Words from China

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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These students would avoid such Chinglish

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

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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!

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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.

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Yangshuo is dreamlike

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