Another Field Trip this After-
noon: Waiting on Bus to Museum
QUÉBEC, Canada
January 30, 2013

Oh, that poor substitute teacher this morning. (Regular instructor Madame S. slipped on the ice and wound up in hospital, yesterday.) He was just trying to make some point--several points, really--but he should have chosen different examples or chosen a different class.

"I'm doing post-graduate research in the Department of Linguistics," he introduced himself in French. "But, just because I study the nature of languages doesn't necessarily mean that I speak several languages. Though... I do happen to speak several out of personal interest. In addition to French, I speak English, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese."

He flipped into basic Chinese, presuming that nobody in the class would understand.


I didn't say anything, but several classmates recognized which language he was speaking. They contradicted him in French, calling me out by name and nodding in my direction.

Exposed, I replied:


Trying to gauge my ability, he continued on addressing me in Chinese. I responded in-kind to each of his questions. He soon changed tack, stating in French that there were no Japanese speakers in our class before going on to repeat that same assertion in Japanese. I felt it fair to correct his presumption.


Another Field Trip this After-
noon: Filippina and Colombian
Classmates Walk to Bus Stop
The sub again switched tacks.

"I'm not just a linguist. I'm a documentarian, as well. I traveled to a really remote part of China and filmed a documentary there."

The sub traced out a large blob on the chalkboard. It resembled a brain.

"I admit that I can't draw so this doesn't really look like China. But there's this area in the far, far west of the country called 'Xinjiang'," he said.

He called me out. "David, you speak Chinese. And Japanese, too," he chuckled. "Can you tell us the name of this desert here?"

He drew a rectangle in the far west and turned to me.

"Euh… the Taklamakan?" I answered.

"That's right!", the sub said enthusiastically.

"Okay then," he continued trying to stump me. "What's the name of this city here?" He marked a spot in chalk just south of the rectangle.

"Hotan," I replied.

"Wow!", the sub grinned while my classmates chuckled. He went for broke.

"Then how about this city over here?", he placed another chalk dot in the far left of the brain-blob.

"Kashgar," I answered with confidence. The sub returned to the topic of French.

I really wasn't trying to play know-it-all. He started it! He started it!

We actually got along really well. During our laboratory session and then again after the end of class the two of us held sustained conversations that delved a bit deeper. After all my classmates left I demonstrated to him how a freehand map of China will look perfect every time if you imagine the shape of a chicken and trace that outline. We compared notes about language acquisition. I decided not to bother to mention that I'd been living in Xinjiang studying Uyghur for several years. It's a shame that he was our teacher for only one day. He knew a lot about teaching methodology and offered several really good suggestions for improving French pronunciation and retaining new vocabulary. I hope that we cross paths again.

Another Field Trip this After-
noon: Iranienne and Cuban
Classmates on Bus to Museum
Though it is too bad that Mr. Sub won't be back again, I'm actually looking forward even more to the replacement who will come tomorrow to finish out the few remaining days of our term. It's another substitute teacher with whom we've already studied. Earlier in this term (even before she injured herself) Madame S. had already taken two weeks off to spend time with family. That time was covered by another sub: Annie. The two of us had instant rapport, sharing similar background and interests.

This past weekend Annie asked me over to join an evening playing games and cards chez elle. In an e-mail invitation just as unwitting of my background as when that other sub challenged me to place geographic locations across Xinjiang this morning, she encouraged me to come by offering a disclaimer (written in French):

"It's not necessary to know how to play cards, the sole criterion is to love having fun with good company."

Oh, you don't have to worry about whether I know how to play cards and games, Annie...

That was, of course, a great situation to fall into. Though nothing was requested, I baked up a cheesecake to contribute to our soiree. The other guests, all from Colombia, brought beer. We started with one of the group's standards, Uno. Then, I introduced the two games I always travel with to the small crowd. (No point in naming either as I've mentioned both so often in previous entries that people probably presume I'm shilling for some game manufacturer... )

Both of my games were played repeatedly and enthusiastically. Really enthusiastically. Though it wasn't my apartment, I worried that the neighbors could hear and would complain about the ruckus. I could tell that the other players were used to playing more competitively than I do when playing games with siblings. They counted up tricks taken and compared who ranked where after each round. Whatever. I do assume they'll come around to my style of indifferently ignoring who out-did whom at end of play if I continue to trounce them each time we finish any game.

Annie returns as our sub tomorrow morning. Though it's a different dynamic while in the classroom it will be fun to re-connect. Then, we are on for more game playing soon with her Colombian friends. I can't wait to introduce Indian Poker and Anagrams (en français!) to this crew...