Wednesday, June 14, 2006

My Chinese Name

I've finally been given a Chinese name - "Dong Yang" (冬阳), which means "sunshine in winter". Because Chinese words sound so similar, the Chinese often explain their name when meeting someone ("Dong as in winter, Yang as in sun"); "Dong" with the same tone also means "east," and "yang" with the same tone could mean "ocean," so there's the potential for some confusion. Chinese name meanings are often flowery and poetic, and the students like to pick English names like "Rain" and "Snow". MoMo gave me the name, so I turn gave her an English name, Maya. I knew she would ask about the meaning so I looked it up, the main meaning being the Hindu concept that reality and the appearance of separate living things is an illusion, not something I had any hope of getting across to her. I just told her it had to do with dreams, and I did originally find it searching for a name with that meaning because it suits her personality, though it seems it means "goddess of dreams" only in the world of Marvel comics.

Me and Andrew now have several mutual Chinese friends, mostly Hexi students from other departments or older English students we don't teach. It's very difficult for me to keep up with the conversation (Andrew rarely talks in English when among Chinese people, which is always) but it's very good for my Chinese. As it turns out the students who want to befriend us are mostly girls, but to be fair almost all the students truly interested in English are girls. In particular there are three very excitable students who have invited us to the park a few times and cooked us dumplings. I'm trying to picture American students giggling around young Chinese guys who could speak only basic English, and somehow I don't see it happening. Andrew had his students give written feedback about his class, and one wrote something like "Thanks to the God for giving us such a handsome foreign teacher to teach us lots of knowledge".

I continue to find out bizarre facts about life in China. Two English students told me they would be busy the next day because they were preparing for an exam; as it turned out they had to practice their gymnastics in order to pass a P.E. exam. They would also have to run; I asked if they would fail if they didn't fun fast enough, which I meant mostly jokingly, but they replied "yes, and we won't get our scholarship". Surely the first thing one does in a job interview for a English teaching position is run the 50 yard dash, so I guess it pays to be prepared. Also, there is no drinking age in China. In the park I saw an 8-year old take a drink of beer from the bottle in front of his parents. Shocked, I asked MoMo how old you have to be buy beer, and she replied "oh, everyone can buy beer". Though I suppose drinking and driving isn't a problem in a country in which hardly anyone can drive. I'm often asked "do you know how to drive?" (they can't believe we learn at 16) and "do you know how to swim?" (very few have ever done so here).

Last week in class as part of a discussion about "stereotypes" and "national characteristics" I asked the students to describe people from different countries. I liked hearing the British described as "optimistic" and Americans as "shy" (I guess they are going by the one British person and one American they know), but the most interesting was always getting them to describe the Japanese. There is a deep-rooted hatred of Japan going back to WWII, so everyone perked up a bit and started shouting things like "aggressive", "cold-hearted", "small", "cunning", etc., while even more enthusiasm was mustered to describe the Chinese as "friendly", "clever", "generous" and every positive adjective they possibly think of. Also last week I gave my first final exam, the final part of which involved summarizing one of the short readings on the exam in their own words. Some memorable statements on Martin Luther King, Jr.: "It is became famous, because he spread the idear which urged people to disobey unjust laws that unfair betwern blank people and white people", and "He was hot and killed in 1968". I should mention that these students were only on the two-year program and are now graduating and have degrees qualifying them as English teachers. But my favorite, which I will quote in full, starts off like this:
"When I reading passed 2, I'm confused! My God! It's too difficult. What should I do? There are a lot of no meaning words. I'm scared I'm going to fail. Take it easy! 'I can I do!' Said to me. So I began to this passage from word to word. When I answered these questions. Because I didn't this passage what's meaning. so I didn't know which chose it. Maybe I haven't confidience. But I tried my best to do it."
She then went on to actually answer the question, and wrote "(Sorry. Maybe I've a mistake. Cancell first paragraph)" at the top. I gave her bonus points for making me laugh.

Never has it been so easy for me to meet people (whether I want to our not), because they will come find me. When leaving my apartment on Sunday there was a woman walking towards me, who stopped me to ask "are you Dan?". I'm not sure how she knew where I lived and why she didn't bother to just phone me, but she owns a small private English school called "You and Me" and wanted me to stop by a celebration her students were having that afternoon. I'm always curious what I'm getting myself into, so I did stop by Dicos (the city's gaudy Western-style fast food restaurant) to talk to the children. It was not entirely unlike being a clown, and I'm starting to get used to being randomly videotaped when I'm talking, but it was amusing. Afterwards Tappy (the woman's English name, which I'll assume she did actually chose herself) invited me to her home for dinner with a group of teachers and Hexi students. It was fun after all, with a few of the students having very good standards of English, and ended with an effeminate male student singing Whitney Houston and Peking Opera and a rousing game of "paper, rock, scissors" to finish the food.

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