|'Random Objects' Stephen Evans|
I spent yesterday and today assessing presentations, so mine's an extra-large glass of the Merlot, if you're buying. All the presenters were undergraduate Chinese students, or even under-undergraduate Chinese students, as they have not started their degree courses yet. I saw some corkers: thoughtfully prepared and interesting stuff from knowledgeable and enthusiastic young people. Carrie presented a plan for opening a Chinese restaurant in Leicester. Maybe I liked her spiel because I had suggested most of the main ideas myself, but her enthusiasm for these ideas and the lovely visuals she had prepared were all her own. The Chinglish turn of phrase was delightful. She proposed to create Chinese food as close to traditional recipes as possible so that 'China homesickness people, zey can enjoy, and I sink zey can have sweet feeling.' (Yeah, babe, gimme some o' that sweeeet feelin'.)
The discussion that this presentation provoked was instructive. I have frequently moaned about the impoverished and non-committal contributions Chinese students make to discussions and how eliciting an opinion is like pulling teeth, but at the end of Carrie's spiel there were dozens of questions and a great deal of good-natured sending up of some of her ideas for their financial naivety, which had gone right over my head. The moral is that any discussion that isn't instigated by the students themselves is going to fall flat on its arse.
Kids newly arrived from China are often excellent readers in English, but they have never been encouraged to speak, so their pronunciation can be pretty ropey. Observing presentations, I often look up in puzzlement from my notes to see if the slides offer any clue as to what is being said. A young woman's presentation about the founding and business strategies of 'Madonna Louse' was actually about the fast food chain of the slightly similar name that plays about with the form of English stative verbs ('I'm lovin' it' would have been non-standard when I was a new teacher - is nothing being sacred?) Madonna Louse sell 'football food', the presenter informed us. After a few repetitions of this I worked out she meant 'affordable food'. Most of her presentation was pretty incomprehensible but enlivened by her extraordinary outfit, a black one-piece pants suit with abundant gingham-y frills, like something Yves St Laurent might have designed circa 1968 for a the chorus in Annie Get Your Gun.
A nervous, sweating, damn-near hyperventilating lad gasped before drying up that he would (gasp) 'discuss about Auntie-ji'. Could 'Auntie-ji' be his mother's sister, emigrated from Beijing to Delhi, I wondered idly as he paused to try to catch his breath.
'Huh... yeah,' he said, recovering slightly. 'I'm discuss abow Auntie-ji anna Disadawauntie-ji of Internet banking.' Gotcha.
Then here is Sam. He has prepared ten minutes on the pros and cons of a variety of computer operating systems: Bollix, Ubu, Polio, or some such things. He's obviously very knowledgeable but it's lost on me. I'm not complaining though, because Sam's as cute as a button, compact and boyish and unusually hairy for a Chinese lad if you know when and where to look, and I do. He is serenely unaware that both his teachers are as gay as Christmas and really quite taken with him. I texted my colleague on the first day: 'One really cute lad. Won't tell you his name.' He replied on day two: 'Is it Sam?'
I gave him 60% for the presentation to show that I am not swayed by emotion.
Lest any of the grey-faced Christer homophobes I've been arguing with on You Tube recently reads this (Stan, it's you I'm thinking of) and shakes his head in pious deprecation of the sexual incontinence of those who 'turn to a gay lifestyle', let me tell you about the texts and Facebook messages emanating a couple of weeks ago from a Leicester drinking den where some of my female colleagues, one of whom a middle-aged married woman, God bless and save us, were sizing up the male talent among our students from Russia. Stan thinks it's a straight choice between heterosexual monogamy and Sodom and Gomorrah, and cannot come to terms with the fact that life crackles with lust, poor sod, and that most humans are perfectly aware and respectful of boundaries notwithstanding. He thinks I'm the bloody Marquis de Sade and I cannot now break it to him that I've been celibate for over a decade.