The End of Homework in China!

And there she was, a nine year old in southern China, doing homework at midnight.

Ten of her classmates were also awake trying to complete the same task.

It’s the bane of many parents – homework. It gets written into a little, specially designed notebook. Sections are created for Chinese, Math, and English. It gets worse as they get older. Big kids have to deal with the sciences too. Let’s not forget history. And politics.

It’s now June

Which means that the end of year exams are lurking around the corner like the shadowy monsters that inhabit children’s dreams. This will be our third year of exams in China (as parents). Evenings are filled with mock exam papers, extra math tests, extra English dictation, extra Chinese essays, and extra headaches.

My task will be to keep our preschooler away from the young scholar.

A Typical Day

Kids finish school at 4 or 5pm depending on the weekday. They either go home or head to an education centre till their parents finish work. A typical homework load might contain:

IMG_0612
Homework assigned on June 11th, 2019

 

Chinese – four items (correct and review the previous lesson, preview new characters, a fill-in-the-gaps worksheet, essay)

Math – three items (textbook work, calculation book, double-sided A4-sized worksheet)

English – three items (dictation, reading and writing comprehension)

IMG_0617

If she doesn’t muck around (playing on her grandfather’s phone), gets on with things and does a proper job, and one allows time for dinner and shower (Chinese almost always shower at night) she might be finished by 9pm. If she decides to delay the commencement of the homework…  well we’re looking at a much later bedtime.

Other

There’s also the music and art homework which can be very time-consuming.

IMG_0619

IMG_0618

The Numbers

Three

Three hours of homework is the average amount Chinese kids do each night.

Twice

This is twice the global average according to the Global Times.

One-third

The Education Ministry here released a report which among other things highlighted the lack of sleep amongst Chinese primary school-aged kids. Apparently, only 30% of fourth-grade kids are getting the necessary sleep.

A third of Chinese kids spent more than 30 minutes a night on math.

ONE MILLION GRAINS OF RICE!

This homework assignment made national headlines a few months back and caused both students and parents many headaches. Students in Foshan City were expected to count 100,000,000 grains of rice. Some parents even made calculations that it would take a year to count that much rice at a rate of three grains per second. The teacher defended her position and said she was trying to promote critical thinking.

images-6

One-third (again)…

of Chinese students felt under great pressure according to the study. Many struggled with  Math and Chinese which led to enrolment at:

Cram Schools

Very popular now, even after the criticism that was levelled at such institutions. It is not uncommon to see kids spend their entire weekends at these “places”. Ironically these places hand out extra homework which leads to more stress which leads to futher underperformance at school etcetera etcetera….

How do you feel about the Chinese homework situation KJ?

As a language teacher – one can see the absolute benefits of a bit of revision and prep for an upcoming lesson.

As a parent I can also see the absolute hell a three hour homework load can wreak on a family life. Everyone is affected by late night study sessions.

Why the heck would you keep your daughter in the Chinese education system?

Because it pushes her to levels she would never achieve in my home country. Her math is streets ahead of many Western kids her own age. She gets opportunities to perform in front of large crowds (owing to her Western features). She gets to become trilingual at a young age. She gets out of her comfort zone!

It forces her to form good study habits at a young age. She also gets a few international holidays (and expensive presents) a year which softens the edges…

Summer Reading

The blog title was a bit misleading but it points to some essential summer reading. This little gem was written nearly 20 years ago. I am not in the business of subverting the authorities but if I could get this book into the hands of the policy makers here then we might see a reduction in the amount of homework done!

IMG_0253

Or maybe it’s a case of the family that slaves together stays together.

The Ridiculousness of Chinese Elevators

I hate taking the lift here. There said it – no fairy dusting the truth. Sure, the elevator is a great place to meet neighbours and network. You might see a cute kid or two, maybe a puppy or a kindly educated grandmother. More often than not it’s a grumpy old bugger / buggeress that shuffles in and gives you the stink eye.

If looks could kill.

Lifeinlifts.com hasn’t discussed elevators for quite some time. Let’s break the drought and explore areas of “lift ridiculousness” in May 2019.

Lift Advertising

Air China now flies direct to Johannesburg said the advertisement. The accompanying picture showed Cape Town.

