Saturday morning in Geoff’s office. I’ve taken over the computer while he makes his daily observations and chats up the barristas who all know his name and how he likes his coffee. Four of our grade 10 students sit at the corner table doing homework–yes, they are studious but in class not nearly as obviously. There, shyness takes over, followed by a reluctance to speak for fear of making errors. We are gradually breaking them down, encouraging them, cheering those who dare answers, whether right or wrong. This is how you learn, we tell them, and they are slowly coming around.
I learn a fair amount from them, too. For instance, all Chinese words are of one syllable. Who knew? I now understand why it is so difficult for the students to recognize syllables. They don’t have them! I know why it is so difficult for Geoff and I to learn Chinese. It’s bloody difficult, is why! It’s not only that tones change the meaning, it’s that many words don’t seem like words at all. It is really hard to tell where one starts and the other leaves off. Before I came here, spoken Chinese always seemed to me to be sounds that I couldn’t capture clearly enough to guess at how they might be spelled or what they might look like. I now feel the same, but more so. There are also duplicates by the 100s, depending on how or when you use them. At lessons, we try not to let this push us off the edge and refuse to learn more than one or two variations.
Back to school life: when entering marks or doing anything else with a class list, it strikes me that when I’m less than a third of the way down, I’m always more than half way past the middle of the alphabet, referring to the order of last names. TIC! There are more names starting with X, Y or Z than I would have thought possible; only a paltry few start with B, C or G. It’s a little surprising, when we think how many Chows or Chans we see in the BC school system. The fact is that Chow is most likely a Westernization of Zhou, just as Lee is really Li in China. The only Chan we have is Korean.
We finally got a basketball team off the ground, thanks to Andrei and Oliver who are coaching. Our first game was last Thursday. We have become part of a inter-school league, drawing teams from Shanghai, Suzhou, Wusong and Jiaxing. It’s a great opportunity for our boys as they are wildly keen about bball but have only rudimentary instruction or coaching. Their ‘techniques’ are developed mostly on the outdoor courts playing 3 on 3 or 5 on 5, which is to say, they are half way skilled but don’t know much about playing as a team. Anyway, our first game was against Nanmo, where one of our teachers from last year is now, and is coaching. The grade 11 kids were very happy to see him! Our guys played well and although they lost, felt very good about themselves. One of our players is Sammy, a tall grade 10 who gets lots of court time but has not yet become a team player. He took a couple of falls, as is expected in this game. No big deal. Imagine my surprise then, when Daisy told me in the morning that he was in the hospital. Some seconds passed before I remembered: TIC! I fall down, go boom, and now I’m a little stiff. Better go to hospital! Nothing makes me crazier. Cowboy up, for gawd’s sake! I told the coaches to school him in the ways of the human body after a hard work-out and to feel proud of aches, pains and bruises. No whining and no missing school the next day!
After the game, as Geoff and I left the school we saw that the pizza order for the Nanmo boys was at the gate. They faced an hour and a half bus ride so had chosen to get take-away rather than stay for the school’s hospitality. Geoff directed the pizza delivery boy to the bus inside our grounds where the players and coaches were loading and we headed on our way. When I saw Mr. Zhao the next morning, he told me that he didn’t get home for another half hour because the teacher argued for 20 minutes with the guy about the price of pizza ! Are you kidding me? 20 minutes? In that time, they could have eaten in the cafeteria!. Lesson: don’t have grade 11 students place your pizza order.
In a few minutes we will be making our way to Jiaxing Gaoji for the annual Arts Festival taking place in the freezing gym. I have a down vest in my backpack which will be necessary. It’s a nice but really polluted day (many face masks in sight) and I’d rather be out doing something else, but it will be fun to see our kids singing and dancing. Coffee done, we’re on our way.