If I take anything away from this whole Chinese experience, I hope it to be some of the students. I may have mentioned before that for the most part the students I encountered here in China would form the most lopsided, crudely drawn bell curve imaginable if ranked by their intelligence, and thus their ability to learn English. But, like all bell curves, this one too has a far right side (I don’t mean that politically).
One such student is Joe.
Joe was great. Everyone loved Joe, mostly because he was the kind of student that actively engaged with whatever you were doing, and thus are the students who are actually doing the work they are meant to be doing and thus not making your life harder.
When I first met him, I didn’t like Joe. His English was staggered, heavily accented, and very difficult to understand. He spoke with a pretty boring cadence, and his fat round face would stare at you mouth agape with something of an Admiral Ackbar look and expression.
But my first real memories of Joe are of when he strolled into my class with little more than his phone in his pocket and three pomellos in net-like sack. He has a seat, participates in the first 15 minutes of class (excepting the writing portion, as he had neither something to write with or something to write on) then proceeds to take a phone call. In class. He leaves after a minute, and stays gone for maybe another 15 minutes. He comes back, apologies and then leaves. Five minutes later, he comes back for the pomellos.
Not much of a lasting impression.
He would show up to my informal lounge chat class fairly often, and it was via this frequent interaction that I began to like him.
Joe is a man of odd opinions. He once tried to explain to me that it should be no problem what-so-ever for me to learn Mandarin, and that it was the easiest language in the world. He proceeds to take a marker from my hand and rapidly scrible a character on the board. “Look at it” he barked. “It says horse. It is obviously a horse.” It was so obvious in fact that he did not bother to point out how I was meant to gather that it was a horse.
His political opinions were particularly darling. He was a big Trump supporter, up to the moment when Trump had a friendly conversation with the president of Taiwan (a well-known province of China), at which point Trump quickly became a pariah, who couldn’t be trusted at any cost.
For a long while, Joe was the only student to ever come to my lounge chat classes, and as he kept coming to them I became used to his English and came to like him much more. He seemed to genuinely want to talk, and not just ask me questions about what it is like in Lao-Wai land. We could have actual conversation that were interesting for the both of us. We seemed to enjoy each others company. At some point, more people started coming to these classes, and at first I was apprehentious because I had become rather used to my ‘chat with Joe hour’, and I was worried that an influx of new students who only wanted to ask me the usual boring ‘where are you from’ question would kill the mood.
But Joe saved the day. He kind of took over the class, doing my job for me by organizing the conversation with the stronger students. And it was glorious.
I couldn’t be happier with the results.
Thank you Joe. You will be missed.