Tuesday, June 24, 2008

unexpected connections

I’m taking much pleasure from my little job teaching English to a group of Vietnamese people at their community centre. Most of them are older people, part of the old order, I suppose, that was overturned with the fall of Saigon in 1975. The oldest student is one of only two women out of eight or so regulars. She walks with a pronounced stoop which further reduces her diminutive stature. I noticed that she spoke English with a trace of French, and that she always perked up when I highlighted the French or Latin origin of certain English words. The other day, when I was going through the future tense with them, I had them answer various future tense questions from the exercise book. The elderly woman, Kim, was asked what she would be doing in two years’ time. I was vaguely uncomfortable with the question – hoping she wouldn’t say ‘I only hope I’m still alive’, which would be treated with awkward, good-mannered humour by the rest of us. Instead she said ‘In two years time I will be in Paris’, which encouraged me to venture into some [very basic] French dialogue with her. Her face lit up charmingly, and I wondered then, both at her own particular life and background, and at the rich opportunities and experiences, not to mention the various forms of humiliation and misery, that have come in the train of colonialism.

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