Chapter 9 Hong Hu to Wuhan
March to June 2003 Qinchao and Mingxing were my students. When they came to live with me in the Summer of 2003, they were no longer my students. By the summer of 2004, QC had decided that he would go to university in Wuhan and Mingxing decided to repeat Senior Three at High School in Fengkou (another part of Hong Hu near my sister- in-law's village).
That summer, my school, along with other schools in the area, decided to run Summer Camps and they had invited a team of Americans to participate. I had been informed that I would be required to work but knowing full well that I would not be given timely or dependable information, I accepted QC's mother's invitation to travel with him to Tianjin and stay with his uncle. I probably would not have gone had it not been that I knew that someone would stuff up the planning for the summer camp and leave me hanging not knowing what was going on. After making arrangements with QC and his mother, I advised my school that if they expected me to be at the summer camp that they should advise me at least 3 days prior to its commencent. I had no intention of sitting around unable to make any plans for myself while the powers that be expected me to simply wait 'until somebody tells me what to do' - as is expected of the Chinese folk.
Zhan Yan who had just finished 2nd year of Junior Middle school, had moved home just prior to the end of year exams. Since his school was also having a summer camp, and at the appropriate time he moved into the school dorms since his grandmother went to stay in Shanghai while his Aunt went off to Wuhan, and his mother went off to Shenzhen.
When I arrived back in Hong Hu to start Summer Camp Liu Xiwen my coordinator advised me that the Americans had been in town a week already, and asked if I would go and talk to them. It transpired that they had been holed up in their hotel rooms with nothing to do for a whole week because the starting date provided them turned out to be a week earlier than what transpired. (Who would have guessed it?) I went up to their hotel to meet with them and found them at supper. They were not exactly happy with their treatment, so Mingxing agreed to take them the following day over to the Museum at Chibi Village on the other side of the Yangtze River. When I made the suggestion to their Chinese 'minders' that they go across the river to 'Chibi', the minders became incensed and told me that I should not use such bad language. Oh the perils of the Chinese language! How was I supposed to know that the tone I put on those two syllables changed it from being the name of a place into a term given to a specific 'sexual' act? Not joking folks!
At some point on that first day of camp (for teachers), I ran into a couple of the American teachers and asked them how it went. They were over the moon about the interest that the participants showed in what they had to say. I took a guess and said something like 'they asked you 9 questions and you answered'. The foreigners asked how I knew that and I then had to advise them that this is a ploy Chinese students use to keep the foreign teacher talking so that they don't have to do anything themselves. Devious little buggers they are!
I'm not sure what scheduled the foreign teachers followed but I worked for thirteen days straight before getting a break. When I discovered that I was going to get a weekend free I decided to take off to Wuhan for the weekend. It must have been the day before I planned to leave that Zhan Yan appeared at my front door to inform me that 'his' summer camp had been cancelled, and with no one at home, he needed a place to stay. I could hardly turf him out and nor could I run off and leave him to his own devices, so when I took off to Wuhan, he came with me. When we arrived back I took him to my classes for the teachers. , and on one occasion put one teacher totally to shame for his ability to think, argue and talk in English.
Even though a couple of the teachers I was teaching were quite good at speaking English one on one outside the classroom, inside the classroom was a different matter. This has to do with 'face'. The last thing a good English speaker wants to have said about them is that they are a show-off. Setting the same homework for Zhan Yan as I did for the teachers, one day I got so annoyed at the fact that teachers had failed to come to class prepared to speak on a topic, that I called Zhan Yan to stand and speak on a topic I had privately set him.
After he spoke for about 2 minutes, a male teacher who spoke excellent English stood up and said: 'His English is not very good! I didn't understand a word he said. And besides - he is wrong about ...' (whatever it was). I was so incensed that I said to the teacher, 'If you can't understand a word he is saying then you can't possibly disagree with what he says'. I then instructed Zhan Yan to repeat his monologue and when he was finished, the teacher got stuck into him questioning about everything he said - And 13-14 year old Zhan Yan understood everything the teacher said and gave intelligent replies.
