Crossing the Street in China: Poker.

I have two “This is China” stories for you, and one lame joke. Here’s the first story of me going just a little out of my way, and the bizarrely typical consequences. It’s about playing cards.

Story. I like this definition of a gentleman: a man who will go out of his way for others. I try to meet it. (I’m not exactly acing the course, but if it’s a pass/fail, I think I might get the credit. Fingers crossed.) I often don’t, though. The little English corner¹ I started at my college a month ago is a test case: I don’t contractually have to do it, it’s a useful service to my students, but it also allows me to continue seeing some of my fave freshman students, kids that I’ve been working with in Oral English class since last fall. I like them and they like me. It’s not exactly sacrificial for me to be with them, but it’s time I don’t need to spend.

¹ I’d never heard of EC until just before we set out for Dalian, China in 2009. Chinese people gather to hear and practise speaking English. It’s a sweet, earnest custom. Foreigners are valued and surrounded, and for us, it can be an ego intoxicant. Practically, what it often means is that the Chinese are off the speaking hook, and mostly listen or ask the questions everybody already knows. “What country are you from?” “Do you like China?”

This week, a few newbies came, too, as soon as their morning class was over. Some finished off hasty lunches. We learned “Over the Rainbow”, did a getting-to-know-you walk ’n’ talk, and then the young vets taught the new kids how to play Whist. I’m not really a big card-player, but my bridge-loving mother taught us bid whist as a lead-up game when we were kids. (I almost remember the rules.) Most important, here, is that there’s so much good English vocabulary and idiom: trump, following suit, deal, bidding, tricks, reneging, lead, shuffling the deck, diamonds (they’re called ‘squares’ in Chinese, while clubs are known as ‘flowers’), and keeping your cards close to the vest/chest. I wish I’d started sooner, as the students love it and I just laugh and cajole and play Language Cop and threaten dire, non-existant consequences if they lapse into Mandarin.

A senior administrator poked her head in. She’s the Party Secretary for our college;

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