I was standing at an intersection waiting for the light to change and the young girl in front of me had turned to find this odd-man-out in a sea of Chinese faces.
Hello I answered, How are you? She continued, practicing her English. I'm fine thanks. How are you? fine thank you she replied. We were on script for her introductory English class, so she continued to the next sentence.
What's your name?
Clive. And what's your name?
Nice to meet you May.
The light changed. Her mom turned and smiled proudly and they crossed the street on their way.
The next day I told one of the engineers at the factory about my encounter. It's not easy to find people in China who speak English, and many who do are teenagers. It' a problem, my engineer friend told me. The kids are pushed so hard. She probably goes to English lessons after a whole day in school so she can learn. Kids are under too much pressure in China. The supermarket has a whole rack of English lessons on DVD. Banners hang outside small storefronts advertising English tutoring. The public library has an English school that's filled with young kids over the summer holidays.
China is learning to understand us. We'd better learn to understand China.