Oct 252003

Picture of us on the train. Note: Chinese people have a different name for the Subway if it travels above ground. I didn’t know that before. Learn something new everyday. Where are we going? I’ll get to that in the next post.

Last night I went to the Shanghai Putong Toastmasters club meeting. Toastmasters is an organization that promotes leadership and presentation skills in structured, ad-hoc voluntarily governed meeting groups. Therefore, it is surprising that, in spite of the three taboos against discussing Sex, Politics, and Religion, the government has not shut this group down yet. Just kidding. I do wonder however, if other Toastmasters clubs have these taboos.

Everyone was speaking English with each other. That’s rare because students rarely have the discipline to speak only English when it is not required…and it wasn’t required here. There were extensive introductions and then table-topic speeches, in which different people got up to give two minute speeches on certain questions. Every speech is evaluated on multiple criteria including; how many “ahs/ums/, eye movement, pacing, vocal variance, content organization, grammar, and overall demeanor. I volunteered to give an impromptu speech on how I deal with frustration. “This is my first time to Toastmasters – um – and I am a little nervous too. I have been in China for two weeks now and I encounter fustrations on a daily basis. Most of my fustration comes from communication issues. Either people do not understand me or I don’t understand them. Usually, when they don’t understand me, it’s because they are not listening to me, they are just amused that this foreigner can speak Chinese.

Sometimes I get frustrated because people seem to act illogically. Yesterday, my drinking water tank broke and a full tank of water leaked out all over the kitchen floor. I called the maintenance manager who came over and inspected the tank for a half hour. He called a meeting with the landlord representative for today and then inspected the tank again for 45 minutes before they decided that, yes, there is a leak somewhere and they cannot fix it. I just wanted them to replace it. How did I deal with this? I held my frustration in…and I smiled.”

People laughed. At this point, I got a yellow card letting me know that my time was just about up. I lost my train of thought, so I just said “In conclusion, just hold it in, and smile…” They laughed again. Did they know I was lying? What I wanted to say was “and if you get too frustrated, and nothing gets done to fix the situation, then what I like to do is step up close to the source of my frustration, squint my eyes, look really psycho, and try to scare my frustration into leaving on its own accord”. The ending they heard was probably better.

My evaluator told me that I effectively used humor in my speech (I didn’t tell her I was not trying to be humorous), and I appeared very confident. But my eyes where all over the place – often looking at the ceiling. My tone was too flat. I had one “Ah”. And my pacing was way off.

I met several people that night:

Oregon foreign guy named Erik. He came to Shanghai looking for work, arriving 2 weeks before I did. Speaks Chinese with a Taiwan accent. He and I were going to go to some exhibitions together on Friday, but he flaked because he was moving and preparing a place for his 7 year old boy whom he is going to raise in Shanghai. He said there was a big battle – which he won – to get custody from the mother in HK. I thought there had to be something very wrong with the mom for a Chinese court to give custody to a foreign father.

An English Language Slut. A college girl with near fluent L.A. accent English, who likes to show off to everyone how good her English is. She used a good amount of SAT type words as well as common verbal expressions; “Over national day holidays me and a Canadian guy and a German guy went to Qinddao, and it was just so awesome!” I’m pretty good at spotting who learned English from foreign boyfriends. While I was talking to other people, she came right up and stole me from the conversation I was in. BTW, I AM (or was) a Chinese Language Slut.

A 20-something year old boy who dropped out of public school so that he could study in his own way. He learned English by listening to tapes. He was not as good as the English Slut, but better than most of the club members – probably because he concentrated his studies on how to express himself. He gave a 6 minute speech on the topic of “better to do than to regret”, in which he explained his reasons for dropping out of high-school to self study at home. The other club members where very impressed (and somewhat shocked) by this.

Bankers, Teachers, Sales People, and Engineers. About 3/4th of the members and guests came in groups from their foreign companies. About 1/4th came on their own. Most of those people have some international work experience, spoke great English, and carried themselves with confidence. Everyone was friendly, but that’s not surprising.

I’m going to check out the other three Shanghai Toastmasters groups to see which one I like, and then I’m going to become a member.

 Posted by at 9:14 pm

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