Sure, we cry too much about the air pollution. But this one’s darkly humourous, I promise.
I routinely ask the oldest classes, “How’s the weather?” while pointing out the windows. And they automatically take a glance and usually reply, “IT’S SUNNY!!!” (“Sunny” is their favourite. But they can do cloudy, raining, windy, snowing, hot, and cold, too.)
So today I ask them. They glance out the windows. “IT’S…” A couple weak “sunny”s peter out among the 30 students. They can’t tell if it’s sunny or cloudy.
Because even though it’s bright outside, THEY CAN’T SEE THE BLOOMIN’ SKY. There are no clouds, but it’s all grey, and where’s the sun?
Later I check, and every air quality monitoring station in the city is maxed out at 500:
Below 50 is “good”. At 100 we close all our windows and turn on all the DIY home air purifiers. At 300 the preschool cancels all its outdoor activities.
I’m thankful for this day job at the neighbourhood preschool; it gives us a visa and a place in the local community, and it’s easy. But some days — like right now at the end of the semester when you have to prepare 200 Chinese 3-to-6-year-olds for their English exam — I could be one of several characters on a hopeless quest into the depths of Mordor:
The Top (read: Bottom) Three Chinglish Offenses from this last semester.
#3 – LOVE RAISED ME LIPSTICK SAVED ME
#2 — MONEY CASH HOES
You should be thinking: what could possibly be better/worse than “HOES”?
Well, I’ll show you…
#1 – THE QUEEN OF EFFING EVERYTHING
I know I know — technically none of these are Chinglish because they’re all proper English. I’m using a better definition of “Chinglish”, O.K.?
After a while, the Chinglish can wear on your mind. Daily your landscape is populated with combinations of letters or words that look like real words or sentences — you know, the kind that mean something. Only they’re utter gibberish, and it’s impossible to tell what, if anything, they were originally meant to say. Probably the majority of t-shirt Chinglish is this way, at least in this preschool. Sure you learn to ignore it. But it still draws your eye, fires some back corner synapses in your brain because you naturally, automatically try to read it, only to discover it’s meaningless. It’s almost like a form of brainwashing, as if they were trying to unlearn your ability to read by showing you large volumes of nonsense every day for years.
But Chinglish takes many forms: random phrases, cultural debris lifted directly from English media and advertising, and often deployed in places you wouldn’t expect. Or apparently misremembered, misspelled words or phrases that you can still make out what they are meant to say. Or stuff that’s obviously translated out of Chinese that just sounds stupid, but occasionally funny (we have a “Comfortable Breast” rice bowl that we save for first-time Western guests). Or stuff that was obviously written by someone with English as their second language — grammar mistakes and word-choice problems. My favourite is a tie between the signage in Licun Park (see #1 in this Top 5 list, if you don’t mind swear words! ;) ) and this exceptional Bible story.
It’s not that I expect people to do better (can you imagine if every other North American business tried to produce their own Chinese signage?), and it’d be nice if they’d pay me as a consultant. But the sheer volume you’re exposed to here can be mind-numbing after a while…
A is for Alphabet. B is for Beer. C is for China. D is for Doomed.
I thought it was curious that my adult students in Tianjin didn’t seem to “get” rhyming. I taught a series based on Dr. Seuss books, but the whole rhyming concept seemed new to them — like they just couldn’t hear it somehow. Now, as a preschool English “teacher”, I think I may have uncovered the source of this mystery.
The most popular beers in the world are ones you’ve probably never even heard of. Because China just has that many beer drinkers. But beer is not the point. Apply the beer situation to the English language, specifically, the ABC song, or as it’s known in China, the “ABC字母歌“。 It’s like they felt they needed to correct our poor allocation of syllables or something:
Seriously, walk into the nearest Chinese preschool, sing the first line and watch what happens. Or listen to this, which lives in our school’s classroom computers. Is it not appalling?
But if 2 billion Chinese kids learn it “wrong” and a measly 500 million Anglo-American kids learn it “right”, the “right” version doesn’t stand a chance.
Chinese beer will rule the beer world. And so will Chinese English. By sheer force of numbers. Western civilization is doomed.
Monday was the first day of a new Chinese preschool school year.
And that pretty much sums it up. But I’ll share some special highlights below anyway.
First day of the school year means the opening ceremony. The school yard is ringed with parents (mostly grandparents) peering between the iron bars. We have to make a good impression.
As a 6’4″ foreign male at a preschool with an all-Chinese-female admin & teaching staff…
…I totally fit in.
This is where we teachers all pledged to do something, but I’m not sure what: Chinese sound systems are for noise, to make an event sound like a Big Deal, not for clearly amplifying sound so large numbers of people can understand what’s being said. Plus at the time I was thinking: Oh hey, so this is what Chinese do instead of placing one hand over your heart and raising the other palm-out…
The kids had to turn around and bow to the teachers: But only about 1/4 of them got the memo.
The Expensive English-speaking White Guy and the Obligatory English Song: (I want it noted in my annual review that my feet actually left the ground.)
“Foreign teachers” (外教) are the bottom of the Anglo-American expat barrel, I suspect even below 4th-rate amateur Russian models and, at this preschool, hovering somewhere in the vicinity of the only other males on staff: the cook, driver, and gate guards. And I’m pretty sure I don’t outrank the cook.