Sunday, November 21, 2010

Two Year Anniversary

This past week the English Club on campus celebrated its two-year anniversary. A big do was held in the Student Auditorium, and my invitation to this shindig arrived via engraved invitation. More specifically: Grace pecked on my window until I responded to her intrusion on my time and dwelling, and she handed me the invitation to the party.

NOTE: the students can no longer just slide my windows open and look into my apartment because I’ve rigged them so that they now lock. The windows, not the students. It is all part of my malicious little gambit to retain a measure of privacy in my life.

Nevertheless, Grace lived up to her name: she was very gracious in presenting me this invitation. Fortunately, I was presentable when she came by. Even more fortunately, she only stayed a minute. Can you tell I still get irritated by these seemingly innocuous intrusions on my life and the students’ apparent impression that I live to serve?

The day of the party, Grace and Jinkey, another student of mine came by my apartment at noon to inform me that I would take part in a game played during this party, and they wanted to tell me the rules. As I was currently logged into Skype and deep in a game of Battleship with my adorable grandson, I declined to listen to the rules and introduced them to my grandson instead. Again they left, but this time promised to return after class that day.

Good! Now I know to expect students coming by!

This time I was ready for them: hair combed, makeup on, jewelry set, nothing else going on. I was thoroughly prepared to give them my undivided attention and absorb these rules I had to learn before the game.

They were very straightforward: I give simple commands – sit down, stand up, turn left, turn right – to 8 or so volunteer players who are then supposed to do the opposite of what I say. There would be two rounds played at the end of which the two winners would be awarded prizes. It seemed like a weird version of Simon Says; easy enough to do. What they did NOT tell me is that this party was actually a gala type affair, with all manner of teachers invited, as well as students from other colleges, and that this game would take place at the Student Union hall, onstage, in front of everyone!

Figuring I was just going to a party, I didn’t bother too much with my appearance; I thought casual would be acceptable. As soon as I learned I was to step onstage and have a white-hot spotlight on me, I immediately felt uncomfortable. I should have done more with my appearance! On the plus side, I finally learned that there is a Student Union hall, and now I know where it is. I just never stop learning things!

My self-satisfaction, coupled with my impending humiliation did nothing to dampen my spirits or cause me to not enjoy the show. And what a show! There was dancing, singing, skits… all put on by the students. Very little of it was in English, but there was enough that I could catch the gist of things. Before the show started the teachers in the audience were introduced, including me. And then the kids commenced to dazzle and entertain.

I honestly don’t know where they get it from. These kids are talented and they love to be onstage. They are hams and turkeys: funny, touching, sweet and MAN! Can that kid from the Music Department sing? I didn’t even know we had a music department, let alone a kid with such a voice! As with regular variety shows where the stars get flowers and Teddy bears, this guy claimed an armful of accolades before he even finished his song. He got so much stuff he had to set it all down onstage to finish his number. To watch him scoop a double armload of tribute at the end of his performance was hilarious. We clapped uproariously.

Soon enough it was my turn onstage. With much ceremony and fanfare – none of it on my part, the student body welcomed me and the MC - One of my students also named Grace, resplendent in a purple, sequined gown, introduced the game while she coached me through my little stint: “Say Hello” she stage-whispered. “Encourage them to come up” she muttered after soliciting for volunteers in Chinese. Once we had enough volunteers, the game began. Grace showed me where to stand and made sure my mike was working fine, and then off we went.

Contrary to my commands, the game players sat when I told them to stand, stood when I told them to sit, kept their arms down when I told them to raise them and raised their arms when I told them to lower them. It almost felt like a regular day in class. If a student actually followed instructions they were disqualified. As the number of volunteers dwindled I gave the commands faster and faster: “Turn left, turn right, stand up sit down, sit down, stand up, turn left, turn left, turn left, turn right!”

It was that sudden switch from turning left to turning right that did everyone in. Soon enough the last two alert persons – one from each round, collected their prize and melted back into the audience. I slunk off stage as soon as graciously possible and went back to my seat.

As best I could tell, there was no adult or faculty leadership behind that three-hour show: the kids did it all themselves. I have to think about how these kids manage such feats as this gala, even while living the life they live. Dorms that are not climate controlled, 6 persons to a room, not much more personal space than the bunk they sleep in, sharing virtually everything they own, no hot water in the communal bathrooms for their showers. They are in class from 8 in the morning until 5:30 at night, after which they scramble to a dinner bought at vendor stalls or in local restaurants; the ones who are broke go to the canteen. They have only a few hours between the end of class and curfew to study, build and maintain a social life, find some sort of entertainment such as playing cards or basketball, and then hit the rack… only to get up and do it all again the next day.

My hat is off to them. Not only for enduring the life they live, but for putting on such a great show.

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