 

 

IMG_0468 2

Advertising is a funny thing here in China. Things sell best when a celebrity is involved. That’s the same anywhere, isn’t it? Here, the celebrity needs to flash the thumbs up or show the Richard Nixon victory sign. Products and services need to be marketed in a  luxuriant way, showing a life of opulence that awaits when you choose the right brand. The West is just as guilty of this sort of manipulation but you wonder if we’re not stuck in a kind of time warp in China.

Marketing experts used to view their target Chinese audiences as being rather unsophisticated. You wonder sometimes whether their thinking has changed…

 

IMG_0467 2
Water!  Darling you shouldn’t have…

This advertisement for Ganten water (shot by famous actress Jing Tian and American model Donny Lewis) is ubiquitous in lifts throughout the city. My nine year old daughter cannot get her head around the message and wonders why two oversized water bottles are in the backseat. There are some things a father just can’t answer.

Bumrushers

These are the people whose time is more important than yours. They rush the lift before you exit. The humid weather of May has seen a 50% increase in incidents of elevator bumrushing (China Elevator Bumrush Quarterly Review, 2019).

Loud Conversationalists

db-noise-level-chart.png

It’s really a no-no. Fourteen other people don’t need to hear you and your husband discussing your grocery shopping list at 120 decibels. Nor do they need to know about the paint you plan to use in the kitchen.

Offensive Odours

Practice-Good-Elevator-Etiquette-Step-15
Courtesy of Wikihow.com

Curry beef balls are best enjoyed outdoors, not in transit!  Also, take note Mr. Wang – it is not okay to rip loudly / cut the cheese in an elevator, especially when you’re only three floors from your destination.  Do you think that we can’t hear / smell it?

Mobile DJs

This video clip was filmed on Tuesday, May 21. To the right – me. On the left, a middle-aged woman with a loud smartphone stuffed into her pocket. This really was a compulsory concert. Confined space with nowhere to go!  Talk about a captive audience. The video doesn’t capture just how loud the music really was.

 

 

Summary

Well, May is almost to a close. Yes – the weather and traffic have both been terrible in Guangzhou but the weather and traffic are nothing if not consistent.

You know life is going pretty well when all you’ve really got to complain about is the elevators!

Upcoming blog posts include: Trials and Tribulations of Finding a Kindergarten in China, Unlikely Bedfellows – Sex Markets and Primary Schools, and The Daily Walk of Death.

Thanks for reading. Your support is much appreciated.

 

2012_bsl_BadElevatorBehavior_06-2
But you can understand why they do it – surely!  Baselinemag.com

 

 

The Nibbler on the Roof

Something strange has been going on in Canton. It’s a bit like saying that there’s sand at the beach. Guangzhou is, more often than not, a marathon of the weird and wonderful. A telethon of trials and tribulations.

Someone has been eating on an overpass nearby. This pattern became apparent last September when several empty crisp packets were spotted on a flight of steps at one end of the bridge. Their place was taken by oily plastic containers the following day. He (let’s assume it was a male) had dined out on Sichuan hotpot.

 

IMG_0368

This behaviour continued for a few weeks before the author had an idea – let’s document the detritus left by this scoundrel and put it in a blog! 

One only needs a smartphone to capture these gormandic moments. Days of al fresco dining turned into months of munch and mess. Who was this bold banqueter?  Was he a homeless man with nowhere to go or some hapless soul escaping a tiger wife (a local term for angry woman)? Perhaps the kids got too much so he sought solace in food. He could have been on his way home from the pub?

He left his waste (ladies, aren’t you glad this mystery person is a male?) in exactly the same spot every time. He was nothing if not consistent.

IMG_9292

Pedestrians were forced to navigate a trail of KFC chicken legs, instant noodles, cup cakes, biscuits, spicy beef hotpot, curry beef balls, soup, apples, watermelon peel and oranges, french fries, sandwiches, sausages, and bowls of rice. There is more but my memory is not what it used to be.

 

IMG_0305
Don’t waste rice!

 

He has offended for months without apprehension. It seems likely that his feasting has been occurring during the small hours. The cleaners come at about 8:30am and clean up the rubbish. The area is usually spotless during the day. An idea was to go there one night and catch him in action – surprise him mid-mouthful. Then there was another dilemma – ethics (yes, a killjoy word). Could one go up to him and say:

Hello, Mr. Homeless Person can I interview you for the school newspaper?

Or “Stop right there! I’d like to make a citizen’s arrest!

So, the glutton remains a mystery, though I do have my suspicions. Like Jack the Ripper, albeit this one is a rather harmless rogue, he hasn’t been caught in the act.

