By Songyi Zhang
Over a period of a few weeks, my American friends took me to a weekly trivia game in a local restaurant in upstate New York. It drew a number of townspeople for the game every Wednesday. Teachers, lawyers, engineers, librarians wave to each other across the room before settling into the business at hand.
The game was similar to the quiz show Jeopardy with six categories of questions—history, geography, literature, science, sports and pop culture. The host spun a wheel to select a category. After the host read the question, each team would write the answer on a doodle board and show it to the host before a song he played stopped. Each team, with no more than six players, received a star on a score card for a correct answer. The team which got sixteen stars first won the game.
I was the only Chinese person in the crowd. The trivia game was such a great opportunity for me to learn about America. Who was the twelfth president of the United States? Which northwestern city in the United States is located near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers? Which state has the largest domestic cat in the United States?
Interestingly, some of the questions were familiar to me. If I had attended high school in America I would have known the answers in English. I took notes and studied the questions after the game as if I had returned to high school. I became so intrigued by the game that I prepared for it. I tried to learn the list of the U.S. president by heart. I read the maps of World and of the United States.
The game was quite challenging, as well as fun. People drank, ate, whispered, cheered and hooted. Every team wanted to get the first prize—a $30 restaurant coupon. Occasionally, my understanding of Asia made a contribution to my team. With a population of around 2.9 million people, what is the most sparsely populated independent country in the world? Mongolia.
I’ve never been to a public trivia game in China. If there is one like this, Chinese students may do better than their parents when it comes to Chinese literature, science and history. Students have good memories. However, I found the educated middle-aged Americans did better in the game than the students.
I once told my American classmate that Chinese see their history as a series of events while Americans see their history as a series of people. I learned through the trivia questions that great Americans are remembered not only by their names but also by their achievements and, amazingly, by anecdotes associated with them. I was impressed that the contestants remembered so many people’s names, from politicians to superstars.