Today, in China, Guangzhou, I arrived to Tiyuxilu (体育西路) metro station on my way to World International English to teach two English (ESL) classes.
In the teachers’ office, I saw my teaching schedule, one 3-student class followed by a 10-student salon class. I dreaded that a bit.
The Salon Class Handout Crisis
The salon class went smoothly.
Seven Chinese students were already seated in the salon-sized English (ESL) class when I walked in. I was a few minutes late.
When I saw I had the wrong handouts in my hands, I excused myself from class. I quickly walked to the office and opened the class activities folder. When I saw the “lesson 1” sheets were missing from the folder I was worried about time constraints.
Quickly, I approached a random colleague in the office.
I asked, “Hey, I have a lesson but the handout sheets are not in the folder. What do I do?”
My colleague replied, “Let me go to the computer and print it out for you. But I have to save those English handouts as an image and send it out to you.”
I was already a few minutes late to teach my English class, but I knew the World International English staff would help me, so I remained composed.
Ultimately, my English class handouts were printed out. I printed the first page for myself and the other handout pages for everyone else.
English (ESL) Class Student Introductions
I then re-entered the salon-sized English class with seven English students still inside. When I faced the students, I realized I committed another mistake. The English class handouts were only intended for me. I made the mistake of giving all the students the wrong information.
The Chinese students all looked lackluster and tired. As an English teacher in China, all I can do to counter tedium is to be an exciting English teacher with a lot of energy in our class. So, that is what I did.
I asked, “How is everybody?”
I wrote my teaching name down on the whiteboard. Then with less gusto, I said, “My name is Tony. I come from Australia. Has anybody ever been to Australia before?”
As I panned around the room to look for someone to engage me with an answer, I noticed the front table of the English class was lined up with really sexy Chinese girls.
The Pretty Chinese Student
There was one Chinese girl seated at the front table. She was tall, with long, black hair, and a completely made up face. She was absolutely stunning. She is not my style, but she is the kind of girl that Chinese men would like.
Peculiarly, once we acknowledged each other and I started to speak, she looked really confused with my spoken English. I judged her English level was really low.
The Red Lipstick Chinese Student
Seated beside her was a female Chinese student I have had in class before. This Chinese student was similar in appearance to one of the Dengba hostel staff who wore short shorts and could not speak English.
She wore a white top, had fine makeup, and nice red lipstick on her lips. She was a cute girl showing off her legs.
I was wondering, “What is she in this class for?”
The Blank-Looked Female Chinese Student
The female Chinese student beside her had also blankly stared the entire time.
The Short Skirt Female Chinese Student
Seated beside her on the same front table was a pretty Chinese student in a short skirt. Her spoken English was excellent. She often raised her voice and interacted with me in our English (ESL) class. I found her to be very engaging.
The Blonde-Haired Female Chinese Student
Then, at the back table, wearing a light-orange skirt, was one cute female Chinese student with blonde hair. She reminded me of a friend I made in Yangji (杨箕) who taught me how to use share bikes in China.
This Chinese student looked stress-free, and interested in what I had to teach. She wanted to practice her spoken English. I found out later that she not only works but she is a student as well. I jokingly called her a hard-worker (学霸).
Chinese Student Wearing Glasses
Also on the back table was one female Chinese student with her hair tied up in a ponytail, and wearing glasses. She had the biggest smile on the face throughout the class. She also engaged the class often.
The Enthusiastic Male Chinese Student
Next to her on her left was one guy who always talked in class. His energy was awesome.
Natural Disasters – Spoken English (ESL) Practice
With the teacher / student introductions out of the way, I moved onto the English class topic, “natural disasters”.
In English, I asked the class, “Has anyone heard about natural disasters?”
For every natural disaster I would give one example to the English class.
I said, “Australia right now has a lot of extreme weather events. We have a lot of bushfires happening. A lot of houses were destroyed. In Tasmania a typhoon has devastated a lot of the area. It is considered a natural disaster.”
I listed the natural disaster examples written on the handout, saying, “What is a hurricane? What is a landslide?”
I also quizzed, “An earthquake. Can someone tell me what an earthquake is? Remember there was an earthquake in Indonesia, and a landslide in Sichuan?”
