Sometimes I think I come from the most racist and bigoted country on the globe. We like to pigeon-hole people.
All Russians are evil, all Arabs are terrorists and the Chinese all want to come take our jobs with their robots. The truth is, the average American knows very little about any of these people. “Ignorance is bliss” should be our national motto.
But it’s not just us ignorant Yanks who take the cultural low road. Many of the expatriates and locals I interact with on a daily basis here in Thailand form strong negative opinions of different cultures mostly based on who gets off the tour bus.
All Pattaya residents have certainly witnessed a double decker tour bus unloading a swarm of frenzied Chinese tourists on Beach Road or at Central Festival. Genghis Khan never unleashed a horde so terrifying.
They’re loud, they’re rude and they dress funny. Moving like an angry school of fish, they devour all they survey.
And it is from this relatively miniscule sampling of the Chinese population that we form complete opinions about their entire population, which by the way is about 1.5 billion people.
This month I hope to erase some of that ignorance with a few of my own observations about Chinese people.
What do I know that you don’t?
How is it that I feel enlightened enough to offer opinion on an entire nation?
Two months ago I began teaching Chinese people English on-line in the evening. I look into no less than ten Chinese living rooms a night; twenty on the weekends. This week alone I was introduced to 30 new families.
They come from all ages and all walks of life. I get precocious six year olds. I get rotten teenagers. I get lonely housewives. Here are some of their stories.
My first adult student is a thirty-something single mother of a 14 year old boy. She comes home after a ten hour work day, feeds her son and logs on to learn English from me. Her company is expanding to Europe and she is hoping to grab a position that will get them out of China and into “the real world” as she puts it.
Sometimes she takes lessons from me on her lunch break, slurping noodles and learning about adverbs. She’s tired. She’s lonely. And she’s completely committed to getting a better life for her family.
My favorite kid is Diego. During every lesson his mom and dad sit on each side of the eight year old with smiles as eager as his. At the end of each lesson we sing a song together and Diego takes the opportunity to break out his ukulele to accompany us. His parents thank me profusely after every lesson and invite me to visit them in Shenzen. I sincerely consider it.
Ricky is a fat, petulant teenager. He eats, picks his nose and plays video games during our lessons. He hates himself, he hates his dad, and he hates his life. Teen angst knows no boundaries.
If you called Universal Studios Central Casting office and asked for a ten year old Chinese nerd, they’d send Sunny. Thick glasses, braces … I think he even wears a pocket-protector. His dad is a cop in Shanghai. His mom works a thousand miles away in Beijing. He’s a brilliant kid and I learn more about math and science from him than he learns about English from me.
Some nights I get into long involved conversations with Dr. David, a professor at a big engineering university in Beijing. He books time called “Free Talk” because he wants to sharpen his conversational English. He hopes to one day conduct some of his Nanotechnology classes totally in English. We talk about religion, politics and women … all of the topics that are supposed to be forbidden with this program. This guy and I would be best friends if we lived in the same city.
I’ve got one 13 year old that should be a stand-up comedian. He always greets me with something dramatic like, “So Professor, we meet again”. We burn through the easy lesson and end up talking about basketball for 20 minutes. In case you didn’t know, Chinese people are avid NBA fans. His dream is to see a game live.
I’ve got a lady lawyer who wants to go study in the US. I’ve got doctor who dreams of living in London. I’ve got a flight attendant from a Chinese airline who books lessons just to practice flirting. My point is this; they’re just people. People with hopes and dreams for their kids. People with careers, and bills, and parents and problems.
The more language skills they get, the more I realize they are just folks.
As for those swarming tourists we assume are representative of all Chinese, lets step back a second. Are those tattooed Terries drunk and brawling down on Soi Buakhaow representative of the entire UK? Is the naked Norwegian running down Beach Road at 4 AM an ambassador for all Scandinavia? Let’s face it folks, Pattaya doesn’t attract the cream of the crop from any country.
The Chinese we see are mostly cheap package tour groups.
And now for my favorite China story. Miranda is an 11 year old girl who lives in Shanghai. I have no idea why she is taking English lessons as she speaks perfect English with a continental accent. One night we were talking about hobbies. I asked Miranda what here favorite hobby was.
“I like to ski” she said.
I replied, “Really, is there a lot of snow in Shanghai?”
“No” she said, “But my parents have a house in Stadt. That’s in Switzerland. Do you know where that is?”
“Do you have any other hobbies?”
“I play piano” Miranda said.
“Are you any good?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I sure practice a lot” she replied.
“Well Miranda, maybe someday you can play for me”.
“How about now?” she said.
With that she picked up her I-pad and walked across her family’s apartment. All I could see was opulent white marble floors, expensive designer furniture and floor to ceiling windows overlooking the city of Shanghai from at least 50 floors up. She propped the I-pad up on a baby grand piano in the living room and flawlessly executed a Chopin piece.
I doubt Miranda’s family has ever seen the inside of a tour bus.
by Bart Walters