Out of the Well: A Frogs-Eye-View of China and the World

Random Jottings on China, History, Culture, and Life as seen by an American student in Beijing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Things you must do if you come to Beijing: #1 English Corner

Well, I began this blog to search out what I wanted to do with my life. It turns out that while I think about that a lot I don't have much to say about it at the present time. At IUP there are lots of different people with different ideas about what they want to do. I have met a couple of pleasant Qing history students (we may even start a Manchu study group) and a lot of future business men. I still don't know. Damn.

So today I will start a series of things that you must do if you are a foreigner in this city.

Today I will tell you about English corner. Every Friday at Renmin Daxue (people's university) on Zhongguancun Road in Haidian Beijing (about a 30-40 minute walk from Qinghua University) people gather to practice their English.

If you are a foreigner you can show up anytime from 7-12 and find out what it feels like to be a movie star, or as my roommate puts it, a god. The ratio of Chinese to foreigners at English corner is about 20 to one. That means within ten minutes of arriving you will have at least fifteen people trying to speak with you. As the foreigner you basically talk consistently for as long as you like, you control the conversation by what questions you choose to answer. In a minute you may be asked everything from "What country are you from." to "What do you think about the system of Chinese land ownership, versus the American." to "What do you think of Chinese Girls."

This last question was the one my roommate came to answer. His mission for the evening was to scout out possible Chinese girlfriends. Many Chinese women there seemed to have the same idea. When I mentioned my girlfriend back home, the females in the group around me immediately walked over to him. After about twenty minutes the groups settled into topic based discussion groups. Around my roommate stood about twenty girls all flirting with him, while my group consisted of extremely intelligent men, and some women discussion history, politics, economics, etc.

While my opinion was always wanted it was not always respected. I was twice quizzed on the order of the Chinese dynasties (I messed up and forgot the Sui) and the order of the Qing emperors (I have to bone up on these before next Friday). When I said I was a student of history and I thought history was import, a software engineer explained to me that going to school for history was like learning to kill a dragon. The man who learns to kill dragons is verry wise, but as there are no dragons to kill all he can do is teach other people how to kill dragons.

The most incredible thing is the level of open discussion permitted at this forum. People could say anything they want, without fear of reprisals from the same government who does not let me read my own blog on the internet. In my group I had an ardent communist who wanted me to write letters to President Bush, and various newspapers to explain how early Qing history give leverage to Chinese claims over Taiwan. I explained to him that I would love to explain Chinese history to everyone in America, but that not that many people were interested. In my group there was also an ardent democrat who argued passionately against the communist that until they had the right to own land they would have no other real rights. Personally, when asked what I thought the Chinese government should do, I answered truthfully. It is really not my place to say. I am a 22 year old American, and I have no right to say how China should be run. Many of them seemed to think this was a reasonable point of view, but one of them kept interrupting me with non-sequitors about the Anglo-Saxons and whether or not they came from Germany. It was quite strange.

So that is thing number one that you must do if you come to Beijing.

English Corner
7pm-when everyone has gone home
Renmin Daxue
Zhongguancun Lu
Haidian, Beijing

Take it easy everyone


At September 21, 2005 9:36 AM, Blogger Dan said...

Hey Eben - do you have any contact with Chira?

At September 27, 2005 6:55 AM, Blogger ASJ said...

Well about finding out what you want to do with yourself abroad. My housemate said a funny thing "people go abroad thinking we can figure out what we want to do, really it just means that we don't know what we are doing in another country." Well maybe that was more funny in person, but I'll post it anyway


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