By Antonio Graceffo
Substitute teaching in a high school, I was a little vague about when class started. When I heard a bell, I just went. The principle said to me in Chinese, “No, your class starts at eight twenty-five.” I said, “OK, thank you,” and sat down. But then the English teacher had to show off how good her English was. She came over to me and said “You can play your class at twenty-five minutes past eight, ten minutes later. But as you can see, according to this clock the time now is only eight twelvth.” Ah yes, the dreaded “eight twelvth” I would have to “wait ten minutes later” to “play” my class. Va fan culo!
This is so typical that to show off or to “practice” Chinese say the longest most convoluted sentence they can. I often hear them using the specific dialogue from chapter seven, like, “Will you eat in our school cafeteria, or do you prefer to eat such delicacies as fresh leafy vegetables, legumes, meats, and savories…” As soon as you use the word “savories” I know you’ve been memorizing dialogues again. And I don’t want to be your partner.
I gritted my teeth and said, “Yes, I understand the concept of telling time.” Since then, I have played and replayed the situation over and over in my head, wondering if I should have ripped into her in English and made her cry. I think the reason I react so badly to Chinese people making long statements from the vocabulary list in chapter eight, is that, one, she is calling me an idiot by suggesting I didn’t understand the principle. Two, she is not very observant, since I answered the principle appropriately, which would suggest I understood. Some people argue that people like this aren’t trying to insult me. They are juts practicing. Well, I don’t understand how this is practicing. Since no native speaker would use that many words to convey such a simple message. And since she obviously already knew these words….What exactly was she practicing? I guess she will get better and better at THIS and next time, she will cram “robust peaches at the peak of freshness” into the sentence.
That night, when I went out to get some food, I bumped into one of the newly arrived German students. I stopped to ask how he was getting on, when I noticed he had an Asian girl with him. Thinking he couldn’t possibly already have a girlfriend, after two days in country, I asked her in Chinese, “Where are you from?” I thought maybe she was another foreign student. As expected, she didn’t answer. So, I said in English, “Where are you from?” He answered for her, saying, “She is from here. She’s my language buddy, assigned by the university to help me learn Chinese.” Now, I was confused why she didn’t answer me. So, I asked again, in Chinese, “Where are you from?” She just smiled and said “Yes” in English. So, I switched to harsher Chinese and asked, rather forcefully. “I just asked you twice, where you are from. Why didn’t you answer?” She replied in English. “I am sorry, but I can’t understand your Chinese.” So, I asked in Chinese, “Why don’t you understand me? Everyone else does.” But she didn’t budge. She said, “Sorry, your accent…” I exploded, and started shouting in English (maybe I should have done it in Chinese, but I wanted the German guy to know what I was saying.) I am a doctoral candidate in this university. All my classes are in Chinese. All my classmates are Chinese. Everyone understands me but you.”
I just didn’t see how this was going to end well. And I felt embarrassed for the poor German guy who probably had no idea what to do. So, I just mumbled under my breath, in Chinese, “Forget about it. You have no manners.” As I stormed off, she called after me in English, “I understood that. Your Chinese is so good.”
I know people think I get mad about nothing and fly off the handle, but this person intentionally made me lose face. I can’t imagine she did this to help me. I don’t think she cured famine or Ebola by doing this. She wanted to make me look bad and make herself look smart. Also, she is supposed to be helping this guy with his Chinese. Obviously, his Chinese won’t be as good as mine. So, will she constantly shoot him down, till he gives up and speaks English with her? I actually had a language exchange partner in Korea who laughed at me every time I spoke Korean. And I know he did this so I would give up and we could just speak English, for his benefit. Instead, I told him to go f— himself, and possibly I threatened him physically, I don’t remember. I probably did threaten him physically. Sounds like something I would do.
And very much like Fred, I have to ask, why is this ok? Why does she get away with this? Why is it that if I stopped typing right now, scoured the campus, found her and ripped into her verbally, I would be the bad guy?
Well, wait till tomorrow night’s post, because, I am planning on being the bad guy.
Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of sport, writing his dissertation on comparative forms of Chinese wrestling. He is martial arts and adventure author living in Asia, the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.
Warrior Odyssey, the book chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia is available at amazon.com. The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at http://www.blackbeltmag.com/warrior_odyssey
See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on http://www.blackbeltmag.com
Brooklyn Monk fan page
Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE
Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)