Copyright 2019 by Deon Matzen
could we do when we had guests that wanted to see the sites and we
had to work? How would they get around when they didn’t speak
Chinese? We didn’t want them to have the tours that regular
Americans had when touring in China where they were kept in tow by a
“group leader” all wearing yellow or red or blue hats and
not allowed to really see Beijing, just the approved locations. We
settled on the perfect idea, use our students.
several occasions we needed guides for our guests from the US.
Sometimes it was our students who needed guides as well. Many would
not have seen the city but for the “field trips” I planned
around town with Bob, my husband, or myself as a guide.
and I did pretty well getting around town. I have a good sense of
direction and the street signs are written in pinyin* as well as
Chinese characters. Pinyin is the Chinese sounds written in western
letters, as are the names of people such as Zhou Wei. The letters
for Zhou Wei are pinyin for the pictographic characters which are her
Street signs had the Chinese characters with the pinyin below, Liu
Li Chong, Wang Fu Jing, etc. Luckily the subway stops also used this
signage system so we knew when to get off and I didn’t have to
memorize the Chinese characters. (With the trains we were not so
lucky so I had to memorize the character shapes.)
was the way we would generally find our way around when it was just
the two of us taking a walkabout. We would take off with little
thought as to the route we had taken and walk, sometimes all day, for
kilometer after kilometer. We each had a card in our pockets with
the school’s address written in Chinese characters. If we were
lost, and many times in the beginning, we were, we would hail a taxi
and show the driver the card. He would take us home. We used this
same system when we traveled to many other cities. We’d have
the hotel write the address in characters and go have a good time.
one of my classes I made a homework assignment that would take us on
an exciting fieldtrip the following day. They were the unwitting
class, pay attention. We have a special homework assignment for
tomorrow and you are ALL going to participate. Tonight you will
brief yourselves in order to be prepared for our fieldtrip to the
see, most of my students were not from this area. They had come here
to study from all over the country. I tried to find challenging
assignments that were a little off the usual spectrum. “Tomorrow
we are going to a local park,” one they probably would not
visit on their own as they lived on very small stipends in
rudimentary dormitories located next to my apartment building.
heard groans and I also heard excitement because I am a teacher like
no other they have known and they often like my kooky assignments. I
tell them they must study up on this park and all must be prepared to
be tour guides. Their job was to tell me all they understood about
this wondrous facility, thousands of acres with lots of historic
buildings, a very large lake, lots of antiques and curiosities.
teaching techniques are somewhat nontraditional, unorthodox, and my
students were not the kind you usually find here in classrooms. They
were very eager to learn, work very hard, and helped each other so
"no child is left behind," though these students were not
children. They were astrophysicists, micro-spinal surgeons,
horticultural PhD's, computer microchip designers and more. I was
their first native English speaking instructor and I am to teach them
idiomatic, colloquial English. For them it was like trying to hear a
new language that was only similar to the "Chinglish" they
learned in school. The park we planned to visit was the Summer
Palace in the Beijing suburbs near my apartment about a twenty minute
ride by taxi or bicycle (I knew a shortcut by bicycle).
had visited the Summer Palace many times and was familiar with its
offerings and layout. I guess I had one up on my students in this
respect, but they thought they are going to be my tour guides. I,
actually, had traveled around Beijing more than most of them. I could
have easily been their tour guide to a great part of the city.
night they read as much as they could about the park. They used the
internet, books, talking with other students who had been there, all
trying to prepare to make a good impression on the English
instructor. That was a lot of studying as each building at the
Summer Palace Park has a complex, involved history and they couldn’t
possibly cover it all. No one knew who I would call upon for what
area, so they had to familiarize themselves with as much as they
could. A group study session was in order. Their monitor or group
leader marshaled the effort, making sure they were all up to snuff.
the next morning they were all standing in front of my apartment
building waiting for the teacher to walk with them the two blocks out
of the campus to the Third Ring Road (XiSanHuan Beiliu) to catch
taxis to the Summer Palace. Of course, the monitor, a person of
prestige and stature, must have the instructor in his car. I never
did have a class with a female monitor. Interesting.
we went, careening though traffic with all the taxis trying to stay
together. At the Palace gate, the monitor purchased the tickets for
all of us from the class fund. All the students make contributions
to this fund from their meager stipend to pay class expenses such as
taking the teacher to dinner and to sites.
we went. Everywhere on the grounds were signs describing what we
were seeing. They were in Chinese and “English,” (read
Chinglish). If they read real quickly, they could have gotten the
gist of the scene. Though this was "cheating," I turned a
blind eye. They thought they are putting something over on me.
we walked through the gardens, palaces, gates and outbuildings, we
stopped and I appointed two students to be the "tour guides."
