Tomorrow is Coming

Free China souvenir and irrevocable BFF status to the person who can guess the oblique reference in the title. And who isn't named Andrew. He has an unfair advantage.

The first time I have a class, I like to start things off with a question and answer session. I go around the class and require every student to ask me one (or more) question (s). There are some common themes.

The girls typically ask:

  1. Do you have a girlfriend? (I'm debating photoshopping one together for next semester. Or trying to convince them that I'm dating Scarlet Johanson. It wouldn't be as hard as you'd think.)

  2. Do you like Chinese girls? (Guys. I've got nearly a decade on most of you. And I'm your teacher. Weird.)

There's the mandatory questions:

  1. Do you like Chinese food? (I don't know. I mean, does Chinese food like me? Because Chinese food is kinda cute.)

  2. What do you think of China? (I love China. Yes I do. And the Chinese government. And most of all, history's greatest leader, Chairman Mao. Taiwan is a province of the People's Republic!)

After your standard stock questions run out, things get a bit more interesting. One of the weirder questions I was posed: A boy rose and asked me to point out the girl in the class that I thought was the hottest. One of the most interesting: What do you think about Tienanmen square?

On day one, you've got to be on your feet.

I think, more than anything, students are curious about us foreigners: How do we survive in China? What are our live like compared to theirs? (they're endlessly asking me to compare things like Chinese students vs American students) One question that pops up with some regularity is:

Can you speak Chinese?

And when I answer no, it's usually followed, without pause and with genuine curiosity:

But how do you buy things?

I could tell you about a dozen stories about interesting/hilarious shopping excursions, but the following is my favorite.

When I first got to China, I went through a period of temporary insanity. I brought my X-box over here from the States, and after a week of searching, I couldn't find the power converter that I needed to get the thing working. Video games used to be pretty good stress relief for me, and I was really wanting to plug my console in and shoot some terrorists, or aliens, or whatever. Anything that would let me slip away for a little while.

Have you ever done something, not because you actually believed it would work, but because you really wanted it to work? Don't do that. Its a bad idea.

I may have plugged in my X-box without the power converter. I really wanted it to work. Maybe the power supply really could handle Chinese power, but it wasn't labeled as such. Right? Right?

My power supply, of course, made a loud popping sound. The “powered” light glowed for a few overly bright moments before dying away. My lower lip quivered a little.

A month or so later, my then neighbor and wingman, Benjamin Williams, told me about something he'd found in Wuchang, one of the three (or maybe four) cities that have formed into the mega-city of Wuhan. It was an X-box shop, and from what he could tell, the guys who ran it not only sold X-box supplies, but repaired stuff as well. That weekend, I packed my X-box up and Ben and I took the two hour bus ride out there, hoping that I could get the thing fixed.

How do you explain to a Chinese person that you'd played the fool and plugged your American power supply into a Chinese power outlet? That one wasn't as hard as you'd think. First, I used one of the few Chinese words I knew, the word for American, and pointed at the power supply. Once he caught on, I mimed plugging it into the wall and then made an explosion sound. He thought this was hilarious. When I tried to mime out him fixing the thing, however, he couldn't follow me.

A lady working in the shop came up with a pretty ingenious solution to our problem. She pulled up Google translate.

Guys, this was like a scene out of Star Trek.

The keyboard had the software capacity to type in both Chinese characters and English letters, so I would type in my half of the conversation, Google would translate it, the other guy would read it, and then repeat what I had done. Google translate was crude, but it did the job. Two people, who didn't share more than a handful of words with each other held a conversation.

If I didn't already have a religion, I'd probably start worshiping Google.

Think about this for a second though. If you have an internet connection and a computer, you can now have a conversation with anyone who can read and write one of the languages in Google's database. For free. There is no longer such a thing as a language barrier. Or if there is, we've punched an awful big hole in it.

In a decade, I wouldn't be surprised if you could get something like Google translate on a hand-held device (If you can't already). And how long after that would it be before a hand-held could understand speech patterns and translate them?

We take so much for granted. We really do live in an age of wonders.


Howdy folks! Life goes on. I apologize again for being away. The last two weeks have been a little busy with final exams and things of that nature. To be honest though? I may have been having a wild and tempestuous love affair... with another blog! Gasp. But don't worry, I still love this one. The separation was only temporary. I've promised I'll stop seeing that other blog.

I'm still writing and reading my way along. Various writing projects have been set upon and defeated. I polished off Stephen King's Eye's of the Dragon (which I enjoyed), and also read Issac Asimov's Foundation. That was good too. It was even more of an interesting read because of how much other fiction Foundation has influenced. Asimov really was a visionary. I'm now reading two books side by side: Night Shift (a short story collection by Stephen King) and Moby Dick by Herman Melville. The idea is that when Moby Dick gets to be too dense and crunchy, I can take a break and dive into a Stephen King short story. The problem is I've made it a hundred pages into Night shift and one into Moby Dick. Oops.

Its also the new year. Crazy huh?

I better wrap things up for this post. It's already four o'clock and I've still got three writing projects to polish off/ work on today. Onwards and upwards.

Hope life is treating you well.

Drop me a line sometime if you like. I love to hear from you all.



PS: 11 months, 7 days, 7 hours, 59 minutes, and 35, 34, 33... seconds until The Hobbit premiers in theaters.


Anonymous said...

The oblique reference in your title wouldn't happen to be from Luke Doucet, would it?

And these stories cracked me up! Ditto and ditto!

P.S. This is David Istre

Derek Wentz said...

Nope. Chris got it with: A Game of Thrones

mark said...

Hey, I just got the foundation trilogy for christmas and am about to read it myself, also i got a dance with dragons that i need to read through too.

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