ***

     Before I go any further, perhaps it will be apt to introduce myself and the

    method of the paper. I am the gweilo in this picture, teaching local students how to write

     2

stories (hopefully ones worth reading), in English. Fully aware of the totalising and

    universalising risks entailed in the brief, I teach undergraduates and postgraduates to

    write stories about their place about Macao and about how it‟s changing and about who they are and who they could be. Here‟s how I do it. Through direct instruction and

    through example I show my students the basics of what will work in the way of an

    English language story. This pedagogy is naturally burdened with cultural assumptions

    to do with where I‟m from and to do with the cultural capital of my tradition and its

    powers over and relevance to them as students of English and its cultures. These are all

    good things to discuss. Examining these assumptions, I hope in Socratic fashion to

    help make our lives more worthwhile for the living.

     In terms of goals broadly conceived I think we should teach creative writing because the processes of culture and of literature are alive. We can participate in them.

    We don't have to merely be spectators. Our students can read literature so that they can

    make literature, so that they can speak to the world for and about themselves and about

    whatever else they wish. That's the kind of intelligent conversation we should encourage

    them to join. Empowerment is naturally a goal of a curriculum for creative engagement

    with culture and I would like to claim a feminist agenda at stake in the work I‟m

    presenting. This paper presents texts and textual/pedagogic practices towards the

    creation of a new literature in English: namely stories written in English for and about

    Macao, by young women at the University of Macau and in the wider Macao

    community, mainly ethnic Chinese and native speakers of Cantonese, writing in English

    as a language foreign to them. The process of having their voices and their stories

    articulated and heard is, I would argue, an exemplary process of empowerment.

    The ethic engaged for the purpose of the intercultural encounter entailed in the

    processes and practices of Writing Macao is that students can read literature in English so that they can make literature in English, so that they can speak to the world for and

    about themselves, their here-and-now, their who I am. Valorised here is the empowerment that comes of people and place writing of themselves for a world

    audience in the world language (i.e. English), and especially on the world wide web.

    The idea is simply that through presence to the task of self-recognition, through

    the genuine effort at dialogue between cultures (and between teacher and student),

    perhaps most of all through sheer hard work at these tasks, people can learn can teach

    themselves to represent themselves in fiction (and indeed I believe in any artform). In

    the case in question the idea is simply that everyone has a story to tell and that it is

    therefore possible and worthwhile to create the conditions in which the story can be told

    and the story can be heard.

    Time does not permit an adequate engagement but let me briefly spell out here

    in note form some of the assumptions and principles establishing the range of ethics

    applicable.

    - Paulo Freire‟s notion of the student‟s thematic universe offering what I would

    describe as a reverse-content or anti-canonic curriculum. I think this is of

    particular importance in the non-native teaching context. The student is not

    merely a sponge to soak up someone else‟s classics, the student‟s culture is a

    starting point.

     3

    - the necessity and im/possibility of community in the endless reversibility which

    Benveniste implies in the relations which characterise „I‟ and „you‟ as partners

    in dialogue (1971, 223-30).

    - Merleau-Ponty‟s notion of wrong-sidedness in the work of aesthetic production:

    Like the weaver, the writer works on the wrong side of his material. He

    has to do only with language, and it is thus that he suddenly finds himself

    surrounded by meaning. (1964, 44-5)

    - Immanuel Levinas‟ conception of the word as a window – if it forms a screen it

    must be rejected‟ (205).

    - Lyotard‟s idea of a world inhabited by differends

    - the minoritarian ethics of Deleuze and Guattari

    - Michel Foucault‟s advice (in the introduction to Anti-Oedipus) to prefer what is

    multiple

    - and for some local content, let me include a little of the Dao De Jing,

    specifically (forgive my terrible toneless Mandarin) dao ke dao fei chang

    dao… or let me respond to that by suggesting that the way we ought to be going

    is the way we haven‟t worked out yet, but with a bit of luck we‟ll work it out on

    the way.

    I should foreshadow the style of this paper then as shifting back and forth between

    fiction and theory, hoping to build, not a straightforward, rather a discursive, argument,

    one which through this means shows theory into practice and which likewise shows

    practice given pause to reflect on theoretical underpinnings. Most of the work in

    question (and much more) can be viewed on line at the Writing Macao site:

    www.geocities.com/writingmacaoonline

    Once the stories are well enough drafted, I sit with students at the computer

    screen and in the not-quite-face-to-face we engage a dialogue with their work and its

    improvement as our object. The most obvious of tasks here is that of turning

    an un-grammatical melange of worked out plot and character ideas into prose that works.

