Sunday “Bloody” Sunday

Hello dear reader, how was your Sunday?  Did you get up early to attend church or a mosque? Did you go for a run or play with the kids?  Were you nursing a king-sized hangover in bed?  Perhaps you had a strong cup of tea and read a book…

Sundays here (for this writer) include five lessons and a lot of driving. As a dear Canadian friend, Mr. Hill, likes to say “there’s never a dull moment here.”

I’ve decided to chronicle the events of Sunday, October the 21st 2018. Perhaps you can compare your day with mine. What were you doing at 9am, 2pm, 8pm?

8:45am – Inner Ring Road (en route to the first lesson)

A bronze coloured taxi is driving erratically along a four-lane highway. Behind him (yes a him) on the right was a silver Toyota Corolla. To the taxi’s left – a large white bus. I am following 100 metres behind them. The taxi, as slow as a turtle (and without indication), moves into the path of the Corolla. The Corolla brakes quickly to avoid a collision. The taxi then moves to his left and, by a whisker, misses the bus. The bus driver, angry at such vehicular idiocy, brakes, and blasts his loud horn. He then accelerates, overtaking the taxi. It’s revenge time as the bus brakes in front of the bronze taxi and proceeds to drive at 30 kilometres per hour (in an 80km/per hour speed limit).

10am – Rich People’s Garden

Because you two have been so well behaved, I’ll take you out to a 5-star restaurant tonight” the mother announces.

Mummy, can we have Coke or Sprite?”  Young Billy asks.

Billy, your Mum drives a Maserati and your Dad something equally expensive. You and your sister go to the most expensive school in the city. You have a bunch of houses. You holiday at luxury European resorts. Of course you can have a Coke – heck, why not just buy the restaurant?

11:30am – East Wind East Road Compound

There is a presentation involving menus. Miss Y, as we’ll call her, is offering such delicacies as sheep salad (shrimp salad) and roast kitchen leg (roast chicken leg), while Baozha Tou (translates into Afro hairstyle or literally ‘explosion head’) Master B, offers brown knees (brownies) and an A/C meal (a set meal). It’s a joy to watch eight year olds producing menus of such good quality. Mistakes aside, they’re pretty good with English and all scored well. That is apart from one lazy boy who was curiously absent from class.

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Promoting the benefits of kitchen meat

1pm – Subway Sandwiches

appetizer beef bread breakfast

Subway is Subway anywhere in the world it seems. A few menu changes here and there but still of a good standard. There is no queue at this branch. Two Russian girls are playing with the soda fountain, refilling their cups time and again. Value for money. I hope they can get to the bathroom in time. A local man, halfway through his sub, has wandered up to the counter to ask a question. Lettuce is spilling all over the counter and he is speaking with his mouth full. This would explain the mayonnaise droplets falling on to the stack of clean trays by the cash register. Thankfully I’m taking away.

Catshit Coffee (that’s the translation sorry) – the Indonesian coffee chain seems to have moved out of the mall and a newly named Offee and Co. (where’s the C?) seems to have opened. Their watery coffee wasn’t particularly nice last time so I ordered a latte coffee from Subway. What could go wrong?

Mental note: never ever order coffee from Subway at the East Wind East branch again.

3:10pm – Community Centre for Societal Harmony and Egalitarianism

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Naughty boys play with walking frame during break time.

The students in my third lesson have just returned from a short break. Laughter erupts and then suddenly stops. I don’t understand. I’d said something vaguely funny. We were about to learn the meaning of sarcasm and sarcastic laughter when I realise they’re not laughing at me and that the short figure moving behind me isn’t a student. It’s a man with Downs Syndrome. He walks about the classroom. Stops to pick up and inspect my lesson plan book, then my textbook. He gives me a puzzled look so I say “ni hao” to him. He responds in kind and walks out. What a bizarre episode. In 18 plus years of teaching, I’ve seen pretty much everything. That was a first.

There is a centre nearby that houses people with various mental conditions. This chap was friendly but there have been reports of people with psychotic tendencies going on knifing rampages from time to time. The results are never good. Better lock the door next time in case someone else turns up with more sinister intentions.

4pm – the drive home

This is like playing a bad Commodore 64 computer game from the 1980s. I’m Player One. People are jumping out in front of my car at regular intervals. Motorised bikes are heading in the wrong direction. Trucks are behaving like sports cars, Candy Crush Saga-playing pedestrians walk blindly out on to the road and cyclists haven’t yet learnt to ride in a straight line.

The game would be called “Chaos in the Car East“.

6:10pm – Block Seven, balcony of the 11th floor apartment

Teacher, you smell bad” says the five year old boy.

No Kyle, that’s your own sweat you can smell,” says his mother “you’ve been running around downstairs don’t forget!

Aw cripes, do I smell that bad? I’ve been on my feet all day. I head home and check with my wife. She’s blunt. I can count on her for honesty.

No, all I can smell is your cologne.” she says.

Phew.

7:15pm – Military Hospital

It’s very dark here but not cold. This will be the last lesson of the day. Two orderlies are pushing a wheelchair and patient towards the same building that is the teaching venue. A child walks past and stares at the patient, as does someone else. That’s a bit rude isn’t it?  A patient should be given some privacy/dignity, no matter what physical state they’re in.

