Day 200: The Things (Chinese) Kids Say

10 Mar

Hello everyone and happy 200 days in China!

Everything is back up and running (again) after another computer breakdown (this time the screen was completely black with only a cursor no matter what we did) and another trip to Beijing. Monday morning the computer decided to call it quits and after frantically searching the Internet for home-cures, some anxiety over whether the hard drive had been erased or not, and an impatient weeklong wait to get to the nearest legit Apple store with a Genius Bar, Friday night we were once again in the “West” (aka the expat, SOHO, Sanlitun area of Beijing).

Sunday morning we made an appointment with the Genius Bar and within ten minutes, the computer was working properly, updated, and “Apple polished” all for free. All my data is where it should be and there was no damage. We did decide to buy another external hard drive (we have one at home in the States) so that we can back-up our files and pictures from our China adventure just in case something goes wrong in the next three months. So with the computer fixed and an entire afternoon to spare, we decided to go to Dog on Fire and get real hotdogs and to go see The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug in 3D and in English. With hotdogs and movie theaters being two of Duncan’s favorite things and with the computer working again and another fabulous weekend in Beijing under our belt, it was (and has been) happy times indeed!

Last week was a normal week of teaching with nothing significant to report other than some entertaining situations in the classroom. The first week back to school I taught my kids a lesson inspired by our travels over the holiday. This included the phrase “terracotta warriors”. Though originally very difficult for all of them to say, last week I discovered that “terracotta warriors” is now their go-to phrase for any new vocabulary they don’t know or they don’t remember.
Me: What’s this? (pointing to bridge)
Them: Terracotta warriors!
Me: No.
Them: Terracotta!
Me: No.
Them: Warriors!
Me: No.

Then, after I tell them and move onto the next word…

Me: What’s this? (pointing to a pagoda)
Them: Potato!
Me: No.

And so the class continues.

Last week, I taught a lesson on the environment inspired by the recent smog crisis. One of the words I taught was “plant”, so this week…
Me: What is this? (pointing to a plant)
Them: Potato!
Me: No.
Them: Pagoda!
Me: No.

Last week, I also had a revelation about something my students have been saying all year long. For months now, I have had children come up to me in groups and take turns calling each other “dog”. “Teacher, he’s a dog!” “No, he’s the dog!” And then they look at me and laugh when I don’t get it. Sometimes I have even joined in and called the first name-caller a dog too. They laugh and run away and everything’s good. But last week, when I was doing some studying, I discovered that the word for “dog” can also be used derogatorily (much like female dog in English). Upon this discovery, everything became clear. My kids have been translating a cuss word of sorts into English literally unaware that the translation is not equivalent and then trying it out on me to see my reaction. But more importantly, it seems that I have been calling the students playing this game the cuss word they think they’re using in English. Great…

Two other comical situations happened in last week’s classes. For some reason in one class all of the students kept screaming out to me in the middle of class “yibaiyishiwu! (115)” I kept repeating it back to them, trying to figure out what was going on and then they all just laughed and repeated it again, only this time in the same confused tone I had used. Eventually, I just said “weishenme (why)?” to them, which they, of course, thought was hysterical and astounding because once again I tricked them into believing “teacher speaks Chinese!”
Then, in another class, one boy screamed out in the middle of class “he’s my son!” When I stopped and looked at him and said, “he’s your son?” that kid died laughing and put his head on his desk and then a kid behind him said in a very stately manner “I am their grandfather” and opened his arms wide. Then, the kid originally identified as “son” just looked at me somewhat exasperated and said “but I am younger than both of them!” and put his head in his hands and started laughing. The rest of class the three of them would start laughing hysterically all over again whenever I looked at them so I let it go. But I really want to know what in the world was going on or what they were trying to say that came out wrong.

Today, I got brave (or desperate) enough to try playing charades in my classrooms. When I was young, I hated the game. I didn’t want to be up in front of the classroom making a fool of myself and feeling like everyone was judging me and so I have been resistant to using it in my classrooms in China because of the high risk of embarrassment (that seems to be even higher among Chinese students). But since I needed a new game and health vocabulary from this week’s lesson provided pretty easy potential for acting out (and I would like to stimulate creative and original thinking in my classes as much as possible), I decided to give it a try.
I was absolutely blown away by the success. I didn’t even get through explaining the game before almost all of the students were literally jumping out of their seats to be the first one up. And the students only seemed to get embarrassed when they couldn’t immediately figure out how to act out certain things. (How do you act out a hospital? You make a cross with your fingers. How do you act out being a doctor? You stab Alyssa laoshi/teacher in the arm with a marker and pretend to scribble notes on a paper, of course.) So the game was successful for the students in the way I the very way I thought would be its downfall and was successful from my perspective as a teacher in that I had the entire classroom focused and participating, English was used, and some students were actively participating and interacting with me for the first time. Maybe it’s the structure of the game that allows for non-judgmental silliness that allowed the quiet kids to participate, but whatever it was, I am still thrilled by the success of today’s classes.

Our health and spirits are holding up and we are amazed that the end of this week will already mark a month into this semester. Last week we also bought our return tickets to the States and we will officially be leaving Hong Kong for the States on June 10th. With a little over two and a half months of teaching left, we plan on making at least three more mini-trips before the end of the semester. One of those trips (to Datong, Luoyang, or Huangshan) will probably happen this weekend and/or in two more weeks. But now that there shouldn’t be any more problems with the computer, posts will become more regular again on here and on Duncan’s photo blog once he gets all caught up.

Until then, thank you for reading,



Posted by on March 10, 2014 in Baoding, Travel, Uncategorized


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2 responses to “Day 200: The Things (Chinese) Kids Say

  1. Lex Valdez

    March 11, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    The Chinese word “孙子” (sun zi) is the name of a very old Chinese author and military strategist known for writing “The Art of War. This Chinese word, sun-zi, also means grandson, but in modern usage has come to have a second, considerably more profane meaning. It has come to be the rough equivalent of the English swear words “B**ch” (in the sense of one person calling another that derogatory term to assert their dominance or authority over another person) “Bas—d”, or “M.F.” Another variant of this profanity that I have seen is 龟孙子 (gui sun zi, which translates literally to “turtle grandson”). Those students were likely just being obnoxious. I learned this from Johnson, whose Chinese surname, coincidentally, is Sun 孙.

    Even with the editing, I apologize for the censored profanity of the post, but I just thought you might be interested in this after the incidents of the students calling each other “dogs” and the students saying they are somebody’s grandfather or another student is a son/grandson.

    Have a lovely day.

    • abelcher22

      March 12, 2014 at 8:21 pm

      Hmm, this is very interesting. That explains a lot. I still find the literal translations without cultural difference awareness an interesting feature of this situation. Seems like middle school students around the world amuse themselves in foreign language class by looking up curse words.
      Thanks for sharing!
      Hope you have a good day! 🙂


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