    Ockham‟s razor is the tool of choice and I would say that in these arduous processes my

    most common questions are these: What do you mean? What are you trying to say here?

    Why is this character doing/saying what she’s doing/saying? Do we already know about this? Where is this going? Making-grammatical is the most obvious function of the

    encounter but plot and character are never out of contention, no matter how well

    thought through or drafted the story appears.

     Job satisfaction for me has a lot to do with the perpetual lesson in culture I‟m

    receiving in the not-quite-face-to-face I‟ve described. Nor is it only cultural exchange that‟s happening through this kind of meeting. I‟m constantly learning new things about

    the grammar of English, things which I believe could not be revealed except through the

    encounter between the native and the non-native of the language. Self-interest here has

    to do with the application this experience finds in my own writing, and in several genres.

     I teach story writing and so it is apt I should now reveal my conviction in doing

    so. Locally, the hopeful result for this mainly oral culture is the counter-intuitive one

    that a culture of reading be initiated through the self-creation of a circle of writers. This

    process happens through the publication of student work and through the fact that the

     4

student-writer in most cases becomes a high school teacher of English, one in search of

    local content for her classroom. Globally, my hope is that the practice of „writing

    Macao‟ will be exemplary for a place-based aesthetic and accompanying pedagogy.

    A brief note on output here: five years into the project, roughly two hundred and

    fifty stories have been edited to draft standard and published in twenty or so paper

    covered „draft‟ editions, averaging around 100pp each, and cumulatively representing

    close to a million words. Another half a dozen „prototype volumes‟ have been prepared

    with selected and re-edited stories, and we are currently in the process of preparing

    these volumes with exercises in comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, etc. (and of

    course story writing) for use in Macao schools. Other volumes are on the way and

    presently we have around a dozen women (mainly graduate students) working on book-

    length works of their own (novels, children‟s novels, story collections, etc.).

    ***

    To the stories now: those I‟ve selected for today‟s talk are all by women authors and featuring female protagonists (or at least central characters). I think that they reflect

    a wide and telling range of interests, fears and hopes. Allow me to progress thematically

    through them.

     Amy Wong‟s story „The Fridge‟ (published in A Childhood Journey, Kelen [ed.],

    June, 2005) is about a woman who is taken in by some e-mail spam she receives from

    the Jack Future Company. Ah Qing is a character obsessed with ageing but keen to find

    bargains. She is delighted to acquire a labour and cost saving appliance for her kitchen,

    in the form of the „Timeless Fridge‟. She receives one of these wardrobe-sized devices for a three-month free trial.

    How could it be possible to keep the food fresh if the fridge wasn‟t cold at all?

    Ah Qing soon found the answer. The introduction explained about the time-

    stopping device. The fridge kept food fresh by stopping time inside.

In this sci-fi fantasy in the home, vanity is harnessed in the service of suspense. At first

    the protagonist, a woman who lives alone, is happy to have a way to keep leftovers fresh.

    Then she decides that what works for leftovers should work for her. So she starts

    sleeping in the fridge, thinking that if she spends a third of her time in there, then surely

    she will be better preserved. Of course, she‟s forgotten to read the fine print in the

    instruction manual which states quite clearly that living things should not be placed in

    the fridge because it will slow their metabolism, and so make them appear older.

    Eventually, Ah Qing is so wrinkled she cannot bring herself to leave the house. It‟s after

    a week of this self-imposed exile from society, Jack Future himself shows up to collect

    her product feedback. He is a little dismayed by Ah Qing‟s misuse of the appliance, but

    happily he is able to offer another that will solve her problems:

    „Don‟t worry, miss. Our new product, Anti-aging Rice Cooker will

    definitely suit your needs.‟ Jack Future took out a leaflet from his briefcase and

    handed it to Ah Qing. „The rice it cooks can speed up your metabolism.‟

    Reluctantly Ah Qing received the leaflet. What else could she do? She knew it

    was her only hope. She looked up and saw the cunning smile on Jack Future‟s face.