I steal a glance as I pass them. The patient is extraordinarily stiff and pale. He’s wearing pajamas and he’s a…. dummy!  How weird.

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The Dummy. Where is he going?

I retell this story to one of the parents, a doctor at this hospital. He points to a tall, thin object in the corner. It’s covered by a cloth. The kids are avoiding the area until someone pulls off the sheet to reveal a human skeleton!

jack o lantern on grass

It’s not even Halloween yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chalkface: Tang-tied in China

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“I’m not a ploduckachee!”

“Plo-ducka-chee”  No, it’s pronounced “product.”

“Ploduckachee” Let’s try again shall we?

Pro “Plo” du “dah” ct “kachee”

I think that’s probably enough for the moment, don’t you Uncle Tommy?

(Actual conversation, March 2018)

There are a lot of really good English speakers in China. They’re often the ones who have started learning English at a young age, and despite the rote-style learning of school English lessons and dry-as-dust textbooks. They’ve beaten the odds of achieving fluency by overcoming such challenges. At some point, a good number of students would have enrolled in extra-curricular English classes, gone on to study English at university and retained much of the extensive vocabulary delivered to them during this time. There are also those that, despite limited academic opportunities, managed to gain fluency by chatting with any foreigner they could get their hands on.

Some youngsters from poor families became fluent English speakers while working in Western restaurants.

There are also a lot of people who can’t or aren’t willing to speak English in China. Reasons of shyness and patriotism are two examples. That’s okay. We don’t need to import cultural hegemonism here and demand that everyone speak English. That said, it can be fascinating to hear the English words emitted from their mouths:

“Bah-nah-xia”  What was that?  Oh – banana!  Great.

“Bu-la-la”

yellow banana fruit

This writer has butchered many a Chinese word over the past 18 years. People have generally been polite and smiled in a confused sort of a way. They nodded despite not having a clue about what had just been said.  Many of my students rolled about laughing whenever I translated my own classroom instructions. How about that for pronunciational motivation? Ask them to raise their hands and (mistakenly) say “pig feet, pig feet!”  Mispronounce traffic jam and get foot ache, ask them to wait but instead mumble something about murder – goodness! Talk about loss of face.

A few of the older folk can speak Russian, or bits of it. That was their foreign language of choice during 1950s China. They’re the hardest students to teach. You really can’t teach old (do we have to use the word dogs here?) “codgers” new linguistic tricks. My mother in law (64 at the time of this blog) can count to ten. So can her husband:

“wan-ah, too-ah, fee-ah, fo-ah, figh-ah, sick, say when, eh-ah, line-ah, tin!”

It starts slow and speeds up at number six and reaches an epic speed by ten. It’s as if by slowing down they’ll stop and forget everything. Like riding a bicycle, they’re going to fall over if they peddle too slowly. The in-laws speak Cantonese well and can use mobile phones with impressive ability. They’re handy with the wok and very efficient in their tasks. Both are punctual and never late. Most of their generation are the same. But as English students…..

The younger students have trouble with certain English sounds including the th digraph (a fancy way of saying consonant cluster – the t and h phonemes). You can repeat both the voiceless- (this, that, those) and the voiced- (three, throw) fricatives (more linguistic jargon) and end up with:

this = dis

that = dat

those = doze

And:

three = fee

throw = srow

Show them how to place their tongue between their teeth and watch the spittle fly! Encouraged by this, I created a nasty little tongue twister:

These three fleas have free fees

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Courtesy of Cambridge Connect 1 (textbook)

As the 2018 Soccer World Cup progresses, it’s a good time to learn the names of some  of the participating countries (“China is terrible at soccer” they all say – I don’t know, my country is currently ranked 120th, 40 places below China). Portugal, Peru, and Argentina are particularly tricky for many to pronounce. Australia is another difficult one.

They inadvertently swear:

“My father is a bastard” (actually – “My father is a bus driver”)

“I’m wearing a brown shit” (shirt)

These are easy mistakes to make though the prevalence of Western computer games and the assorted potty mouth language of the accompanying soundtrack has introduced a world of colourful slang to the vocabularies of many students. This is concerning when you’re trying to teach “We Will Rock You” by Queen. The word rock lends itself to naughty substitution.

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Some words and phrases are correctable. These include:

Hamburger politics (Happy Birthday), sanka yew (Thank you), of (for), for (of), mudder (mother), sheesh-atar (sister), older body bra (older brother – I kid you not).

Others are not so easy:

Prisonality (personality), present (parrot), pirates (parents), peasants (parents), parents (presents).

Yes I’ve poked a bit of fun at the locals today. Especially Uncle Tommy. My two year old has just overheard me enunciating “ploduckachee” and has begun excitedly running around the apartment yelling “PLODUCKACHEE!” My mother-in-law (her grandmother and uncle Tommy’s older sister) has no idea what she’s trying to say, thinks it’s impeccable English and time for a nappy (diaper) change.

On a conclusory note, it’s worth noting that I’ve heard and read better English from people here in China than I have from many of the populace back in New Zealand. There is something to admire about the determination and hard-work it must have taken to achieve this sort of fluency.

Thanks for the likes and the feedback. It’s much appreciated.

KJ.