Language Corners. Phenomena popular in, but likely not limited to, China, most often take the form of loose to semi-structured informal events where people gather to practise speaking a particular foreign language. I have years of experience participating in ‘English Corners’. For many years, I was forced to organize and participate in Corners at the places where I worked. They were horrible. Students would come to be entertained rather than learn and participate fully, and to ask me the same boring questions about whether I could use chopsticks and if I loved China. But I’ve managed to live in a few large places where locals organize Corners for anyone who wants to participate and that aren’t dependent on the attendance of native speakers. Nanjing, former capital of China, has a long-running (well over 25-30 years now) and excellent English Corner that meets in a local park at night once a week and is attended by people of all ages and abilities and walks of life. It is quite fabulous.
The city where I currently work has a number of language Corners. Some are held at universities and some at public parks. I’ve attended several, and as might be expected, some are better than others. I once attended one that seemed to attract aggressive and annoying men seeking to perv on the young Chinese girls who attended and to engage in antagonistic and exhausting ‘conversation’ with yours truly. Mostly though, if I attend an English Corner at all, I attend the private one held by the enthusiastic students at my own campus. They’re good kids, and I’m the first person to preserve and foster any natural desire to learn and better oneself. You can’t buy curiosity, and it is hard to find in this world in this day and age.
Recently, I’ve been motivating myself for a major life change. I’m really thinking about moving to France as early as next year. It is a work in progress. I speak passable French and I can think in the language, but I have to admit, I am far from bilingual and years of disuse has done a number on my grammar and vocabulary. Years in China hasn’t helped. But I recently discovered a local multi-language Corner. The bulk of the participants attend to practise speaking English, but there are small groups of people there wishing to speak Korean, Japanese, Spanish, and as luck would have it, French. Needless to say, I am ecstatic. I made a pact with a friend of mine to attend every week with her- she wants to work on having more intellectual discussions in her already excellent English. And I need to reawaken and tone my French muscles.
The other night had a decent turn-out. Some weeks, there may only be one other person wanting to speak French, but there were three native speakers from Africa this time in addition to a few regular Chinese attendees I’ve gotten to know. Unfortunately, they were dudes, and to my great surprise and dismay, they were part of a large international group of special forces soldiers in China for a year-long training program. Creepy, scary, and weird. China is training the world’s elite, state-sanctioned rapists and murderers now!!! Anyhow, I stuck with the group until the Africans started asking the locals why there is no young Chinese pussy available to them. Apparently, everyone has a boyfriend!!! These black dudes may be here for military training, but they are definitely also here to fuck local bitches and possibly to find one to marry. Barfo. I am so not interested in heterosexual female slavery or men of any colour (sorry, liberal feminists, it isn’t just white men) whining about not finding a line-up of women on their backs, legs spread waiting for them.
I left the group to look for my friend among the ESL’ers.
And I found her in a weird situation. It was a small group, and a Chinese guy was lambasting her in an aggressive stance jabbing the air with his finger in an accusatory fashion. You know this type and this move. Very male, very threatening. So he notices me approaching, turns on me, and with no preamble, salutation, or welcome, immediately gives me a task. “YOU are going to settle this for us.” Now, I don’t like being told what to do, especially by men, but as my friend was involved, I asked what was going on instead of just turning around. From what I could gather, they had been discussing ‘single life’, which I think was one of the topics of the evening. I am not sure what exactly my friend had said, but dickface had gone on the offensive. I think she must have challenged his heterosexual assumption that women’s bodies were the property of men and that to be single was a female crime against humanity. He was speaking loudly and started describing her as a ‘gentleman-lady’, which was supposed to be an insult, in addition to insulting her intelligence and existence.
I stopped him and concluded that she had won the argument hands down. That made him mad. He looked for ways to put his natural violence and anger upon me. He accused me of being American (classic move for many anti-Americans as if it is some sort of point-scoring argument), to which I suggested that he wasn’t very smart if he was making stupid assumptions that ended up not being true. I’m not American. Then he started suggesting that obviously we were lesbians and should kiss. He kept saying that over and over, which I think was at the root of his original anger at my friend. It was positively immature and scary behaviour. It was also clear that my friend, whom I later found out had been further attacked by the other males in the group for other incomprehensible reasons, was forced into a position where she was trying to defend herself. I’ve been there. When you’re 21, and for most women throughout their entire life, you are constantly forced by males and some male-focused females to defend your human status. A few of us manage to learn that self-defense is futile. You can’t win nonsensical arguments. And men love the fight. They gain energy. You lose yours to them. You are derailed, and often, your small confidence is further shaken. You shrink and eventually give up trying to be human. And there is always the fear that there will be violence. Not just verbal violence.
So I decided to start the fucking party. I’m not 21 anymore, and I don’t believe men can or even want to end their violence. Every second you give them is a waste unless you are taking them down with certainty. I have various strategies for dealing with assholes. You have to be careful, though. You have to know who you’re up against and how dangerous they are. Sometimes you can you embarrass them. Sometimes you can intimidate them. Sometimes, you just have to walk away and find a safe place. But regardless of douchebag type, I always recommend never entering a pointless argument where you’re put on the defense. It’s like arguing with a religious person – they don’t come from a place of truth or fact, and have massive power behind them that will put society on their side if things get weird for you. So this guy? Stupid, a coward targeting a very young woman, and possibly violent if alone with him. But in a group setting, he needed to be controlled and dismissed. So I took the upper hand. I pointed out that he was rude and aggressive and not very smart, and that I wasn’t going to join a group discussion with a shameful person like him in it, and I moved to take my friend with me. He put himself on the defense, trying to negate my statements about him, which was exactly what I wanted, and he soon realized he couldn’t win against me since I wouldn’t engage. He walked away with a buddy of his. Lack of easy prey made English Corner much less appealing, apparently.
Now what made me really angry was that no one would speak up against him. Quietly looking on as he destroyed a young woman was apparently just dandy. This is very Chinese. People do not defend or help one another here unless they are family. Everyone else is persona non grata. I’ve seen it in countless situations, myself. But it happens everywhere, every day. A Chinese will literally let someone they don’t know die on the street in front of them instead of help them. And I’m not making it up. Every month or so, some embarrassing cell phone video or news story shows up online shaming all Chinese because someone let a child hit by a car die on the sidewalk without help, or some homeless old person dies of neglect despite pleas for help, or a foreigner ends up saving some local person drowning in a lake as a heap of Chinese look on apathetically. So, I was angry, but not surprised that an entire group of adult people said nothing while this man got progressively more aggressive and abusive with a young woman.
The guy walked away, and the group re-formed. And suddenly, everyone was telling me that they had seen him at another English Corner behaving in the same way. Ha! And the best part – everyone was insisting that he was not from China!!! Excuse much? Of course he was from China. I’ve met a shit ton of Chinese dudes like this one. Domineering, argumentative, aggressive, and mansplainy. And all I could think was ‘why hasn’t anyone stopped him?’ as this particular Corner is generally known for having some sort of decorum and civility thanks to the volunteer organizers supposed vigilance. But this happens to a certain extent in all cultures. We make excuses for men. We allow them to dictate proceedings. We allow their violence, their aggression, their abuse. They can’t help it, you see. Especially if their targets are women. Women are expected to shut up and put up. And to keep the love and support flowing while pretending that nothing is wrong.
I’m perfectly happy to break an ego or abusive cycle if the life of the party is a homophobic, racist misogynist.