Thursday, May 16, 2013

Studying Chinese: Not exactly Mr. Miyagi

After a few weeks of Chinese classes i was beginning to curse The Karake Kid and Mr. Miyagi.

The classroom consisted of four desks arranged in a rectangle facing the board; I was sitting in my usual seat next to the teacher, on her left hand side.

For the moment, all was silent because we, the students, had collectively complained: to practice the dialogue from the book we always started with Eric and read a sentence each going around the class, today, we wanted a more creative way.

The teacher finally spoke. “Park, you read the first sentence this time,” she declared proudly to the Korean guy directly opposite Eric.

I want to buy a book.” “How much is that book?” ‘Which book?” “That book,”
we all repeated.

Praise the lord, I thought, the dialogue conversation sounded so different and fresh on this, the tenth time, now that it was circling clockwise rather than anti-clockwise around the class.

"Now let’s read the vocabulary,” she announced.

Clockwise or anti-clockwise, I thought, or maybe, we are going to get another spectacular piece of innovation like odds and even numbers?

"Not exactly Mr. Miyagi is it man?” said Adrian. “It doesn’t get any better.”

Adrian sat on my left, he had been in Taiwan for about five years. He was back at the Chinese school studying Chinese because he needed a visa.

Unfortunately, I was beginning to understand Adrian wasn't just a moaning old hand: the teaching was still very Dead Poet’s Society and i was wondering why i was bothering to study. I had got an apartment near Shih Ta University because I planned to study Chinese in their language program - supposedly the best in Taipei, Taiwan. I thought having to give them a letter of reference was strange because I was a paying customer, studying for personal pleasure, but I nonetheless prepared all the documentation to prove himself worthy of a place. Then it started: rote combined with memorization, repetition and drills, and only the register in between. I complained that perhaps they should at least be allowed to make a sentence to practice, but apparently the teacher knew better, we were too basic to be allowed to innovate. Finally, there was a weekly test which I began to be sure she just hid behind to waste a lesson. I walked out after two months shaking my head telling them: 'You waste one lesson a week testing me when I am a paying adult. Gonna make me stand in the corner next?' I decided if authority was going to be so unquestioning, I would head to a private Chinese language school like this one, where there were no rules.

"Wipe on, wipe off...” said Adrian, pleased with his observation. “You watched the Karate Kid when you were young, right, man? I wanted to come to Asia because of that movie. Wanted to be taught by a cool little Asian dude like Mr. Miyagi...The ultimate teacher, with his cool, alternative methods for learning karate. Not like the reality, eh?”

"I hear you, man,” I replied.

It was funny: east Asia have done one fantastic thing, they have managed to convince the world that they are these great delivers of knowledge. Trust in me and I can impart knowledge to you in some magical way. It is not just Mr. Miyagi. There is Kung Fu with Grasshopper, Jackie Chan…In fact whenever Chinese, Japanese and maybe even Koreans appear on the scene it is inevitably a double act of master and student with the student getting wiser by the second just by being in the aura of the great teacher.”

"But they are actually good students?”I countered because all the top students in my school were East Asian.

"Much more earthy reasons.” Adrian pretended to crack a whip.

He continued, "Five years I have been here man, in and out of schools studying Chinese, and I haven’t met a teacher who threw out the traditional for the creative, the tried and tested for the unusual and inspirational. Unfortunately, the downside of Miyagi’s techniques, unquestioning loyalty for the teacher’s methods I have seen too fucking much of.”

"Thanks. You want to go to lunch?” I said making an excuse to get away. The unfortunate reality Grasshopper got his pupils to write the sentence a thousand times behind the curtain wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

1 comment:

Claudio said...

Like most people in Western Europe, I grew up hearing tales and, occasionally, jokes mentioning the stereotype of the "wise old Chinese man". Movies, too, kept portraying the Western world as a place occasionally illuminated by the wisdom of a wise Eastern man (let's be fair: not always Chinese. He could also be Japanese or, sometimes, Indian).

It was therefore surprising, for me, when I visited a Reiki/alternative medicine shop under Hualien's arcades, last year, and I was asked to listen to the CD of a wise mystic who spoke in English with a very strong accent ... from GERMANY! He was - and is - revered as a wise master of whatever alternative medicine I was being initiated to in that shop.

I suspect there are many more cases, in Taiwanese culture, of "wise Western men" providing illumination and a better vision of life. Does your experience in Taiwan provide any confirmation of this?

Have a good evening,

P.S. - If I may, I'd like to suggest themes some readers might be interested in:
- Surf culture in the Kenting
- "Let's eat something before we hit the restaurant"
- Gang-related cake-shop window-breaking in Hualien (I heard about two such events, last year)