>English corners: 99% laowai-free


I went to the English Corner last night.

It was my third time. To give you an idea of how much I enjoy the experience, this was the third time I’ve come. In nine months. Twice in October.

Once in May.

Three of us came, up from the usual one. When I arrived, Mary, one of the student organizers, noted this fact.

“None of the foreign teachers want to come. We don’t know why.”

Let’s see…you hold it on Friday night on a campus far away on the outskirts of the city, a bus that doesn’t return until 10 at night.

And you wonder why no foreign teachers are coming? Really?

Besides, I haven’t even begun to mention the spiritual anguish that is an English Corner. That’s coming next.

>Face-saving tactic in action

>Oh Elise, Elise, Elise…whatever shall we do with you?

As usual, Monday morning she tells me that I am teaching a different class. Class 11 and 12 instead of my usual Class 3 and 4. I inform her calmly that I have already made plans for class 3 and 4. In addition to this, the students know me.

Yeah, the students being familiar with their foreign teacher may help the classroom. What a weird idea.

Anyways, what ensued as a yes-no match, with No winning out and Elise pouting and ranting about it in Chinese.

A bus ride to the New Campus later, Elise informs a foreign teacher that he wasted his time. You see, he’s supposed to teach a double class Tuesday morning. So he can go him.

Since she tells him this AFTER he got up, AFTER he took the bumpy twenty-minute bus ride over, he’s non-too-pleased. What ensues is another argument, at which point I interject.

“You know Elise, why don’t you just tell us this more in advance? It would be easier.”

I did this in full view of another Chinese teacher. Elise grew nervous and said, “My computer…it is broken.”

She lied. If the pathetic excuse did not betray her, then her body language did. She lied. That’s one perspective.

Another perspective: she was saving face. This is likely, seeing as how another Chinese was standing near her. Face is to be preserved at all times. Why, it’s not that Elise is scatter-brained, perhaps even incompetent.

Oh no. It’s that her computer is broken. Yes, the computer’s fault. An obvious lie to us, but to them…well, it saves them face, right?

A little strange for me to wrap my mind around. I see it as a lie, but she did not truly intend it as a lie. Just as a way of saving face?

>Some feelings from student essays


Just a short note: I’ve been grading essays lately. I asked all my classes to do them, write a page expressing themselves.

One girl wrote a very sweet essay talking about her love for her boyfriend, including a pledge to always be by his side. It was very, very touching.

Otherwise, what I’ve been noticing quite a bit are lost talents. Many students tell me they love to draw/paint/write/etc., but since they came to college, they have not had a chance to do it.

You could say they have had a chance, they just haven’t taken it. They’ve opted out of their duty in favor of QQ, studying, and more QQ.

You could also say that the structure of Chinese universities tends to choke the creative drive out of young students, whose purpose of life is apparently to a) make money and b) take care of the parents in old age. Sure can’t do that as a painter, can you?

One more thing: what of not going to college? What of dropping out to pursue their calling? This happens in the West, but is it possible in China? In a third-world country where students are herded into school and expected to succeed under intense pressure from an early age?

It’s clear to me that many of them are in college because they are obligated, socially and culturally, to do so. And while they’re here, they put aside their interests in favor of their majors, due to aforementioned reasons.