Last Week: Students’ Words

I’m DONE! You can hardly imagine my excitement right now.

For this last week of classes, my students have all been giving their final presentations—group projects in which they had to give an oral presentation on some aspect (*any* aspect) of Western culture. I’ve mentioned before the odd topics. Now let’s hear what they had to say, shall we?

Class 1, Group 1, on weddings: “We all know Western weddings are very romantic. Do you think so?” Group replies, totally earnestly: “Yes!” [there was a lot of this weird call-and-response where the group would make some pronouncement like this to which the other students would enthusiastically respond.]

1-3, on American fashion: “Calvin Klein is known for his sex sell.”

1-5, on African-Americans: “African-Americans have loyal religious beliefs; before having meals, they will do a courtesy.” [This presentation was a little hard to follow because PCD’s “Beep” was playing loudly during most of it. Unclear artistic choice.]

1-6, on British Football Culture: “Football hooligans [referring to fans of Manchester United] wear loose-fitting clothing and can take off their clothing at any time.”

1-7, on American Idol: “Paula Abdul is a very sexy and beautiful lady…. Ryan Seacrest is a very humorous and handsome presenter.” [Wouldn’t they be flattered.]

1-8, on Disney: Naming the parks of Disney World: “Animal Kingdom, Magic Mirage City, Sci-fi world, Dream World.” Lands of Magic Kingdom: “Central Avenue, Wild Land, Freedom Square, Seabed Two Miles.” [Yeahh, about that. I assume these place names come from mistranslations back into English of the Chinese names. Nice.] Also, “Beauty and the Beast teaches us that even if someone has ugly face maybe that guy will be your fate, your destiny.” [Chinese people, it’s worth noting, tend to be blatantly shallow about appearances.]

2-2, on the Romance of France: [showing a picture of French food] “Meat. Snails. Does it delicious?” Students: “Yes!”

2-3, on cartoons: In a face-off between Disney and Dreamworks, the latter exclaims, “There is no one but us that can compete with Disney!” [Reasonable point]

2-4, on the American life cycle: “House cleaning is an event that happens every year around the vernal equinox, March 21.” [Then they showed that famous Old Spice commercial randomly, to a lot of confusion.]

2-6, on weddings: “It’s a beautiful day. Birds are singing, sun is shining, and flowers are smelling.” [You know, I’m not quite sure that’s how it goes.]

2-7, on superstitions: Explained that Americans don’t give each other gifts of bags or shoes because they symbolize death?

2-8, on fashion: Divided into sections, including Hawaiian shirts, jeans, academic robes, and suiting. One girl modeled a jean jacket and jeans and exclaimed gleefully, “I wear a suit of jeans!” On suits: “Most of you know that America is the most developed country, so they wear suits, which include three parts—a vest [pronounced “west”] and suit, and briefcase. Officials and businessmen are the popular people who wear the suits. Barak Obama, who wears the suits very often, can make a big sum in the fashionary of America.”

3-2, on cowboys: “The music of cowboys will make you feel chil-lax. You feel relax.”

3-4, on wine: Staged as an argument between two students about who knows more about wine. Includes, “You know Alsace? Of course I don’t know there. That’s a small place and no one will go there.”

3-6, on a bunch of random American movies: “I think [Twilight] is really a big eyefest,” precedes a showing of several slides of fanart of Bella and Edward. A listing of random love movies, including “Rock Camp” and “Bridges of Madison County” (which they’ve all seen) ends with “These movies are so classical that even after a thousand years they are still fresh and new.” Also a line about “love is like a frip in the night” [unclear.]

4-1, on jeans: An elaborate play about the life of Levi Strass includes moving acapella verses from such songs as “There Can be Miracles” (upon realizing that he could sell jeans to miners), the showing of a picture of the Grand Canyon to mean San Francisco, and a gleeful exclamation of “What a fucking place!”

