No. 9 students love gummies. After performing a very scientific experiment on Thursday—which was Children’s Day as well as my first day at work this week—I have determined this. Small and trivial though the fact may be, it’s these tiny discoveries which have marked my third week in Zhuhai and my relationship with its students.
As some of us have put it, the “honeymoon period” is over, for both us and the students. They no longer stare when we pass in the halls or scream when we enter classrooms, and Wechat requests have been sparse lately. On our side, morale among the troops is low. The initial excitement has worn off, and there are definitely days when we can’t wait until lunch break. As the halls grow familiar and the streets become our customary haunts, the habits of the students are no longer surprising either. I know which students will come before class, between classes, and at lunch, and who they are looking for. I know their favorite hangout spots, and have begun recognizing students on the streets. The broad strokes of their, and our, characters are now known to each other, and so now I feel like we will really be able to get to know each other.
Because of the Dragon Boat Festival (Duanwu Jie), we had a long weekend which stretched until Tuesday. The workweek was thus short for everybody, but especially so for me, because I called in sick on Wednesday. As Hsiao-mei keeps portending, the casualties are beginning! (Pam also called in sick this week). Being sick wasn’t pleasant, but I recovered enough to teach by Thursday, and I felt especially lucky after Hsiao-mei reminded us about one year when eleven out of thirteen students got sick, and three needed visits to the emergency room. On the one day I missed though, I heard that frustrations about our work/issues we’ve been having with the students, came to a head. Wednesday was a much needed venting session for many of our members, and I think they felt much better after that.
Life at Zhuhai No. 9 has become routine, but for me, it’s the small facts I learn about the students which keeps things interesting. Thursday, as I mentioned earlier, was Children’s Day. As many of my students sadly told me, elementary schoolers didn’t have to go to school that day. Many of the Duke students bought candy or small pastries to give their students, so Aditya and I went to the school convenience store last minute to pick up something. I picked a purple marshmallow candy you could buy in bulk (or as bulk as you can get at a school store). The kids were excited, of course, but it was nothing compared to the reception the gummies got later. I ran out of those by lunch, so during lunch, I went to a store outside the school to purchase some cookies and a kg of gummies for my afternoon English class and film class. Aditya wanted to buy some disgusting durian flavored candies, but I vetoed that. To be honest, the kids would probably like that, but I couldn’t handle the smell during class.
The cookies went to my afternoon English class. They were excited, but understandably bummed about being kicked out of the air-conditioned music classroom for the hot, sunny stage. By the way, that is the last time I am holding class there. The gummies went to the film class, who quite literally grabbed handfuls from the bag and jumped for seconds and thirds. I didn’t expect them to be so popular—individually wrapped gummies would not have gone over well at my middle school in America—so it was a tiny culture shock for me. I was suddenly very aware that though I looked like them and could speak their language, my students were very different from us. But after class, as I picked their wrappers from the strange nooks and crannies they had thrust them into rather than throw them out—under monitors, behind keyboards, etc.— I was reminded how children are the same everywhere.