     5

    „Jack Future is your best choice!‟ The salesman‟s arms were open and his smile

    was pearly white. (83-84)

    ***

    The vanity of women is a popular theme with many of our writers. In Cassenna

    Chan‟s story „LV‟ – originally published in The SARS Story A South China Decameron, (Kelen [ed.], June, 2005), the protagonist, the laughably ignorant Mrs

    Kwan, finds herself in detention, having accidentally killed several people, by

    administering poisonous herbal tea to them. Her motivation in saving money by

    brewing her tea many times from the same leaves, is to be able to buy more LV bags.

    The irony is that of course she must now lose them all to pay compensation to bereaved

    families.

    In Jenny Oliveros Lao‟s story „Snow White‟ (published in A Childhood Journey, Kelen [ed.], June, 2005), a schoolgirl, enraptured with the fairytale lines, „With hair as dark as night, lips as red as blood, and skin as white as snow‟, desperately wishes to play Snow White in the class play. Secretly she gets hold of whitening masks in order to

    transform herself, but these create a strange and unpalatable effect, winning her, by

    acclamation, a wicked witch‟s role.

    Alice Lam‟s story „Masks‟ (also first published in The SARS Story A South China Decameron) tells the story of a couple at loggerheads over the money the wife

    has spent on facial whitening masks (as distinct from the other kind of mask most

    people are wearing in this story because of SARS fears). In this tale though, in the end,

    the husband falls prey to the same vanity and gullibility of which he had accused his

    wife.

     The God of Scales, a collaborative story by Amy Wong, Hilda Tam and Sidney

    Ung, which has been published as an illustrated book in its own right (reprinted here

    from the version in Wai), tells a fairytale with a sinister twist. A schoolgirl Hong,

    desperate to lose weight, has her prayers answered when a god comes to inhabit her

    bathroom scales.

    Hong couldn‟t believe it! She was so heavy she‟d broken the scales.

    Hong sat on the floor and started to cry. „Why, why is life so unfair? I just

    want to lose some weight, I just want to be slim and be more beautiful… I‟ll

    do anything to lose some weight!‟

    „Oh, really?‟ A sweet voice came from nowhere.

    „Who, who‟s speaking?‟ Hong stood up and looked around, but there

    was nobody.

    „I‟m here! In the scales!‟ Hong‟s eyes moved down to the scales, and she

    saw a little doll-like face on the screen.

    „Who are you?‟ Hong asked in a trembling voice.

    „Don‟t be scared. I am the elf… hum… I‟m the god of the scales. I‟ve

    heard your prayer, and I am here to help you.‟

     6

    „Help me?‟ Hong looked at the god, she was pretty fat. Hong didn‟t have

    much confidence in a god who looked like that.

    But the scale god seemed to have read her mind. „In our world, the fatter

    you are, the more magic you have. But I‟m sorry to tell you that in my world I

    am considered to be rather slim.‟ The god explained everything in a serious

    tone. „Are you sure you want to lose weight?‟ Now that the elf or god (or

    whoever she was) had stepped back, Hong could see that she was wearing a

    long old-fashioned red dress.

    „Yes, I‟ll do anything to lose weight!‟ She replied with great conviction.

    „Okay, I‟m touched by your determination. I‟ll make your wish come

    true.‟ The god then took out a wand and pointed it at Hong. The god pressed a

    button, and then there was a weak and intermittent stream of light, which died

    out in a few seconds. (64)

So that‟s how the magic begins. After granting her various wishes, with results which

    are disastrous from Hong‟s point of view, we discover the blithe spirit behind the action

    may not have been as benign as we might have hoped or assumed from the outset.

    The supervisor came closer to the little god and patted her head softly, „Look at

    you. You‟ve gained so much weight from that little girl. Your power must have

    been greatly increased.‟

     „Yes. Fat girls are lovely. They are lonely and easy to control.‟ The little god

    bowed and showed her boss an evil smile. Though the god had not meant to kill

    Hong, she didn‟t think it was any big deal. Mortals are mortals, they‟re going to die

    anyway. No free lunch in this world.

    The god needed to find a new client, to grant wishes so that she could get

    more power. It was fair for mortals to pay for their wishes. In heaven too the rules

    of the jungle applied. She had to find a client whose wishes would make her bigger

    and fatter and more and more powerful. Otherwise she might just waste away.