One male Chinese student at the back table gave an account of his own story.
He said, “I remember I was in Guangzhou two years ago, and there were two earthquakes. I remember the chair was shaking, but no one else can remember that. Straight away it was on WeChat!”
I replied, “I also remember that earthquake in Guangzhou, but I also couldn’t feel the earthquake.”
Then all the Chinese students erupted in sudden, boisterous laughter. I think Chinese people just like to make jokes and use humor with their English teacher in class.
Most times, I would be looking for the punchline in the joke, because I wanted these Chinese students to engage me in our English class.
Then, a male Chinese student arrived into our salon English (ESL) class ten minutes late. I instinctively handed him paperwork as soon as he walked to a table. Then I continued on with the English class lesson.
Conversational Dialogue – Natural Disasters
This English class was really, really difficult to teach, because there were not many active English students in class. Half of the students in class looked confused.
When item six on the list “have you seen a movie with a natural disaster” became topical, the pretty Chinese student remarked, “I saw a movie.”
She told the class about a movie about China.
“There was an earthquake in the movie,” she said.
I quizzed, “Where in China did the movie happen?”
I often helped this female Chinese student conjure up scenarios for her to speak English sentences. Her spoken English level was rudimentary.
She replied, “Dongfang (东方).” I said, “You mean the North of China?”
Unable to explain herself, the Chinese student often looked like a deer in the headlights. Her mind had switched off, and she had gone blank. She seemed puzzled, unable to process what I said. I did my best as an English teacher to steer her along.
Creating English Groups For A Group Activity
The interesting takeout of the second English salon class is that after I had asked the students for their opinion on what a natural disaster is, I then moved to the second part.
The handout recommended the students form groups with a maximum 3 students per group, to discuss the ten questions related to natural disasters on the handout.
In a loud English voice, I directed, “Let’s all break into groups of two or three, and we can discuss these ten questions, ‘what is a natural disaster’ or ‘have you seen a natural disaster’.” I listed each of the questions on the whiteboard.
Peculiarly, nobody in the English class wanted to move. The four students on each table remained on their tables, and formed groups of four. Then the Chinese students all began to quietly murmur to each other about this topic.
Personally, as an English teacher, I thought that was not good enough. The Chinese students needed to form smaller groups in order to see improvements in their spoken English.
To solve this problem, as I walked between both tables to listen to the Chinese students chatter, I came to the middle of the classroom and asked, “Can I pull one person from this table, and one person from this table, and I will create a third group with those two people.”
…”So, we will have three people on each table, and two people come with me to create a third group of three people. That will be three groups of three people each.”
The Chinese students all looked confusedly each other. The only student who smiled back and looked interested was the pretty female Chinese student in the short skirt.
I gave the students one minute to choose between themselves. Nobody wanted to make a decision. Eventually I decided for them.
I asked, “How about you? Do you want to come?”
The pretty girl then stood up and wanted to be in my group.
I asked, “Who wants to also come into this new group?”
The female Chinese student with her hair tied up in a ponytail volunteered.
I said, “So, you jump up, and we will do a class together.”
The reason I created a third group is because I think some students should have some personal time with their English teacher. Volunteering to join a group with the English teacher is the only way I can give the Chinese students more personalized classes.
English Group Discussion On Natural Disasters
The seated groups continued to discuss their group activity, as I created another third group. I asked the Chinese students, “Do you need a chair? We can pull some chairs back to the back of the class?”
One Chinese student said, “I don’t need a chair. I can just stand up.”
The other Chinese student looked like she wanted to sit down, but she also said, “I will stand too.”
I took the back wall. I was still a bit confused about what the ten questions in the handout were.
Nonetheless, I started, “Let’s start with question seven. Have you seen a movie about natural disasters?”
Questions On Natural Disasters
Then we started to go through the questions on natural disasters.
I did not give my opinion to the Chinese students in my group, because the exercise aims to help students practice their spoken English.
I suggested, “Maybe you can tell me what you think?”
I allowed these two female students to express their opinions about comets.
