While I waited for a meal at a Singaporean restaurant at a mall in Zhuhai today, three college students approached and asked if they could interview me. They were all business English majors and as part of a class project needed to interview foreigners in English. Considering all of the impromptu interviews I have conducted in China myself, I figured this could be a small way to do something more in return. As I was about to agree one of them added, "Oh, and we need to video record the interview."
In similar situations in the past students had simply requested a photo, but their teacher desired more compelling evidence. After I commented the video request was rather unusual, one student shared that all of the foreigners they previously found had refused upon learning about it. I wasn't at all surprised. And the student added that if she was similarly approached while in another country, she would respond int he same way.
Still, I decided to submit myself to their questioning. But I felt inspired to add a stipulation: the one student would lend me her hat to wear during the interview. We had a deal.
After I finished my meal, the interview was recorded on a Huawei mobile phone. The questions were light and typical, such as "What's your favorite city in China?" Soon they had sufficient material and stopped recording, though the conversation continued afterwards with me now taking the opportunity to ask a few questions. It isn't an interview I would want shared with the world, especially in video form, but I will likely survive if it isn't deleted as promised. Hopefully none of it appears out of context in a surprise China Daily piece.
The students' challenges reflects a tension in China between schools seeing value in their students speaking with fluent (or more fluent) English speakers yet seemingly not valuing it enough to invest money to make it happen more regularly in environments where "natural" opportunities are few. More thoughts on this issue another day.
And yes, I really wore the hat.