While I was ever so proud of Zhan Yan for putting that teacher in his place, I simply did not understand what had actually taken place in the classroom. By calling Zhan Yan to do what the teachers would not or could not do, both Zhan Yan and I had caused them to lose face. Whilst I did not know it, Zhan Yan did and when we got home that afternoon, he told me that he could not go back into that classroom. That my friends is what foreign teachers are up against in teaching in China. Good intentions mean nothing!
When the summer camp finished and with his family back in town, Zhan Yan returned home to live. When the new semester started, QC was in college in Wuhan and Mingxing was repeating grade 3 in the Number Two school not far from his home. My brother who had stayed with me the first year had been gone for 6 months already. I thought that I was probably going to be lonely during the coming semester, but as it turned out I didn't, for lo and behold another foreigner arrived in town to teach in Zhan Yan's School.
Judy the American Born Chinese
Judy's family originally hailed from the south of China, and as a child, her mother was sent to stay with relatives in Hong Kong. She later moved to the United States where she married a Chinese man from another country. Since their Chinese languages were different, their two daughters grew up speaking English. Judy once told me that in the U.S. she neither felt Chinese nor American and that she had hoped that visiting China and meeting her Grandmother and other relatives for the first time, would help her find herself too. In the summer of 2004 she arrived in China to find her roots. What she initially found was that she couldn't stomach the food, and spent weeks trying to recover from the shock to her system. When I was first introduced to her she was not well at all.
Because Judy looked Chinese everyone assumed that she spoke Chinese. Many were the times that upon seeing us together, people would ask her questions about me. The irony was that while she never understood what they were saying - I did! On one occasion the bicycle shop owner became incensed when Judy kept ignoring him and finally he grabbed her and demanded that she answer his questions. At that point I stepped in and said: 'Hey Mister! She's a foreigner. She doesn't speak Chinese!' The poor guy nearly dropped dead from the shock. On another occasion we were in YiChang on a sightseeing trip, (Yichang is the starting point for the Three Gorges Dam tours ). We were on the river bank and Judy was off taking photographs when a passing old couple made a comment about the 'foreigner'. I told the old lady that Judy was the foreigner but that I was from Xinjiang (Muslim Province in the northwest - many people there have a Middle Eastern appearance).
The old lady said that I was stupid and obviously a foreigner and that it was Judy who was Chinese. When they tried to speak to Judy, she held a blank look on her face and in her worst Chinese accent said: 'I don't understand!' The look on the old couple's faces was priceless. Another time (in Wuhan) we got into a taxi after leaving a restaurant. Judy sat in the back seat and I sat in the front. Every time I told the driver where to go he ignored me and kept asking Judy where we were going. She just ignored him. Finally I said: 'She's American. She doesn't understand Chinese.'
Suddenly the driver could understand my Chinese. This is a common occurrence when a foreigner speaks Chinese whilst accompanied by Chinese friends. No one understands the foreigner!
The time I spent with Judy in Hong Hu was wonderful. We traveled together to Yichang, to the Qinchuan pavilion in Wuhan and frequently went on bicycle rides all over the countryside. She was also kind enough to let me interview her for my Column at Magic City.
With my second year in Hong Hu coming to an end, I had to make a decision about my future. Although Judy (while in America) had originally agreed to teach in Hong Hu for a year, after her first few weeks in China she decided that she didn't think she could manage to last one whole year, and so told them she would only work for one semester. When she told me that she was leaving her school and had booked into a Chinese course at Wuhan University, I decided that perhaps that would be best for me as well.
Since there was no one to really spend time with me to teach me Mandarin, I had to learn what I could by listening to conversations and asking questions, and the end result was that I was learning Chinese in local dialect. I decided that I needed to learn Chinese properly in a classroom setting. At the same time I was in negotiations to teach in Wuhan. When that school cooperated with me to make it possible to attend Chinese classes in the morning and teach in the afternoons, I readily agreed to do both. And so it was, that at the beginning of 2005, Judy and I both set off to study in Wuhan. As it turned out however, we each only managed one semester of study.
