Monday, July 7, 2008

An American Sings the Olympics Theme Song: 北京欢迎你

Mondays are never great. After a weekend of not having someone hound over my grammar, my danbanke(one-on-one) teacher rips my sentences to pieces and assigns pages of grammar assignments, topping off with a note of encouragement, "Your Chinese is a little better."

Tuesday are awesome. I review everything the night before, I make sentences without missing predicates or objects and without confusing nouns for verbs or adverbs for adjectives. The teacher is more benevolent with the compliments: "Not bad."

Thursday is unusually unusual. On the white communication board, Cui Laoshi (teacher) has a message, "Are you interested in talking to elementary school students? Contact me!" Hey, I love kids. I leave her my cell phone number, and by five in the evening, a man calls me to plan the event. Plan? What plan? I'm just talking to elementary school students, aren't I? Regardless, I agree to meet - anything beats the studying routine. At the Tsinghua East Gate, I am greeted by the man, Mr. Shang and the host for the event, Ms. Danni Zhang. Together, they explain I am talking to school students about American high school life, how to study English and my opinions on the Olympics. They want me to prepare crafted responses ahead of time "to avoid misunderstanding." Mr. Shang further requests that I sing. I don't know many songs, so I blurt out the first song in my head, "What a Good Boy." They finally mention I need to memorize the Olympics theme song, "Beijing Welcomes You." I figure, hmm, still nothing much - a few questions and a couple songs for a few students. Mr. Shang says he will give me 300 yuan for my efforts. It's just a small talk, I say.

The next day, I excuse myself from class and head for Beijing Transportation University (北京交通大学). Mr. Shang leads me to a big building, and soon I find myself in the backstage of a large auditorium. I cannot see the seats in the audience, but the raucous noise of impatient children echoes to the back. "Didn't you say I was talking to a handful of students?" I ask uncertainly.

"Yes, a few students selected for their English speaking levels. They are the only ones asking you questions," says Mr. Shang. "Danni, quickly introduce Ricky!"

In seconds, I walk onto the center stage of the lecture hall, facing hundreds of students and teachers. I stand next to Danni for a bit, and then she hands me the microphone for me to introduce myself. Well, what the hell, I think, might as well make the best of it.

The entire activity seems like a TV talk show - cameras and camcorders near the stage click and flash, while the audience laughs and applauds. After going through the prepared questions, the students ask their questions in accented English: "Why are there so many presidents from Yale?" (Because Yale is awesome) "Where have you been other than Beijing? Where do you want to go?" (Henan, desperately want to go to Yunnan) "Do you have a girlfriend?" (Next question - "Your English is very good," I compliment)

We play a guess-the-word game, themed around the Olympics. I do well, except for one phrase ("Citius, Altius, Fortius" - do all Chinese kids know this too?) I give a less-than-thrilling performance of "What a Good Boy," but everyone claps anyways. As some sort of sick joke, Mr. Shang plays some incredibly fast Indian-Chinese fusion rave music and asks me to show everyone how Americans dance. (Note: I graduated from the only high school in the San Francisco Bay Area that banned freak-dancing.)

Finally, the students on stage and I sing "Beijing Welcomes You." Fortunately, Mr. Shang hands me the lyrics. After Danni formally announces the conclusion of the event, the students in the audience stand up in relief. The students that I spoke to push me to give them my email address, but Mr. Shang points me from camera to camera to pose for group pictures. Junior high school girls seemed especially eager. (Yay?)
I related all of this to Mr. Laughlin, the program director, over lunch. "Typical," he says, "for the naive foreigner to get caught surprised by the grandiosity and scale of Chinese affairs."
Hardly typical, methinks.

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Anonymous said...

haha. Yunnan isn't that great. Go to Tibet.good to know you are enjoying beijing.

Steve said...

Haha, sounds like you're having fun Ricky. Keep up the updates.

Lucky said...

What a day :)
I think all your dillegence pays off on random fun happenings like this. I don't think you'll forget it anytime soon...your heart must have been thudding.

It was great to spot you so quickly the other night :) 我的电话是150 105 49 122

Michelle said...

Wow, "tv interview" eh?
Can you provide that interview session on footage? (youtube please.)

-btw, i think you called me...(sorry that i hung up on you,... if that was you) anyhow i'll skype you this coming weekend, and fill you in on amazing pleasanton gossip!

ja ne!

Grand Master - 108 Tongues, 中国制造团体, Bust Out! Family said...

Ah. You're well on your way to being a 中国 celebrity...

Fern said...

your danbanke teacher sounds like my high school AP literature teacher. he was known for making essays "bleed" with red ink after murdering them with his corrections.

good job following through with the "small talk" and singing in front of hundreds of students. i don't know if i would be able to do it. "do you have a girlfriend?" HAHA. was the speaker a male or female?

i bet those jr. high girls will treasure their pictures with you for years to come. :P

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