(Unless stated otherwise, every boy in this story has eye-glasses that observe; an innocent smile and black fluffy hair; and a minimally-mischievous tan or beige face. Every girl has a studious ponytail; stylish glasses that make her cute; and an obedient light-yellow, or a playful orangish, face.)
Gong Wei Peng and Liu Xiaoyu were the guys I played basketball with. Gong Wei Peng was good at launching his tall body towards the hoop to make an easy basket; he admitted he'd like to play professionally in the Chinese Basketball League, though he generally preferred being quiet to speaking English. Liu Xiaoyu was short and round, always positive and funny, always inviting me to play ping pong or eat in the student cafeteria.
Those are two of the 960 students I've taught so far. Now, I'll tell you about the other 958:
There's an odd, awkward boy who doesn't really speak English but always freaks me out when he tries to talk with me.
There's Tiao Jao Jao, a girl who raised her hand and asked me my first question as a teacher: "Is your wife Chinese?" I thought about it a second and said, "I don't know ..."
There's Gao Yuan, an adorably tiny-boned girl who boasted, "I'm very good at basketball." It had always bothered me that the girls couldn't enjoy basketball as freely as the boys, so I invited her to play. Whenever we passed her the ball, she heaved it at the hoop from far away, often making it. In a pink jacket, jeans, and a black, white-polka-dot skirt poking out beneath her jacket, she tenaciously defended the guy she was guarding.
There's a smart-ass guy, who asked me, "Why is your nose so big?"
There's a tall guy who, during a lesson in which I was being reserved, said, "Welcome! my first foreign teacher," and insisted on giving me a Chinese welcome - shaking my hand warmly.
Okay. Only 953 more to go. And I remember them all, too.
There's exotic Xiao Xiao (whose name means, "Small Small"), a round-Mongolian-faced girl with big lips and short, neck-length hair. And there's ...
Just kidding. I barely remember eight of them.
So, I'll say some things about the students in general:
During a lesson in which I had them perform theatrical skits, many groups chose to perform scenes in which marriage proposals were finalized. In the scripts they wrote, the brides and their mothers wanted to know exactly how much assets the grooms-to-be had, before they'd consent to the marriages.
During a lesson in which we discussed "Life in China", one of my questions was, "What's the biggest problem for young people?" Students commonly answered, "There are no jobs in China," or, "Stress in school."
During a class in which we discussed "Happiness", I asked if farmers or city-dwellers were happier. Everyone answered, farmers are happier, and yet the students all want to be educated city-dwellers dealing with city stress. I've been told that the majority of Chinese people are farmers, and yet, "Nobody in China wants to be a farmer."
Of course, the students also have questions they'd like me to answer, and skits they'd like me to perform. They want to know what I think of Barack Obama sending weapons to Taiwan. One little girl asked with a big seriousness, "Does Taiwan belong to China?" I answer that I don't have an opinion on the matter, that I don't know much about China's history. The little girl seemed, in a calmly mean way, to be disappointed in my answer.
Usually, the students ask less important questions: "Can you tell us about the U.S.A.?" "Can you tell us some stories from your trips?" "You said you like to dance. Can you show us?" "Can you please sing us an English song?" Apparently, "Can you use chopsticks?" is also a favorite question.
To give you an idea of how much Chinese people like singing, consider this. Two female friends asked me to go sing karaoke with them on a Sunday afternoon. Thinking it would be more fun if more people came, I sent a message inviting fat Liu Xiaoyu. He responded, "We are singing now." Even so, he and tall Gong Wei Peng came to our karaoke place after they'd finished singing in their karaoke place. Happily, the boys each said, "I love singing." For my part, I sang "Under the Sea", "Hava Nagila", and "Back in the U.S.S.R." - all terribly.
It's a good thing Ludong University was paying me to teach its students rather than sing to them.
During my second week of classes, I taught a class that included an off-white, stout boy wearing a taxi cap. He relaxed in a back-row seat, slouched as he raised his hand, and sloppily asked me questions, displaying an American's individuality. He asked if I liked sportscars, and he said he owned a nice one which he used to cruise around nearby cities.