The first two were nervous and unsure of themselves, but they were
getting a little coaching from the sidelines from students who seemed
to have remembered the lessons a little more clearly (or read the
Chinese portion of the signage more thoroughly).
we progressed, I notice our little group of twenty-three has
increased considerably. We had gathered into our flock several other
"foreigners," and some Chinese who wanted to practice
their English by listening to the English speaking Chinese tour
guides. After a while the students notice this too. Some are a
little shy when it came to their turn to be a guide because they now
have a following of folks they don't know.
the morning we visited many places, and as we expected to spend the
day, we had brought a picnic lunch (a suggestion I had made in class
yesterday). We ate anis scented sunflower and pumpkin seeds. (I
break a filling, but don't tell a soul.) They have brought iced
green tea, walnut chews and sesame crackers. It is enough for all of
us without bankrupting their meager budgets eating at the terribly
overpriced food stands in the park.
arrived, we have had "a little rest," sitting under a
gigantic gingko tree, and then we continue on the tour. We could
have continued on for a week and never have seen everything. We only
managed to travel the northeast quarter of the facility where many of
the more famous structures were located.
we were walking along, in my usual devious way, I planned an event.
I was known for throwing a monkey wrench into class lessons by asking
odd questions or making odd requests which made them think outside
the box. (They often spent a great deal of time trying to anticipate
what the teacher would do or say in order to help them learn and be
prepared.) I am looking for a certain kind of tourist and at last I
had found them.
chose Susie and Molly as the next students to practice their English.
My students always chose English names for themselves, a practice I
did not encourage.
and Molly, see that couple over there with the small baby?"
they have a new Chinese girl baby that they have just adopted. I
want you to go over and talk with them.” (Horrified looks on
their faces and concern on the faces of all the students, how can
this be?) ”You can ask them about their new baby." I
chose these two women for this project because they both have a child
and were very proud of them.
no, Miss Deon! We do not know them. They are foreigners."
yes. They are tourists and would love to learn a little about the
Chinese. I have been watching and no one speaks to them. They may
feel they are not welcome here. You may go and welcome them and tell
them they have a beautiful baby girl. Ask her name."
they went, very hesitantly. I looked around me and the whole
remaining class had closed ranks and was squeezed together in fear,
peering from behind the tree at the two women as they approach the
couple. They were curious, but also concerned for them.
two walked up to the couple, who were reading one of the poorly
translated signs, and ask if they could speak to them. Then they
introduced themselves. The couple introduced themselves. They ask
about the baby and were introduced to the baby, praising her beauty.
They asked the couple a little about their stay in China and about
the process of adoption. Did they like the country? Would they
return? How long had they been here? A general conversation, well
within their comprehension of English.
they were laughing and having a good time talking with these
foreigners. The clustered group of students began to say that it
didn’t look as though the women were having a bad time. They
looked like they were enjoying themselves and the foreign couple
seemed to be enjoying the conversation as well. The women told them
why they are there and pointed out their classmates clustered under
the nearby tree, who had not quite succeeding in trying to hide
said their goodbyes to the foreigners and returned to the group.
They were surrounded and enclosed into the group as though they need
protection, as though they had just returned from a diplomatic
mission into hostile territory.
I asked them how it went, they told us it was great and they were
very proud of themselves for speaking to total strangers. All their
classmates relaxed a bit and were anxious to ask questions.
speak English,” I told them. They had lapsed back to Mandarin
in their excitement. I had a rule during class time, no Chinese
languages, only English during class. I always threatened to give
them a zero for the day if they violated this particular rule.
baby is a girl (of course) and they have named her Lily. She is from
Anhui Province. She is 12 weeks old. They said they liked China very
much, and would like to return with Lily to visit when she is older.
They adopted her 2 weeks ago and are seeing Beijing before they
what country had they come?"
Miss Deon, but their English was terrible!" Actually, their
English was very good, it was just that my students recognized
Chinglish and American English readily and the Norwegian accent had
given these tourists a bad rating on the language skills, but this
was the very reason I have asked them to engage in this conversation.
Just a little change in accent could make the English language
unintelligible to them. Since many would go to countries other than
the US and England, they would hear many different accents and would
need to be able to decipher the “English” with the
our stay in China, we had the opportunity to host several friends
from home. The first guest was a pilot who had an overnight in
Beijing before his return flight. As we mentioned in the chapter
about the apartment, we managed to “acquire” some foam
mattresses and he slept on those on the living room rug for the night
of his stay. Though this was an OK arrangement, it wasn’t the
best. We needed something that would work better.
consulted with my foreign affairs officer, Zhou Wei, as to how to
deal with this type of thing. She told me that one wing of the
Foreign Expert’s Housing was a hotel, rooms without kitchen.
