CHINA JOURNAL---MONDAY, MARCH 4 AND TUESDAY, MARCH 5, 2002
I begin to wonder if my life centers around food because this journal has several more food stories. The two English teachers have the assignment, at least for this week, of eating in the first grade room, so I joined them there. It was their duty to serve the first graders and monitor them during the lunch hour.
Before I go on with that, I need to share a story my sister sent me. A friend of hers who is an ESL specialist in primary schools toured primary schools in China and Japan. When Georgia called her for ideas and told about my comment that the first session with the first graders (without a Chinese teacher in the room) was a disaster, she laughed. Her comment on the first grade boys was, " We call them the little emperors!! They have grown up in a family with mother, father, no siblings and two sets of grandparents all doting on them and then it is a culture shock for them to be in a room with lots of little #1 emperors!² I have laughed at that description every time Iım in the room. The head emperor sits right in front of the teacherıs desk, which I doubt is happenstance. Heıs a very solid chunk. The first lunch hour we were in there everyone else was eating and he was sitting with his arms crossed over his well rounded chest, his little chin pushed out, and a definite jutting out of the lower lipand not eating. It turned out he wanted some of the gravy from the meat dish on his rice before he would eat.
Iıve been able to see more of the fascinating feeding procedure close at hand. A little plastic wash basin is set on a low stand and the students all wash their hands before eating rather than go down to the washroom. They wait in their seats while the kitchen helpers and the teachers bring in all the trays, dishpans and buckets of food and place them on the teacherıs desk, a high stand with a large flat top. After they each pick up a filled tray from the teachers who are serving, they return to their seats and start eating. They go right at it. They are given amazingly large portions and are expected to eat it all. When they clean their plate of food, each one brings it up to the teacher for approval. The student takes the tray over to the low table where their cups are always kept, pours any juices into a waiting bucket, and places the empty tray on a pile. Then the student takes one of the little soup bowls and a spoon over to get some soup. The English teachers have been letting them ladle their own soup. They squat down in front of the soup bucket, bowl in hand and use the ladle to fill their bowl. Today I watched one little emperor who squatted down and looked at the soup for a long time. Finally he picked up the ladle and very carefully got broth without any of those ³things² floating around on top. When each student finally finishes, he gets a damp cloth and cleans his desktop. They are really quite responsible. At that point the room is ready for class again, and it is almost time for them to go up to their third floor bunk bed for a nap.
It rained during the night of the 4th and it cleaned the air somewhat. It was the first time I had seen that there is a blue sky over China. Zhang Jie was ill so she did not go out for our 7:00 walkbut Shen Yuan, the sister from the restaurant, joined me as I walked around at a fast pace, reciting from her book with me correcting and then asking questions. It is an English tutoring session not quite on the run, but at least on the fast walk. I had developed a cough so last night Fu Ling called someone at a time that would be after normal pharmacy hours in the U.S. and within ten minutes a normally packaged bottle (I was glad to see) was delivered at the door. It is all written in Chinese, with one panel in English. The English panel says to take one tablespoon full mixed in a little warm water three times a day. Zhang Jie saw me out mixing in a little warm water and motioned ³No water.² I was to take it straight and let it ooze down my throat. At breakfast Fu Ling motioned I was to take it five times a day. There must be something about these triple answers in China! The cough syrup was very thick and smooth like molasses and had a faint hint of that cherry flavor in American cough medicines, but this went down smoothly and didnıt make me shudder like the strong American ones do. As I tipped it back I could almost smell (or feel) some fumes. Oh, my.