“”Sister, I want to play my Facebook game. Could you let me use the computer?” my brother frequently asks me. ” rang the first line of one of my high school essays. It’s an amusing sentence because of the formal address of a girl by her brother in what is an ordinary request, but it actually demonstrates several ways how people talk in Chinese. Usually people call their older siblings “brother” or “sister”, and vice versa (different words for older and younger brother and sister) and some people call their spouses “husband” or “wife.” What sounds formal and stilted in English is actually a form of familiarity in Chinese.
Actually, this essay was one of over four hundred in the last batch of local high school essays that I’ve been correcting for my former employers in the past half a year. In total, thousands of essays have passed through my hands and it’s coming to an end soon with this batch. It was a pain at some points in time, because of the bad English but also sometimes you read the same things over and over, not surprising because of the students’ limited vocabularies and knowledge of English. But there were some gems too. There was one essay where a student expressed his desire to “want they (them- the West) know, we Chinese can change and lead the world. I want they know, we can do what they’ve done. I want they know, we can even do what they can’t do.” Wow was what I thought when I read that. The force is indeed strong with this one. Even for a cynical guy like me, reading that lifted my mood a little, seriously. Ironically, his/her essay was about how much he/she admired Steve Jobs. There were some funny ones like the guy who wrote that one flaw he’d like to improve upon is that he loved “playing” with his friends but sometimes hurt them “accidentally,” or the girl who got so upset when she got bad marks in exams that she’d take her anger out on her own parents! I’m guessing it’s verbally, not physically. Most of all, I found it a little touching when students wrote about morals and ethics in society. Many essays talked about the lack of cleanliness in local streets, the rudeness of people on board buses, and the materialism and superficiality of many people. I also have similar thoughts about young people here, but if the students who wrote those things really spoke their minds, maybe the youth here aren’t so doomed. Maybe the current generations of 20-somethings and teenagers might be quite spoiled, but hopefully the ones after them can change. I’d like to think that I’ve done my part myself to contribute to Taiwan’s youth – there’s a few thousand kids nationwide who’ll get back their English essays and see my corrections and suggestions and hopefully find it useful.