On Wednesday Holly and I got up far too early to go out to a school in the nearby town of Lijia for an extremely well-documented bout of “helping the poor children” (ugh). This wasn’t our idea.
There’s a group of outdoorsy type people who started this organization “Twinkling Stars” to raise some money and do some work for kids after the Sichuan earthquake of 2008. They went to the village they were helping and did some good work I guess. Wednesday was their second trip, and first that wasn’t disaster provoked. They’re customers at the bakery and asked Holly to join them.
The idea was that they went to this poor school, brought a bunch of clothes and stuff to give them and then shared their skills. There were maybe fifteen to twenty volunteers. A lot of them were photographers and some of them were taking good pictures of the kids in a class and then would give prints to their parents. There was some sort of gongfu training I think? Holly was brought along to teach English classes to grade four students.
Of course, this being China, any work could only be done after a multi-hour ceremony outside in the cold with speeches and songs and seven year old girls dancing wearing nothing but gauze. It was maybe 6 degrees out. I wept for them.
Twinkling Stars and the school both knew how to stage these things. We got off the bus that brought us a hundred metres away and walked up to the school with the bags of clothes, all the volunteers wearing orange or yellow jackets. Maybe twenty metres from the school gate the road was lined with kids waving tinsel covered hula-hoops and drumming and chanting “Warm Welcome!” A couple of handfuls of cops kept an eye on things.
As the Twinkling Stars headed up to their seats of honour I peeled off of the group. Because Holly is great, she explained away my disappearance nicely. So through the speeches and performances I didn’t have to sit in the cold, but wandered around the fringes with the parents and other villagers. I was accosted by a few people asking me questions I couldn’t answer (my 中文 classes helped very little for this trip) and got mobbed for a photo once.
When Holly got into the classroom she did a lesson on Christmas vocabulary and played games with the kids. I helped with classes two and three after lunch, as I’m a much better classroom assistant than lead teacher. She’s much better at dealing with a classroom than I am.
For lunch we ate from the cafeteria and then had a session of talking about what we’d experienced that morning. It felt like everyone came up and shared sort of prepackaged moments of the touching things they’d learned (of course, I wasn’t actually paying attention and don’t know the language so I’m probably way off). My favourite part of that was when the girl who (I’m told) is a really cool journalist expressed that she’d had some difficulties with her class. People then appeared (to me, not knowing the language) to be berating her and giving her “encouragement” on how to not suck so much. (Again, just my impression.) She looked like she was going to cry. I just appreciated the idea that someone telling the truth about her experience got jumped on like meat in a tiger pit for not having a warm fuzzy moment.
In the gaps between lunch and classes and between classes and waiting for our bus to leave, there were piles of kids wanting autographs from all these volunteers (not just Holly and me). It was ridiculous and stupid. For a while we signed some things, Holly and I sending messages to each other on the pages we signed for each kid, but it was endless. And I hated the dynamic of that so much. This faux-rock star thing. Just like the banners and the honourific speeches (which you might remember I dealt with on a trip to the country back in the day). The supplication and demanding something that wouldn’t actually be at all useful for them. “There’s no reason for this!” I wanted to grab kids and yell.
Holly and I agreed to stop signing stuff but still had mobs. Holly could laugh it off when one boy tried to get an autograph out of her by saying “We’re so poor though!” but I didn’t even have the language to tell them what the problem was. I hated the not signing things too. Just all over I detest that power dynamic.
On the ride back to Nanchong Holly and I read chapters of Matilda to each other. That doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but it was my favourite part of the day.