Ed was obviously a great source of funny stories for them, as he was for us, but, when it came to important matters, even Ed made an effort with the language. He was grateful to me for teaching him ‘mashang ‘, ’immediately’ to add to the one word he already knew - ‘pi-jiu’ or ‘beer’.
Monday, 24 November 2014
Wednesday, 12 November 2014
A dozen or so alabaster mannequins were standing in front of the window, ghostly white in the dimness, their faces having distinctly western features. They seemed to date from the nineteen forties, judging by their upswept, victory roll, plaster hair-styles. Those not grouped by the window made up a double row down the centre of the room. They gave the sweaters and cardigans they modelled an air of unintended lewdness, as few of the models had skirts or trousers.
Helen’s mother, who looked about 30, a vivacious, slender woman in tight-fitting clothes, with red lip-stick and quick movements, looked more like the hostess of a
Friday, 31 October 2014
One of them was an English Language teacher. We passed through an archway from a back street into a courtyard flanked by of four-storey pink-washed blocks. It reminded me of the small Somerstown estate in London, to the East of Euston Station, but only so far as the layout was concerned. Nothing could be more different from the flowery window-boxes and flapping sheets and the small children running across the courtyards of this lively compound
At the main entrance arch a barrier was raised to allow us to pass, under the scrutiny of a young man whose job it was to check on visitors. We spotted a sign outside one of the flats that announced: ‘Yingyu Shijie’ or ‘English Language World’.
With a wave of his arm and a smile the uncle ushered us into a downstairs room furnished with long desks and benches and a blackboard on the wall. Rows of silent children craned to get a better view of the visitors.
The desks and benches had been painted over many-times, as rainbow layers of flakes and patches revealed. The floor was bare cement. Strangely enough, the Chinese believe that the less there is to distract students in a school room the better, because then they are able to concentrate on their studies. There were none of the posters and pictures that adorn Western classrooms. In fact, this room resembled the one where I'd taught Summer School in the Southern Province of Zhejian in 2000. The only difference was that the children sat in pairs instead of rows.
Our host pulled forward wooden stools which he covered with worn satin cushions.
Katharine was asked to talk to them, which she hated, always shrinking from addressing groups of people. When she complimented them on their English and exhorted them to continue to study hard you'd have though, from the clapping, that it was the best speech they'd ever heard
Thursday, 30 October 2014
All the same, the occasional breaks that took me away on company business were welcome, and in September 2003, when I'd been about a month in China, I was sent to Ji'an, a town on the banks of the Yalu River, between China and North Korea. There, myself and two foreign editors were assigned separate hotel rooms to proof-read important examination papers.
They would determine the future careers of Chinese teachers, chosen by their regions to compete in Tonghua for chance to study in the UK.
As the extract illustrates, it wasn't so straightforward as it might seem, because we three foreigners brought our own differences of culture, gender and age to the task.
Joseph and I had been drafted in for the final checking of questions in the oral sections. They would form the basis of interviews with teachers, to decide which of them should be rewarded with a spell of study-leave in England. The questions were mainly concerned with what the candidates knew already about life in England, although others were more controversial.
One or two questions in the ‘general conversation’ section didn't survive our scrutiny. One of these was ‘What is the meaning of life?’, which Katharine thought was perfectly OK.
‘Ah, the confidence of youth’, commented Joseph.
‘What do you think of ladies’ window-shopping?’ earned my veto. Political correctness had not gained much of a toe-hold in China, as far as I could see, but I seized the chance to make my own small contribution.
Joseph baulked at ‘Would you like to have a sex-change?’ because he thought it might embarrass the candidates. Given his status, as a member of a Franciscan Order, it might well have embarrassed him, although he was, like Chaucer's example, a very wordly monk.
I became very curious to meet the teachers and ask questions about their experiences of teaching English in
Tuesday, 28 October 2014
In January, when snow was a permanent fixture on the hills surrounding the company house and the river was frozen to the depth of a metre, we were sent to an even colder place. Every year the company hosted a 'Summer Camp' , at a different location. Students were invited from all over China to take part in an English debating and speaking competition held over five days.
Because of the SARS epidemic, it hadn't taken place in 2003 but now was to be held in Harbin, famous for its Winter Ice Festival. As usual a group was dispatched by coach, loaded with electrical equipment. My five fellow English-speaking editors and I were to act as judges, as well as take part in activities.
Monday, 27 October 2014
Every year, teachers from all over China converged on the publishing company, to compete for all-expenses-paid study courses in the UK. The examination papers were prepared in great secrecy, and for this reason a contingent of Chinese employees were sent to Ji'an, a town on the Yalu river, which forms the border between Northeast China and North Korea. At short notice, my English colleague Katharine had been despatched a week before and I followed with another colleague, elderly American Joseph, a few days later.
I'd felt sorry for Katharine having been told only the night before that she was to go to Ji'an. Joseph and I received half an hour's notice. It was the first chance I'd had to get to know him. After the flurry of leaving, it didn't occur to me that anything untoward would happen on the journey.
After the initial alarm and flurry of climbing from the car and being directed to stand inside the chalet, everything slowed down. We were sheltered from the sun under the roof of the chalet, which was open on three sides, and contained a desk and chair.
Saturday, 25 October 2014