I’ve counted down the months of teaching and this is my 19th month teaching overseas, my 6th teaching pilots.

I realize I’ve written very little about my teaching exploits, but my last teaching post was less than good.

The pilots are different.

We always laugh.

They are basically older students, ones that have already graduated from university, therefore more focused on their goals. I teach English, they apply to flight schools and try to pass ICAO — an English language proficiency test strictly for pilots and air traffic control.

It’s a refreshing blast of air compared to the last student body that was composed of mobile phone addicted, indifferent (barely showed up, really) kids who had done poorly on the gaokao, yet were pressured by their parents to just get it together already.

A big tip with teaching overseas, if you encounter disinterested students it can really kill your motivation.

My motivation has been dandy of late, like I said, we are always laughing and my hormone crazed pilots provide me with some very real glimpses into Chinese culture, things I’ve been noting the past few months.

1.  Travel Overseas

Pilot boy 1: “I want to visit Paris.”

Me: “Why?”

Pilot boy 1: “It is sooo romantic. The Eiffel Tower, I want to see!”

* This is the number 1 overseas destination that all the pilot boys agree on, second is North Korea.

2.  Travel in China

Me:” Let’s pretend I’m new to China, where should I go?”

Pilot boy 2: “Beijing to see the king of palaces.”

Me: “You mean, Forbidden City?”

Pilot boy 2: “Yes, it is very old and important to China. Or to X’ian, a very old, old city, to see the first king.”

Me: “You mean, the first emperor’s tomb?”

Pilot boy 2: “Yes, how do you say that word?”

* They also say I should see Shenyang, for the mini Forbidden City, Kunming to experience endless spring, Inner Mongolia for the wild fields and horses, Chengdu to chomp on tasty food and Hainan to grab the sun. They are my personal travel agents.

3.  On Freedom

Pilot boy 3: “China’s laws can be strict, but everywhere else, people do what they want.”

Me: “Like what?”

Pilot boy 3: “You can buy baiju or cigarettes, any age, if you wish.”

Me (astounded): “Any age??”

Pilot boy 3: “Yes, ANY AGE. Many children will buy for their parents.”

Me: “Even if the child is 5 years old?!”

Pilot boy 3: “Yes, even then!”

* This includes flagrantly ignoring traffic laws, driving any which way you want, parking any place there’s a spot open. Baijiu is a sour tasting sorghum based wine — it can taste so awful, everybody I know mixes it with soda.

4. On Travel to the United States

Me: “So, if you could travel anywhere to the USA, where would you go?”

Pilot boy 4: “Miami!”

Me: “Okay, why?”

Pilot boy 4: “Because I want to see sexy girls in bikinis, there are many there.”

Me: “Of course you do, makes total sense.”

* They also want to see New York, especially Los Angeles, because Kobe Bryant is a favorite player for many of them.


5. On Dating

Scenario 1

Pilot boy 5: “In China, if a boy does not pay for everything, the girl will not go with him.”

Scenario 2

Pilot boy 6: “Teacher, I want you to introduce me to foreign girl.’

Me: “But, my friends are too old for you.”

Pilot boy 6:  “Does not matter, I like old, it is okay. I want 30 or 31.”

Me: “How old are you again?”

Pilot boy 6: “20.”

Scenario 3

Me: “Alright, I’m going to show you a word and I want you to describe it without saying the word.”

The word is: bed.

Pilot boy 7 looks at the word, then pauses.

Pilot boy 7: “Pow, pow, pow, pow.”

All the boys at once: “BED!”

* The biggest criteria for a girlfriend is a girl who can get along with his parents, as family unity is vastly important in Chinese culture.

6.  On Chinese Policemen Versus Ones They See in American Movies

Me: ” What does a Chinese policeman do?”

Pilot boy 8: “Answer the phone.”

Pilot boy 9 pipes up: “Chinese policeman is very lazy, they drive around in car every day and are, um, bad?”

