Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chinese Education in Action

Last week the twins’ school had an open house, which of course we found out about a few days before and had to rearrange our work schedules. We took turns in each class, with me sitting in on Ethan’s during the math lesson.

Sitting there watching him squirm in his seat as others sat erect with their arms folded as instructed, I wondered if he was really ready for real school. It didn’t surprise me that he wouldn’t raise his hand to answer questions (or rather did only a couple times and very half-heartedly) - as in any school there are those who always raise their hands and those who don’t and his Chinese is still behind. Still, the teacher tried to call on everyone fairly (at least when parents were watching) and when Ethan didn’t raise his hand, she called him up to answer a question. He stood there still squirmy but listening and he answered the question correctly and loudly enough to meet her standards.

I decided he will do fine for now. During the usual lecture to parents part of the morning, the teachers listed the names of those who were doing well (not sure how that would go over in a US classroom) and both of their names made the list (although I may have misunderstood and those are the kids doing well in English!). I’ve heard that they sometimes use them as examples for other students who don’t get their homework done, as in “look, they have two and they’re still learning Chinese and they still do their homework”. We don't worry about grades at this point, just that they are learning - a 62 in Chinese, a 94 in English is normal (though I wonder how Ethan can miss the difference between a rabbit and tiger in English!) .

I only got to see Isaac in action during art class. The teacher put up all these nice pictures of cakes and things made of playdough and went through all the instructions for making the different shapes. So most of the kids made these small round shapes and little balls and some made some very intricate patterns and designs. Isaac, well, he made a big lump of what most people thought was an airplane but was in fact supposed to be a lizard. I was kind of cringing waiting for him to be told that wasn’t what he was supposed to be doing, but other parents appeared to be impressed, even taking pictures. And when five students were called up to get recognition, he was one of them. I was glad to see thinking outside the box rewarded. And I was also glad he knew how to say lizard in Chinese, because I wouldn’t have been able to help there!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Adventures in Chinese Education: Part 1

A big part of the reason we moved back to China was for the kids to assimilate with the local culture and language. After a first year that included a local nursery school and then preschool, the 6-year-old twins were flung full-on into our local public primary school this fall.

If I weren’t already accustomed to life in China where everything seems to be treated as a state secret, it would have been more challenging. The start date was moved at the last minute and then after being told orientation would last three days, we found out on day 1 it was only one day.

And on that first day, finding out we were to attend a parent orientation. Jack happily took off for work, leaving me to fend for myself as the only foreign parent in a mass of parents taking notes to learn everything about this important step in the life of their, in most cases, only child. I was left there worrying every time the parents started writing that I was missing something important, but also pleased with myself with how much I understood.

Probably the only-child culture makes the orientation parent lecture more of a necessity. And also the Chinese educational system. Somehow I didn’t find it reassuring to be told that my child might complain about being treated badly, but to rest assured the teachers were all doing a fine job. “This isn’t kindergarten anymore”, we were told, “so give them a month to adjust before complaining”.

We were also given instructions to make sure they sleep enough, don’t watch TV until homework has been finished and other obvious, though not always practiced, advice.

But I also have to say I have so far been pleased both with the grades they are getting (even if one gets about 10 more points behind the other and struggles with homework) and the teachers’ seemingly patient attitudes, assuring us the one that is lagging more is still doing just fine and not to worry. I expected to get more lectures about making him work harder or how his behavior is to blame or some such.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Tiger Mother in Action

My husband, and sadly a room full of kids including my own, recently witnessed an event that makes Amy Chua seem more like a kitty mom.

There are three girls in my twins’ preschool class. Apparently two of them like to bully the other. This involves scratching her with pencils. Yes, that’s bad but so far no real injury at least. So…Jack goes to pick up our boys one day after one such incident happened. The bully’s mother arrived and was told what happened.

When her daughter denied it, she proceeded to yell and beat her quite violently. Other parents and staff intervened and sustained minor injuries. Some kids ran out crying because they were scared. Eventually the mother settled down and cried about how hard it was to control her daughter and her daughter’s lies.

Okay, so, so far this is something sad but it could happen anywhere. What happened next is what’s interesting. Virtually all the parents witnessing this event said, “Wow, I thought I was bad”.  And, in fact, in some ways sympathized with the mother. In other words, getting angry with their children is the norm. And not just the norm, but considered okay. 

