When I began teaching English in China way back in 1984, people here were still quite isolated from the outside world. When I and my teammates arrived on our campus in central China to teach English, most of our students had never seen a foreigner, and even though they were middle school English teachers, they had never actually used the language with a native speaker. We were, as you can imagine, quite a novelty.
Our job at the time was to teach communicative language teaching skills to these English teachers whose own curriculum consisted of dull political texts that they had memorized and their students were to memorize. They could all say "Long Live Chairman Mao" flawlessly. We came in with flashy textbooks from the States that had dialogues and tapes and exercises and lots of interesting (but strange) cultural information for our students. Nearly everything they encountered in the texts was unfamiliar to them, from the customs of dating to ordering a meal in a restaurant.
I remember vividly (that was a popular Chinglish word back then) their bafflement at the lesson which took place at a hamburger stand. They had no idea what a hamburger was, and even had a hard time with the concept of a restaurant, since at that time there weren't any of those in Chine either. So we dutifully brought in our photos of hamburgers and McDonald's restaurants to help them master the lesson.
My how times have changed, and my experience on Saturday is an illustration. One of my Chinese colleagues was getting married, so I set out to attend her wedding, which I had been told started at 9:30AM. After a bit of work, the cab driver and I managed to find the restaurant where it was being held, and I got there right at 930. Crutches in hand I hobbled up to the second floor (no elevator in the building) only to find out that the wedding was really slated to start at 10—the invitations had said 930 to get people there on time! Never mind; it didn't get going until 1030, by which time I had already been sitting with my leg propped on a chair for an hour. By the time the clock struck 1130 we were only on item 10 of a 15-item wedding ceremony (we had a program). I could tell that the remaining 5 were going to take awhile, so I decided to slip out early. I grabbed another colleague to help me hobble back down the stairs to get a cab, and headed home.
By the time I got home I was exhausted and hungry. What to do? I suddenly remembered that McDonald's has a delivery service, so I dialed up the "McDonald's Happy Delivery Hot-line" and placed my order for a burger and fries. About 30 minutes later, a young man dressed like he'd just stepped out "Ghostbusters" showed up at my door with my lunch! It certainly was a happy delivery for me! As I ate, I had a chuckle about the distance between the days of explaining hamburger stands to the Happy Delivery Hot-line.
Not only is McDonald's part of the culinary fabric of urban life in China now (I'll leave it to you whether that's good or bad), but I often get children asking me if we have McDonald's in America.
My how times have changed.