 

IMG_0398
Peanuts?

 

Last week, a Bob Marley lookalike was seen acting suspiciously on the bridge. I took a photo of him from behind. He wasn’t caught in the actual act of overpass al fresco but a detective would put him on a list of possible suspects.

 

IMG_0404
And there he goes…

 

So, at this juncture, the nibbler remains a mystery. Who are you sneaky snacker and can you tidy up after yourself?

To be continued…..

 

Easter… by China

7am

Was it really Easter?  There was absolutely no evidence here on the streets in southern China. Perhaps it is an unhelpful distraction. One that the hard-working population didn’t need to be bothered by.

Easter Sunday started out like any other day. A dash across the city in a scene reminiscent of 1980s computer games. Avoid slow drivers and careless pedestrians. Dodge oncoming vehicles and wobbly bicycles.

Pitstop_ii-c64

8:45am

Someone forgot the key to the classroom. There was a congregation of apologetic parents milling about the entrance. It was damp outside and it was suggested that I begin the lesson in the covered area next to the bikes.

Have a seat” I said. They couldn’t – everything was wet. Thankfully the key was found and the lesson proceeded inside.

11am

blur cars dew drops
No sun for weeks

It was damp at the next venue. This made the students restless. A large black bug rested on my neck and began sucking blood. What was it?  No-one could identify. Larger than a mosquito and smaller than a fly.

2:00pm

The roads were wet and someone arranged a heavy downpour at the exact moment I needed to exit the car. You can go through several pairs of shoes on a weekend here.

Time for the bottom-ranked class. It’s week eight and they’ve been bad in all aspects of their study and conduct.  There were six kids in attendance but only four books.

Sorry, I forgot my book.”

And “I’ve lost it. Ha ha.”  That cute laugh was the pits.

Had they prepared their English speeches? I asked.  The task was assigned on March the 23rd. Twenty-eight days would be enough to complete such a task. Nope, the pressure of computer games and reality TV binge-watching was too much. Only one girl was ready.

Okay, how about your homework on page 100?  Oh, you haven’t done that either?  Right, it’s punishment time – take out your activity books and begin completing the exercises on page 40.

They hadn’t remembered to bring their activity books. Or their pens.

silhouette and grayscale photography of man standing under the rain

It was at this point that I exited the classroom and stood outside. It was still raining. The 25-year-old me would have quit – there and then. Stormed off in a huff. Sulked even. The 40-something me thought about some of the mentally unbalanced people that wander the neighbourhood here. Nutter plus knife – you could imagine the headlines:

Foreign Teacher Abandons Students Moments Before Brutal Slaying and Irresponsible Kiwi Expat Walks Out on Kids – Throws China-NZ Relations Into Turmoil!

I stayed and returned to the lesson. It took a monumental amount of patience not to throw something at them.

4:45pm

Lesson Four (these little darlings were exposed in a previous blog) also had a speech competition. Celia (20 minutes late) refused to budge. Come on, share just a couple of sentences. She hid behind her knees.

IMG_0330
You can’t see me but I can you!

Brother Jeremy invented an entirely new lexicon:

Duplo Mountain in air conditioner” and “Pressure from the Carrot family brought problems with young.”  Deep, though he couldn’t clarify what “pervert Peru” was supposed to mean.

IMG_0328
Duplo mountains in the air conditioner!

images-5

I found myself asking – if this is Easter, why does it feel like I’ve entered Hell?

6:20pm

Then a quick trip home to hide easter eggs for my daughters and a cup of coffee. Last year, they fought bitterly over who got more eggs. On Sunday they cooperated and worked together. The egg hunt proved so popular that they made their mother hide the eggs a second time.

img_0334-e1555982868579.jpg

7:30pm

The final lesson was a kindergarten level class. Thank heavens the kids were good tonight. Each kid received a little egg. The eggs rolled off the table and under the chairs. One girl lost hers and enlisted a number of the parents to search for the missing item. It became a real life egg hunt.

There were tears when her helpers came up empty-handed.

8:45pm

Dreams of neck massages, hearty dinners, and an ice-cold beverage.

9:15pm

Home to Peppa Pig reruns and poorly edited English newspapers.

IMG_0333
Spot the typo

11:45pm

Homework completed!  No, not mine.

Postscript

Did you have a wonderful Easter holiday?  Did the Easter bunny visit your home?  What kind of stories do rabbits like best?  Ones with hoppy endings!

