CHINA JOURNAL---FRIDAY, MARCH 8, 2002
March 8th in China is Womenıs Day. I was informed that I was to participate but told it was at noon. By the time I have done all my morning routine and done some schoolwork it is usually 10:00 to 10:30 when I get to school. (Working at school is not too productive because Iım always being interrupted to speak English with someone.) As it turned out they had some of the competitions in the morning break. Iım glad I wasnıt there.
At noon we went out on the playground after lunch and cleanup. The competition, run by the man who teaches PE in a somewhat militaristic approach, was to be a dribbling contest between me and the two other English teachers, with all the students lined up on one side watching and teachers on the raised patio watching. The teacher has a watering can of water and from it pours a stream on the concrete to mark the starting line and finish line. You have to remember Iım about as uncompetitive and unsportsy as they come. He whistled us off to a start and I took off with a high bounce of the basketball. I kept the ball going high (I canıt imagine bending over to dribble low), got it turned around for the return trip and came in first. Oh, my. So then they pulled in the two women teachers who won in the morning, and I still came in first. Then they paired me with two schoolgirls from about the fourth grade, and I still came in first. I kept remembering Peter Hesslerıs experience in the book River Town where winning as the sole American in the school basketball and mountain running competitions became very uncomfortable for him because the Chinese did not like to ³lose face.² But what do you do? Meanwhile this is one race right after another, and Iım the only one running every race! I kept wishing Iıd lose for more reason than one. At this point the idea of Womenıs Day went by the board and two fourth grade boys raced me. I still won. Finally two fifth grade boys raced me on a shortened course and I came in second. Thank goodness. I donıt think the competition could have stopped if I hadnıt lost. Itıs a good thing I donıt understand Chinese. I can just hear the PE teacher in the next class ripping them up and down for being so weak that a seventy-year old woman beat them. Poor kids. I though it was rather curious that a physical competition was the way in which Womenıs Day was celebrated. Fu Ling did leave a gift for every woman teachera hand towel and a bar of soap. Miss Zhang and Miss Ren and I laughed about how the name of the soap translates to ³three smells.² After a good laugh, I introduced them to the word ³fragrance.²
Friday is the day the children all go home from school for the weekend. Friday is also cleanup day. Right after they finish lunch, they clean up with a vengeance. Everyone knows his job. The sixth grade girls and boys were up on the windowsills and outside cleaning the windows. Children were mopping. One little girl was wiping down the wall on the stairway. They went over the whole building. It is a pretty amazing sight, and a very good lesson in responsibility and skill building. That building is the most mopped place I can imagine. All the floors and steps must get mopped three or four times a day.
I have discovered a few other secrets. The second pipe in the washroom really does carry hot water, but not on a regular basis. There is a time in the afternoon when some staff take a shower. There is a large water tank on a platform in one end of the washroom. At the proper amount of time before the showers, the heater is turned on. If you can get in to wash your hands right after the showers are done, you may still find some hot water in the sink pipes, but it doesnıt last long. Underneath the large tank is a small tank, maybe 20 gallons (Iım lousy on sizes). It is kept filled with hot water carried upstairs in buckets by people from the kitchen. Underneath the spigot is a plastic bucket. The morning routine is to empty your tea from the night before into the toilet. Then walk across the hall to rinse off your teacup under the spigot. You take your teacup back to your desk, put in a small amount of tea leaves (many fewer than we tend to use) and fill your cup with hot water from one of the two thermoses kept in each office. They have the glass innards and a fluorescent orange or green plastic exterior. Somehow they are magically kept filled with hot water all day though Iıve never seen anyone come do it. During the day, at every break you add more hot water to your cup. It doesnıt get emptied or the tea thrown out until the next morning. John Muir, with his one tea bag per summer, would be proud of the Chinese.
The Friday going home routine is fascinating. This time I stood out with the teachers and participated in the process. Those poor kids (but this is probably one of the reasons for the academic achievement of the Chinese.) The parents come to pick the students up. After corralling their child the parents, often both of them, start making the rounds to the teachers they want to see. The child stands and listens while the teacher tells about the childıs progress, effort, etc. You could tell by the expressions that they donıt mince words. Miss Ren made the comment to me that the students are very lazy. So here is the child looking up at both adults telling him what he needs to do better. The parents were often quite vociferous. And the studentıs donıt dare answer back. I happened to see the little emperorıs mother arrive. Sure enough, her hands were all over him arranging his collar, pulling down his shirt, etc. Definitely a doting mother. When the teacher was talking to them, I could see his little jaw start to jut out a couple of times, but he wisely thought better of it. One set of grandparents brought over their grandson along with Miss Ren to speak to me. The grandmother looked me right in the eye and told me to pay attention to him and make him work. It turns out his father is already in the US working and the mother will go soon. She is too busy to care for him now so the grandparents have taken him in. They know why he needs to work hard on English.
Imagine my surprise at noon when a new young lady was at Miss Renıs desk. She said, ³I teach English here.² I had neither seen nor heard of her before. It was my understanding that I was the only one with the 1st and 2nd grade students. It turns out she teaches at night. She has the first and second grades together for two hours from 6:30 to 8:30 one night, and the third and fourth grades each for two hours on different nights. I was amazed. It was really difficult getting across the idea that I would like to know what she is teaching so I could coordinate with her. Even the teachersı English is so rote that it is hard to communicate. The two gals Iım with everyday have really improved in that way. From what I can figure out the third teacher, Tian Yuzhie, takes the same rote dialogue and has them go over and over it and act it out. No wonder they do such a good job at the rote recitation. That has amazed me in class. I realize now that one of my projects will be to get the teachers to the stage where they can carry on a spontaneous dialogue themselves and then get them to spend part of their time in class making the students think in English by doing simple spontaneous dialogue. I see now why their comfort and skill level in English are so low even when they have had so much time devoted to it in school. Zhang Jie being an example. I also see why it is difficult to get them to answer rather than simply repeat in class.
Well, my work is cut out for me!