Archive for March, 2009

Open day: Chess Class

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

Yup, they teach 4 year olds chess – – the only other option was ballet.

At first there was chaos. Yet, amidst the shouting and noise each little kid began setting up their boards. The teachers came around and corrected the placement of a knight or a king but this much, it was clear, they had already learned. Once each board was in order the chess teacher came in. I was immediately struck by his amiable face and certain that Max’s enthusiasm for the class had to do with a fondness for the man and not the game (at least not yet).

Creativity (part 1)

Saturday, March 21st, 2009


Since the beginning of term Max’s artistic capabilities have undergone a remarkable transformation. The quasi-impressionistic scribbling of a toddler has magically given way to recognizable shapes and even semi realistic representations. The leap, however, has its downside. No longer satisfied with my (Western) impulse to leave him alone with paper and crayons he now demands constant illustration and guidance, becoming frustrated when his drawing of a bird, a robot, a rocket does not go according to plan. Whereas I am told that in Shanghai’s international schools kids in art class can do no wrong, in the local system frank judgment and overt comparison are commonplace. The other day Max came home upset because his teacher told him candidly that his house made of blocks was not as good as his friends.

I am torn. Shouldn’t all block houses be praised equally? Or is this just a lie we tell our kids? Though determined to instill the values of originality, confidence and risk taking self expression, I cannot help but share his pride in the careful mimicry of his creations.


Thursday, March 19th, 2009


At a recent class presentation, a large room at Max’s preschool was decorated with pictures of little boys and girls each standing next to a cut and paste version of a Chinese flag. Despite the fact that Max had painted his hair yellow, he joined with the rest of the class singing in Chinese ‘I have black hair, I have black eyes, I am a Chinese baby.’

Fate & Names

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

Max’s Chinese name is Lan Shen 蓝 申。 We chose it after extensive consultations.  ‘Lan’ is a close enough match to ‘Land’ my husband’s family name, while ‘Shen’ seems over determined, fated to be right. Shen 申 is the symbol for the year of the monkey, Max’s birth sign, and it is also one of the signs for Shanghai. It is associated with the character 伸 meaning ‘spirit or soul’. All the native Chinese speakers we have asked agree that the two characters go together well, an important criterion in choosing a name.

Nevertheless, at school Max is still known as ’Ma Ke Se’ 马克瑟 the three syllables Chinese use to pronounce the name Max. The sounds are easy and familiar since – how were we to know – it is also the Chinese name for Marx.