Thanks for reading. Your support is much appreciated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dumbo for Dummies (A Chinese Cinematic Experience)

Ah, the movies in China. Flashing lights, suspense, excitement, funny smells, and sound effects – and that’s before the film has even started!

multi colored chairs in row

There’s a cinema a mere stone’s throw from Block Six (our building). It’s often empty and one feels a sense of “social responsibility” to attend such a venue if only to delay its inevitable demise. Many expats now avoid this form of entertainment due to the peculiarities of movie-going in China.

Frodo Baggins (Lord of the Rings) was no match for the afternoon sun when the cinema door opened. Liam Neeson got drowned out by audience chatter like some hapless politician. We’ve observed Minions (Despicable Me) being sworn at and, most surprisingly, Darth Vader being interrupted by a man on his mobile phone. Who’d have thought?

photo of room full of toys
Darth Vader in happier times

Darth Vader: “I’m altering the deal, pray I don’t alter it “

Uncouth man: “Lao Xiong, I’m in the cinema watching Star Wars!  Yes, it’s really good though I can’t understand what they’re saying! Tonight?  Yes, I’ll meet you for dinner at 7pm”

Once, the Chinese subtitles were out of sync with the (Western) actor’s voices, confusing many and leading to an audience walkout. We had the remaining 90 minutes to ourselves that day. Bliss.

A Dog’s Way Home, a fluffy family film about a dog finding its way home, was attended by four people (my daughter and I, plus an elderly Cantonese couple who talked loudly throughout). Recent cinematic experiences had seemed okay so we decided to see…

Dumbo (2019)

gray elephant
Dumbo’s long-suffering mother

There was a choice of Dumbo or the second Lego Movie. We chose the former. Surely there couldn’t be anyone attending the theatre on a Friday morning (it was the Qingming Festival too). Well, there was a good-sized crowd including a former student who bellowed my name and drew everyone’s attention to the presence of a foreigner.

The movie started and we (daughter and I) had the entire fourth row to ourselves.  Pure heaven. Late arrivers were being ushered to their seats in different rows.

The Dumbo movie was 15 minutes in when a middle-aged staff member walked towards us, torch in hand. Perhaps she’d spotted us eating snacks from home. No, she was a solo movie-goer and that wasn’t a torch. It was an iPhone. Perhaps she was seated in our row. Maybe she was sitting right next to me despite the six other EMPTY seats available. She crashlanded in her seat, employed my drink holder for her Pepsi and her drink holder for the popcorn. There was also a faint whiff of body odour. No, I’m not being nasty.

Darn it.

images-2
Deep breaths…

She laughed, slurped, squirmed, wriggled, jolted upright, and at one point turned abruptly to stare at us. It was just like being in economy class.

The movie was engaging. Monkeys, snakes, clowns, a one-armed man (Colin Farrell), a very short man (Danny DeVito), an Oscar winner (Michael Keaton) and plenty of exquisite set designs. Woman-with-glasses was forgotten for the next 40 minutes until she started checking her phone. The iPhone’s glow was more obvious than Dumbo’s ears.

Suddenly, a restless toddler stood up from behind and whacked the woman’s head! Triumph!

Karma they say is a… breath of fresh air!!

Ratings (out of 10)

Dumbo: 8.0

Audience behaviour: 6.5 (Well done Guangzhou!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christchurch Attacks – One Week On (The view from China)

1552794574543
Cartoon by Shaun Yeo

It is the one week anniversary of the Christchurch Mosque attacks. New Zealand has been in a state of mourning. Our Prime Minister has done a stellar job at bringing the country together.

What has the reaction been like from everyday folk here in southern China?

The reaction has been subdued, though the majority were made aware of the incident through the media.

There has been no comment on it unless I raise the subject first (usually in the lift). You get asked “Where are you from?”  And “Oh, what a beautiful place!

Thanks.” I reply. “Oh, by the way, did you hear the news about the mass killings in our country?”

Yes, yes – dreadful situation” they say. “Are gun laws really that lax in New Zealand?

It has been weird this week being so far from home. Nearly every boy has a collection of realistic-looking toy guns. I flinched at the sight of one boy strapped with three automatic toy guns less than 24 hours after March 15th’s event. He was just being a boy, doing what boys do. He was late for class. This didn’t seem to matter today. His mate had a plastic AK-47.

