As I struggled through day after day of greeting people in Mandarin (of which I know only a handful of words), I was constantly surprised by the number of kids who could speak with me in English.
Some of these Chinese kids are barely toddlers, yet can clearly say hello, thank you and goodbye in English. Some can hold long and complicated conversations. One eleven year old and one 14 year old that I met spoke English as good as I do (ok that is open to debate). Now I don't know about you, but there are no kids that I know that can speak Mandarin.
China is obviously serious about engaging the West, and with Beijing 2008 just around the corner, there will be plenty of people going to visit and experience what China has to offer. But this is just the beginning ... China is preparing to walk on the world's stage, and its kids are the ones that will be leading the multinational businesses of the future. They are smart kids, interested and curious about the world ... but they do NOT expect you to speak their language. Even my very few words would generate excited smiles and torrents of words I could not understand ...
These kids are the ones putting in the extra effort to communicate ... and they will do the same in everything else that they do.