Chinese Primary School Visit!

It’s been a very exciting week for me, and one that came with very impactful experiences. This week I had the chance to spend time with and get to know a few Chinese kids. First at Hong Ying primary school, an elementary school in Beijing.

CSI students at Hong Ying Primary School
CSI students at Hong Ying Primary School

My program’s visit at Hong Ying Primary School was definitely one of the top activities I’ve experienced here. We were very fortunate to have the chance to interact with Chinese students, have them teach us about Chinese culture, and interview them. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences in elementary school in the United States versus in China. The students at this school had uniforms, not unlike many schools in the United States, and the they have extracurricular classes. They have music classes where the students learn how to play traditional instruments. The boys and girls are separately trained in two instruments. The female students may also join a traditional tea culture club, and we were able to join them in a tea tasting ceremony. Although the students were separated for extra-curriculars, the academic classes and P.E. classes were co-ed.  In the academic classes, the students learned English, math, and Chinese. Their Chinese textbook was not unlike my own, and contained many stories or legends from Chinese history and lore.

My favorite experience with the students was the tea ceremony. The student who served me was named Lily. She was extremely sweet and spoke English very well!

The student performing our tea ceremony
Lily serving us tea!
Traditional Tea ceremony
Tea ceremony

The next subject we experienced was music! The male students performed for us and taught us about their instrument, and after that I was given a lesson with the female students to play an instrument resembling a standing harp. The most difficult part was distinguishing the different strings from each other because they’re very close to each other, but other than that, I think my musical background helped me catch on pretty quickly. A couple of students performed “Jasmine Flower” 茉莉花, (molihua) a traditional Chinese song (that I once learned at a Chinese culture camp when I was young), and Pachebel;s Canon in D. Then they proceeded to teach us how to play “Jasmine Flower” on the instrument. My teaching assistant was very enthusiastic and after I picked up the first phrase very quickly she exclaimed “wow you learn so quick!”, and played the rest of the song through, afterwards looking at my with expectant eyes. I said “I’m gonna need you to do that one more time” and we laughed.

Student playing Chinese instruments resembling a large harp.
Learning how to play music with Chinese students
Selfie with student who was giving me music lessons
My music teacher!

A group of us then went into a classroom to interview students. When I introduced myself, I could tell some students were confused as to why I was there. I didn’t look “American”. I introduced myself, saying that I was born in China but grew up in the United States, following with the fact that I’m adopted. They all simultaneously elicited a sigh of understanding. This is a very common experience that I run into in China, where people don’t understand why I am with a bunch of foreigners or why I speak English so well but my Chinese is slow. I have heard other people tell me how difficult it is for them to convey their identity as someone who identifies differently than they are usually perceived. Identity is complex, but I’ve learned the best way to get past this initial issue, is to learn how to sum up your life story in a couple of sentences. Mine is “我在中国出生,我在美国长大。我被领养了。” Which translates as “I was born in China, I grew up in the United States. I’m adopted”.

Young students posing at their school desks.
Interviewing students
Students Dina and May posing with their class in their classroom.
My students Dina and May (and my Chinese teacher Tan Laoshi in the photobombing us)

The two students I interviewed were Dina and May. They were so much fun to talk to. We spoke in both English and Chinese and they taught me their favorite Chinese phrases/sayings, and told me about their life. They told me that they usually have a lot of homework and are very busy. They had a break over Golden Week (my Fall Break) and spent it with their family.

One of the girls is an only child, and the other one has a younger sister. May, who’s an only child said she would love to have another sibling, maybe a brother. When I asked her why, she said she needs a distraction so that her mother isn’t so hard on her all the time. The girls and I then proceeded to discuss how both of their mothers are tiger moms. The girls said their mothers are only “tiger moms” sometimes.

It was such a great experience spending time with them, and I believe I’ll see them next semester.

Mara