Before the school closes for the week-long holiday, they celebrated National Day with the Sports Festival. On the day, the weather was just right for an outdoor event. Not sunny, overcast skies but no rain. They were lucky that the typhoon didn’t come a day early. On the day before the festival, the principle announced on the PA to make sure every student brings their own water, since the school cannot provide enough drinking water for everyone.
There was a supposedly National Day themed parade to open the Sports Festival. Every class chose matching outfits for their parade participants. I saw soldiers, suit and ties, cheerleaders, sports wear, kids in their everyday uniform and formal wear.
Speaking of uniforms, typical Chinese school uniforms are athletic style, in shorts or sweats depending on the season. Pretty much, the uniforms are ready for sports, and they do not change for gym class. I’m still unclear about the skirts and slacks I see on students once in a while. It seems like every school has their ‘formal’ uniform that is worn occasionally. I was told that neighboring middle school has their students wear the formal uniform every Mondays for the weekly flag raising assembly.
The opening ceremony was more grand than the sports itself. From what I’ve observed, the annual sports festival is more of a social event, and not really a competition for athletes. It is focused on track sports, and the only team sport was the relay race.
After taking many photos of the parade and excited students, a teacher invited me to join Ms.Chen, my desk neighbor, at the girl’s high jump line. I stationed myself by the teachers and watched the girls high jump. There were two girls on each end of the stand, adjusting the height of the pole. The girls in line chatted away, and when it came to their turn, they position themselves to hop. No one seem to have taught them how to high jump. I’m not an expert, but I know what a high jump form looks like. Most of them awkwardly cross over the pole with one foot at a time, with their torso upwards. If they get the other leg high enough, they land on the cushion on the first foot. This is a pass, considering they did not tip over the bar. Some girls jump over back first, like standard high jumping, but most of them fail to keep their bosom from knocking over the bar.
I was standing in the crowd of my students who were only slowly realizing, that I was the foreign teacher. Early in the week during the flag assembly, I introduced myself in front of the whole student body. I’ve never spoken in front of so many people before in my entire life. I gave them a little introduction speech in English. My friend helped me with the Mandarin part of the speech, but in the end, I left it out because I was already insecure with my identity as a ‘foreign’ teacher, and my job description did not require me to speak Chinese. I didn’t want to give them the wrong idea about me, and I wanted them to use English as much as possible. Having them know my Chinese ability from the start would only make them try less.
There were the first few brave ones to approach me. Once my identity came into the light, I was trapped in crowds of students asking me questions. “How old are you?” was one of the only English phrases they know by heart. I told them, “guess!” One boy answered in Chinese, “fifteen!” I’m pretty sure the boy wasn’t trying to be funny.
The children were genuinely curious of who I am and wanted to be friends. Some were skeptical of me being American. It’s not like the students know how I was recruited. Teachers outside of the English department didn’t seem to know of the AYC program. Some teachers asked if I came from Singapore. Even after all these years, people in China still seem to have a hard time understanding the idea of Asian Americans. Many seem to know we exist, but when they meet one, they all seem to persist in telling me how I’m not American (if anything I think I look more native than the colonists, ha). The ones who seem to know more asked if I was Chinese descent. Some asked if I was half white, because American. When I let a word out of my ethnicity, one girl announced to her classmates in Chinese, “our foreign teacher is from Thailand.”
The crowd of students was non-stop, I barely got to enjoy the relay races. After all the chatter, I slipped into the teachers’ office, and spent the rest of the afternoon hiding at my desk.