The End of a Yeara

It’s over. The school year is done. I am officially on holiday, and officially half way through my year here in China. And boy, have I been busy in the build up to the end of the year. There have been parties, performances, practices for the performances, and building myself up mentally to saying a permanent goodbye to all of my older students, as they head off to school. It has been a tiring, sometimes humiliating (but my dignity has long since deserted me anyway, and ultimately interesting experience to see this version of kids moving on.

About a month before, we had been told that we had to do a dance and a performance of Snow White at the graduation. We were grateful that we had a month to practice, and rehearse. And for me to write the performance of Snow White. Hannah, the head of English, had given us a script that was truly awful, and asked one of us to edit it, which I volunteered to do. I ended up re-writing it, making it marginally less terrible, and creepy, but the prince was still a weirdo who wanted to marry a corpse. By process of a wheel of fortune, I got cast as the Evil Queen, and immediately started practicing my evil laugh (not much practice needed; I have a tendency to cackle anyway).

I also ended up voicing three of the dwarves, as although I tried to make their lines simple, the Chinese teachers who played those parts could not get the pronunciation intelligible enough through the microphone. Because we didn’t have enough microphones to perform the show live, we spent most of the last two weeks before the show lip-syncing to our own recordings which was as awful an experience as it sounds. Hannah also employed me to help put the music together so I have three strings to my performance bow; script-writer, score-director, and main-performer.

But before all that, the KA children had to graduate. Lucy and I, she being the other KA English teacher, spent many an hour sitting in the theatre watching our children practice for their own dances and also practice walking onto the stage to collect their little roll of paper, that they had to hand back after. We also had to “wear a pretty dress” and I had my hair done, for graduation photos that I think they got in a digital yearbook.

So, on the Wednesday, the day of the actual graduation and a full week before school finished, I spent a full hour fixing the kids’ graduation caps because they would. Just. Not. Stay. On. They were either too big, and needed to be pinned at the back, too small, or the elastic was too tight, so they would go onto the child’s head and then ping back off. Lucy and I were in the backstage, “keep the kids under control” side of things, while Matthew got the glory of announcing all the children’s English names with a Chinese teacher giving their (funnily enough) Chinese names.

On this day, we did get a couple of pictures with the kids, as their parents wanted them. I was obviously not prepared for this and looked exactly as I normally did, in my least flattering and most comfortable shorts, trainers and some sort of t-shirt with a picture or slogan on it. So I looked absolutely fantastic for these pictures. The professional photographers were there as well, and so there were a couple of pictures of me with the teachers, which I currently don’t have access to but will prove I was not expecting a front of house role.

Then on the Thursday, we were on the stage. Tuesday, we had had a full dress rehearsal, and I was the only person who liked their Snow White costume. My dress was hot and itchy, meaning I had to wear shorts and a vest top underneath it, making myself even hotter, but it made me look slim and evil, and it had a hood so I could “transform” into the old woman who gives Snow White her apple.

Telling the hunter to kill Snow White
With the mirror, yes, the magic mirror was portrayed by a man in tin foil

But before Snow White, we had to do our dance performance. Charlie had literally only practiced it twice, due to the change of the announcer. It was going to be him up until the point that for an unknown reason, they decided to go with Matthew instead. So he hadn’t been practicing the dance with us, as the pay off for doing the announcements meant that they didn’t have to dance.

Our costumes for the dance were sparkly basketball tops and dark shorts. So we had the fun of dress changes off stage, although we really didn’t have as many changes as any of the kids, so backstage was nigh-on chaotic, and we had people rushing around telling us to change more quickly. I’d also been the only one who’d been subjected to hair and make-up as Wei, my friend, really likes doing my hair, and once she’d done it all fancy-like, she decided that my make-up free face needed work as well.

Apparently, I have a similar enough skin-tone that the make-up used for the kids did not look horribly mismatched and actually did look okay.