Older students have found discussions around the subject to be interesting, though their English vocabulary limits much of what they want to say. Some have giggled in parts of my talk. This is not arrogance on their part but more an embarrassment or awkwardness at the sheer horror of what unfolded that day.

A 17 minute video taken by the gunman was circulating China’s most popular mobile app – WeChat. Would I like to see the video?  No thanks. Are you sure?  You can’t see clearly – it’s a bit like watching a computer game. Again, a polite no thank you.

I was able to obtain a newspaper last Saturday (see below). The headline translates into  “The Darkest Day in New Zealand’s History.”

 

IMG_0025-1
People’s Daily – Saturday, March 16, 2019

 

Life went on as normal for people here. It’s not surprising really. They’ve got their own things to worry about. China has had its fair share of blood too. One can look to the 2014 Kunming Train Station Massacre as evidence. With tight gun laws in place, the perpetrators used knives instead. The result was ghastly.

We’ve had an incident here in Guangzhou too, though thankfully there were no fatalities. It’s an example that no place is exempt from senseless violence.

Thank you for reading. We hope to return with a happier blog when the time is right.

 

 

Chinese Manners

“For the fragrance we’re blessing, to the world we show our affection,

We’ve got “two sessions”, let me show you Chinese manners”

IMG_9992

(Su Han “Two Sessions“)

He is China’s version of Eminem. I hadn’t heard of him before, but then I wouldn’t know many famous Chinese stars. Of course there’s Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, known as much for their martial arts as their acting skills. The former was actually an American citizen. Perhaps he (Su Han) isn’t famous.

I’m not sure Su Han has sold many records or what is status is here. He has been ridiculed on other sites for fronting a clumsy attempt (by you-know-who-I-am-not-at-liberty-to-say) to connect with younger listeners.

A chance to spice up what might otherwise be a very dry event.

The “Two Sessions” meetings Mr. Su refers to are the meetings of the highest levels of Chinese government (the rap sounding NPC and CCPCP) every March. These were covered in my previous blog: The Top 5 Reasons Guangzhou Rocks in March.

The backing track is apparently 11 years out of date but I don’t know – perhaps hip-hop circa 2008 was actually better than the current crop of rap artists. Let’s give Su Han a chance. It’s easy to mock earnest young men who give their heart and soul to a cause, rightly or wrongly, that they appear to believe in.

The analysis:

The song starts off impressively – dramatic and tense (the music video couples this with propaganda shots of a very clean looking Beijing) as the artist shares his elation at the chance to write a “compliment song“. There isn’t a lot of positivity in the rap game so we’ll give him a tick for trying.

IMG_9993

He picks up the tempo and masters the English language like a boss, getting his tongue around some tricky long-windedness before the song climaxes rather prematurely at the 35-second mark. It’s here that Mr. Su looks begins to look like a very lost 12 year old boy.

IMG_9995
Mummy?

The lyrics cover a range of topics highlighting China’s achievements in recent times and there have been many. Landing on the Moon’s dark side, technological improvements like subway lighting (?), satellites, and the Jiaolong submersible vehicle that scaled the depths of the Mariana Trench.

“Joy of success is like a weekend car ride round the pool”

img_9994.png

Excuse me?

He also references more controversial topics such as the cloning of monkeys. That isn’t nearly as bad as the singalong chorus line. A deflating moment after a promising start.

“We’ve got our two sessions…”

He regains composure and momentum with a verse on education. He manages to include a Star Wars reference. Hmmm, Skywalker? Poverty is asked to leave his nation’s borders amidst a visual backdrop of lush green countryside and smiling peasants.

Then that bloody chorus line again.

The lyrics become more absurd. A Kiwi friend of mine suggested that a middle school chatbox program had been employed to help with some of the verses. Check out the screenshot below:

IMG_9973
Nephrolithiasis is kidney related

And the Popeye moment…

IMG_9974

A day has passed since I wrote the above. It turns out that Mr. Su is a very able singer and even participated in the Sing! China TV show. He is also a doctoral student at the prestigious Tsinghua University. He is using artificial intelligence to compose music. Not only is he artistically talented and fluent in English, but he is also a biomechanical brainbox!

The Verdict

The song is a weird embarrassment. Forgettable even – if not for the lyrics. Su Han comes across as a bit of a buffoon to the uninitiated. Score: 4/10

You can watch the video here

IMG_9991
What exactly are Chinese manners?

Postscript – Wednesday

A peculiar thing happened on the way back home this morning. The chorus from a song came into my head and has been stuck there ever since. Which song? Yes, Two Sessions!

