Yesterday morning Yueh Tseng-yuan of Peking woke up in an apartment in a high-rise near American University, did a half-hour of exercise "to keep our health," breakfasted on "a cup of milk and two fried eggs," and went off to his fifth day of English and orientation classes at A.U.
There he has been instructed in, among other things, the difference between a furnished and an unfurnished apartment, has been taken to Sears, Roebuck and the Library of Congress, and to eat lunch at a Roy Rogers. When he is sufficiently proficient in English, he will go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study fluid and stellar dynamics.
"We never keep money in the home," said instructor Mary Ann Hood to the 22 Chinese scholars at A.U. during a "survival skills" session on Thursday. "We put it in the bank." Then she showed them how to fill out a check. "If I don't have any money in the bank I shouldn't write a check," Hood cautioned.
"My English writing is very poor," said one student, "My signature is always changing. Can I write in Chinese?"
"No, you must learn to use English...." he was told.
And on it goes; East meets West and the twain regard each other with a mixture of confusion and intrigue. So far it seems that they have the confusion and we have the intrigue. Why have you left your wife and family to come to America for two years, Yueh, 36, is asked, as he eats a lunch sandwich of white bread and sugar that he brought from his apartment in a plastic box recently purchased at People's Drug Store.
"We come here for study some useful knowledge about science and technology, and when we go back to China we will serve our motherland better," he explains.
Are you curious about America, Mr. Yueh?
"Curious?" he looks back quizzically, not understanding the word. When it is explained, there is still no response. It seems a foreign concept, this curiosity.
What did you enjoy most of the places you visited this week?
"I enjoyed the management of the supermarket," he says. "I think it is good that in such a large supermarket there are only a few clerks."
Yesterday morning teacher Joseph A. Roy of A.U.'s English Language Institute tried to explain the different terms of address our language has produced.
"Nancy Smith could be called Miss Smith or Ms. Smith if she is not married," he said. But if she is married, she is Mrs. And what happens to her name? It disappears. Some women were very unhappy that you can tell if a woman is married by her title, but you can't tell if a man is married. So they want to be called Ms.... It's a very emotional issue. If you call a woman Miss when she wants to be called Ms., she won't speak to you."
The Chinese appeared confused at this, as well they might. Later two of the women said that in China, there is no Miss, Ms., Mrs. or Mr. -- if anything, it's Comrade.
The group at A.U., along with another group of 26 at Georgetown, are the first Chinese to come here for an extended period of study. While there has been academic and cultural exchange with the "P.R.C.", as it is now being called by those in the know since 1972, this is the first of a phalanx of an eventual 500 or more Chinese who will be studying here in degree programs by next fall.
These Chinese are all between 35 and 39 years old, and all are teachers or researchers in such things as computer science, reactor physics and organic chemistry. That's why they're called scholars and not students.
The Chinese government pays their expenses -- for the time they spend at A.U. it's $125 a month rent and $1,000 a semester for the English program. Meanwhile, 50 Americans are preparing to go to China, with the first contingent scheduled to arrive in Peking in late February, according to Halsey Beemer of the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People's Republic of China, an adjunct of the National Academy of Sciences. "For 50 places we've already gotten 900 applications," Beener said.
Although they all studied English for several years in what they refer to as "middle school" -- before going to university -- the study was all either reading or writing. Few of them ever spoke English before this week, said one woman, Wang Chih-mei.
"As you know, my knowledge of English is limited so I cannot express myself accurately," said Yueh after a barrage of unanswerable questions from a reporter. "If I spoke English better I would answer all of your questions."
They were all wearing suit coats and trousers in dark grays and blues, and shirts with the buttons fastened all the way up to the collar. They tend to travel in groups. "I think if I travel alone I afraid I lost my way," said Wang Chih-Mei.
Part of their orientation included a lesson on Washington's public transportation by the A.U. Institute's Robert P. Fox, which would have sounded familiar to Washingtonians:
"I asked them for a map of the routes, but they didn't have any," he began. "They will have something called Ride Guides, but there aren't any available. And I tried to get a schedule of the buses you would be most likely to use, but they didn't have any of them either... the buses are very slow... your teachers will have to take you to the subway to show you the farecard system because it is too difficult to explain...."
The trip to Roy Rogers met with mixed response. "I like the chicken, it tastes like Chinese," said one man.
"It's not bad," said Wang Hsu-Kun (translated by a first year law student, Susan Launer, who was hastily pressed into service by a desperate reporter). "You buy it yourself, you eat it yourself... it's very quick."
Almost all of them had chicken at Roy Rogers, it seems. "They don't have hamburgers in China," explained Wang Hsu-Kun.
Wang Chi-mei asked if American men and women were equal. In many jobs they are, she was told, but not when it comes to household chores. "In China men share the homework equally," she said. "Every man in this group does cooking, cleaning and shopping. Some men can sew better than the women.... While I am away my husband will do all the homework for our two daughters."
Two American women looked at each other when she said that, with raised eyebrows. "But the teacher told us in America men share the household chores too," said Wang Chi-mei.
The geography of America is also confusing. Is Arizona in the Midwest? What is New England? Where are the plains?
Roy told them that in English there are "personal" questions, which they should not ask, and "common" questions, which they may ask. A "personal" question would be "How old are you?" or "How much money do you earn?" A common question would be: "Are you married?" He also told them they would probably be invited to a lot of parties where they would have to engage in "small talk."
"Small talk means to keep a conversation going but there is no real exchange of information," Roy explained.
Carol Werner told them how to find out what the weather will be. She told them to call 936-1212, listen to television (they don't have any in their apartments) or the radio, or look at the newspaper.
"Please, what is A.Q.I.?" asked one Chinese after studying the newspaper's weather map.
"That is the air quality index," explained Werner. "This is what happens to an industrialized society -- we pollute our air. So we tell our people if the air is safe to breathe..."
They smiled and nodded. Oh, that's it.
Then if that wasn't enough, they learned the formula for changing centigrade into Fahrenheit. Multiply by nine, divide by five, and add 32...
"I have learned one thing," said Cheng Yen-Heng, a computer technology teacher who will attend Carnegie-Mellon University. "I say 'pardon?' a lot."