Wearing my Chinese make-up and fancy hair

After we had performed, Lucy and I were told that we were to go on stage at the end to be thanked for our teaching – this was the first time we would be publicly acknowledged for our work, and once again we had to wear a dress and look more respectable than most normal work days. We ended up hanging around backstage for ages, because we weren’t actually told that it would be directly at the very end, or even if there was a rough time that it would be happening, so we headed backstage, and waited. I actually started feeling a bit ill at this point, a little sick and kind of faint, but I wasn’t going to let it get to me, but it did reduce my enjoyment, if you can call it that, of the flower presentation at the end of the show. I was worried I would have to run off-stage to be sick.

I’m almost tall in China!

Unfortunately for me, this was also the day when I was having the KC teachers end of year dinner and I was also having stomach cramps by now. I told Hannah (who as well as being Head of English is also my KC class teacher) that I might not be able to go, but ultimately decided to push through it, as it wouldn’t be long and I would be able to sleep/park myself on the toilet as soon as I got home. While the cramping lasted all the way to the restaurant, once I started trying to eat, it subsided, possibly because my mouth was in pain instead. I have always said that I am not good with spicy food, that I don’t do it, and that has been proven further true here in China. While straight spice is not typical of Chinese food; instead they blend spices for an excellent flavour and some heat, they really went for it with some of this food, and instead of my mouth being merely on fire, it was throbbing with pain. I have never been so ouchie’d by spicy food and I don’t understand why people like it, if that is the reaction that they normally have. It was a seafood bar and it was generally quite tasty, except for my first taste of oysters, which have little taste, are chewy and slimy, and the one I had was too big to swallow in one and I don’t think I’ll ever have one again. Aphrodisiac, it was not.

They so purdy

However, I did manage to make it through the meal, having far more octopus tentacles than I thought I would, as they are actually tasty, and my stomach held off from being too upset, right until I got back to the flat, whereupon I locked myself in my bathroom for the rest of the night.

At the weekend, from Sunday to Monday, the KA parents of my class pitched in to take all of us teachers, and the families and kids to the Marriott Hotel Shenzhen, which is genuinely a tropical paradise. It is such a beautiful place that I couldn’t believe and pinched myself a couple of times. It also brought home to me in a physical way, how well off these families are. I sort of knew, as I knew that the school was one of the most expensive in the area and there are some really nice cars parked there sometimes (including a gorgeous blue Porsche 911 Carrera – the Mum looked very bemused at my taking a picture of it), but seeing the six-year-old children with their smart phone-watches and the sheer fanciness of the hotel, I realised it in a much more cerebral way.

The whole evening of Sunday was kind of insane, in a great way. There were presentations, casual performances (I may have bust a move or two) and much crying. All the teachers were presented with beautiful glass awards, that were likened to Oscars, and read best teacher in Chinese characters on them, best teacher certificates, and a best teacher passport (apparently, I cannot use it to travel though – but I did check). We gave the children a gift of a framed drawing they did and a beautiful stationary set (still gendered to girls and boys), I had a drink off with the Dads and wine and while there was no winner as such, I did impress them with my ability to drink. I even impressed Maymie (spelling unsure) who is Chinese, but has lived in America, speaks fluent English and has an American husband, with it. I didn’t even drink that much, maybe two or three glasses of wine in total. Even though I felt the first one hitting, since I haven’t really drunk while in China, I was not drunk at any point. The Chinese also seem to have a tradition that you stand up when you do a toast and ideally you should finish your glass. We didn’t follow that entirely, because all of us would then be on the floor, but it was done a fair few times, sometimes with soft drinks instead.

The best (worst) part of the evening was when the Dads read a poem to the Chinese teachers. I couldn’t understand it, except when I heard the teacher’s names, but it brought them to tears and the feeling in it made my eyes prick as well, which primed me for the end of the poem when Maymie said that they wanted to include me but due to being not-Chinese and having a not-Chinese name, they couldn’t fit it into the syntax of the poem, and then she thanked me profusely for all the love and care I had given the children and for teaching them and all I could think was how easy they all were to love, even when they didn’t listen to me in class (pretty common by this point in the term), and how much I enjoyed teaching them. I even got the chance to say this about five minutes later, which I did, through my tears, and since I know after the kitten incident that I am fairly incomprehensible when crying to Chinese people, I don’t know if even Maymie understood what I was saying. But I was definitely not the only teacher in floods and I think we worried the kids, at least by their expressions and they gave us all a hug when we were done. And I just knew that I was going to miss all of these kids so much.

