I've spent several weeks working and volunteering in local schools, many of which have hefty Chinese populations. In the course of doing this, I have had the privilege of interacting with quite a few very cute kids, as well as some who, truth be told, I would like nothing better to do than give a good whack to. (Perhaps teaching really is in my future...)
Anyway, here is a short list of some of the best quotes I've assembled over the past month. Names have been changed, ages have not:
1- "Are you 50?" Cindy, 4th grade.
My response: "No, I'm in my 20s."
Her: (Staring at my beard.) "Really? My parents are older than that!"
2- "Why don't you shave?" Cindy and Brooke, 4th grade.
Me: "I wouldn't have time to do anything else."
Them: "Hmm." (Petting my hairy knuckles.) "It's so soft!"
Me: "No touching, please."
3- "My Dad has a big nose. It is big like... a Jew's nose!" Thomas, 5th grade, after being instructed to use a metaphor in his written description of someone's face. [This one just sort of confused me. Thomas lives in the middle of a Chinese neighborhood and I highly doubt he even really knows what a Jew is. I didn't want to get mad, so I just asked him some questions.]
Me: "Thomas, can you explain this to me? What does that mean?"
Thomas: "Um... that it's big?"
Me: "So, Jews' noses are big?"
Me: (Staring at him.) "Is my nose that big?"
Thomas' eyes get a little bigger. "UM..."
Me: "Why don't you rethink this sentence. Maybe say, 'big like Pinocchio's nose', ok?"
When he left the class, I waved goodbye and then made a Pinocchio imitation with my finger and nose. In retrospect, that might have been inappropriate.
4- And lastly, a few days ago I gave a short (30 minute) presentation on "someone I admire" (as a model for a report the 4th graders will be writing next month). I chose to talk about one of my immigrant ancestors who came over from Poland after his father got married at 40 and died at 60, leaving a gaggle of orphans in his wake.
Afterwards, one little Chinese boy, Dallas (his real name was another well-known Texas city, and just as incongruous), had some questions:
A: "Do you speak Jewish?" (This led to a series of explanations about Hebrew and Yiddish. Turns out they just wanted to know some funny words. I had to struggle to think of some Yiddish that was rated G and finally came up with shpilkes and zeitsflesch (which apparently I both pronounced and spelled incorrectly).
B: "So, in your homeland, people have to get married early and die early?"
Me: "Well, you didn't have to get married early or die early, that was just what tended to happen."
Dallas: "Your homeland is weird."
Me: "Actually, this is my homeland."
Him: "Me too!"