4-2, on churches: A bouquet of paper flowers is thrown, and all the girls are reaching for it…but it is caught by Jay-Z [recall this is my class of rapper-named students], who tosses it like a hot potato at T-Pain.

4-3, on wine: The background of the slide about the three types of liquor (distilled liquor, brewed wine, and mixed wine, in case you didn’t know…) is a huge picture of Keri Hilson’s face, for unexplained reasons. “In Europe wine is an every day, every meal event. But in America most people drink wine only at parties and to have a good time. It is less frequently consumed in the US.” They discuss other types of liquor too, including whiskey, of which they say, “Nowadays we usually drink it with ice or black tea.” [Ugh, in China, that’s certainly the case—whiskey and sweet, bottled ice tea is what everyone everywhere drinks in the clubs.]

4-4, on Disney: Taught me that the Chinese name for Winnie the Pooh is “Winnie Bear.”

5-6, on American movie history: Perhaps the only group to actually use audience participation and ask questions (it may be no coincidence that this is also the group that contains my one exchange student, a Korean girl who also studied abroad in the US and understands the American education system). The highlight was an elaborate Charlie Chaplin costume and impression. Yes, I was the only one in the class who correctly guessed who was being portrayed, so I got the prize of a real, American fun-sized Snickers bar. Maybe I should have left that to the children, but I waaaanted it! I did hold off on answering the further questions about recognizing Steven Spielberg, ET, etc. No one got them.)

5-7, on western brands: “Only western [people] wear clothes and glass and shoes and hat every day.” [Uhh…what do people wear elsewhere?] On the one hand, this was the only group to pronounce “Versace” correctly. On the other hand: “Do you know the name of this car? It’s Lam-bro-JROO-nya.”

5-8, on Mark Twain: Awkward presentation ends with a singing of “Darling Clementine” with the lyrics, “Happy new year, happy new year, happy new year to you all…”

6-2, on language differences between America and Britain: Explains that to British people, the term “Asians” refers to people from the Indian subcontinent but not to Chinese or Japanese people. Really? Also, after the lengthy explication of differences among spellings, there was a charming explanation of misused taboo words. “For example, the word ‘rubber,’” Jack begins, as I choke. “Asking a woman, ‘may I use your rubber?’ in America will get you in trouble because it means ‘condom.’” I laugh, and there seems to be confusion. “What does it mean?” asks the girl sitting next to me quietly. “Uhhh…the thing a man puts on during sex to prevent a woman from getting pregnant.” A look of horror ensues.

6-3, on guns: “In America it is very easy to see people hold guns.” “Do you know how many people in America hold guns?” Class: “Everyone!”

6-5, on Disney: About Beauty and the Beast, “Bella is a powerless darling female, but she saved two big man.”

7-1, on dance: “Early white immigrants thought dancing was an evil thing.” Those Puritans were no fun. This then featured an incredibly offensive American Indian-esque tribal dance, featuring war paint made out of construction paper.

7-2, on famous landmarks: An alien visits Big Ben, the White House, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. An original song about this ensues.

7-3, on funerals: “Don’t worry it is so serious, because for Western they believe it is for God and they will meet their loved ones in the Garden.” This also featured the playing of music of doom and reading from Genesis from an actual Chinese Bible. Someone in this group is a Christian!

7-4, on military school: Staged as a dialogue among statues-come-to-life of Lee, Patton, MacArthur, and Eisenhower. Featuring PPT slides of the girls’ faces superimposed on cartoon generals’ bodies.

7-5, on Hollywood: “It’s in California? Oh, that’s Marissa’s hometown!”

7-8, on American presidents: “Oh, Bush, he is so handsome, you know.” “Yes, he is so cute!”

Quiiiite the show. There were some interesting trends: for example, the not-too-stellar class 6 featured a lot of straight up reading of info, whereas every group in class 7 included acting and even singing or dancing. This also shows us some of the western topics that are most appealing to the Chinese imagination: weddings, Disney, cowboys, movies, fashion, etc. There are very few opportunities for creativity built into the Chinese education system, but when you give them an inch they show that there is originality and passion under all that studying.