I don’t know if it’s that they don’t consider other methods effective. Maybe it’s the pressure of a one-child highly competitive society. I don’t think the level witnessed is the norm, and certainly many times I witness much patience and kindness. It’s not my culture or place to judge, though I wonder how this attitude that my husband sometimes has as well will play out as the boys start primary school.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why Chinese Potty Training is Superior

Just after starting Chinese-style potty training with our 2-year-old toddler in Beijing, it became clear we’d unleashed a monster. His brothers were just 3 and not potty trained when we visited China and they took to peeing on streets and rocks with great relish. It seems, surprisingly, their brother is related.

Decked out in newly cut slit pants, the first time he accidently peed on the playground in our courtyard it took him by surprise. He recovered quickly and headed to every puddle and rock that caught his attention and tried to squeeze every last drop out.  I’m hoping he will soon contain his enthusiasm and be able to wear real pants or pull ups. He does miss having the cushioning when he falls.

Still, I’m not complaining and he is more cautious indoors. There’s something to be said for Chinese potty training and now I think we could have started earlier with the “elimination communication” that goes along with it for younger ones. And while the potty boot camp method we did use is gaining popularity in the States as well, doing it in China where you aren’t constrained to your house has its advantages. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

My travel "hit & miss" list: The good here and there

WHAT I LIKE ABOUT BEING IN THE US (suburban Texas to be precise)

Not the only one at the supermarket with a full cart – and no old ladies commenting that two loaves of bread is “so much”.

Strangers smile and say “hello” and it’s not because I’m white.

(Most) Strangers also don’t give their opinions on how my children are dressed, or whether they’re big/small, should be potty trained, etc…

Drivers actually stop for small children (and even adults!).

Awesome and free playgrounds! (not to mention affordable public pools)

Family, of course! And good home cookin’ (not to mention cook-ies!) J



Chinese food

Nanny! And cleaning lady! And driver!

Good public transport and cheap taxis

Plentiful and cheap produce

The relatively easy life and employment for foreigners…

The unpredictability of life and work…

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The World is Quite Enough

Like many kids, I used to dream of space travel. But three flights and 24 hours of travel with kids later, I realize travel on my home planet holds enough adventure for now.

We were blessed to have the two seats next to us vacated on our 11-hour flight. 23-month-old Joshua loved having his own seat and was quite possessive of it at first. Of course he quickly decided all the seats were for climbing around. As expected, no activities kept him happy for a long time, but the snacks in the back of the plane were a godsend. And he of course charmed everyone he ran into. He believes everyone exists for his entertainment, and fortunately people seem easily convinced this is true.

I should have better planned more activities for the almost 6-year-olds though. They had books, drawing paper, and new magazines but kept asking what they could do. We were disappointed to find the plane had no personal video screens – those would have been a great aid, but Delta was otherwise a good experience.

Now we are dealing with middle of the night wakings and already dreading the return flight and adjustment. But we are also looking forward to our Texas adventures, time with family and all the free activities the San Antonio Visitors’ Bureau has helped us arrange. Woo hoo!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Reflections on a Chinese Wedding

We recently went to Jinan in Shandong Province for the wedding of Jack's cousin. It was my first experience with a Chinese city wedding and it left me thinking, “identity crisis”. Or perhaps I should say, it was a Western wedding with Chinese characteristics. There was a wedding march of sorts, but it was into a hotel banquet hall. It was set up on a stage that resembled more a catwalk than a church aisle. There was an emcee instead of a minister, “I do”s but also long speeches. People seated at tables with snacks and drinks like they were watching a show.  

The couple arrived with a bang, literally, in a convertible with painfully loud fireworks. The groom was wearing a pink dress shirt, though somehow it suited him. The bride changed costumes several times during the day. And after all the fuss by my friends over what I would wear, the groom’s side of the family were wearing simple slacks and polo shirts, shiny pajama-like clothes and such.  The bride’s side was much more smartly dressed. The family actually seemed little involved besides speeches by the fathers. No big wedding party participating in the ceremony.

It also made me think, at least for the father of the groom, that this sort of Chinese wedding is also an excuse to drink for two days. Nevertheless, despite the constant eating and toasting, it was still enjoyable. In any culture it’s fun to watch a new couple begin their new life.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

For all the mamas

In honor of Mother's Day. I wrote this when the twinkies turned one.

Who Says You Can’t Go Home?

I do

If home is:

Staying out til 2 a.m. partying
And sleeping til noon

Enjoying a carefree dinner
And a movie

Jetting off to a beach with friends
And drinking sangria every night

Being able to save money
For that big-screen TV

Telling your friend
You’ll be right over

Being alone, really alone
With no one to worry about but yourself

Who wants to go home?