Monday was much more relaxed. We had a lie, I had a full English breakfast, which wasn’t quite right (except for the baked beans which must have been Heinz) but was still delicious and then Dylan asked me to go swimming, so I joined them at the pool and we had a lot of fun there. I took a break for a bit went to the beach and went swimming in the tiny portion of sea that we were allowed to swim in, because I am a sea-lover and have to take a dip whenever possible. I didn’t realise it at first, until I got into the water in the buoyed-off area, and saw the netting attached to the buoys, when I figured out that the seas here have a lot more dangerous sea-life in them than the Mediterranean, the Aegean, or even the Atlantic waters around the UK, and so it was about our safety to stay in that area, so we don’t get got by a Portuguese Man-O-War or some other dangerous thing. I swam some more, caused one of the children to cry by accident. I grabbed his leg, and he went under fully, when I was not intending for that to happen as he was not a strong swimmer and didn’t like getting his face wet. I immediately picked him up and wiped his face and got the water out of his eyes, but I felt terrible for it.

Also in this crazy time, I had been given another class, which on the Tuesday, I would have to teach in front of the parents, having taught them a total of four times before. Four times. I didn’t know the children, I didn’t know how much they knew, or what they knew, because it was a KB class, aka the one class that I don’t have so in the space of four lessons, I had to learn the syllabus and try and work out what the kids knew, work out what games they liked to play and were good at and so on and so forth. So on that Tuesday, I was stressed. Then Hannah told me on the Friday that I had to do a dance with my KC class as well, which I practised once before the performance. So Tuesday was not all that fun for me.

I was with KC and their class first with the parents open day. I watched them do their little show which was very cute, and when they were performing “Music Man” I got up and stood on a table and did the dance for them to copy as they still didn’t know it very well, and come on, they’re four. It was behind the parents. The parents were supposed to film their kids and enjoy how cute they looked. But instead they all turned their phones on me and filmed me capering about on a table so their children could copy me. So of course, having lost all dignity, I hammed it up. I sang loudly, and probably out of tune. I excessively acted out the dance moves. I enunciated. I looked like a complete fool. Then I went to the theatre and performed again, badly, following Hannah who was showing the students what to do. And finally I had my lesson with children I didn’t know. I had managed to get all their names and wrote them all down and put them in a box so that I could pull the names out of a hat and call on each of them at least once. I still managed to miss out two children but I think I managed to call on them in the portion of the lesson where I was not using the box. I caused one child to cry because she got the answer wrong so couldn’t get a block for the tower. I had loads of energy though and other than that, the lesson was not the train wreck I feared it to be.

And at last it was the final day. I was not expecting to teach the class at all. I wasn’t expecting much at all. It was a half day and I spent it with KA. I was asked to teach a final lesson, so I did a rush through of all the tops hits of the games and didn’t really care if they got the answers wrong. At the end of the lesson instead of the usual “boys, go to the toilet, girls drink some water,” I told them all to give me a hug and then nearly got bowled over as they all did. It was the sweetest thing ever. I spent the rest of the morning getting a selfie with every single one of them, and popped into my KC class, because two of my kids in that class were leaving as well. The selfies are going to be made into a collage so I can remember the children, not that I’d forget any of them anyway. I already miss them.

And then the term was over and all I wanted to do was go home and sleep. So I did. The final bit of the morning was the children eating, but unlike the party, it was fairly tear-free and more practical. Once they’d been picked up by their parents, they were gone, to have a care-free summer, while mine is busy, busy, busy. And of course, you’ll hear all about it here.

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