Every now and again I would look outside of our English classroom to the British Head Teacher conducting a big English Corner class. I also looked into other classrooms to hear other English teachers conducting smaller English classes.
I looked to be really in control of the class.
Movies About Natural Disasters
Then we started to talk about movies about natural disasters.
In English, I then asked the Chinese students, “What do you think about her opinion? Did you watch a movie about natural disasters?”
One student replied, “I have not watched a movie about natural disasters, but I have a friend who did.”
I winged it for 10 minutes.
I tried to make it as natural as possible, but I could see that the Chinese students were uncomfortable in my group. I sensed they had never really been invited to discuss topics with an English teacher.
The Tale Of The Two English Speaking Study Groups
While the female students in my group spoke English, I looked behind them to see how the other students fared.
I noticed the male student that came late to class was always staring at me from his table. His English was also very poor. He formed a group with two female Chinese students whose English was also basic.
Their English group couldn’t understand the handout.
Perhaps I did a bad job as a teacher when I explained the group exercise, because their group did not engage each other, or discuss anything at all. I think they even had problems reading from the handout.
On the other hand, the English group behind us had strong English skills. Their group consisted of one male and two females. The male Chinese student was the kid who eloquently discussed “comets” and natural disasters. The female Chinese students with him also had a good command of English.
These three Chinese students in contrast were having a very vibrant conversation.
I heard them speak English, “What do you think about this?” The English was very coherent. But I could not hear any student from the front speak a single English word.
I was mindful not to give too much specialized treatment in my group because other people were not getting any benefit out of the class. I had to weigh up the pros and cons of this group.
I knew however that the class would have suffered if I allowed the Chinese students to remain in 4-student groups.
Listening To English Study Groups Provide Feedback
I looked at the time and saw only 15 minutes of our English class remained.
I said to my group’s students, “Maybe we should sit down and see what everyone else has come up with?”
The two Chinese girls happily returned to their seats to share their answers with the other students.
I said, “So, did everyone read through that handout? Did anyone come up with anything they would like to discuss with the class?”
The students on the front table didn’t say anything.
45 minutes into the English class and the pretty female Chinese student still had a blank, nonplussed look on her face. The male Chinese student looked irritated with our class. The other female Chinese student smiled at me but she also said nothing.
Looking for clues, I had to ask the Chinese students, “What about you guys? I saw that you wrote a lot of things down. What did you write on your piece of paper?”
The male Chinese student who came late to our English class had actually written the translations down for words such as “comet” and “natural disaster”. He was still catching up on the class.
I gestured over the top of those students to ask the group in the back, “What did you come up with?”
The male Chinese student who spoke English elegantly started conversation. That got the ball rolling.
Eventually, I started talking about Australia and the topic I am familiar with.
The Last Day On Earth – Question
At the end of this particular English class, one of the Chinese students asked me, “If today was your last day on earth, what would you do?”
His question gave me the opportunity to ask each individual student for their own opinion.
As an English teacher in charge of an English class, I think it is important to gauge the English level of every individual in class. I would recommend any English teacher to ask each student individually how they are doing, in order to gauge what their English level is before you start a group class.
I went around the English class to ask each student this very question.
The Chinese student who came late answered, “I would sleep all day.”
I laughed, “Okay, twenty four hours to sleep.”
Another student said she would be with her family.
One student said she would go shopping all day.
Another student said he would do all different kinds of things.
The student who asked the original Buddhist question, once again asked me, “What would you do?”
I replied, “I love the sun. I would go to Pearl River (珠江) and walk, following the sun.”
The students asked, “Would you go with anyone?”
I replied, “Yeah. People can come with me if they want, but the point of the last day on earth is that you know it is the last day on earth. You don’t want to give your time away to other people, because if I do something for somebody else, that takes a few hours of my last twenty four hours away. I want to do what I want to do in those last twenty-four hours.”
That answer ended the class.
English Class Concludes
Then I asked the English class students, “Does anyone have any questions for me, or something to say?”
The students all scratched their heads, and said, “No.”
I then engaged them in small talk, asking, “Does anyone have any other classes?”
I soon thanked the Chinese students for coming to the English class.