Post-Postscript – Thursday

The song is still very much alive and well in my head as the blog goes to air. There’s so much good new music out there and yet I’m being reminded of the “Two Sessions.”

Maybe the joke is on me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 5 Reasons Guangzhou Rocks in March

T’was a nice little break in New Zealand – blue skies, fresh air, good food, and friendly people. We didn’t see the rain during the time we were there.

img_9937.jpg

Three weeks can go very quickly when you’re having fun. It’s hard not to think that New Zealand is always like this!  One forgets that winter can last an awfully long time…

The Top 5 Reasons Why Guangzhou Rocks in Spring

I used to think that March was a pretty sh*tty time in Guangzhou. The endless grey skies were enough to test the patience of a saint. Dampness would invade the inside of your apartment and make floors, walls, and ceilings damp. Clothes were impossible to dry and would develop a funny musty smell. But, after the 28th consecutive day of doom and gloom outside, it seemed better to look at things as a glass half full.

So, to add to the plethora of numbered lists swamping the Internet nowadays, Lifeinlifts.com has decided to make its own top five. The reasons why Guangzhou is so good in March (fake it till you make it, right?).

1) The Weather

img_9965.jpg

Tired of endless and boring blue skies? Is the dry sun turning your skin to hardened leather? It’s just as well that Guangzhou can turn on 21 consecutive days of solid grey. Rain and fog are on the menu here.

 

image1-4.jpeg
Beautiful

 

2) The Food

The food is always good here but the cooler weather brings out the more warming foods such as hotpot, dumplings, rabbit…

round white and blue ceramic bowl with cooked ball soup and brown wooden chopsticks
Yum!

3) The People

People get titchy in hot weather. Just as well it’s 15 degrees Celcius. Students behave in class. Teachers return to lessons refreshed from the Spring Festival holidays. Neighbours actually pretend to care about each other. You won’t witness this sort of behaviour in June.

4) The Education System

March becomes a busy time for students and teachers. It’s the endless desire for self-improvement that sees the Chinese regarded as some of the hardest working people in the world. Homework comes in crateloads. This also means a demand for extra-curricular lessons. Pity the poor kids who lose their childhoods along the way. However, it does mean that teachers get paid (cough… well).

5) The National People’s Congress

500px-GreatHall_auditorium

It’s a meeting of the highest organ of state power, in Beijing no less. This means that security is ultra-tight. Being far from the emperor might seem like a good thing, as we can live relatively freely here without disruption. Our VPN access gets blocked too. This is a good thing as it prevents us from wasting valuable time checking Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other unproductive websites. This crackdown instills a sort of self-discipline as you are forced to find other things to do. What a great time to sort out the sock drawer.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to leave a comment. Our next blog will examine China’s newest version of Eminem!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

School Exams in China! Yikes!

It’s the bane of parents, students, and teachers. A time of year violated by colourless worksheets, endless pages of fill-in-the-blank exercises. Mix-and-match. Mock tests.

Study materials are as dry as dust.

img_9313
With materials like this, who wouldn’t want to study?

Final exams occur twice a year, at the end of each semester. It’s a stressful time for a number of parties. School teachers are under pressure to deliver results to the school leaders. Parents spent every spare free minute helping their children review for the exams. The possibility of bad grades is too much to contemplate. It gets worse at higher levels. A substandard grade could mean failure to enter a good middle or high school. Teenagers really have it tough when they attempt the dreaded Gaokao – China’s university entrance exam.

It’s common for children to be signed up to extra-curricular lessons. Most have an extra lesson of some kind – be it math, Chinese, English, art, dancing, or piano. A sport like table tennis, basketball, swimming, or badminton is also tacked on. Many have several lessons – often on the same day. Weekends are endurance tests to be survived, rather than enjoyed. Added to the average daily three hours of homework, you wonder the psychological toll on children here.

Parents regularly postpone these ancillary lessons at exam time.

img_9312.jpg
A sample English exam paper. How did you do?

Exams affect nearly everyone. Sleep deprivation equals cranky kids. Parents get grumpy too, resentful that their free time is eaten up by hours of homework in preparation for the big day. Mummy helps with the study, Daddy keeps baby sister/brother occupied and out of the way. You hear grumbling in the lifts – a girl being admonished for a poor math test, a boy being read the riot act for doing poorly in his Chinese. Grandparents cop twice the abuse when they try to offer unhelpful suggestions.

