Well, it is only the rule so…

I sometimes think that the expression “Rules are meant to be broken” comes from China. Even though there are many ways in which people listen or accept things at face value, there is certainly a lot of room for opposition as well.

Of course, this manifests in somewhat negative ways as well. Going off the beaten path in the mountains (although mother nature put this sign here urging you not to), shaking the trees for flowers or red leaves (ignoring another sign that says trees have feelings too) or simply squatting on the toilet seat (how do you do that anyway)?

But it also means that there is in a certain way more room for exploration. For example, if you are looking for a place and you are not sure if it is in this building, you can almost always enter it. It does not matter if the guard is awake (although oftentimes they are sleeping) they almost never ask questions. Once you are inside and realize within 5 minutes that you are not at the right place, nobody will even blink twice at you coming out again almost immediately.

Once you have mastered that stage, you can move on to the next: making your own rules. Everyone constantly is in a certain way just doing their own thing. Wearing whatever they want, setting up their street stall wherever they can, getting on the bus in the middle of an intersection or singing along very loudly on their bikes. It is almost mindful.

After that stage, there is only a final one left: blatantly ignoring the rules. It helps if you do not understand or can act as if you do not understand people talking to you. I once stopped sort of half-way on an intersection with a friend and pretended to not understand the traffic guy yelling at me to stand back. He gave up, muttering something about me being Thai. Or an alternative is directly talking to them in your own language and catching them off-guard that way. I have only done it once, but it is definitely one of my greatest achievements this year.

Oh, and it also works great to avoid agressive advertisers or people asking you the way. In general, it is a great way to not make any friends.

Animated Animals: what the duck?

I was traveling a few weeks ago and while climbing a mountain, I suddenly thought: “What if animals could talk? Surely it would make mountains and forests a much less quiet place.” I also just remembered seeing the headline somewhere that currently most ducks for Chinese dishes are imported from Great Britain. So combining the 2, I imagine it would end up something like this…

It is the same as with humans. If you do not talk to them, they do not learn to speak. Since animals are now able of learning human languages, there have been many new rules, especially at farms and outdoors areas. Everyone there needs to use sign language, to preserve some quietness and order. Sure, monkeys may be able to catch onto that, but that conveniently also scales back the amount of zoos.

So, one day you saw an add for a Business Development Manager at a Duck Farm. Such positions are now very unpopular, due to moral considerations. However, that makes for little competition, so you decide to give it a try.

“English is the main language for this task.” Your supervisor says. “We import most of the ducks, so we need fluent speakers. We also have a few English major students interning for us.” No wonder that the level of English suddenly became much higher in China. There are that many more opportunities to practice, although you doubt how in-depth these conversations could go.

“It is no option to let them handle everything by themselves under human supervision?” You ask. Your supervisor shakes his head. “Only some are well-educated enough to communicate with us. Being able to talk does not mean they have consciousness, and many conditions in large-scale facilities are still quite apalling. If you let ducks talk to each other, they will quickly veer off-topic and start complaining about putting on weight, dirty feathers and swollen feet. And in the end, most ducks are slaughtered of course.”

With that in mind, you start working and calling. “Donny speaking here, how can I help you.” You wonder what it looks like on the other side. Is the duck in an office? Is the phone strapped to his body? Is there a human supervising him? After exchanging some polite conversation, you discuss the quality of the newest batch, transport, logistics and some other business.

With the work part of the conversation coming to an end, you decide to delve a little bit deeper. “Donny, does it feel at all strange to be part of this?”

You hear a sigh, obviously you are not the first one asking these questions. “Well, it is certainly a limited life of course. If I could fly and feel fine, I would but our bodies simply are not built like that. In the meantime, instead of just eating all day, it is nice to get a break from that by talking to you guys.”

Truth be told, you never gave a thought about career choices for ducks. “So is it tough to learn how to do this?”

“Nah, not really. We have scripts and cards, so that is the easy part. Also for off-topic conversations, we have a lot of practice. But I imagine that our counterparts living in the wild have some more variety. Stories of the black market do trickle down here, with some of us selling inside knowledge, stuff like that. Another reason not to keep us alive for too long.”

“You can just straight up tell me that?” You ask in amazement.

Donny has a short laugh. “Well, by now it is common knowledge. You guys cannot keep us apart anyway, so there is bound to be some of us able to get away. Anyhow, my feet are hurting so I am hanging up. Looking forward to be in touch again!”

A click and he is gone. You have quite a lot to think about now and decide to go for a stroll. Perhaps that will take your mind off of things.

About learning Japanese in China

So pretty much my next favorite country besides China, Belgium and France is Japan (probably should keep a spot for a Scandinavian country too since the chance of me finding a partner there is very high). Because I have been slacking with my Japanese studies since about 2013, mainly keeping it up through watching anime and reading manga at about one page per 15 minutes, I found a buddy to start doing Japanese again with. In China.

If I could say anything about the Chinese education system without really participating in it, I would sum it up as being: rigid, not very interactive and faithful to the textbook. This would actually turn out to be true more or less once I started. I could start a separate career as diviner!

For a Dutch person, this is of course quite the opposite of what we like to have. We tend to focus more on interaction (even if it is students saying a lot ‘I do not know the answer’), flexibility (ooh the ‘Leids Kwartiertje‘) and being creative with content (‘Yes teacher, I feel watching a movie would be very helpful in the learning process.’). So how does it feel to experience a wholly different system?

Rigid: Well this is mainly manifested in the way that each class is pretty much the same structure. 20 minutes discussing the new words, 10 minutes of reading the standard text, 1 hour of grammar and 30 minutes exercise. The fact that I know this structure already after only 2 lessons is in itself kind of amazing.

Not very interactive: Yup, this matches. I just described that we had only 10 minutes of reading and 30 minutes of practice. This is still divided by about 5-7 people. Furthermore, it is very easy to just not participate. The fact that we have teenagers (yes, 15-year olds. Nostalgic.) means that they are readily using this. One of two has clearly been sent here by his parents as extracurricular activity and is consequently one of the least motivated persons I have ever experienced studying a language. The girl obviously has watched (quite) some anime since she insterts a ‘Nani?’ (Japanese for what) between everything and is just in general sassy in a way that is not really constructive (‘Congrats teacher on writing the wrong character.’).

Faithful to the textbook: We have a bingo! Incidentally, even the short test (which is really not worthy of being called a test) uses the exact same sentences as the textbook examples. Like, word for word. And then the teacher advises us that we should really not look in our books. It is quite cute, if it was not about something as relatively serious as teaching a language.

So I might sound quite negative here. The fact that we are cramped in a small rectangular room which is about 15 square meters (does remind you of Japan in a certain sense I guess) and an atmosphere that is lethargic does not help either. However, there are also bright spots:

  1. I follow the class with a Dutch-Turkish friend, so we are the foreign stars of the class.
  2. My level is easily the highest in the class (which does not say a lot, this is the second-to-lowest level we are following) so I can act smug and be a know-it-all legitimately.
  3. It is effective to at least be actively engaged with this language for 4 hours a week. Those are 4 more hours than before!

So that also consitutes a bingo. Guess it is a tie for now.