Open Day Last Fall

openday

At this particularly painful session in cross-cultural immersion all the parents were invited to school to learn a Chinese song. Ours was a schmaltzy number (which I later found out was popular commemorative tune written for last year’s earthquake). Each parent was handed a sheet with the printed words, (which I couldn’t read). Then the teacher – along with a recorded edition – led us in the song 4 or 5 times. The only lyric I could make out was bu zhidao 不知道 (I don’t know) which seemed highly appropriate.

After what was deemed to be sufficient repetition we headed out, children in hand, to the schools main campus down the road. Tiny chairs were laid out in the cold and we (dozens, maybe even hundreds) of parents squashed down with their kids to watch the proceedings unfold. The flag was raised and there was a (mercifully) short speech by some man I had never seen saying something (I assume positive) about the 30th anniversary of gaige kaifeng gaige 改革开放 (opening and reform).

It was then that the real torture began. Each class (there were at least 9 gathered there) had to stand up and sing the songs they had just learnt. This was interrupted by the occasional performance by the teacher who also sang and waved pom poms (much to the amusement of Max’s best friend) and by a parent with a particularly strong voice. It was kind of like KTV but without the beers (or the fun). The songs were barely audible, you couldn’t see anything over the vast crowd, there was only one tiny wooden chair for each parent and kid, the kids (and the adults) were bored and cold.

I tried to take pictures and did my best to enter a state of anthropological zen but to no avail. As Max fidgeted I grew increasingly irritable. Finally I expressed my deep apologies and informed the teacher that there was a crucial meeting that I just had to attend. Vastly relieved, we escaped.

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