"Come on, you can’t be serious."
The man across the table stared at me; he was not kidding. Everyone burst into laughter. Me too.
"No way, but that’s a grammatical…" He cut me off.
"What you are saying is amusing, but I found I have one to trump you all."
The group leaned towards the second man waiting for the ball to drop. Like a true teacher, he dragged it out a few more seconds, just enough that we were willing to listen for the anticipation to built up.
We groaned. Another teacher let out the inevitable.
"Where are Grumpy and Doc?"
"Not present, but I do have a Sad."
Once again everyone at the table burst into laughter. This was getting ridiculous. It may have seemed like the group of teachers had had a little too much to drink, but that wasn’t quite right.
There were seven of us: four women and three men. We were teaching English to Chinese teenagers in a university in Pudong, Shanghai. We did that during the week. It was Saturday night, we had retreated to an Australian restaurant in the middle of the city, where we looked up at the skyline, cloudy and polluted. It felt like we had never left home.
Teaching English wasn’t going as well as we had hoped. We were swapping stories, pausing on the entertaining ones that had to do with the different English names that Chinese teenagers took for themselves. They used an English name mainly when traveling, but it was also useful for the English teachers in their classes.
"I have the best English name – Potato."
"I have Princess, Sunshine and Dopey. That's right," the woman to my left piped up and we almost fell over ourselves.
Teenagers are a strange breed, and in China they take it to a whole new level, due mostly to the restrictions from the government. Chinese children don't have siblings; the first and only born is treated like a god. Because of this, Chinese children take in any friend they make and treat them like family. Girls walk around hand in hand like they have known each other all their lives. Add the fact that there is no such thing as rock and roll, heavy metal music, no rowdy teenagers, only sweet love music allowed, leaves teenagers almost completely docile. Music was banned by the government for reasons that have been wiped from the history books. Which leaves teenagers as young children, quiet, giggly and talkative. They are the only people in the world who get to choose their own name, something I am not sure is a good thing.
The peculiarities of the Chinese teenagers were not that evening's topic. We wondered whether they really understood what their English name meant, or if they blindly pointed at a word in an English dictionary.