In China, a semi-structured gathering to practice English is often known, quaintly, as an “English Corner”. Scenic Yangshuo has a bunch of privately-run language schools, and most of them offer free room and board indefinitely to foreigners (like me) who are happy to participate in the school’s English corners for a few hours a week. I love this deal. The English corners are a treat, not work: among other things, I get to pick the brains of a bunch of young, ambitious chinese, with relatively good English. Below are some choice fragments, most focus on the differences between the cultures more than the similarities.
About when your parents disapprove of your girlfriend/boyfriend.
L: You should respect your parents. Your parents are more important than love.
D : No! If I was a parent, I would let my child’s feelings come first.
L: Your parents should come first.
A: In China, if a man doesn’t have a house, it is hard for him to get married. Women expect him to have a house. So parents help their sons out to buy a house, and then the sons repay them later by looking after them when they are old.
P (a rare middle-aged student in the school): You don’t know how poor China was then, in the cultural revolution. Women would marry a man because he had a nice watch, or a nice bicycle!
C: (to another student) Your pronunciation is very poor!
Me: This is a big difference from the West, we usually don’t criticise someone when they are trying hard.
J: Ah, but in China, we can say these things to our friends, because they know we are joking.
Me: Like when you call your friends fat and ugly.
C + J: Yes!
Someone brings me some ginger tea
S: you like it?
Me: Yeah, it’s pretty good
S: They shouldn’t be giving it to you know, it’s hot.
Me: I can wait for it to cool down.
S: Not the temperature, but it warms you up. You should drink it in winter
Me: ah… what else is “hot” food?
G: Fried food, beef. Dog meat!
Me: and what is cold food?
G: er (looks at dictionary)… mung beans. Bitter melon
Me: Can anyone tell me any Chinese proverbs?
S: If you sow melon seeds, you get melons, if you sow pea seeds, you get peas.
Me: You reap what you sow!
Me: Are you saying you have studied here for 9 months, away from your wife, to improve your english?
H: Yes, dreams are important, If we don’t have a dream, there is nothing pushing us forward. I think your dream will come true, because you have a big dream, it will come true.