They might have had Mao Zedong Thought, but they also had less homework.

I see the effect of exam time in my lessons. Polite, easy-going kids become overly sensitive and prickly with tears if they perceive a slight from a classmate. Cheerful parents look more distracted than usual.

img_9311
Sample Chinese paper – it’s not as hard as it looks!

Soon the exams will be over and the relief will be palpable. Think of a caged rabbit finally being given run of the house.

How does your childhood compare?  Did you have exam pressures as an eight year old? And your parents? Did they encourage you with a stick or let you run wild? Perhaps you have children about to undergo their own examinations? How are they coping?  Please leave a comment below and share with fellow readers.

Today marks the beginning of the dreaded exams. The sounds of rejoicing will not only emanate from students but from the entire support cast and crew navigating this tortuous time!

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

Christmas in China – 2018

How do the Chinese celebrate Christmas?

Well, they go to work or school as usual. Some might wear a Santa hat and others might give a small gift or attend a Christmas Eve event somewhere around the city. Some lucky souls get the day off if they work for a foreign company or Western consulate.

Christmas really is an excuse for the marketers to sharpen their knives and target the growing middle class with their disposable income.

IMG_9161.JPG

 

How do Chinese kids regard Christmas?

“Western Countries have Christmas because China has the Chinese New Year.”

– Bernard, 8

“Father Christmas was born on Christmas Day.”

– Yoyo, 9

“Our teacher says we’re not allowed to celebrate Christmas because it’s a Western festival!”

– Kevin, 10

“I hate Christmas because it’s not a Chinese holiday”

– Damon, 5

A matter of religion

As foreign guests in China, we’re not allowed to discuss (or promulgate) political views or religion. It’s a little difficult to discuss the matter of Jesus with the students.

“KJ, can you tell us a little bit more about Jesus?”  A child might ask.

“Um, er, perhaps you’d better ask your parents. They will probably be able to explain things better” I answer.

Play them some music instead

268x0w

“Feliz Navidad” (Jose Feliciano) is a popular song to teach. Students have trouble with the second line but then most Westerners do too. Go on – can you tell me what comes after Feliz Navidad?  Prospero…

Michael Buble does a fine version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. The horn section enters suddenly within the first minute – guaranteed to wake any sleepers. Justin Bieber’s version is also surprisingly catchy.

How has Christmas changed in China over the years?

In 2000, I lived out in the sticks somewhere in Hubei province. There was little evidence that Christmas even existed. The kindly Education Bureau put on a lavish Christmas Eve party for about ten westerners living in the city. We ate great Chinese food. The section chief wandered over to our table and wished us a “Merry Crimmus!”

The next day we bought a couple of live chickens from the local market and invited them for dinner.

In Guangzhou, we had about three Christmases with members of the Australian Consulate. This was great fun as there was always good shiraz at these parties. The carpet was white. The stains took an age to remove!

A Cockney mate hosted us at his place for a number of years. We played Monopoly and listened to Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” (repeatedly). In 2008, we even got served Brussels Sprouts!  Can you imagine the excitement?

In 2011, inside a 4-star American hotel restaurant, the food was as cardboard as the surroundings. It appeared to cater to young Chinese lovers who treated Christmas as a romantic occasion.

A party was held in an old colonial-style villa (2013). The food was exceptional that year but the highlight was the old Chinese lady that danced voraciously to “Gangnam Style”.

We’ve had Christmas at our apartment the past couple of years. Stragglers of all shapes and sizes have appeared. You can order a turkey from a number of places and even get cranberry sauce to go with it. Plum pudding is still a trifle (ho ho – a pun!) difficult to find as is dry bubbly. However, it’s almost as good as being at home.

IMG_5563
A smorgasbord of nationalities share one thing in common – food
IMG_5614
Eating Christmas cupcakes – pure bliss!

And, Guangzhou’s weather is always good on December 25th.

Shopping

 

IMG_9162
Inspiring isn’t it?

 

Some supermarkets sell every product Christmassy. You’ll pay for it though. Most supermarkets cater to the local market and sell chocolates and fruit. Yawn.

So from all of us here – the accountants, cleaners, marketers, publicists, rabbits, and writers – we’d like to wish you all a very Merry Lifeinlifts Christmas!

Oh yes – there’s a free chocolate fish if you can tell me the second line of Feliz Navidad!  I know it – but do you?