When I was in college, if I could have had it my way, I would have gone to every class, made straight A’s, gone to bed at 9:00pm, and studied as much as possible. However, I had some friends around who encouraged me to spend my college years less like a 40-year-old and more like a 20-year-old. They pushed me out of my comfort zone and showed me that doing things like staying up to 3:00am was possible and that getting a B did not mean the end of the world. Now that I am getting closer to 40, I can live life the way my 20-year-old self wanted to live, however, once in a while I am reminded of my college years when someone pressures me to do something more adventurous, like swimming in the Mekong River.
The Mekong River is a massive river that runs through the middle of our town and a couple of my friends like to go swimming along the shore for exercise. Recently, they convinced me to bring Claire and come with them. I knew immediately after getting to the river that it was a bad idea. The currents were so strong and the water was freezing, so I refused to go any further than standing on a concrete platform for most of the time. At some point peer pressure got the best of me, and I decided I should at least give it a try. Little did I know that once you entered the water, you had to follow the currents by making a large loop to get back to the place you started. I was hoping to swim out about 10 yards and then turn right around, but as soon as I turned around I realized that no matter how hard I kicked I was going nowhere because of the reverse current that flowed along the shoreline. So, I followed a more experienced friend up the shore bank and stopped after about 50 yards to hang onto a bush. Then my friend explained to me that in order to get back we had to allow the stronger current to push us back down the river. To my dismay the stronger current was a little ways off the shore, but I followed my friend anyway. The whole way back, I could feel the tug and pull of the river which was taking me the right direction but gave me such high anxiety that I was sure I was going to drown. Thankfully, I made it back to the concrete platform without drowning, but I vowed never to swim in the Mekong River again.
Besides that one adventure, life has been fairly tame around our house. Claire started school again which means we are once again navigating the cultural differences in education. The first week of school, Cameron attended a parent meeting at the school which unbeknownst to us was actually a “group” parent-teacher conference. I kid you not, the teachers stood up in front of the parents and one-by-one read off the student’s names and gave their assessment of how each child was doing in class. Some students got stellar reviews, others not so much. Claire was praised on the fact that she was doing much better than last year (which is basically “most improved”). These meetings are actually routinely held at every school in China and are something that most parents dread as they can be embarrassing for both parent and child. Whether or not Americans agree with this method, I will say that they are a very effective way to pressure children into working harder in class!
Since school started again, I have tried hard to keep up with Claire’s homework assignments, but I oftentimes can’t understand either the homework description which is posted online in Chinese characters or the teacher’s response when I ask her in person after class. Furthermore, half of their homework is writing numbers or writing basic Chinese character strokes inside these tiny boxes which are 1cm x 1cm. I was under the assumption that no 4 year old on earth could write a legible symbol inside a box that tiny, but I have witnessed with my own eyes that there are Chinese kids who have no trouble with this (see below). As for Claire, I am doing my own handwriting work with her and at this point her letters are about 12 inches tall, so asking her to write in a 1cm x 1cm square would be out of the question. Therefore, the only homework Claire does is math, which probably means we will be on the “naughty list” at the next group parent-teacher conference.
One other interesting aspect of the Chinese education experience is the online chat groups. Every class has its own chat group which includes the parents and the teachers. In some ways, it is helpful because the teacher posts information about homework, school activities, etc. Parents can also let the teacher know If their child is sick or if someone else will be picking up their child. In other ways, the chat groups are not so good. The parents spend a shocking amount of time asking the teacher an absurd amount of questions. Questions like “Did Little Susie eat all her vegetables?”, “Can you feel Jo’s forehead and tell me if he has a fever?”, or “Can you take a picture of Sally so I can what she is doing?” are irritating and only take away the teacher’s attention from the rest of the class. Admittedly, I am quite entertained by the online chat group because of the absurdity of some of the questions and comments.
Lastly, I hosted a baby shower for a friend a couple weeks ago and wanted to share a few fun pictures. Throwing parties in China are truly a labor-of-love, but it is so fun when they come together!