The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Good #5

5. Tutoring a kid with random tastes

China really is a weird place, and no matter how long you live here, there’s always something else that will surprise you. I’ve been tutoring a kid here for a while, and he’s one of those rare Chinese students who actually TALKS. Most of them close up like a frightened clam when you say anything at all, which makes teaching English excruciating. “What are you doing in school these days?” “Oh. . .er. . .I’m busy.” “With what?” “Class.” Sigh. The kid I’m tutoring now is a veritable chatterbox, and considering he’s only 12, his English is fantastic, which means we can have actual conversations. He’s also managed to accrue a truly bizarre mix of skills and experiences. He informed me during our first meeting, for example, that he can bake bread and make jam. If you’re wondering, NOBODY knows how to do that here. It would be like meeting a 12 year-old Caucasian kid in Omaha who’s an expert at making sushi. So Ma (the kid’s family name) is an interesting kid.

Most interesting was the conversation we had today. His father has asked me to teach him about American cities and cultures, and Ma was interested in Hawaii, so we discussed it. Among other things, we talked about Pearl Harbor, which of course any Chinese student will know about because it’s yet more proof of Japan’s historical perfidy. I told Ma about the sinking of the USS Arizona, and that led to the following:

“The Japanese used a torpedo,” I said, “which is a kind of bomb that is used underwater.”

A moment, while Ma processed the information, then he beamed and said, “Oh, yes! I can make one of those.”

Silence on my end. “Er. . .you can make one of those?”

“Yes!” he nodded happily.

“How did you learn how to make one of those?”

He then proceeded to explain a contraption he knows how to make with a wire and a remote control with which he can blow up lake ice. “I make one every year!” he said proudly.

I’ve lived in China for 8 years, and this is the first time I’ve ever heard of someone knowing how to make a home-made torpedo.


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