    The little god stepped onto her heavenly scales, just as she did every morning.

    Down a little, she sighed. No pain, no gain. Yes, she was worried, but still she

    couldn‟t help smiling. And it was all thanks to Hong. (75-76)

So we learn that gods are not necessarily to be trusted and that fat is very definitely a

    feminist issue, though not in the way we might have thought before we had read the

    story.

    ***

     In Hilda Tam‟s somewhat fractured and rather reflexive fairytale, „The Kiss‟

    (published in A Childhood Journey, Kelen [ed.], June, 2005), uncertainty about which

    genre we‟re in keeps up suspense till the end of the story, when the protagonist realises

    she been outwitted by a wicked witch once bitten. Block your ears now if you don‟t

    want another plot spoiled. Here‟s how the story ends:

    The prince rubbed his eyes and scratched his head. It really did look as if he

    were just waking from a dream. Now, I remember It‟s because of your two

    kisses, princess. I think you‟ve heard about the fairy tale called „The Frog Prince‟,

    right? It‟s actually a real story. The witch was angry when she knew that the

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    princess had saved the prince. She thought that her spell was too easy for people to

    break. So this time, when she caught me, she made the task more difficult. She told

    me that I could only turn back into my real self if a princess allowed me to stay

    with her for three days and gave me two kisses.‟

    Princess Anna started weeping, „Finally! My prince! Do you know how

    difficult my days were when I thought that you were just an ordinary frog? My

    prince! We can finally stay together and have a happy life!‟

    Just as the princess tried to hug the prince, the prince pushed her away. „I‟m

    sorry, princess. I‟m not sure why but I think I have to go. I can‟t stay with you any

    longer. Thanks again and goodbye.‟

    But Princess Anna got hold of the man‟s arm and would not let go. She could

    not figure out what had happened until she saw her lip print on the prince‟s cheek.

    It was then she realised that it was her magical lips that had driven the prince away.

    Princess Anna knew that her fairy tale had come to the end. She released the

    prince, who left straight away. Poor Princess Anna was left alone. (58)

    ***

     To another genre altogether the historical story, Sidney Ung‟s „Story of A

    Mei‟, where intercultural misunderstanding centres the plot on what doesn‟t happen

    (Kelen and Tam, 57-61). With the recognition that there‟s always someone else‟s story in your story, we see that common circumstances may be read quite differently from

    either side of a gulf in culture. Andries is a Dutch soldier who is captured as a prisoner

    of war after the Dutch defeat by the Portuguese in the 1622 battle for Macao. Early in

    the story this humiliated gentleman considers suicide but eventually decides he will

    struggle on in the hope of one day returning to Holland. Before long he finds himself

    coming to the aid of a local Chinese girl who is being mishandled by some Dutch

    soldiers. The girl A Mei had never really noticed the gweilos before.

    Now that she had woken from her fear, A Mei was very grateful to have been

    saved. She looked at this foreigner: tall, muscular with golden hair and blue eyes.

    To her, every foreigner had been the same. But now, she saw that Andries was

    unique. It was as if she were seeing the gweilos for the first time.

And naturally the girl falls in love with the boy. However her love is neither returned

    nor understood as such. What does she do to get the boy‟s attention? She gives him

    zhong a rice and beans dumpling the only kind of gift she can afford. When he accepts the dumpling we‟re told „she knew that he loved her.‟ How does he really feel?

    For his part, Andries was puzzled. He tried to figure out what was in the

    little parcel he‟d received. This triangular thing covered with leaves had to be

    food. Out of curiosity, he opened it. He looked at it and was not sure if his guess

    was right. It seemed like glue, hot and sticky. He could not imagine putting such

    a thing in his mouth. So he threw it away and continued back to the camp.

     8

Because he has accepted her gift once, and because it‟s all she has to give him, A Mei

    goes on giving Andries a dumpling every night from then on. He tries to avoid her but

    has no other way to walk to his barracks.

    He tried to signal to A Mei that he did not want this inedible thing she

    was giving him. He waved his hand when A Mei handed the dumpling to him.

