Wednesday, 8 September 2004

Goin to School in China

What a functional title. The offspring started school on Monday. He'sgoing to Jichang Xiaoxue (Airport Primary School) in Western Xi'an,Shaanxi, PRC. That's gonna look strange on his Ed. Lab.

He's in san nian jie, san ban (third grade, class three), but I'mthinking of having him moved up to his actual fifth grade, becausewhat difference is it going to make anyway?, and then he'll be withkids his own age, if not his own size.

How's he taking it? He's not complaining. He's consenting to go. He'snot fighting, scratching or screaming. Hey, it's still school afterall, and he's never going to like it. But he's smiling when I go tofetch him, and he's making friends, and he's doing the homework, allby himself, without prompting.

He's noticed, I think, that the fun-factor of staying at home playinggames all day (3 out of 10) is slightly lower than going to schoolall day (4 out of 10), and that might be one of the most valuablelessons to learn in life, ever.

This is what it involves: get up at 6:30, scooter to school throughmorning rush, some 5 km from home. Down a last few hundred metersbetween narrow buildings and a tree-lined road, through a blue gateand into wonderland. Hundreds of grandparents, on bikes, scooters,tired old feet, dropping off kids by the bushel. There are 1800 kidsin this school. Milling of people and vendors selling stinky tofu andfresh crisp waffles, mud on the streets, autumn sun through clear,pre-pollution morning air and falling leaves. Dust kicked up, andstaying up. It is a lifetime in one day, every day. Some kind ofinterface, and Chinese culture becomes defined by the daily ritual ofschool and travel and lunch. Starts making sense.

Lunch is from 12:00 to 14:00. Today, Wednesday, I have to work from13:00, so I'll only eat with him, somewhere along the road at a smalldiner, and then he's going back to class where some loners hangaround, some sleeping, some running around being kids. From tommorrowhe'll probably go to one of the lunch-providers: people who live inthe area and take a few kids in over lunch, feed them, give them aplace to sleep...

This morning driving out I felt like a Chinese. My kid behind me,half asleep on a scooter, his blood red patriotic little backpackflapping in the rear view mirror, and busses trying to kill me.
Here's a nicely packaged thought: the Chinese assume instantfamiliarity with each other. I've seen it in other (slightly moreAfrican) cultures, too. There is no word for please in Chinese. Iknow the dictionary will say it is Qing, but qing doesn't do whatplease does, and you only hear it in the announcements on busses.Qing mai piao (Please buy a ticket.) But qing is more like: Iinsist... not so much a way of pretending politeness, as a way ofinsisting something is done. You don't refuse a Qing.

Anything less than familiarity is treated as an affront. When Chinesepeople meet for the first time a fairly intimate and even heateddiscussion could follow seconds later. To stand on ceremony displaysthe desire to keep the other person at a distance, a rather rudething to do. God help you if you say thank you to your friends.You'll have to be rude for weeks to make up for it.

Perhaps a model of equality? We might get something out of it.Corresponds to something Dick Diver says in "Tender is the night":There's too much manners going around, sparing each others' feelings,as if we're all frail, fragile and hopeless. Perhaps we need to havemore respect for each other, by being more honest. Perhaps.

I love breaking out at last behind a taxi, when the motherless demonspawn eventually gives way, and yelling "Jou ma se fokken hare!" intohis window. I respect the wretched fuckwit enough to assume he'llsurvive that. Always makes me happy. QED.

Am I allowed to swear here?

What are puncreas?

No comments:

Post a Comment