Our friend Gristle is someone who literally loves to learn. Despite having graduated from university at least six years ago, he's been sneaking into classes on ancient Greek and attending public English corners for as long as I've known him. His interest in pronunciation borders on perverse (just today we had an impromptu half-an-hour drill session on the distinction between "towel" and "tower" (his idea)) (though you'll never hear me complain (one of my dream jobs is to be an English pronunciation coach for Chinese actors in Hollywood movies)). Anyway, "loves to learn" is about the nicest way I can express what I'm trying to say here, which is that Gristle learns like molasses. Just masochistically slow. When he told me he wanted to learn how to play the ukulele (his idea), I obliged but quickly found myself doing nothing but alternating between repeating the mantra "down, down up, up down", and obeying Gristle's shushing motions as he closed his eyes and randomly thumbed the strings trying to "appreciate" the ambient sounds. For four weeks. Just when it seemed like we were finally going to get through "Country Roads" (his idea), he suddenly pointed to a spot halfway down the fretboard and said "Oh, I've discovered that this is the highest note." I showed him where the real highest note on the ukulele is, and he did not believe me, even after hearing the difference. As you can imagine, teaching him how to juggle (his idea) went about as well. He refused to try three balls until he mastered two, which admittedly is an admirably patient approach, though only effective if the student then proceeds to concentrate on mastering two balls instead of holding the balls in one hand and lecturing the teacher on the difference between America and China (here's a good example of the type of questions we regularly field from Gristle: "Why does America have so few universities?"). Anyway, needless to say, Gristle still does not know how to juggle and this entry is not about him.
It's about Serena, our Cantonese tutor, who in a little over a month has gone from this:
Of course I can't really take credit for all of that; I didn't fill the vessel I just lit the fire blah blah blah. But not too shabby, right? And how weird is the human brain that the person in the third video has the exact same DNA as the person in the first video? Put that in your pipe [and throw a lit match behind your back and catch it in your mouth and light the pipe with it] and smoke it.
Side note: Since these videos were taken both Jon and Fangfang have started juggling three balls, thus my self-congratulatory headline here is a little outdated. But until we start making some more videos Serena remains the only documented case of the success of my missionary work here in the People's Republic of China.
Post side note: Sinophones may note that in the third video you can hear Jon sort of distractedly agreeing to give Gristle German lessons. Viel Glück, Jon!