    Not knowing each other‟s languages, it was the only way these two could

    communicate. A Mei‟s heartbeat increased dramatically whenever Andries

    waved at her like this. She interpreted it as a warm farewell signal. The harder

    Andries waved his hand, the more passion A Mei felt Andries was expressing to

    her. Andries did not understand why this Chinese girl always brought him this

    one strange thing, but compared to the humiliation he perceived in his general

    condition, these episodes were nothing to him. Andries‟ mind was focused on

    getting back to Holland. That was how he survived in Macao.

The Chinese girl falls more deeply in love with the Dutch soldier. Eventually Andries‟

    wish comes true and he does manage to go home to Holland. Sometime before he leaves

    though he presents her with a letter to try to persuade her to stop giving him the

    dumplings.

    He knew from his own experience how painful it was to waste time in this

    terrible place. So, he wrote a few lines to A Mei. A Mei was surprised and happy

    at Andries‟ reappearance. She had no idea why he gave the letter to her but she

    considered he was a wise man. She accepted whatever he gave her.

    After a time, A Mei came to consider this as her very first love letter. She

    did not know what was written on the paper but she was sure that Andries had

    her in his heart. In the following days, she kept on carrying the food for Andries,

    though he never appeared again. A Mei was not upset, she assumed that Andries

    was on an important mission and so he could not meet her. She kept waiting for

    him and believed that once he finished his mission, he would come to her again.

    This wait continued until, three months later, A Mei was betrothed to marry

    a peasant boy. She had no way to refuse even though she loved Andries.

She marries the boy but she treasures the letter. Here‟s how the story ends:

    The encounter with Andries was A Mei‟s own romantic love story. It

    was as well her lifelong secret. The mysterious letter reminded her of every

    sweet moment that had passed between them and, until her last days, she smiled

    every time she looked at the old tattered paper and the lines, which read:

     Thanks very much for your food-like stuff. But please NEVER send it to

    me again because I can’t eat this hot glue.

(The whole story is published on-line at

    http://www.geocities.com/writingmacaoissue3/MAIN.htm)

    ***

     9

     I hope that the stories above have given an accurate impression of the range of

    interests and the talent of the young Macao women producing the stories presented. A

    final note on empowerment what better way to raise the self-esteem of authors than to

    dignify their work by publishing it in as many forms as possible, and especicially on the

    World Wide Web, and by presenting it at a conference like this one? I hope through

    doing this to help to show that our learning and creative processes here and now can

    command attention and respect, to show that being with literature need not be about

    judgement or pretending to judge or about a fixed canon of what is already known to be

    worth reading. Time spent with literature can be about dialogue and creative

    engagement. Literature can offer this immediacy to its active participants, and creative

    engagement along these lines can provide a vital and motivating way into culture, on a

    footing which, if not quite equal with that of the native speaker, is at least tending in

    that direction. You‟ll pardon the double negative if I say that there is no level (in terms of age or language ability) below which this kind of activity cannot or should not take

    place. Let me illustrate the point with a last complete story, by Petra Seak (published in

    A Childhood Journey, Kelen [ed.], June, 2005). It‟s called „Colours‟:

    Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue and Purple were good friends. They

    studied together and had fun together. However, White was always alone in the

    class, because the six classmates thought she was not as beautiful as them.

    One fine morning, Grey, the teacher, came to the class and said to the students,

    „Good morning, class. Last time we talked about how to use preposition, now

    everyone of you has to make a sentence by using the word “without”…‟

    Being too impatient to wait until the teacher finished his words, the students

    made up and spoke out their sentences immediately.

    Red said, „without me flowers would not attract bees.‟

    Orange said, „without me fish would not have graceful tails.‟

    Yellow said, „without me the Sun would not brighten our paths.‟

    Green said, „without me the blades of grass would just lower their heads.‟

    Blue said, „without me birds would not even bother the sky.‟

    Purple said, „without me butterflies would not have attractive dresses.‟

    „Yes!‟ They cheered, almost at once, „without us, a rainbow would vanish!‟

    The classroom was full of joy and laughter, which went on until the teacher

    spoke again.

    „It‟s your turn.‟ Grey reminded White, who was always left behind in the back

    of the classroom. The whole class sniggered, whispered to each other and thought

    she would be dumb as a fish.

    Then White, seeming inattentive, said, „well, without me, there are no clouds

    and no rain. How can a rainbow appear?‟

    The six classmates of White were struck dumb by White‟s sentence. The

    classroom was suddenly in dead silence.

     10

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