During my first year in China (1984) I was an English teacher at a small teachers college in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. My students were middle school English teachers in smaller cities around the province. Many had previously been Russian teachers, but were now being re-trained as English teachers. For most of them, I was the first foreigner they had ever seen.
As is common practice in an EFL classroom, I tried to come up with activities to get the students to practice; to actually use the language (not something they were used to). Of course, asking questions that require some thought is a good technique.
I remember asking my first class of students “if you could go anywhere in the world, where would choose, and why?” and being greeted with absolutely blank stares. To me it was a rather simple question, but for them the possibility of traveling to another country was so far out of the realm of possibility, and thus the realm of what they could imagine, that they couldn’t even answer the question. I might as well have been asking them what planet they would like to visit and why.
Not so anymore. According to an article on the travel website Skift, there were over 100 million Chinese tourists traveling abroad last year, and by 2019, that number is expected to nearly double:
Here are the numbers: 174 million Chinese tourists are tipped to spend $264 billion by 2019 compared with the 109 million who spent $164 billion in 2014, according to a new analysis by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. To put that in perspective, there were just 10 million Chinese outbound tourists in 2000.
How much is $264 billion” It’s about the size of Finland’s economy and bigger than Greece’s.
I have seen this first hand since moving back to the States from China 2 years ago. I have had the opportunity to travel quite a bit around the United States and Canada. Every single place that I have been I have heard Chinese being spoken. And I’m not just talking about the famous and oft-visited places such as Las Vegas, Pike’s Peak, Disney World, or Chicago’s Miracle Mile. I have run into Chinese tourists in some pretty out-of-the-way places, from sand dunes in Utah to ferries in Southeast Alaska.
And now, a half-dozen of my friends in Beijing have 10-year tourist visas to the US.
One of my favorite Chinese phrases is relie haunying (热烈欢迎), which literally translated is “warmly welcome.”
Here’s to hoping that’s what Chinese visitors to the US will experience!
Photo: CRI English