Student Approaches Me After English Class
When the English class had finished, one of the female Chinese students came back into the class. She was the one in the back of the class with her hair in a ponytail. She engaged me in an English conversation.
She began, “I think some students in class found it difficult to understand your accent. You said you come from Australia?”
I replied, “Yeah, but when I am speaking, I try not to use my accent. I try to make it sound as standard as possible.”
The female student emphasized that some people in class were still getting accustomed to my Australian accent because they had never heard it before.
I said, “There were some students at the front of class who looked confused, but perhaps their English level is low.”
I then leveled with her, “Actually, I have a few other English students. I think your English level is around 4.5 IELTS.”
After that she shook my hand and said, “Thank you. I have to go now.”
I said, “I hope to see you in class.”
World International English Reception’s Diamond Ring
From my English class, I walked across to reception to sign my teaching hours. The skinny, young Chinese girl on reception took my paperwork. The British Head English teacher also was there.
Today reception looked bothered and uncomfortable. Normally when I speak to the World International English receptionist in Chinese, she is bubbly and happy. Today she had this stress written on her face.
In the chatter with the head English teacher and reception, I complimented her, “She is a very practical girl. She can handle a lot of things at once.”
The head English teacher remarked, “Yes. That is why I gave her this diamond ring.”
The head English teacher then leans over the reception desk, grabs her delicate little hand, and shows me the sizeable ring on her index finger.
He said, “Look, this one.”
I said, “Really? That is pretty cool.”
She forced a smile.
I am looking as this 50 year old head English teacher is holding this 20 year old Chinese girl’s hand in his, as if he is proposing to marry her. She accepted his advance, but she also looked stressed out by this attention.
I exclaimed, “Did you really give that to her?”
Showing no compunction, the head English teacher said, “Yes, I just gave that to her today.”
I didn’t appear shocked. I just took it for what it was.
The Moral Question Of Work Relationships
It suddenly struck me that this older English male – who allegedly has a wife – has given a pink diamond ring to the Chinese receptionist at work. I thought that was really bizarre.
Where in the world have I landed?
There is nothing wrong with the head English teacher trying to build romance in the workplace, as long as the Chinese females he approaches willingly agree.
He is definitely not ashamed of his behavior. Certainly, the head English teacher is cunning to chase the sexiest girl at World International English. The office staff here however all have sex appeal.
The Head English Teacher Chases All His Dreams In China
Amid all the attention, the receptionist signed the paperwork for me.
She was being very quiet, not talking to me. I think she feels a lot of pressure because of what the head English teacher just did. She knows he has a wife.
I commented, “You had better hold onto a girl like that. It is well worth what she was given.” I didn’t mention the ring, but I alluded to the fact that she is a really good girl to give a diamond ring to.
Then the head English teacher smiled at me with a look with his eyes from the side of his face. The look said, “Don’t judge me man, but I am trying to get this really young, twenty year old village girl.”
I think with an action like this from the British head English teacher, he has had to have been employed by the English academy for years in order to have figured out whether the staff and bosses would have a problem with his advances, and who will not have a problem, and then make his moves on Chinese office colleagues, knowing he will not lose his job. He knows where he can bend the rules.
If he can get the girl, and in his old age he can still handle her, then more power to him. This British Westerner has come to China and chased one of his dreams in this extravagantly sexy reception girl.
For a newcomer to China fresh to World International English, I don’t know the rules. I don’t know what is and is not acceptable. I play safe until I figure everybody out.
This head English teacher however is an experienced teacher in World International English. He has taken his game to another level.
The actions of the head English teacher could come to a head with the new Chinese boss who has come into World International English and has begun settling everything down. It is a risky move for him to lay a diamond ring on the reception girl at this transitional time.
But then, business in China cannot be played by the same rules as business in Australia. The business culture is not the same.
The author of Diary Of A Mad Chaos from 1996 to 2018, The Lost Years book, Wubao In China (猎艳奇缘) book series, and Foreigner (华人) an exploration of race relations in Australia. Fluent in Chinese Mandarin, Macedonian, and English, the author currently resides in China, Guangzhou where he continues to make comparative analysis of the cultural differences between Eastern and Western societies.