Monday was the first day of a new Chinese preschool school year.
And that pretty much sums it up. But I’ll share some special highlights below anyway.
First day of the school year means the opening ceremony. The school yard is ringed with parents (mostly grandparents) peering between the iron bars. We have to make a good impression.
As a 6’4″ foreign male at a preschool with an all-Chinese-female admin & teaching staff…
…I totally fit in.
This is where we teachers all pledged to do something, but I’m not sure what: Chinese sound systems are for noise, to make an event sound like a Big Deal, not for clearly amplifying sound so large numbers of people can understand what’s being said. Plus at the time I was thinking: Oh hey, so this is what Chinese do instead of placing one hand over your heart and raising the other palm-out…
The kids had to turn around and bow to the teachers: But only about 1/4 of them got the memo.
The Expensive English-speaking White Guy and the Obligatory English Song: (I want it noted in my annual review that my feet actually left the ground.)
“Foreign teachers” (外教) are the bottom of the Anglo-American expat barrel, I suspect even below 4th-rate amateur Russian models and, at this preschool, hovering somewhere in the vicinity of the only other males on staff: the cook, driver, and gate guards. And I’m pretty sure I don’t outrank the cook.
Interesting little One-Child Policy anecdote this morning.
I have to teach one preschool class this “Brothers and Sisters” song. So I took a poll: Who has a brother or a sister?
They were sort of confused by the question. Lots of hands went up. But their Chinese teacher and I both knew there was no way most of them had siblings. So we specified: No no no, brothers and sisters that are your parents’ kids, not your cousins.
Unlike the large families of generations past where everyone called their relatives by specific titles denoting maternal or paternal and older or younger (in relation to themselves and/or their parents), these OCP kids grow up calling all their cousins and random kids on the playground “brother” and “sister”. Not that I can really blame them, OCP or not:
After their Chinese teacher and I weeded out all the cousins (their full-time Chinese teacher knows anyway; I could have just asked her), it turned out only four of those thirty Mainland Chinese 5-&-6-year-olds actually have a biological brother or sister.
I’m co-hosting the preschool’s variety show/graduation ceremony this week. My job is to translate and say their host script in English. I can live with, “Children all have this beautiful desire in their hearts, to grow up and wear camouflage uniforms just like Uncle in the People’s Liberation Army, loving the Party, loving the country, and being a brave person!” But I think a small part of me will die inside when I have to say, “Look, everyone! Here comes Princess Barbie!”
Our daughter goes to a local, all-Chinese preschool. We live in the neighbourhood and I’m their 外教。 She started last November but unlike most kids who go all day five days a week, she only goes mornings on Mon/Wed/Fri. We’re the only foreigners. This week she got to participate in the Monday morning flag-raising ceremony.
They deliberately put her in the class with the nicest teachers, who don’t criticize and shame and negatively compare and threaten as per normal in China (and like in the other classes). As the English teacher, I’m in each of the seven classes every morning so it’s easy for me to compare their discipline and teaching styles.
It seems like participating in this event and celebrating her birthday, which means going through the birthday kid routine that all the other kids go through on their birthdays, have gone a long way toward her fitting in — both in how she feels and how the other kids relate to her. Maybe it’s made everyone realize more that she’s a student, too, and not just some weird visitor. And of course it helps that her Chinese is way better now than when she started.
The chain is owned by an American/Chinese couple who are our friends and members of our NGO. This means I have way more leverage to address issues than I normally would, so this is an exceptional situation for us. I don’t know what we’d do if our only options were normal preschools. Even for the most cross-culturally savvy families, sometimes putting a foreign kid in a Chinese preschool just doesn’t work. There are endless possibilities for deal-breaking conflict.
Their sashes say “I’m a little flag-bearer” 我是小旗手。 Here’s the video of her little performance:
(Part of being at this local Chinese preschool is a horrible, disorganized sound system. Normally this doesn’t matter, because the point of a Chinese sound system is not to clearly amplify speech or music; it’s to make noise so that events feel more 热闹。 On this day, the mics they first tried to use at the base of the flagpole were set to broadcast inside the school instead of outside. But the other mics that do broadcast through the outdoor speakers couldn’t reach all the way to the flagpole, so they moved the kids over to one side. And then the batteries were worn out and fuzzy and loose. But anyway… :)
Hi, everybody! I’m Lu Xinyu from Little Class 2. I just turned 4. I want to sing a song for you:
I love my preschool
At preschool there are lots of friends
There’s singing and dancing
Everybody’s happy together
I’m not just a Chinese preschool rockstar; I now have a band. A girl band. A Chinese girl band. A Chinese girl band composed entirely of preschool teachers. And we are not above using the electric piano’s preprogrammed auto-chording rhythm feature thingy.
Working for a Chinese company gives opportunities to perform — and I mean like song-and-dance perform — that you typically don’t get at the average North American job. For example, at the year-end banquet it’s common for every department in a company to put on some sort of performance. Lots of singing along to pop tracks at the very least. It’s actually more of an obligation than an opportunity; it means bad vibes if you cry off participating.
Chinese love karaoke (KTV). They practice beforehand, and when they go they’ll easily stay for four, five or six hours singing the cheesiest pop lyrics and melodies you can imagine. And the practice shows. Have whatever stereotype of mild-mannered, bespectacled bookworm Chinese you want, but you haven’t seen China until you’ve seen said bespectacled office drones rocking out in a KTV lounge like they are the Chinese incarnation of Whitney Houston. It’s not what you’d expect from the impressions and stereotypes that float around, but in my experience the average Chinese tends to be less inhibited than the average cripplingly self-conscious and cool-anxious, irony-plagued North American when it comes to public performance.
Our school has a New Year’s Show, a Children’s Day Show, and a Teacher Show — those are the one’s I’ve discovered so far anyway. And it’s normal for teachers and parents to be involved in a couple performances even for the kids’ shows.
So here’s the song and lyrics some of my coworkers picked to cover for the Teacher Show (performed for the parents and grandparents of our 200+ students) — our first and most likely final performance. :)
Even with the launch of my preschool rock star career, big-budget movie premier, and appearances on the sides of buses and shopping mall video billboards, I still have some catching up to do on my brother-in-law, but he better watch out.