Studying in Wuhan
Since it was taking so long to organize a firm teaching contract in Wuhan, and already having made enquiries to study at Wuhan University, I advised the school I was dealing with, that I had decided to study Chinese and would only be available to teach in the afternoons and/or evenings. They were not interested. The day I went to Wuhan University to pay my fees, the Hubei TV and Radio University contacted me to say that they would hire me. At that time I thought it an excellent situation since I much preferred to be paid while studying, and living in a better apartment than provided for students at WuDa. (Short for Wuhan Daxue/university).
As things turned out it was a mistake because that was the only semester that I was able to do both things at once. I had started studying in the beginning of 2005 but in summer when trying to make arrangements for the second semester, the administrators could not or would not tell me when the classes for the new semester would be held, therefore I could not advise my college when I would be available to teach. On the Friday before the Monday classes were to start at WuDa, they insisted that I pay my fees, but still couldn't tell me when the classes were. So I took a stab in the dark and told my university that I would be free to teach in the afternoons.
When I arrived at WuDa on the Monday, I, like many other students, turned up at 8am to discover that classes were to be held in the afternoon. In fact they had split our classes so that we did 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon; an impossible situation for me. Whilst WuDa would not give me my money back, they did suggest that I return the following semester. I tried to just do morning classes for a while, but it was pointless and so I quit.
As I stated previously, Judy planned to study Chinese as well. She had actually been studying Chinese in school in America and could read and write it pretty well. Despite this advantage she found it difficult to master Mandarin, and after a couple of months became discouraged enough to quit, and found a part time job. I on the other hand began to excel in my studies. I was the only student in my class who had any ability in Chinese and was often called upon to translate for our non English speaking teachers. This was not an easy thing to do because my Chinese, apart from being very limited, was learned with local pronunciation rather than in standard Mandarin. In class I was constantly being corrected for my 'poor' Mandarin pronunciation, but if I was talking with the teachers trying to understand their meanings, nobody minded if I used local pronunciation.
'Old' Mrs. Zhu who constantly corrected our mispronunciation of her name (we were calling her 'Teacher Pig') began testing our prior knowledge of Chinese on our very first day in class. She pointed to this, that and everything else trying to determine what we did and did not know - and I did not know a lot. When she finally pointed to her wrist watch I jumped up and down with excitement and said: 'Xiao Bian!'. She gave me the most disgusted look and said: 'Shou Biao!' I had gotten it wrong but was yet sure that I hadn't. It left me wondering what 'Xiao Bian' meant if it didn't mean wrist watch. When illumination dawned I startled everyone when I let out an almighty 'Oh!' when I realized that I had used the slang term for 'urine / to urinate'.
On another occasion a different Mrs. Zhu was asking me questions about my teaching duties out at DongHu Campus. Remembering that my Chinese was (and still is) very limited, I misunderstood something she asked me, and in giving my reply had not pronounced the words right, and the end result was utter confusion. I told Mrs. Zhu that my students were poor, lazy and uncooperative. I thought she then asked me what grade they were in, and I thought I had replied: 'Grade 2'. Well, she laughed delightedly and jumped up and down exclaiming that my Chinese was wonderful and how marvelous it was that I had learned 'usual' expressions in local dialect. She was beside herself with joy. The students wanted to know why she was excited, and all I could say was: 'I haven't the faintest idea!'
After class I went to her to explain that I really didn't know what had transpired and she once again started laughing. She thought it was delightful. She hadn't asked me what grade my students were in; she had asked me, 'What can you do about it?' (Zhenme ban?) In reply, I had inadvertently used a colloquialism meaning 'What is there to do?' - 'Liang ban'. My Chinese had been perfect - I just didn't know what I was saying!
