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15/03/07 - Chinese School Girls and Dumpling Production


This is what people often shout at me when I’m walking down the street. They’re a friendly bunch so I reply back, “Hello”, in my strongest, posh, expat voice. This generally results in them rolling around laughing and then speaking in Chinese to one another, which I obviously rarely, in fact never, understand.


The staring doesn’t really bother me; often I don’t even notice it. However, recently it’s been particularly bad when I’ve been out and about in shorts. The weather is still fairly cold here, however I’ve started playing some sport with some fellow teachers from the university. It’s warm enough to only wear shorts and a T-shirt for sports so I do. However, I’m told that the reason that even more people stare at me when I’m in shorts is that Chinese men aren’t hairy. And my legs are. Quite hairy. Therefore, I think they see me as some kind of white ape from the West, which is nice.

Sport in Beijing

I’ve played football a couple of times and a game of basketball. I think I also may have entered myself into a table tennis competition which could prove embarrassing. The people I play sport with don’t speak much English so our conversations are either abrupt and to the point, or drawn out and painfully long as I try and act out what I’m trying to say. I’m picking up a few Chinese sporting terms though. “Haoqiu”, means “good ball” and “piaoliang” means “beautiful” – two terms rarely applicable to my football.

Johnny’s first week of teaching

I seem to have survived my first week of teaching and as predicted is wasn’t too hard, seeing as I spent most of the lessons talking about me and showing the classes pictures of the family and the house in Buxton. After patiently listening to my self-indulgent speech, I have been getting the students to write introductions to themselves. The rest of the lesson then consists of me listening to all the speeches and making basic comments.

Students’ level of English

Overall, I have been impressed with the standard of English. They are by no means fluent, but their English is pretty good. Quite a few of the girls, and a couple of the boys (!!), stated that they were pleased to have such a handsome English teacher, which does nothing for my lack of self confidence. In actual fact, however, the most touching moment came in my first class when a male student who seemed very shy said that I was his first ever foreign teacher and so he would never forget that class. A tear formed in the corner of my eye, although it could just have been Beijing’s pollution.

My classes range in size from 30-40 students, although I’ve just had my second class with the “monday students” and they seem to have multiplied. There were 30 last week and there’s now 50. In case I hadn’t spent enough time talking about myself over the past week, they have asked me to give an extra lecture on my time at Oxford tomorrow. They’ve booked one of the bigger lecture theatre’s in the library, which is great, apart from the fact that it’s now almost 10pm here and I haven’t yet started my speech. Not good.

The students’ introductions did get a little boring after a while, however what got me through them were the little phrases that many of the students used, which you’d never hear in England. The word “seldom” was very common in the speeches and practically all the students finished by saying, “That is all”.

Wang Ying – who is a woman

Wang Ying also amuses me as when I apologise to her for something, which has happened a lot in the last two weeks, she replies, “it doesn’t matter”. Or if I say, “thank you”, she replies, “vou’re Velcome!” (and that’s not a typo). Actually, these phrases don’t seem that funny when written in an email, but if you try and say them out loud, enthusiastically in an American-Chinese accent, you may begin to understand the comedy. However, you also may look fairly stupid if you are currently in a public place.

I also found out the other day that Wang Ying’s English name is Doris. I struggled to keep a straight face and when she asked me if it was a common name, I replied in as genuine a way as I could muster, that it was a beautiful name which was very common amongst young women in the West.

Chinese toilets!

I had my first experience of squatter loos the other day. I’ll not go into any details but what I will say is that they are common, and they are certainly not my favourite aspect of Chinese culture.

Bargaining in China

The last two weeks have also highlighted the fact that I’m not a good bargaining partner. I’ve been shopping with both Bob and Honglu and they definitely would have been better off without me. The typical scenario is that the shop keeper suggests a ridiculously high price. Bob (or Honglu) looks at me and I nod approvingly. This completely undermines Bob as he announces that the price is far too expensive. The shop keeper suggests a lower price, and the whole process repeats itself.

The moral of this story is, don’t go shopping with me in China.

Chinese dumplings – spot the ones made by the Englishman

I have an American friend here called Nancy, the other day I went to dinner at the house of her husband’s son from his first marriage. There was a production line consisting of three generations of the family making dumplings. I joined in the construction process, which everyone kindly said I was good at. The truth however was that when it came to dinner, you could see my dumplings a mile off, as they either had hardly any meat in, or were falling to pieces. Despite this, I dutifully ate about 30 of them while Wen Bing’s father-in-law tried to get me drunk by giving me “Baijiu”, which literally means “white alcohol”.

Anyway, enough. That’s my second week in Beijing for you. Thanks again for your emails. I do think about you all a lot; especially when I’ve got your photos projected onto large screens to show my students. I hope you are well and I look forward to hearing your news.

That is all.

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