Finally, it’s worth describing in further detail my favorite performance of all, on the life of Henry VIII (no, I’ve never discussed my love of the kings and queens of England, so they did not know how much I would love this). It was structured such that one person would be describing a phase in Henry’s life and then the other three group members would act it out. Here’s the run down, for those of you who care about such things, or who would like a quick primer on the history:

–          Narrator: “Six wives were not enough for Chinese emperors, but for Western empire it was very unusual!”

–          Dialogue between Katherine of Aragon and Henry: “You will divorce?” “I am the lawmaker, I have a right to change it.” “No, you can’t treat me like this!”

–          Between Anne Bolyn [pronounced “Annie” throughout] and Henry: “It’s your choice [to get the divorce]. I have been looking forward to you for a long time.” “I’ll make it legal.” “I’m waiting for you, my king.” [You know, this actually sounds like something out of a Philippa Gregory novel or something.]

–          Mention of the “religious revolution” Henry created to get his divorce. I can see certain historians liking that phrase.

–          Anne Boleyn described as “a waitress of Katherine.” “She gave Henry Elizabeth, but Henry was not satisfied. Anne was put to die because of the inquest.” [OK, sure.]

–          Henry: “Ladies and gentlemen, let me announce that our queen’s head must be cut off” precludes a mock execution.

–          Jane Seymour: “I can’t be your mistress except you marry me.” Narrator: “She became queen after Boleyn died 11 days. She gave a son to Henry. Then she has a serious disease [uh, yeah, childbirth]. Jane: “My head is too ache. I can’t see my future. Please take care of my son and my king. Oh my king, I’m sorry! I just worry about you. Please give your promise about our son’s future. Will he be the future king?” She then dies in Henry’s arms. [Ha ha ha, Henry was already with his next mistress by the time she died. And yes, I’d think Henry would be willing to agree that Jane’s son should be king.]

–          Narrator: “The fourth wife is Annie, the daughter of a duke in Germany. Henry went to go against the Holy Roman Empire [this is where I visualize AP Euro teacher Mr. Volk yelling, “H. R. E!”] by making contact with Germany. But Annie is very ugly and can’t speak English!” Henry: “Oh my God, I can’t marry a girl who can’t speak English!”

–          Narrator: “Now Catherine Howard. She is very young and very beautiful. Henry love her very much, but she had lived with a man before she married Henry [yes, that’s one way to put it.] Henry forgiver her, however. [Yeah, right.] Then she had a personal relationship with another man. Henry was very angry. So let’s enjoy it!” Lover [presumably meant to be Culpepper]: Darling, I love you so much. I feel a great sorry every time I see you and your king come together. But you know my deep love belongs to you.” (They embrace as Henry enters, becomes enraged.) Henry: You must be judged by all!

–          Narrator: “Catherine Pars was sixth wife and last. Not very beautiful but wife enough. Before marriage she has been a wisdow for twice.”

–          Dramatic death of Henry. Catherine: “Oh my king what’s wrong with you, you look so tired and your face is too pale.” Henry: “Bring me some water.” Catherine: “Oh my king!” (He dies) Catherine: “He is dead! Oh King Henry has left me. I promise I’ll be loyal to you and to all the country people. (Looks around) Oh who is that man? Oh it’s my love, Jack [??]. Absolutely I will marry with you.” Jack: “But you have married three times my darling.” Catherine: “But Henry married six times—I married four. I think it is acceptable.”

It absolutely doesn’t get any better than that.

So there you have it. One-fourth done with Peace Corps! I’m off soon to a big Peace Corps get-together in Chongqing city for New Year’s Eve and am very excited, and I’m getting ready to leave for various travels soon, so we’ll be thin on the updates for a while. See you in 2011, and happy New Year!

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