A Worldview So Narrow It Looks Like A Chopstick

, , , , | Friendly | December 14, 2018

My university classmate tells me this story. She’s eating in a restaurant at a Chinese airport and has been using a fork instead of chopsticks. Nearby are an older Chinese woman and her adult daughter, who are mocking her in Mandarin about it, talking about how white people are too clumsy to be able to use chopsticks.

My classmate, who has lived in China and had years of Mandarin lessons through her military career, turns to them and says politely in their language that normally she can use chopsticks just fine, but she injured her dominant wrist and can’t manage it right now.

The daughter is embarrassed as h*** and falls over herself apologizing. The mother, however, silently freaks out. She refuses to speak to or even look at my classmate, and seems to be pretending that she doesn’t exist. The daughter apologizes again, saying a white woman speaking Mandarin is too big of a shock for her. She explains that it’s so far out of her worldview that she honestly can’t accept it.

Throughout their conversation, the mother continues to stare into the middle distance and pretend she can’t hear them, rather than confront the mind-shattering idea that people who don’t look like you are capable of learning your language.

Teaching Them About The Birds And The Beers

, , , , | Learning | December 8, 2018

(I am an American living in China, teaching young kids aged three to twelve. We have two main categories. The first one is based on age. If you’re three, you go to a specific level, same for four or five. The second category is based on skill, and you’re given a proficiency exam to go into it, or a kid ages into it by completing the first category. This takes place in my lowest level of the second category.)

Me: “Okay, guys. We’re going to learn, ‘What’s up?’ It’s like saying, ‘How are you?’ but more fun. Okay, [Student #1], what’s up?”

Student #1: “I’m okay.”

Me: “Good start.”

(I turn to the next student. He tends to learn things a bit slower than the others, so I expect the exact same response.)

Me: “[Student #2], what’s up?”

Student #2: “Birds.”

(I crack up. I have no idea how he knows this.)

Me: “Great, [Student #2].”

(I keep practicing this for several weeks, and each week [Student #2] always says, “Birds,” probably because I always laugh and he likes the positive attention. Finally, I tell him, “No more birds.”)

Me: “Okay, [Student #2], no more birds. What’s up?”

Student #2: *pauses* “Birds and beer!”

(I’ve had quite a few hilarious instances with the kids in China, and their amazing way with playing with the language, but I have no idea where he picked that up from! To this day, it’s one of my highlights of teaching in China.)

I Make Sing When I Drink Liquor, Too

, , , , | Learning | December 7, 2018

I teach English in China to kids age three to twelve. I love my older kids, because I get beautiful gems, especially when they are clever and play with the language.

I am correcting some homework when I came across this gem.

The prompt is to write a letter to a friend or family member. Ask questions in the letter. Thank the person for reading and answering your letter.

The student wrote:

“Dear Dad.
How are you?
Do you like sing?
Why are drink lot of liquor?
Thank you to read my letter
Your daughter
Disy.”

I had a lot of fun correcting that letter.

The English Patient

, , , , | Healthy | November 23, 2018

(I am about eight years old when my family and I relocate to China for a year. Despite my Chinese heritage, I was born and raised elsewhere, so English is my first language, whereas I tend to struggle with Chinese. In that year, I fall sick enough to warrant a week-long stay at the nearest hospital. My mother and my grandmother accompany me in the daytime to take care of me as well as talk to the nurses and doctors on my behalf. When I’m alone, however, my sole form of entertainment is the TV in the room, which I leave on the only English-speaking channel they have. None of us think much about it until my mom comes in one morning and happens upon two nurses conversing outside my room.)

Nurse #1: “That little girl, she doesn’t talk much when I ask her questions, but she is so focused when it comes to [English channel] on TV. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s all she’s been watching since she got here!”

Nurse #2: “Wow! She’s that dedicated to learning English and keeping up with school, even though she’s this sick? What a studious girl!”

(And that’s how I inadvertently impressed a couple of nurses by lazing around in bed all day watching the telly.)

You Mexican’t Be Sure

, , , | Friendly | October 15, 2018

(My classmates in China come from different countries all over the world. Although I’m Mexican, due to my complexion and my eyes and skin colour I get mistaken for Indian, Arabian, or Persian. A lot. This conversation happens with an Indian guy.)

Classmate: “You look like an Indian.”

Me: “Yeah… I get that a lot. But I’m as Mexican as you can get.”

Classmate: “But your parents are from India, right?”

Me: “Nope. We are all Mexican.”

Classmate: “Are you sure?”

Me: “Yes, [Classmate], I’m sure where my family is from.”

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