A Use Of Alarming Language

, , , , , , | Learning | March 1, 2019

(I have taught English for a few years in China. One of my classes is late at night and I have mostly young, working professionals in my class. Because the class is late, and we have all had full, busy days, this class can be quiet, and most are very tired.)

Me: “Okay, I’d like to go over the new vocabulary for this week. Are there any words that you need help understanding?”

Student #1: “I don’t understand ‘alarm.’ What does this mean?”

Me: “Oh! Great question! Does everyone remember antonyms? These are words that have opposite meanings.”

Student #2: “This is like cold and hot. They are opposite.”

Me: “Exactly. So, we all know what calm means, right?”

(The students all nod. I continue to explain calm, peace, and tranquility, and make my voice softer as I explain. Eyelids start drooping, and heads began to tilt while I continue.)

Me: “So, I want you to remember what this feels like, because you will all feel alarmed very soon.”

(I walk over to my metal desk and slam my hand on the top, making a large bang. All students are immediately wide-eyed and alert, hearts pounding.)

Me: “That feeling? What you feel right now? That is alarm.”

Students: *laughing nervously* “Oh, okay. I will never forget that!”

Me: “Excellent! What are other words that are similar to alarm?”

(At the end of the year, all of the students from that class told me that I had made English fun and more memorable than any previous teachers. They loved how they had gotten real practice and understanding of the new vocabulary rather than memorizing lists. Several also received promotions due to their improved English opening up new job opportunities for them!)

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The Sleeping Dragon Can Stop To Give Directions

, , , , | Hopeless | October 13, 2018

(My brother and I are around 20 years old, and we go on a holiday in China together. Due to our parents’ concern about our lack of language skills, we book a guided tour, but on our very first evening in Beijing, we have time to explore the city by ourselves. We take a tram to the city center and have a nice evening, and everything goes well until we get back to the station near our hotel. Then, we get lost. Keep in mind that it is already around 10:30 pm when this all happens. The station is quite large and has several exits on different streets, and even though we have a map, we can’t figure out in which direction our hotel is. Luckily, we spot a police station on the other side of the street and go there to ask for directions.)

Me: “Excuse me, we got lost. This—” *points on map* “—is our hotel. Which direction is it?”

(The two policemen shrug and answer something in Chinese. I figure they don’t speak English, so I try to explain our problem through gestures and with some more pointing. They study the map for some time, talk among themselves and ask us some things, to which I always have to answer, “Sorry, I don’t understand.” This goes on for some minutes, and then one of the policemen goes outside. The other one shows us to some seats and offers us cookies. Then, the policeman outside starts shouting something. At least twenty passers-by from the — not very crowded — street start gathering around him and he leads them inside. A young man starts talking to me in English.)

Young Man #1: “Hey! How can we help you?”

Me: “Hi! We need to get to our hotel, but we got lost!”

Young Man #1: “Which hotel is it? Do you have an address?”

Me: *taking out the map again* “It’s right here—” *points* “—and this is the tram station out there—” *points* “—but we can’t read the street signs and don’t know which direction it is.”

(The young man starts talking to the group in Chinese again. Some people leave.)

Young Man #2: “Don’t worry; we’ll figure this out. We’re trying to find the best solution to get you to your hotel.”

(After some more minutes:)

Young Man #1: “So, this guy—” *he points at an elderly Chinese man with a hat* “—knows the way, but it’s a bit complicated from here. We don’t want you to get lost again, so he’ll walk you there. He can’t speak English; just follow him. Have a good time in China!”

(With that, the rest of the crowd dissipated, everyone smiling and waving at us, except for the man with the hat. He gestured at us to follow him, which we did. What followed was an at least fifteen-minute walk through Beijing, until we could see our hotel at the next crossroads. The man pointed at it and waved at us. We waved, too, took some bows, and thanked him in English. He smiled and started leaving. To this day, I am still amazed by how many people went out of their way to help some lost tourists and the kindness they showed us. Now, whenever I travel abroad, I make sure to at least be able to say “thank you” in the respective country’s language.)

 

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We’ll Be Mandar-In And Out

, , , , , , | Working | March 26, 2018

(I am visiting a friend in China. He is working as an English teacher at a university, and is fluent in Chinese. I know absolutely zero Chinese, so my friend has to tell me about this conversation afterwards. We are both pasty-white Americans, and we are both wearing typically American clothing at the time. A waitress comes over to our table.)

Waitress: *in bad English* “You decide what to eat?”

Me: “No.”

Friend: “Nah, I’m good.”

Waitress: *in Chinese* “Hurry up, you fat American pigs. I bet you are going to eat everything we have here and leave this place in a mess.”

Friend: *a little shocked* “Um… What?”

Waitress: *in English, looking as if she said nothing wrong* “Sorry, my English bad. You want water?”

Me: “Sure, we would love some water.”

(The waitress leaves and brings us water, and takes orders. Then, this happens at the end of the meal, when we are ready to leave.)

Waitress: *in English* “You have nice meal?”

Friend: *in perfect Chinese* “Of course. It is always nice to come to local restaurants. Of course, I will never come back here again. We both know why.”

(The waitress looked like she’d seen a ghost. My friend did not tell me anything else that she said apart from that first part, but I remember that she said something just about every time she came to our table to bring food and stuff, so she was likely being a big potty mouth every time. In hindsight, I should have noticed how stressed my friend was at the time.)

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