Recent Conversations with my Chinese students…
Our students like to talk to us whenever they get the chance, although many are nervous because they think their English skills are poor. Today, however, I made about 10 spelling errors in my powerpoint presentation so I think that really boosted a lot of my kids’ confidences! Guess they realized that I’m probably way more of a dummy than them – I can’t speak Chinese OR English! After class, I had quite a few girls stay and chat with me. This is becoming a habit for some of them and I’m really enjoying getting to know them all on a deeper level.
Most of my students only know about the US through history books from class and pop culture on the TV and internet so we get a lot of questions regarding American culture. Even the smallest differences are astounding – things like sex and toilets, make-up and dormitories. They may seem like random topics but those little things add up in the end creating the giant canyons of difference between one society and another. The differences between our lives and the lives of our students are vast. These conversations really give an insight, to me at least, about just how diverse the world really is. There’s so many ways to do even the littlest, most insignificant things and each way seems to work, in its own way at least. The world is such a mysterious, interesting place. Or better yet, the world is full of mysterious, interesting peoples. We have so much to learn from each other.
Student: So, in America, do you have squat toilets?
Me: No, there are no squatty potties in the US. We only have, um, sit toilets. Like western toilets.
Student: So, in your house, you have toilets like that? (points to the toilet in my bathroom) What do you call those kinds of toilets?
Me: Um, I don’t know, Western toilets I guess.
Student: Western toilets? So, do you think western toilets are more clean? I think that squat toilets are maybe more convenient. All you have to do is just, you know, squat.
Me: (giggle) Yeah, I guess that’s more convenient. I don’t know, maybe squatty potties are cleaner than sitting on a seat. But, I never sit on the toilets in public bathrooms anyways. I just kind of, you know, like hover over the seat. (giggle as I hover over my chair to show her)
Student: Or use the paper to cover the seat?
Me: Yes, sometimes. Yeah, I don’t know which kind of toilet is cleaner. I guess I think western toilets are cleaner because, I don’t know, it’s harder to miss the toilet, you know? There isn’t as much pee on the floor in the US. In general, the ground is just a lot cleaner in the US.
Student: Teacher, I have some questions for you. What is the difference between ‘the lost generation’ and ‘the beat generation?’
Me: Well, ‘the lost generation’ refers to the era during and after the world wars. You know WWI and WWII?
Student: Yes, yes.
Me: Yes, so the youth during this time had to go to war and experienced a lot of death and sorrow. It was a pretty depressing time. And ‘the beat generation’ began around the 1950s when people were kind of re-discovering music and art and joy. It was the time when Rock n’ Roll was first appearing. You know rock n’ roll?
Student: Yes, yes. So, TS Elliot was during the lost generation? He wrote ‘The Old Man and the Sea.”
Me: Yes! And he wrote my favorite poem…
Both of us: ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock!’
Student: And Hemmingway was during the lost generation? And the book ‘On the Road’ was during the beat generation.
Me: Yes! Wow, you really do love literature! Have you read ‘On the Road?’
Student: No, not yet. But teacher, I hear that people during the beat generation did drugs?
Me: Yes, they did lots of acid. Like Jack Kerouac who wrote ‘On the Road’. The first part of the book is good but then he does a bunch of acid and the second part gets all crazy, you know? Because he just did way too many drugs.
Student: Yes, I know. Thank you teacher!
Me: My pleasure.
Me: So, do you just live with your mother?
Student: Oh yes, about that. My dad works in another city so I only see him on holidays. The city is about five hours away from my hometown. Sometimes my mother visits him on the weekends but they talk on the phone everyday. He has lived in the city for three years. Before that he lived in another city for two years and before that he lived in another city for three years. He said there is no work for him in our city. He is a manager for quality control for a company that makes suitcases for other countries. I visited his apartment twice during summer vacation.
Me: That must be hard on you. And your mother. Does she miss him?
Student: Yes, she misses him. I used to be upset that he lived in another city but I adjusted to it and now I don’t complain.
Student: I hear Americans shower in the morning, is that true?
Me: Well, not all Americans. It depends on the person. Everyone is different. Some Americans shower twice a day or more. It just depends.
Students: Oh, well Chinese people never shower in the morning. We shower at night. When I first came to school, I was a little shy to shower in front of all the other girls in the bath house.
Me: Bath house? So, you have to go to another building to shower?
Student: Yes, all the students go to the bath house to shower in the communal bathrooms. I used to be shy because I had never been naked before in front of other people but now I’ve been in college for a few years so I do not mind anymore.
Student: I am a little envious of your family because I am an only child and sometimes I am lonely.
Me: Oh, I would be lonely, too. How do most Chinese feel about the one child policy. Do they disagree with it?
Student: Well, now the law says that if a girl comes from a family with one child and the boy comes from a family with one child and they get married then that couple can have two children. Or you can pay the government money to have another child.
Me: I heard that people can also receive reward money for turning their neighbors in if they have more than one child.
Student: Yes, sometimes. But a family can also give their child to another relative if they cannot afford another kid. My grandpa was given to one of his relatives when he was a child because they had 9 children.
Student: I feel like I have no common topics to talk about with boys. In high school, most people do not date because we have too much homework. Do people in the US date in high school?
Me: Well, some people have to wait until they are 16 to date, but yes many people in the US have boyfriends or girlfriends in high school but not all people. It just depends on the person.
Student: I think that if a girl has a boyfriend in high school, her parents and teachers will think she is not a good girl.
Student: Yes, so I never had a boyfriend in high school. And now, at this university, you notice that there are many girls in the English department so I think that it is hard to meet boys.
Me: Well, you should talk to boys. Do you talk to boys on QQ?
Student: No, I think we have no common topics. Many of my friends do not have boyfriends either. I think maybe I will wait until after college to date. But I’m not worried, because I believe in love and luck so I know I will find someone.
Student: Teacher, I have one more question. Martin Luther King. What is his thing called? (whispers in friend to Chinese) Are there still the same problems today?
Me: Well, Martin Luther King fought against the Jim Crow Laws. Do you know the Jim Crow Laws?
Student: (whispers with friends in Chinese) No, no.
Me: Do you know what segregation is?
Student: No, no.
Me: Well, segregation is when people of different races can not use the same buildings or public places so there would be signs that said ‘no blacks’ or ‘whites only.’ Martin Luther King fought against racism and segregation.
Me: Racism is like saying ‘I hate black people’ or ‘I hate white people.’ Or ‘I hate asians’ or ‘I hate mexicans.’
Student: Do people still feel that way today?
Me: Well, Martin Luther King fought against segregation today so now it is illegal but racism still happens in some places in the US today but not everywhere. It’s looked down upon. It’s impolite and rude and people today think it’s wrong so you wouldn’t say it out loud.
Student: But some people still feel it in their hearts?
Me: Yes, but not everyone. Things have changed, even though there are still problems today.
Student: Are black people today poor? I read in an article in Time magazine that black people live in the ghetto.
Me: Well, some African Americans live in poorer neighborhoods called the ghettos or the projects but there are also poor white people in the US and poor Asians and poor Mexicans and other peoples. It’s just like in China, there are poor people and rich people everywhere. But not all black people are poor or have bad jobs. Just look at Obama. Our President, he is half black yet he is not poor at all. Racism still exists and black people still face many problems today, just like other people, but Martin Luther King, his movement, it really changed America. He really made a difference.
In so many ways, we are different from people across the world yet in other ways, it seems like we are all the same. Same worries, same cares, same hopes, same dreams…What a world.