I’ve always taught college kids because I don’t like to teach basics. You need to understand English fluently for me to want to teach you which pretty much rules out any child.

Until Lion. My friend moved away from Xiamen about a year ago and asked me if I wanted to teach a kid. “He’s fluent, though his grammar is sometimes wrong. He’s also a shy kid.” The price was right and he would be coming to my house so I wouldn’t have to travel anywhere. I figured I could try it out one or two classes, make some quick money and drop him.

This week is our one year anniversary and I think he’s the coolest kid ever.

He’s only 10 but he started learning English when he was about five so he’s basically as fluent as any shy 10-year-old kid.

And I don’t treat him like a baby, speaking slowly and using simple words. I treat him like normal, speaking in a normal voice and assume much of what I say passes over his head. But you know what they say about assuming…

The day Trump was elected president we had class. He’s aware of general world situations (knows Obama was president before), but isn’t aware of specifics. I told him about Trump.

“He’s very sensitive and he gets mad whenever anyone is critical of him. He hates when people make fun of his tiny hands so there are a lot of jokes about that,” I said. “Hillary got more votes but because of the special government rules he became president. A lot of people really hate him, including me.”

I then showed him the “Trump says China,” video and we laughed, and then started to play. We usually draw and that day I got some special scratch paper where you scratch away the black to reveal the colors underneath. Unprompted, this is what he drew:

“Look at his tiny hands!” he said proudly. “Trump is gonna be so angry with me.”

Also please note that he is saying “I like China” while bombing it, has a TV show (although I didn’t tell the kid that Trump was a reality TV star so that was awesome). And he has no pants.

“Why does he have no pants?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Cause he’s stupid,” he giggled.

Also, the top says “Four years go he is not president, ever people hate him.” (He was 9 at the time, give his grammar a break.)

He came up with all that, by himself, after listening to me talk for maybe four minutes. How could I not love this kid?!

For awhile I had a leaky air conditioner and the tub of water underneath became a regular part of our games. The scarf he is wearing on his head is his “Young Pioneers” scarf, which he has to wear at school to shows his loyalty to the Communist Party. Most kids wear them.

He’s also hilarious. His birthday fell on a school day and the next day I saw him.

“Did your teachers give you a present?” I asked.

“No,” he said. Then excitedly he said, “Oh wait! They did!”

“Oh yeah? What did you get? Cookies? A little cake?”

“Homework,” he replied dryly.

And if he wasn’t awesome enough, he fully cemented his place in my heart one day when he sat down and started drawing a big, round base.

“Is that…..the death star?” I asked.

He had just seen Rouge One and without knowing it, picked up on my love for all things Star Wars.

He didn’t know Luke Skywalker, but he drew Darth Vadar and lightsabers, and the Death Star all by himself. I drew Luke’s body, but he drew his head.

He’s a total little nerd in a real stereotypical way. He already read Harry Potter (in Chinese) and now is into wizards. (He calls Jedi’s “wizards.”)

Also, one time I threw an apple at him because he wanted one and I was a few steps away. Instead of reaching out his arms, he shied away, the apple hit him on his back and fell to the ground. Total nerd move! I might be a bit of a jock now, but my childhood nerdy self totally gets where he’s coming from.

Like all good nerds, he’s also imaginative and the pile of mahjong pieces I have is now called “the mahjong factory” and “workers” are called out to build all manner of things each week. Not just the mahjong tiles but he wants a specific thing to use and he walks around my house looking for something to fit his idea, like paperclips, books, medicine bottles. Anything in my house is subject to his building designs.

This was a battlefield with two castles and the pens are missiles. The Queen of 7’s was my queen while he had a wizard on his side. The pieces in the middle are boats, because that’s a river between them ‘natch.

We never speak Chinese and even when he mutters to himself he speaks English (like if he quietly counts out pieces to himself he uses English.) He once even explained how to play chess, using all English.

A few weeks after Rouge One he saw The Force Awakens and came to my house bearing the Lego toys and he talked about Han Solo and Rey all without me telling him the English names. They were behind a fruit shield while the “enemy” was in a mahjong fort. Don’t worry, the Star Wars guys won.

I really like this kid, but there is one thing I’m worried about. I see the pressure he is under. Mine isn’t the only class he goes to, but he has weekend English class in a training school, piano class and others, and I’m afraid he is taking too much of the pressure on himself. He loves getting praised about how smart he is, but can’t handle looking stupid. He always cheats in games to make sure he wins.


He also has a tendency to find things in my house that I don’t want him to. Bye bye expensive imported gummi bears I forgot to hide before class! What didn’t get played with got eaten pretty quickly.

I’m also worried about him growing up. Right now he spends all weekends “doing homework” and as a shy kid he doesn’t seem to mind not having friends. But what about when he gets older?

The Chinese education system isn’t kind to creativity and play and as he gets older the pressure will grow and he might not be content just playing. I’m a little scared to witness his fall from “playful imaginative boy” to “Robotic recitation drone,” as so many students do in the Chinese system.

Until I’ll keep playing with him, trying to act as an antidote to the rigidity of the public school system. (And I’m also waiting for him to be old enough to read Lord of the Rings.)

Happy class-versary Lion!


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