These rooms had twin beds like ours and a bathroom. They are about
$20 US per night. This seemed like the perfect arrangement. It was
a stone’s throw from our apartment, just through reception and
up a different stairway. We went to check them out.
pink “marble” floors. Beds with a little better
mattresses, bathtub, sink and toilet. TV, and the ubiquitous hot
water thermoses. Perfect!
next guests were two ladies coming from Whidbey. They were traveling
to China on frequent flyer miles and didn’t have to pay
airfare. They were ecstatic that the room would cost them each $10
per day for the duration of their stay. Of course they would coming
and they would be staying for several weeks, why not? It wasn’t
costing them anything.
we were looking forward to seeing them and the goodies they brought
with them were just extra frosting on the cake, or chocolate chips in
the cookies! We also had a small list of things we needed brought
with them that we couldn’t seem to find here. They were happy
to be carriers for us as this would give them more room in their
suitcases for goodies purchased on their trip. The each brought one
large suitcase with another suitcase tucked inside for the shopping
spree they intended.
the BIG problem. How could we show them around? We were teaching
most days of the week, both of us, and couldn’t get time to
take foreigners sightseeing. That would only leave evenings and
weekends to take them anyplace. They couldn’t just sit in the
hotel all day.
planned a scheme. (Our first guest arrived on a day we had off, so
we could be his guide.) Our two women guests needed guides, at least
until they were comfortable on their own. Students to the rescue.
They had done well as my guides at the Summer Palace. Why not turn
them loose on my guests.
and LiLi? Tomorrow you will have a special assignment. You will not
be coming to class; you will be taking my two American lady friends
to the Summer Palace. They will pay for your taxis, admission to the
sites and lunches. You will be their guides. The following day you
will come back to class and give a report on your adventures.”
no Miss Deon, we do not know them!”
you do not want to do it I can assign it to another and give each of
you a zero for tomorrow and the next day’s lessons. Is that
what you would like?”
no, we will do it.”
meet us at 8:30 tomorrow in front of the Foreign Expert’s
Housing and I will introduce you. You will NOT speak any Chinese to
each other. If you do I will find out and you will not get credit
for the day. You may only speak Chinese to ask directions, talk to
taxi drivers, etc. It would be rude to speak in Chinese it front of
your guests.” (Their instructor, me, the despot, giving them
had already studied up on the Summer Palace, so this was not too
difficult a task. I did tell them the guest probably would not eat
food that was too fiery. Be sure to order a lunch that was something
that they, the students, liked as the guests would be paying for it.
(Lunch turned out to be KFC as the students particularly like it and
they thought the Americans could tell them if it tasted different in
the US. I was not sure the ladies from the states had ever eaten in
a KFC.) I also told them to be sure to enjoy themselves and the sites
they would see. Since their stipends were so small and they probably
wouldn’t see many sites during their stay in Beijing. It was
supposed to be a treat for the US guests as well as for the students,
even though they were not sure about that.
students were there right on schedule. I introduced our friends and
off they went. Students nervous and friends delighted to have some
one-on-one time with Chinese students. The students got to practice
their English all day and my friends got virtually free guides.
they returned in the evening I was waiting in front of the Foreign
Expert’s Housing. Four very tired, very happy, giggling ladies
returned. They had lots to tell and had more fun than any of them
could have imagined. I asked my friends, “Did they speak any
Chinese?” “No they only spoke to the taxi driver in
Chinese.” “Great, you pass for today, you can report your
day in class tomorrow.”
think all four slept the sleep of the dead that night. All were a
little nervous, but all had walked for miles and worked hard at
speaking and understanding and it was very tiring. Up and at it
early the next day and off to see new sites with new guides to lead
was the system we used whenever guests came to visit us in Beijing.
We had many guests come once they understood that they had cheap
hotel and personal guides for their stays.
and dinners we escorted our guests ourselves and took them to some of
our favorite places and restaurants. It turned out to be a perfect
arrangement overall. Students practiced English and saw the sites,
guests had personal guides and we got to see our favorite places
again when we went places with them during our time off.
last type of guides involves the students who acted as OUR guides
when we had opportunities to travel to their hometowns during times
we had off to travel, but this will be a different book.
Wikipedia’s definition of Pinyin: Pinyin,
is the official phonetic system for transcribing
pronunciations of Chinese
into the Latin
It is often used to teach Standard
and spell Chinese names in foreign publications and may be used as an
to enter Chinese
pinyin system was developed in the 1950s based on earlier forms of
It was published by the Chinese government in 1958 and revised
several times. The International
Organization for Standardization
(ISO) adopted pinyin as the international standard in 1982. The
system was adopted as the official standard in Taiwan in 2009, where
it is used for Romanization alone rather than for educational and
computer input purposes.
means the spoken language of the Han
literally means "spelled-out sounds".
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
story list and biography
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