#3 Good Friends Overseas - Division

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Dec 25, 2016 22:18
[Merry Christmas!]

It was already afternoon when the photographing session ended, releasing everyone to have a good rest. Soon after, a Russian guy called me, asking for help. I went to his room and found him reciting his speech for the contest, appearing very nervous. He asked me to edit his manuscript draft and to correct his pronunciation. To be honest, there were a few obvious problems with his Chinese, say, his tones were out of place. All I think was, “There isn’t much time left. You’d better focus on the big picture. Act confident! The show isn’t an exam!” But he was practicing with such focus/intensity that I decided to keep it to myself.

Another interesting thing I witnessed during this event was that the competitor community was divided similar to the real world. For example, in the world arena, most English speaking countries are allies, with a few non-English speaking countries being friends, such as Japan and Israel. To them, Russia is an adversary nation. So, as you might imagine, during the whole event, native English speakers always hung out together, sometimes having the Japanese join in, but often keeping a distance from the Russians. I thought to myself, “They would very likely ice me out, if we weren't in China.”

I hung out with the English speakers more often, because, off stage, the contestants tended to speak their own languages, and English was the only foreign language I could speak back then. But since I was a guide and was supposed to be unbiased, I mingled with Russians sometimes. The Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians usually seemed to get along well together. It seemed like a small version of the USSR… Haha.

(3)海外存知己 - 小帮派




#1 Good Friends Overseas – Reception & Reunion

There’s a well-known TV show in China called “The Chinese Bridge.” Native English speakers may think this is a Chinese card game competition. In fact, this is a language proficiency competition, sponsored by the Confucius Institute, for non-native Chinese speaking university students around the world. The show has lasted 15 seasons (one season per year). The first few shows were simply speaking contests, but over the last few years, the show has expanded into various forms. It can be either a game show, a quiz show, or even a reality show. The form is changed every year, with the intention of attracting more viewers and thus raising the ratings.

The winner of the show this year is a male Canadian university student from Quebec. I watched the finale online. When I first saw him speak on the show, I presumed that he could win. He spoke in almost perfect tones, and very fluently. Moreover, he was good-looking. Remember that the show has become entertainment. Want to win the show? If you possess appealing attributes, flaunt them! For example, humor, amiability, intellectual, etc.. The reason I keep track of this show is that, five years ago, I was a volunteer crew member who led competitors through the whole process.

It was in 2011, when I was a university student. I signed up during the recruitment of volunteers for the show. After a couple rounds of interviews, I made it! I was so excited because I was going to be a guide for one of the four groups. On a summer morning in Beijing, I started sitting at a reception desk in a five-star hotel to await competitors from all around the world. Since I was employed as an English-speaking volunteer, when I looked through the name list, I paid extra attention to students from English speaking countries. I found most of them were from prestigious universities. They came from the UK, America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ireland. Wow, it sounded like a huge reunion of English speaking people with a mysterious connection with each other, but were scattered to the four corners of the world.

It turned out that it was.

#2 Good Friends Overseas - Arrival and National Costumes

The competitors arrived in succession. They were real powerhouses. They didn’t look exhausted at all after their long flights. A few students had already been in China for a couple of days. I even saw a female Irish student in another group enter with a bulky backpack. She said that she had just finished a two-week train trip across China. How brave was she!

My group had around 30 students from all over the world, including eight native English speakers. They were as follows: Peter from the UK, Jenny and Mary from Australia, Gary from the US, Harry from Ireland, John from South Africa, Stephany from Canada, and Cathy from New Zealand*. Interestingly, they were all white; the other groups included other ethnicities from English-speaking countries. I was very glad that the competitors in my group seemed very easy to get along with. I gave them the phone number of my room, in case they needed help.

The reception process lasted a whole day, because the contestants arrived from different time zones. It was definitely interesting to meet people from different cultures. For example, a Cuban female said that she loved the American culture, which quite contradicted the stereotype I’d previously had that all Cubans were anti-American. As soon as I went back to my room after I’d finished my reception work, my phone started ringing nonstop. Some of their requests were unexpected. For instance, a student called in to make sure the room she’d checked into was cat-fur-free, because she was allergic to cat dander. A student complained that she couldn’t find deodorant in any stores. (Only big supermarkets sold it.)

The next morning, all competitors were required to sit for portraits dressed up in their ethnic costumes. It was amazing to see people from all around the world wearing their national costumes in a single setting. As you can imagine, Japanese women wore kimonos, Vietnamese women put on ao dais, a German female donned Bavarian dress, and two Brazilian guys simply had on their national soccer team’s jerseys. However, the Americans simply dressed in ordinary T-shirts, saying that America didn’t have national costumes, except Gary, a guy in my group, “bedizened” himself in cowboy dress and posed in front of the camera as if he was in a rodeo. That was hilarious; this guy really knew how to stand out.

* The names have been changed.