I don’t

If home is:

Not waking up at 2 a.m. to hold you
And napping at noon

Not seeing that first step
And getting that first kiss

Not being “stuck” at home
Drinking juice with you

Not watching your face light up
Over a new toy, or book

Having no one
Who needs you at home

Being alone, really alone
With no one to worry about but yourself

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dyeing to fit in

I just had my hair dyed. Yes, it needed it – my white roots were quite standing out. But the real motivating factor was the imminent arrival of the aunt/uncle-in-law. If I have any white hairs, I will never hear the end of it, or Jack will never hear the end of how he’s married an old lady.

Plus, we are headed to the wedding of Jack’s cousin, and as my neighbor gleefully informed me, I will be more of a star than the bride. That actually makes me feel sad. It’s possible the bride might be quite happy about that and feel she is gaining some face, but I don’t enjoy it. Said neighbor also suggested I should be the best dressed there as I will be “representing America” to people who will never meet other Americans. I’m still leaning toward a bit more understatement, rather than actually risking looking ridiculous.

And frankly, I’m also relying on my kids to draw most of the attention. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Would You Turn Your Child in if They Committed a Crime?

My husband and I ran into an interesting difference of opinion the other night. He said the parents of a confessed murderer who escorted their son to turn himself into the police should have done more to protect their son.

My response: “What? They were bad parents because they made their son own up to killing somebody?” Seriously, I didn’t think there would even be much thought there. But the case is more complicated than that. As a brief background, the young art student’s car hit a young mother riding her bike, and then he stabbed her to death when she started writing down his license number.  The act was witnessed and he injured more people on his escape.

As for his parents, it seems they escorted him to the police after investigation and witnesses had already led in his direction, making their act far less noble than it would seem. The family was reportedly affluent and with connections, though just how much is being debated all over the Internet. At least, it wasn’t enough to avoid the death penalty. Compensation offered the victim’s family was rejected.

But, whatever went on with his parents, my husband’s reaction brings up, to me, an aspect of a single-child society that isn’t usually addressed. That even the idea of protecting your child who has taken someone’s life could be supported shows a high level of protectiveness that some Chinese might call a sacrifice along the lines of spending all their life’s savings to guarantee a good future for their child (in this case, it seems the seemed affluence came from his parents spending what money they did have giving their son a comfortable life, i.e. the car).  

Now, Chinese parents certainly don’t corner the market on this level of protectiveness and I’m sure there are plenty of parents in other countries who hide their child’s criminal behavior. But it's probably not an attitude that would be publicly voiced (as much as my husband's opinion is "public"!) And in fact, is the only-child sense of entitlement leading to the greater possibility of criminality? Many netizens believe this killer was justified and might have done the same themselves.  

We all say we just want our kids to be happy, while all the while planning for them to become doctors, lawyers, presidents (goodness knows why for the latter two… J). We look at cases like this and shake our heads, but I won’t deny the horrible possibility hasn’t crossed my mind  of any of my children doing, well, something I would be less than proud of. What would I do if it were a case like this? What I believe is the right thing, I hope. But I hope and pray none of my sons ever makes his parents have to have this debate for real!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Win $150 from American Airlines

It's the time of year to start planning summer family vacations. But for many of us, finding the money to afford a vacation is difficult. American Airlines is hoping to help someone out with that with a contest to win a $150 dollar voucher. The contest is to promote new routes including Shanghai to Los Angeles and 9 other US cities. Check out this flash mob video  they filmed in LA.

You can enter the contest at TravelingMom

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sand Gets in Your Eyes: Spring in Beijing

Spring is windy and stormy in much of the world. But in Beijing it brings with it the added curse of sand. A common news topic this time of year is tree planting – trying to stop the evil Gobi desert from sending its sand our way. Recently, we looked out our window and saw our English-Polish neighbor kids digging a hole to plant trees, while hotel staff looked on.

I assumed this was hotel sand-fighting propaganda, but after we ventured outside we discovered the neighbor boys had themselves requested and chosen these trees – one cherry blossom and one peach. The kids all had fun digging and pouring water. And we big people all had fun toasting it with neighbor Kasha’s cherry brandy.

But the belief the trees were a sort of symbolic sand-fighting effort at all was all my assumption on first glance out the window. Flipping through hotel channels soon after, my attention was arrested by a photo on the hotel channel. It was us and the neighbors in full digging mode.  Turns out the hotel is promoting the act as planting “memorial trees” for “departed foreign experts”, presumably referring to the man who dug up his own trees on moving.