I have been tutoring a Chinese student in conversational English every single night for two hours a session, since July 4th. It worked out to be a lot more challenging than I expected. What I didn’t consider were the cultural references which are inherent in any language. For the record, I don’t have any formal English credits other than English 101 at the college level. No degree, I’m just a working writer. But I think things went so well because of my writing background. I have written so many articles on so many different subjects, I was able to explain and field certain questions he threw my way. Try explaining the KKK and race relations, or the Native Americans, or even our modern legislation system and the housing market (in China, the government owns the land. And you can build a house, but you can only own it for seventy years, and it cannot be passed down to an heir. Also, the government can come and kick you out anytime they want. My student was fascinated by the fact we can own our own homes). Believe me, explaining things of this nature are guaranteed to make your brains leak out your ears.
Tonight was the last night of my tutoring gig with Quin Sun (not his real name). I can honestly say it was an amazing experience, and I can only hope he learned half as much from me as I did him.
Tonight we read out of his favorite of the “Chicken Soup” books — the one about pets. He loves animals, and was very careful to only pick out the positive stories. He didn’t want to read about anything having to do with hurt, sick, or dying animals, and if there was a part of the story in which an animal was suffering, he’d click his tongue and look at me with mournful eyes.
We also spoke of some ancient Chinese traditions that are no longer practiced today, but still very interesting. For instance, in ancient times, children did not have names until they entered school. Until then, they were called by a number — usually a combination of their birthdate and their father’s and their father’s surname. Therefore, Quin’s name, had he been born then, may have been 1-2 Sun. (OMG, how we giggled about that!) A girl never had her own name — she would be known by her father’s name, and if married, by her father’s and her husband’s name for her entire life.
When entering school, a teacher would consult with the parents and offer advice, and a name would be chosen. People who had not the means or money to attend school would be known as a number for the rest of their days. Crazy.
In current Chinese culture, it is common for a woman’s association of older women to act as matchmakers for the surrounding community. These aren’t arranged marriages — they are actually matchmakers. Interesting.
Additionally, it is also common for an “association” of young, pretty women to be available to rich men for dating. The gentleman and girl will arrange to meet in a public place, like a restaurant or a bar. The gentleman will then order a meal, often to the tune of several hundred dollars. The restaurant or bar is affiliated with the association, and that’s how they make money. Please bear in mind that any errors in this information are strictly mine and lost in translation, but that’s the gist. Wild.
He told me that sons, in China, are treated like “little emperors” and that makes for some spoiled children. I asked him if he was a “little emperor” and he laughed and nodded toward his father’s office. No, he said. No, I’m not, and I had to laugh knowing his father. He grinned back.
We also share a horror of the movies “The Grudge” and “The Ring” (two movies that really ick me out. Omg). While we were discussing them (*SHUDDER*) we both broke out in goosebumps. After that discussion, he loved bringing up scenes of the movie and laughing when I’d freak out.
His favorite movies were the ones with animals in them. He didn’t know “101 Dalmatians”, but was delighted when I described the premise.
He said he didn’t know of any battered women’s shelters in China after reading a story about a rabbit who visited shelters. He was astonished that wife beating occurs here. He didn’t really understand it. He said a Chinese wife had three options when she was fighting with her husband — she could cry, then scream and yell, then finally threaten her husband with her suicide. If that didn’t resolve things, she would move back to her parent’s house. Honestly, it was a very funny conversation when he got to the suicide part, mostly because I started giggling and said I would threaten to kill the husband before myself. He thought that was HILARIOUS. He said, you are not an inside woman. I said, no. No, I’m not. *insert hysterical giggling here*
It truly has been a Most Amazing Experience. He promised to stay in touch, and his father made me promise to come back next year. Quin is a very special young man, and he has been a bright spot in this summer I will not soon forget. We took pictures, and he insisted his father take one of us together. I gave him all my contact information, and he promised to write. He hugged me tight, and thanked me for all my help. I hugged him back and thanked him for allowing me to be his tutor, and told him I would cry in the car. He nodded and smiled and said, “Me too.”
Safe travels, my friend, and I look forward to repeating this experience next year.