Wednesday, February 09, 2011

What I Did Today

I taught a class of impressionable high school youths today.  One of the things I like to do in class is a bit on English names.  It's really just an elaborate way to exorcise one of my pet peeves: Chinese students with inappropriate English names.  Perhaps you think that is narrow-minded, but three years of students named Eads, Essex, Tree, Lose, Vido and Axue have taken their toll.  I start by asking them, "If I told you my Chinese name was tang cu li ji (sweet and sour pork) what would you think of my knowledge of Chinese language and culture?"  I then go on to explain the advantages of having a culturally-appropriate name that is correctly balanced between unique and recognizable, and gently end with something like, "I'm not picking on you, but you should consider that I may be the only person who will come out and tell you if your name is ridiculous."  I go on to explain why Blue, Pizza, Fly and Jun (all names of actual past students) are not suitable names, but Scarlet, Candy, Faye and June are names.  I also give them the general warning that there are more Michaels, Jacks, and Lilys in China than there are in America, and they may want to consider something more unique.

From there I bring out my book 25,000 Baby Names (which is also named inappropriately because the names it contains are for people, not just babies) and look up the meanings of the English names they may have.  It's fun, and it's also great to be able to say, "25,000 names, but Lose is not in here."  Most of them had pretty good names already.  Suzie decided to change to Sybil, Claudia (which means lame, as it turns out) switched to Sydney.  Don't think I am stuck up, though.  I didn't say anything to Davis about his name even though it's usually a family name.  Albee is a name I've only heard in China, but I like it.  It's not in my book, but I usually tell students it's a variant of Alberta.  However, despite my best efforts Moose and Water Cow did not want to change their names.  I think that Moose didn't really know enough English to understand me, but Water Cow was with me.  I showed him that it was not in the name book and asked him if he wanted to change it and he said, "No.  I love it."  Okay then.  Water Cow it is.

As a parting shot at names, the only thing harder than convincing someone like Water Cow to change his name is explaining why Dick is short for Richard and Peggy is short for Margaret.

Later in class we played a game, "What Did I do Yesterday?"  I put five topics on the board: Where did they go, what did they see, what did they ask, what did they do, and what did they eat?  I then choose two or three students and send them outside.  The rest of the class and I decide what the students outside did yesterday.  When we're finished I bring the students back in and they have to ask yes or no questions to determine what they did yesterday.  It's usually pretty fun.  The part they like the most, though, is when I go outside and they decide what I did.  Apparently yesterday I went to Starbucks, saw a gay couple, asked where they were from, watched them kiss goodbye, and then ate some cake. 

Then Peter and I went to dinner at his aunt's house.  She's his mother's eldest sister, and she grew up during the cultural revolution.  She told us that when she was a girl her English teacher came to school, taught them to say, "Long live Chairman Mao" and then went on vacation for the rest of the year.

So there's a typical day!

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