[ Yueqing ]
Today I taught two classes of High School students (Juniors and Seniors) in Liushi, a small town outside of Yueqing. This is a standard Show & Tell for Frank’s Chinese students (as in Chinese Lit & Grammar), with me as Object Presented. “Hey, there’s a foreign guy in our tiny town! He speaks English. Try out your language skills on him and we’ll have some laughs.”
In my travels this happens a lot: all over the world good teachers look for ways to engage their kids and expose them to new ideas. It’s the least I can do to repay Frank’s generosity since my arrival in the Motherland of Mao. Besides, it’s usually a great deal of fun: nothing beats the energy and wide-eyed enthusiasm of youth. It keeps me on my toes: make a connection, build camaraderie, start a dialog, encourage the wallflowers, tease some laughter out of the crowd.
This time was no exception, but it did contain one intriguing surprise. At one point during my presentation, I became curious about the level of their English textbooks. One shy young woman handed me her book, which I opened—by chance—to page fourteen.
Randomly. I swear it.
Page fourteen (see the attached photo) presents an English dialect to be found “in the American South,” in an odd little patch of glorified swamp known as Houston, Texas. My hometown. The example text is a short yarn involving those towering stereotypes of Texana: Buford, Little Lester, and Big Billy Bob.
I sh*t you not.
This little backwater portrait of my culture is taught to 1.4 billion people—roughly one of every five folks on Planet Earth—and it was a bit startling to see it represented this way. Is it an accurate portrayal? To a point, I suppose. Many people do speak this way, and some of them even come by it honestly. I can speak this way, and a hint of it creeps into my voice when I speak to my mom on the phone—my reflexive response to hearing it from her. And the down-home yarn-spinnin’ style of the story itself? It is certainly affected by many of my fellow Texans, for better or worse.
On the other hand, I’ve never met a Buford, or a Billy Bob—Big or otherwise. Though come to think of it I can recollect a Lester or two and there was a Burford I knew but that was back in High School and he was a preacher’s son and that was his family name and not nuthin’ he went by reg’lar-like so I’m guessin’, actually, or more like noticin’ that the more I settle on into writin’ this here ree-port, the more I starts to seein’ jist how close they done went and got their story after all. I guess Houston really is jist a “big ol’ oil town in Texas” and hellfire ‘n damnation if I ain’t afflicted with our way-a speakin’ and writin’ despite my best and longstandin’ efforts contrariwise.
[– Featured Image from Google Image Search. National Geographic Channels/Erin Buxton ]