Day 30: The Question Masters

Trip Start Aug 24, 2005
Trip End Jul 2006

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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Graduate School English Speech Competition: Andy and I had to be two of the judges at an English speech competition for the postgraduate students on the Saturday after our first full week of classes. The competition was held in the music hall and it was very professional looking: there were tables in front of the first row of seats with black magic markers, a clipboard of score sheets and bottles of water in front of every other seat for all of the judges. We even had little triangular plaques in front of our seats with our names on them (they spelled my last name Glubize, but whatever).

Each contestant was scored on their speech content, pronunciation, answers to questions, etc. Andy and I knew that we were going to have to ask questions to the contestants, but we were under the impression that once each speech was finished it would be like a free-for-all from all of the judges, and the contestants would have to answer two or three questions each, at least.

Well, we were wrong.

Apparently the two of us were the "question masters" and we had to take turns asking one question to every other contestant. That was fun, especially since we didn't know the topics ahead of time, didn't know how complicated to get in the questions, occasionally couldn't think of anything to ask to save our lives, and occasionally couldn't actually understand a word the contestant was saying.

The contestants each drew a topic about 10 minutes before they went on stage, they had about five minutes to talk about their topic, and then either Andy or I would ask a question and they would answer to the best of their ability. Each judge had like 2.2 seconds to write down their score, and then we had to hold up our score sheets so the MCs could read them out loud: 87, 85, 79, 83, 86, all while the contestant were still on stage and could see which judge gave them what score.

It was awful.

Especially since the first contestant was one of my students and you could barely understand anything she was saying. She was terrible.

Thankfully, the highest and lowest scores were thrown out, so I just gave her a high score while every other judge gave her scores in the 60s.

Their scoring system was BONK. There was no way to make it fair because there wasn't enough time to break apart each scoring category per contestant. Seriously, I think the other judges were just pulling numbers out of their asses and holding them up because as soon as the contestant finished speaking they all were already holding up their scores. Andy and I were always the last people to hold ours up, and there was no consistency in our numbers because we had no time to think about the scores we were picking at all. Plus, the scores weren't broken up so the contestants couldn't really know why they had gotten the score that they did and what they had to improve upon. Some of them, for example, were really good at English (pronunciation, vocabulary, the way they speak, etc) but the content of their speech sucked. Others obviously had a lot of things to say and organized their speeches impressively, but you could hardly understand them. But either way, those people would get about the same scores because we couldn't break the scores apart. It was the stupidest scoring system ever.

Anyway, the morning session went from about 9:15 am till noon (we got through contestant 25) and then all of the judges went out to the cafeteria restaurant for lunch. It was one of those huge delicious 2700 course Chinese meals with dumplings, small freshwater crabs, squid, duck, spicy beef, cabbage, steamed buns with sweet sauce, chicken soup, sweet mushroom soup, some kind of meat that I didn't try with chestnuts, egg with fish, eggy-pancakey things with veggies inside, some meat and taro dish that had a taste unlike anything I'd ever eaten before (a little bit sweet, almost cotton-candy-esque, but not since it was meat and taro) etc etc etc. The best part was that it was completely free.

The afternoon session started at 2:00 pm with contestant number 26, and it took us about an hour and a half to get through the last contestant (number 38). There was a small mishap just as I was picking up my microphone to ask a question to number 36--all of the power suddenly went out and the entire auditorium was plunged in blackness.

Thank God, because I had absolutely no idea what to ask the girl.

Me, whispering hurriedly: "Quick, Andy, I can't think of a question, what should I ask her??"
Andy, sounding slightly sheepish: "Ummm, what exactly did she talk about? I kind of spaced out..."

Luckily I had about 10 minutes to think of something while they fixed the lights. Meanwhile, random people from the audience were getting up on stage and singing songs for everyone. My personal favorite was the girl who sang the "Do, Re, Mi" song from "The Sound of Music" and was cracking on all of the high notes. It was marvelous.

When the competition was FINALLY over, there was a big ceremony complete with confetti and really cheesy 80s fanfare music that turned into 80s fanfare techno music halfway through, and the top contestants got flowers and certificates.

As fun as it was to sit around for the entire day listening to people talking about the joys of traveling and the benefits of class participation, Andy and I were definitely ready to book it by the end. Unfortunately, just as we were heading for the exit, we were called over into a hallway adjacent to the auditorium by one of the other judges. VERY reluctantly we walked over there....

.....and were both promptly handed wads of cash for sitting around all day and listening to people talking about the joys of traveling and the benefits of class participation.

Oh, sweet sweet China.
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