On our last full day in Zhengzhou, after having finished up our two classes and all the accompanying readings and papers, our group of exhausted Americans got a final treat. We had been invited to Best International School to celebrate International Children’s Day with the students. The school is bilingual, so the students study both Chinese and English, in addition to their other subjects. As the institution is private, I gleaned that it was a rather substantial investment to send a child there. I would say, however, that the money seems to be well-invested, because the facilities were impressive, the staff seemed large, and the children’s English was exceptionally adept. To illustrate the conditions in which the children learn, the interior courtyard— surrounded by classrooms and other facilities—boasted a huge indoor pool.
We were told that International Children’s Day is a very important holiday to the children of China, as it is a day to celebrate being a child. Our entire 30-plus group was shuttled to the school, in downtown Zhengzhou, via Best International charter busses. Along the way, we were assigned groups of several students and a teacher as an assistant. We would spend the day with our group, get to know them, play and have fun, and celebrate being a student and a child at any age.
Our arrival was met with hundreds of primary and elementary-school aged kids lined up along the front stairs of the school. As we pulled up, they began shouting, singing, and laughing, excited about their guests and the day of events ahead. Getting off the bus and walking into the school, it felt what I assume it would feel like to be a celebrity—aware that all eyes are on you. As I have no experience with that feeling, I was by no means numb to it, and couldn’t keep a straight face. The kids were all wearing their uniform red or blue Best T-shirts, and full of energy; for lack of a better word, they were absolutely adorable.
We met our groups and enjoyed a performance of dance, music, and speaking that the older students had prepared. Our day was spent with the older children, upper elementary, as they have a better grasp on English and are able to make friendships with us more easily. My group was four students, most notably Robin, who was always ready to be in the middle of the action. Incidentally, he was also the chubbiest student of the entire group, which along with his personality, I immediately found endearing. The kids all presented me with greeting cards that they had hand-made and decorated with stickers, markers, and other embellishments they felt would welcome me graciously. To date they are my favorite souvenirs from my time in China.
Heading into the center courtyard (where the pool is located), the kids informed me that we were going to have dumpling- and noodle-making contest. They were very excited to learn that I had made dumplings before (with my host family in Zhengzhou, during our Sunday afternoon together), and were keen to win.
The traditional Chinese dumpling is something I rarely see in America, and definitely not a part of standard U.S. Chinese food. It is one of the things I will miss most as far as food; in fact, I know already that although some of it is strange and not at all appetizing to me, the real Chinese food I’ve had here will make American-style pale in comparison. It will be awhile, I think, before I pick up a plate of American Chinese food upon my return to the U.S.
Turns out we were not the fastest dumpling-makers in the world. However, in an act of true elementary school anticipation, award medals had been collected for all participants. In the middle of the “medals” were tiny chocolate coins, of which Robin quickly proceeded to eat two (I’m not even sure how he found two…).
His talents came out (or at least his excitement and pride) when the noodle-making started. Thick, hand-made noodles are also a staple of the Chinese diet, cooked in broth and mixed with various meats and vegetables. Robin explained that he was an excellent noodle-maker, and that sometimes he prepared them at his own home, as help when his mom was still at work. I loved his enthusiasm and the command he had of his thick strand of dough.
After all the groups ceremoniously received their medals, we entertained the students (in true Chinese performance entertainment) with our rendition of the Hokey-Pokey.
A mass exit and hand-washing led us back outside, for lunch. Steaming carts on wheels provided us with hot, delicious egg-and-vegetable dumplings, Chinese rolls, vegetables, rice, and dim sum (another authentic type of food, little pastry-like items stuffed with various things, including meat mixtures, vegetables, or sweet bean paste—my personal favorite). Hot, fruity tea was also served, which I found to be an interesting fusion of Chinese culture and kids’ universal taste for excessively sugared drinks.
Recess followed, and was the final event of our time with them. The school seemed to really value a strong education, and as such, fostered healthy, curious, and loved children. Matt, one of the American boys, had made such an impact on one of his little girls that she burst into tears and attached herself to him as we made to leave. There were hugs abounding, and smiles on every student’s face, Chinese and American alike.
The day passed quickly, and was a perfect way to draw a close to our time in Zhengzhou, a connection to the city and its children that I will remember and value long after they graduate from Best International.
The school posted photos from our visit, which you can see at http://www.best-intl-school.com/hd/61x/index.htm.