「Ni Hao！」這是許多荷蘭孩子遇到亞洲人的第一句話（©Cindy Lao 攝影）
只有一個小男孩，看起來比其他幾位年輕幾歲，我對他說學中文沒有想像中困難，他才表示願意一試。聽到我說學中文可能是他能力範圍內的事情，他似乎真的感到驚訝，又有點欣喜。呃，至少他是這群人中的十分之一，我想這算挺高的比例吧。我謝謝他們願意接受我的採訪。我離開時，一個男孩大喊道：「Ni Hao Konichiwa!」
Ni Hao! Views of Dutch children on Chinese Culture
Often when I’m out and about with my husband – who is from Taiwan – we encounter adults and children who greet us in Chinese, saying: ‘Ni hao!’ We usually react with a smile or a greeting and wonder where they learned that. Today it happened again, and I decided to get out my pen and paper and interview them. Their answers were candid and generally friendly in tone. But before you read on I’d like to note that they were children who did not self-censor, as adults might have done. Their opinions represent those of themselves, not mine, and while some of their remarks might sound rude, I decided to write down everything I heard, rather than picking the parts that are nice to hear.
It is a group of about six to ten twelve year olds, half of them boys and half of them girls. They are a group of children from different backgrounds, and tell me their parents are from Turkey, Morocco, Suriname and other countries. They are very happy to be interviewed and I tell them I will write an article about their responses for Asian people to read.
When I ask why they said ‘Ni hao’ and where they got it from, the first thing they mention is ‘Ni Hao Kai Lan’; ‘You know, that’s a cartoon, Ni Hao is what they say in China. So we say it when we see Chinese people’. Most of them have no Chinese classmates, and they tell me Chinese is not taught at the schools they go to. One of the girls has actually learned some Chinese from a Chinese neighbour – she counts to ten in Chinese and looks proud when I answer her friends that it’s real Chinese. Some of the others had never talked to Chinese people, one or two have a Chinese classmate. I ask what they think about Chinese people. From their reactions, it becomes clear that China and Chinese people are quite alien to them. According to one girl, ‘Chinese people are funny. Like when you watch Ni Hao Kai Lan, you see that Chinese people have huge heads, they’re hilarious!’ I ask if Chinese really have big heads. ‘No, but they’re definitely funny. They ride around on children’s bikes. You see that here in Leiden.’ When I try to find out whether they know anything else about China beyond ‘funny’, ‘weird’ and children’s bikes, they mention Jackie Chan and Chinese restaurants. ‘At least their food is great!’ I ask them if they’ve heard about the Great Wall. Very accurately one boy replies: ‘It’s a wall in China.’ (That’s what it’s called in Dutch: the Chinese Wall.)
In general, it struck me that they have about as little knowledge about Asia or China as I did at their age. I had expected them to know more than I did at the time, because when I was twelve, China hadn’t become a hot topic yet, and besides, I’m from a village where there are no Chinese apart from the local Chinese restaurant… Leiden, where these children live, is a town with a few thousand Chinese and other Asian students. But despite this, their knowledge of Chinese culture comes entirely from an (educational) cartoon. So, I ask whether they’d like to go to China to find out more. They say ‘No’ straight away – even when I say, imagine you could go there right now for free. When asked whether they’d like to learn Chinese, they’re also quite convinced that learning Chinese is weird and useless. ‘It sounds too strange.’ I argue that it only sounds weird until you learn it, but they’re not to be convinced. Only one boy, who looks a few years younger than the rest, shows interest when I say that learning Chinese might not be as difficult as they think. He seems genuinely and pleasantly surprised that learning Chinese might be within his reach. Well, he makes up 10% of the children that are still standing around me at this stage, I suppose that’s quite a high percentage. I thank them for taking part in my group interview. When I walk away, one of the boys shouts: ‘Ni hao konichiwa!’