A couple of weeks ago, I started class with my Chinese college freshmen students by talking about western families, and one student wanted to know if I had any siblings.
I said yes, I have one.
Siblings aren’t as rare here as I had expected before I moved to China (despite 34 years of China’s one-child policy, which was recently relaxed just slightly). There are many legal exceptions to the law, and many more illegal ways to bribe your way around it. But my students’ interest was still piqued.
“Male or female?” asked Two Baby, the lead interrogator.
Yes, I have a student named Two Baby. (For more about that, see this other post about teaching and my students’ self-imposed English names.) She loves to ask me questions, which in itself is almost unheard of in a Chinese classroom – despite my constant appeals for students to speak up when they don’t understand something.
Usually, Two Baby asks me about obscure words she found in the dictionary, but sometimes her questions get a little bizarre (“What’s a black drag queen? Is it an offensive term?”) or a smidge personal (“Are you a lesbian? Do you have a boyfriend? Will you marry me?”).
Anyway, at Two Baby’s insistence, I told the class I have an older brother.
“OOOOOOHHH!” The group responded in unison. At least the women. They go a little wild at the mere mention of a white guy (they’re 18, and tend to consider all white men to be Brad Pitt). I heard a phrase I know being thrown around: “shuài ge?” (A phrase that just means a good-looking guy, but literally translation is “handsome brother.”) Any response from my handful of male students was entirely drowned out.
“Is he handsome?” One of the ladies asked.
I said yes.
“Is he married??”
I said yes.
“Ohhh!” They were very visibly disappointed.
“I think that’s very frustrating!” Two Baby said, with total sincerity.
I didn’t bother to tell them that, married or not, my handsome, homebody brother would not be caught dead in China. It didn’t matter. They asked me to bring a picture of him to the next class. I figured they would forget.
But they did not forget, and at the start of the next class, I was met with an argument I had assumed only parents of small children have to deal with:
“But you promisssssed!”
Maybe I’ve let them get too comfortable with me over the course of the semester. They’re very confidently demanding my shuài ge.
Regardless, last week I snapped a picture of one of my brother’s wedding photos that’s taped to my living room wall and set it as the background for my phone’s locked screen. The date covered his eyes perfectly, like I was accidentally censoring his identity, but I was not about to pass my phone around unlocked and let students look through the rest of my pictures. They may be cute, but they are sneaky.
I showed them the phone. They went crazy. A few used their phones to take pictures of the eyeless, three-square-inch picture of a picture of my brother.
A good way to say a man is attractive in Mandarin is to call him shuài ge, literally “handsome brother.”
When I first learned it, the phrase reminded me of some sort of Communist brother-in-arms, a sexy comrade. But now it just makes me think of the girls in the front row of my class, looking at my brother and jumping around in their seats, giggling like a bunch of 13-year-olds meeting Justin Bieber.
So congratulations are in order – to my own shuài ge, for being super hot in China.
And in fact, I’ll give myself a high-five too, for surviving my first wild semester as a real, live college teacher in China. (I kind of can’t believe I didn’t quit or get fired in these first few months.) Don’t be surprised if I call myself as Professor Ketti for the rest of my life.