Thursday, April 14, 2011

Things I Learned At English Corner #1

English Corner. Ever heard of it?

Per Google and Wikipedia: The phrase English Corner commonly applies to informal periods of instruction in English held at schools and colleges in China. These sessions are sometimes led by native Chinese teachers or less often by teachers who are native speakers of English.

It's quite popular as an expat, to participate in English Corners. It allows one to build relationships with locals in a casual setting.

I've just started going to an EC. Each corner works differently so I can't speak for all of them but we meet at a coffee shop for a couple of hours once a week. It seems to be (I can't really use the word "usually" since I've only been there twice now) an average of 5-6 Westerners and anywhere from 15-25 Chinese people all sitting around tables drinking coffee, taking turns asking questions. There are a several groups within the big group as the foreigners are usually spread out.

My first time I went, the questions centered around who I was, what I did, what they did, where we're from, economics and American religion. It was all very proper and semi-boring. I suppose I could've taken some of the talk to a deeper level but I just feel like there needs to be relationships built before any real openness occurs.

Tonight...tonight was the best night of my life (a little bit of an exaggeration but not much). I'm almost willing to bet that I will never have another EC as awesome as this one was. Before I get into topics, let me tell a little bit about each of the people that go.

  • Kelley- expat teacher, good friend, reason I started going to EC
  • Brian- Canadian, a little volatile, interesting, not pertinent to this post
  • Funny guy- Chinese man with a sense of HUMOR
  • The Intellect- older Chinese man maybe upper 70's, always asking about meanings of words, quiet
  • Has a Girlfriend- Chinese student, I only use this as his defining characteristic because he leaves tomorrow to travel with his girlfriend all over southern China. Her family is really traditional so they have to have a chaperone on the trip. Who's the chaperone? Her very traditional father.
  • Smooth- young Chinese guy, very Westernized, cute and knows it
  • No Name- a nice Chinese woman, don't know her name, doesn't have any defining characteristics
I will probably add to this character list as time goes by but these are all the important players. Now on to things discussed tonight.

It started off with embarrassing moments. We each went around and shared a little story. I told about a time I fell getting on the bus and landed on the bus driver. Smooth told about how he was schooled at basketball by his younger and smaller cousin. Has a Girlfriend shared about how he gave a speech and used the phrase "Aunt Flow came for a visit" in the wrong context but the whole class erupted in laughter.

Then we moved on to important moments, meaningful moments. No Name talked about a time when a man asked her to move out of the way and called her old. Has a Girlfriend shared about how he used to light paper airplanes on fire and throw them out the window. He burned his neighbors nicely drying cloth diapers to the ground. Apparently it was the first time he ever told anyone and I couldn't help but laugh a little. I shared about demolishing a bird bath in our rented house when I was 6 or 7.

Then we moved on to acronyms. We started throwing them out... asap, lol, brb...and then The Intellect brings up UFO. I ask, "Do you believe in UFOs and aliens?"...and it all just goes down hill from there.

The Intellect: Oh yes of course I do.
Me:Really? Why?
The Intellect: Because there's so much space out there, there must be aliens.
Then Has a Girlfriend jumps in....
Has a Girlfriend: I don't believe in UFOs but I believe in aliens.
Me: No UFOs but aliens?
Kelley: How do the aliens get to earth?
Has a Girlfriend: They are magic. They have magic. Did you know that there's a school in America that is working with kids that can do magic?
Me and Kelley: [not smirking] No, really? I had no idea. They can really do magic?
Has a Girlfriend: Yah, they have special powers....[he goes on to explain something about humans getting these special powers from aliens or something but I can't really remember. My mind is so blown by this point...]
Kelley and Smooth were privately discussing the issue of aliens. Smooth didn't believe in aliens but when asked if there was anything he believed in, he mentioned the end of the world in 2012. So then Kelley...

Kelley: Does anyone else believe in the end of the world in 2012.
Has a Girlfriend: Yes, I definitely do.
Me: Wait, what?
Has a Girlfriend: I believe the world is going to end in 2012.
Me: So you believe that you have 7 months to live?
Has a Girlfriend: Yes.

This prompted a discussion on "if you only have 7 months to live, what would you do differently". Has a Girlfriend says he's going to collect documentaries and books and bury them. Funny Guy says he's going to create the contraption that will allow him to live (which led to an entire discussion on surviving in hot air balloons if the world was covered in lava). The Intellect also said he would build something that would allow him to survive but he was quite adamant that he didn't believe in 2012. Actually, the general consensus of the group was that yes, there were aliens but no, the world wouldn't end in 2012.

Anyway, while we were in the middle of all this discussion of only having 7 months to live and survival and aliens and magic, The Intellect leans over to me and says,

The Intellect: I've been reading a magazine that predicts that in 20 years, US scientists will have built an elevator to the moon. There'll be a launch pad right here in China, in Beijing.
Me: Wait, what? (apparently this is the only phrase I can come up with when in shock)
The Intellect: In 20 years, there will be elevators to the moon., well, what will we do on the moon?
The Intellect: [looks at me like I'm crazy] I don't know. The magazine didn't say.

I, of course, had to share this with the rest of the group and ask their thoughts on it. Funny guy, who actually does build elevators, joked that he "would in fact be in charge of building the elevators to the moon and that all instructions would be in Chinese. And that the official language on the moon will most definitely be Chinese. We'd (Kelley and I) better practice now."

It was the most entertaining and semi-disturbing conversation I've ever had. Several questions come to mind.

  1. Do they believe everything they read in the newspaper here? Magic houses and elevators to the moon...
  2. Do they think every movie in the West is based on reality? Harry Potter, The X-men...
  3. If they really thought they only have 7 months to live, would they really only work on finding a way to survive? There isn't anything they would change about their life now?
I'm really excited about this group. They're fun and willing to share. They seem open to discussion. I'm hoping to have a chance to get deeper and really talk about issues. Maybe talk to them about some Truth. We'll see.

Man, I have never learned so much in one conversation. Can't wait until next week (mostly because Has a Girlfriend will be reporting on the trip with his girlfriend and THE CHAPERONE).

**I'm afraid of what this post is going to make you think about these beautiful people. They are not stupid or uneducated. In fact, most of the people that come to EC are the wealthy, college graduates. I'm not sure why they believe what they believe. I think it'll be interesting to find out as time and conversations allow, where they learned it and why they hold to some of these ideas. It's like a puzzle. It doesn't fit yet, but it's because I don't have all the pieces. It'll probably take years to put it together. In fact, I hope it does.


The Riddering's said...

That sounds like too much fun! I can only hope that this elevator is in fact a Wonkavator.

Anonymous said...

I love when people say things off the wall...and I can play along or stir the pot. I think that is why I like to talk to little children...they say odd, interesting things that don't necessarily fit the real world, but they do fit their real world. PB

Kayla said...

i would've paid big money to hear this conversation and to see/hear your laughing :) This is too funny! Love it!!

Abs said...

I'm pretty sure that might have been the best conversation in EC history!! When I did EC last year, we never had anything like that stuff come up. If I return next year, I might have to bring it up myself to see what they say!

Abs said...

I'm kinda creeped out by this whole grey school thing...


Jen said...

Okay, that article was...interesting.

gvchina said...

i read your blog for the first time today. loved it! i'll be visiting you again! keep on writing!