Me: “You mean corrupt?”

Pilot boy 9: “Yes, I think you mean bad. How do you say that?”

* So apparently Chinese policemen are not heroic, and not many of them carry guns either. Security guards are generally elderly men and are usually found sleeping at their stations.

7.  On Work

Pilot boy 10: “If you interview for a job, it is custom to give money to your new boss.”

Me: “I think you might mean guanxi?”

Pilot boy 10: “Uh, yes, might be.”

Me: “So if you went out to dinner with your boss and some clients, who pays for the dinner, you or your boss?”

Pilot boy 10: “Oh, I do. Pay for my boss. He will pay for clients.”

Pilot boy 11 interjects: “To do everything, is to give money. You must give money for a good job, a good school, a good house.”

Me: “Oh.”

* Guanxi translates to ‘relationship’, or a type of social status,  but slippery slopes abound, for passing money to further your aims is ridiculously normal. I had a former adult student who lamented to me one day about having to pay guanxi to get her daughter enrolled in a decent kindergarten! That one shocked me.


8. On Women’s Lib in China

Pilot boy 12: “I do not think women make a good boss.”

Me: “Why do you think women make terrible bosses?”

Pilot boy 12: “To be a boss, you have to be strong, work very long, women cannot do this. They have to be home for the children and the grandmother.”

Me: “Hmm… so what about women finding a job? I notice in China, it’s normal to ask if you are married in a job interview.”

Pilot boy 12: “They ask because if a woman have a baby, maybe they will not give her work.”

Me: “Hmm… I see.”

* The prevailing thought is that a woman’s role is to still anchored to the home. Even if they work outside, the expectation is she’s the chief person to care for the family, not only immediate family, but in-laws or her own parents. Women’s equality is coming ever so slowly. However, what I notice is these boys have great respect for their mothers, crediting them for raising them well.

9. On Top Gun

After I showed them Top Gun, the ultimate pilot’s film.

Me: “Did you like Top Gun?”

Pilot boy 13: “Oh yes!! Tom Cruise so cool! I would like to have his chin.”

Me: “I’m sorry, did you say chin?”

Pilot boy 13: “Of course! Like to go to Korea and fix my, how you say.. ? “

Me: “Jaw?”

Pilot boy 13: “Yes, jaw. Jahhh.”

Me: “I hope you’re kidding.” [I don’t think he was!]

Pilot boy 14 pipes up: “Tom Cruise is hero, special man! That movie with many cool airplanes. I like very much!”

Me: “But did you like the volleyball scene?”

* One culture’s unhinged Scientologist is another’s basking hero. Tom Cruise movies do astoundingly well in China. His last summer film, Oblivion, was hugely popular. I personally didn’t like the film, it felt like a retread of every other science fiction movie I’ve ever seen. Top Gun has been the only movie my boys were glued to, from start to finish.

 10. On Being a Pilot

Me: “So, why do you want to be a pilot?”

Pilot boy 15: “Because it is a good job in China, to pay for my family and life.”

Me: “In my country, being a doctor or lawyer is considered a good job.”

Pilot boy 15: “No, in China, to be a doctor is not a good job. Lawyer will work very long and not make enough money. So will doctor.”

Me: “I would have never thought, wow.”

Pilot boy 15: “My friend is a doctor now, make only 6,000 RMB.”

Me: “That is so low! I see why you would want to be a pilot.”

Pilot boy 15: “Yes, teacher. And I want to meet pretty flight attendants too.”

* Apparently engineers also work to the knuckles and get compensated in beans (not much). It’s interesting that all the traditional white-collar jobs still need to equalize with the economy, yet being a pilot is still a romanticized occupation, in many parts of the world. 6,000  RMB is equal to $891 CDN.

It’s been a treat to teach these boys and I’ll certainly miss them when I leave!

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to learn from them, as much as they learn from me. That’s what I hoped to gain from teaching and I have been, tenfold.

I’m a lucky lady.