Learning English in China (Students in Yangshuo)

After spending a few days in Yangshuo, it's become clear to me that this place is like paradise for Chinese people. Although there are a fair number of Westerners here, the majority of travelers are mainland Chinese people with enough money to travel. They come here to do the same things Westerners do: hike, climb, swim, drink and eat, and explore the rivers and caves.

There are also many Chinese students who travel from more rural areas, or any areas with fewer Westerners, to Yangshuo, so that they can practice their English with Yangshuo's foreign visitors. I've met more than a dozen students who paid to attend school here for one week, and while here they comb the streets, excitedly (or apprehensively) approaching foreigners like myself.

They are hungry for any and all information about America, which I've been told more than once is very famous. "America, your country, it is very famous." Almost always, the students ask for my QQ number. QQ, I've learned, is as ubiquitous in China as Facebook is in the rest of the world. Tencent QQ, its official name, is nothing more than an instant messenger program available on computers and phones. It is used by more than 630 million people in China. There are more people in China using QQ than there are registered Facebook users in the entire world.

None of the Chinese people I've asked have ever even heard of Facebook.

Because I don't have QQ, everyone asks me for my email address, but I get the impression it's more for memory's sake than for future communication. It's like they're collecting autographs.

It blows their mind when I tell them that I had never heard of QQ.

Steven, 19 years old, traveled an hour by bus to visit Yangshuo and speak with foreigners. His favorite American movie star is Sylvester Stallone because he is so strong.

These girls (L-R: Angela, Florence, Linda, Jennifer) are standing outside the language school where I attended the party a few days ago. It is directly next door to the hostel where I am staying. Like most of the students who have approached me in groups, there was only one active speaker (in this case, Florence), with the other girls too shy or afraid to say much of anything beyond asking if they could take my photograph. They asked how old I thought they were, and I said 18. They were offended because they are much older, they said, 20. When I asked them to guess my age, they guessed 20, and when I laughed, they revised their guess to 18. I don't think these girls are China's brightest stars.

Vivian, 24, is a chemical engineer who hadn't practiced her English for the past two years.

Some of my favorite English names adopted by Chinese people: Candy, Nancy, Watermelon, and Agoni (pronounced and inspired by, agony). Agony was the speaker in this bunch, if you couldn't tell by the terrified or disgruntled looks on the faces of the other girls, who according to Agoni were very embarrassed. Despite my hesitation to accept anything, Agoni insisted upon a gift of dried fish, chocolate, postcards, and a traditional Chinese fan featuring Gui Lin and Yangshuo.

Another gift received: cartoon matches, 10 boxes to a set; another foreigner here received a similar gift, and on the side of his box, in English, was written, Share and burn our pictured culture together, or something like that.