My topic for this lesson was "Your Perfect Partner", and one of my questions was, "Is sex important?" Making my way around the room, I got to the back row, where the taxi-cab guy asked me, man-to-man, "Are you a virgin?" "No," I said. He curiously asked, "How old were you?" And he told me he has a girlfriend, whom he wants to marry once he'll have enough money.
I then indulged in one of the great joys of teaching, pitting my students against one another in competition. I divided them into four teams and asked trivia questions. A girl resembling Sara Silverman, who'd refused to speak during discussion-time, became cutely excited once she raised her hand and answered, "What is forty-four times three?" She even offered a name for her team: "Good Girl."
Suddenly, laughter sprung forth from the back of the room. Four silent guys got up and switched seats. At first, I didn't get it. But, then I realized. They didn't want to be on a team called "Good Girl."
Ha ha. The taxi-cab guy named his team, "Switzer" - or maybe he meant "Sweet Sir"?
A thick-bodied girl on "Switzer" answered, "a cross", then, "garlic", to my question, "What kind of food should you wear around your neck to scare away vampires?" 1 1/2 points awarded. Switzer had 11 1/2 points. "Go Go Team!", a team of clever boys, one of whom had had a teacher from England in high school, had 10 points. Three long-answer questions remained, worth two points each.
The last one was, "What is the best pet?" A boy from Go Go Team! raised his hand. "A horse, because people used to ride them in ancient times." 2 points awarded. "Class dismissed!" The final score: Go Go Team! - 14, Switzer - 13 1/2, Good Girl - 7, the unfortunately-named "Victory Team" - 4. "It's a good day!" said the victorious boy, on his way out the door.
But ... perhaps the best performance by a student was by a long-faced guy with a fu-man-chu goatee. (No glasses.) He got up to present on the topic of his "Dream Trip". Silently, he drew a map of China on the board. He used graceful strokes that called to mind Oriental paintings of the sea. He took a long time to label many places on the map, and I began to believe he didn't speak English.
But, then, he said he wanted to go to "Xizang" province, a.k.a. Tibet. He answered all my questions on the board. How long do you want to go for? "I want to live there." Who will you bring with you? "I'd bring books with me. Walden. Thoreau." Would you play any sports? "I'd do a martial art, tai chi." After class, he told me he hopes that a large population will never live in Tibet, that it'll never be ruined by people. What a cool guy.
And in the last class I would teach that week, I met a cool girl.
The topic of the class was "Love". Among the questions was, "When should a couple have sex?" and students giggled whenever I assigned someone to answer it. They all answered, "After they're married." - except for one boy who blurted out, "Today!"
Two girls told me that, during high school, they were prohibited from having boyfriends. Poor girls.
Another, bigger-bodied girl said - on the topic of her dreams - "I wanted to be a soldier, but I had to get glasses ... So, now I study law."
And a flat-faced, non-glasses-wearing girl named Ya Hui invited me to sit down with her and her friends. Her light-gray-skinned face seemed to get brighter near its center. She looked pure and innocent, yet her grayish brown hair seemed mature and like a harbor. She asked if I'd come to China with anyone else. "Are you sometimes lonely?" she said. I said, "Yes." She said I could make friends with her and her friends.
After the class period, she walked across campus with me. She said she wants to improve her English. She hates quizzes. "If you do good, it's nothing. If you do bad, they say, "Bad girl." She's not interested in law. She wants to be free, to study in the U.S. or Japan. She suggested we climb a nearby mountain some time.
She - similar to a long-haired, cuddly romantic girl I'd walked with another day - seemed to crowd nearer and nearer to me as we walked. I love girls who do that.
Ludong University's girls can often be seen holding each other's hands as they walk. They, like the boys, live eight to a room. Although Chinese students have more hours of classes than American students, and they don't really drink any alcohol, their college days are good times indeed, due to the camaraderie.
And though they sometimes seem inhibited, many adore the opportunities their university provides. One boy dreams of buying "a big building" (a big house) for his parents. Many long to be teachers or lawyers. And one little girl, with American-style confidence, said, "I guess you could say I have a happy family!" because she and her two sisters are all in universities; and, because she aspires to travel all around China: "I have a bright future."
Okay. There. I'll tell you about the other 940 next time.
- Modern Oddyseus