Even the simplest things in life become difficult when speaking Chinese if you don't get the intonation right. You think for instance that you are saying '2 Yuan - 2 rmb' [liang kuai] and it turns out you are saying 'cool' [also liang kuai but with different intonation]. That's Chinese for you.
After 11 years of living in China I still don't know how to speak Mandarin correctly and I can neither read nor write it. What I have learned is spoken with a mix of pronunciations and dialectic words not used in 'standard' Mandarin. Studying in Wuhan University I discovered that 'San Kor' (class) is supposed to be pronounced 'shang ke' and that to smoke a cigarette is 'Chou Yan' not 'chi yah', and that Zero is 'Ling' not 'Ning'.
Because I learned Chinese in a 'common' accent, I quite often don't sound like a foreigner and this is sometimes enough to confuse people so that they believe me when I tell them I come from the Muslim province. As one lady said: 'From your face I think you must be a foreigner, but from your Chinese speaking you MUST be Chinese'. Judy on the other hand, while not having a 'foreign' accent in Chinese, had a 'southern' accent - Cantonese. This was because Cantonese was her mother's language, and she had had sufficient exposure to that pronunciation and intonation so as to effect her 'Mandarin' pronunciations. In one sense she was lucky because many Chinese just thought that being a Southerner she had not really learned Mandarin all that well.
Although Judy and I both planned to study Chinese until we gained real proficiency, we both only lasted the one semester after which I returned to a 'normal life' teaching students and Judy went to work for a private company, before finally returning to the United States. We still occasionally chat via email.
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2013 Social Commentary Articles
Giving the Finger to Comrade GOOGLE's brand of Communism
By Comrade R.P. BenDedek
August 26, 2013
I have come to the decision that the only thing I can do is take a page out of Comrade Google's 'Little Red Book' and say: 'Screw You!' Comrade Google didn't like the way the Communist Government of China kept changing the rules. Comrade Google would not submit to a 'totalitarian authority'. Comrade Google decided to pull up stakes and leave. Is there a lesson to be learned in that?
Pathological Blindness of Political Correctness
Aug 23, 2013
Here are excerpts from three different articles which all portray symptoms of PC induced pathological blindness. The forces pushing Islam (not to be confused with Muslims practicing Islam) have only one goal which has been stated over and over again by many people in many places at many different times: "To turn the world to Islam" (and destroy the Big Satan - The USA - in the process.)
Get rid of your Baggage People
Aug 21, 2013
Einstein is purported to have said: 'Insanity is when you do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result'. The 'pastors' I mentioned above, were real people; people who did their best to get me to believe and do as they did. In each of those cases 'prior to being caught out in their sins', each of those pastors spoke ill of me, slandered me and did their best to control and manipulate people I knew. They did me a lot of injury and caused me a lot of grief.
Terrorism the Media doesn't want to report on
by R.P. BenDedek et al.
August 13, 2006
Every time Israel takes action against Hamas in Gaza and starts blowing up tunnels, the 'western activists' start gushing tears from their eyes and blood from their hearts. The purpose here today is simply to provide information to counter the irrationality of 'agenda driven' activists who seek to control the emotions and minds of the silent and somewhat mindless majority. I am still 8 years old, hospitalized in critical condition. Screaming from pain. Bandaged from head to toe. And my head is not the same. No longer full of golden long hair. The head is burnt. The face, back, the legs and arms, burnt. I am surrounded by family members, but my mother is not with me.
R.P.BenDedek (pseudonym) is the Author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' (http://www.kingscalendar.com ), and is a guest columnist and stand-in Editor at Magic City Morning Star News. He is also the Editor of the 'Writers Journal' at Kingscalendar.com. An Australian, he has been teaching Conversational English in China since 2003.
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"The King's Calendar" is a chronological study of the historical books of the Bible (Kings and Chronicles), Josephus, Seder Olam Rabbah, and the (Essene) Damascus Document of The Dead Sea Scrolls