Grade Three and Graduation

Thursday and Friday I spent with the Grade Three class. One of them had her birthday on Thursday and gave candy bags to all her classmates, and even had one for me! It had been so long (one and a half weeks) since I’d had chocolate and I realized how much I missed it!

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Birthday goodie bags

During their Taiwanese class, I followed along with a textbook and it was intriguing to see the similarities and differences between the dialects. As I had noticed before, they use bopomofo instead of pinyin and even when they do spell the words out, the system is different in terms of both the letters they use and the tone markings. If I read the Chinese characters while Taiwanese is being spoken, I can hear many similarities, but if I have nothing to follow along with, then I have no idea what they are saying.

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Taiwanese book

Friday was the big day: graduation. During the day, the grade six class approached me during a break and gave me a photo of me teaching one of first culture classes here, and on the back they had written their thanks in English. I was so moved!

After class, everyone stayed at school and enjoyed the feast the cooking staff had prepared. There was so much food! I ate so much, but this photo can’t do justice to how beautiful everything was.

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Graduation dinner

Unfortunately, precisely after eating my fourth dessert (a delicious, mochi-like ball filled with red bean paste and glazed with something that tasted like milk tea), my throat started hurting and I just had a feeling I had gotten a cold. But there was nothing I could do about it, so the night went on and the ceremony began.

Due to the threat of rain, it was held in the audio-visual classroom (the room I once described as a small lecture hall) instead of outside in the park. Continuing with the comparison, it was as full as the seminar version of intro to macro on the first day of shopping period. Bambi and Kanchih laoshi’s family found some seats, but they were too far away from the door and the way was blocked by many parents and relatives standing or sitting on stools. Since my job was to run between that room and the library, where most of the students were gathered, to let them know when it was time for the next group to prepare for each performance, I decided to stand near the door instead.

I don’t think I was really necessary since everything was being live streamed to Youtube and the teachers in the library could see what was going on at all times, but I was glad to feel like I had something to do, anyway. I’ve been getting a similar feeling for a while now; often, when the kids are having math or science or social studies, there is nothing for me to do except for sit there and watch them. I’ve been using that time to work on Professor Monteiro’s research and I realized I worked almost 13 hours last week. When I asked Director Lily, she said she would try to find me some materials to translate, but that hasn’t happened yet. While I’m having a great time here and everyone is wonderfully kind, I can’t help but feel that I am not making much of a difference.

But regardless of me, the ceremony went much better than the two rehearsals and all the kids shined in their sparkly costumes and excitement.

At the end, the new graduates thanked their teachers and presented them with flowers on stage. Then, Tang and Jackie (two sixth-graders) ran to where Bambi and I were sitting and gave each of us a flower, as well! This gesture, too, was unexpected, but so, so sweet.

When we returned, Nick and Trista immediately fell to opening Nick’s gifts that he had received for “graduating” from preschool. He got a Transformer, a backpack, a picture book, a pencil case, and a mechanical pencil. Also, his preschool diploma is nicer than any I’ve ever gotten, including my A.R.C.T. However, it occurred to me that I don’t think I ever received my high school diploma…I wonder if I’m simply amnesiac, or if it got lost in the mail, or if I was supposed, at some point, to have picked up from somewhere…Hopefully employers will just take it for granted that I completed high school!

Anyway, it’s strange to say, but I think I will miss the five sixth-grade kids. I only spent two weeks with them, but I feel they were the first ones to make me feel at home in this school and this nation (I originally wrote country, but since that is disputed, I will write nation, for that is certain). What will they become in a few years? Who will they be? Will I ever see them or hear of them or think of them again? And, if so, will everything have changed? Will I still think Jackie is cute when he is a twenty-year-old car mechanic in rural Taiwan who can’t even pronounce his job title in English, and will he and Tang still be best friends? Will Joanna become just another struggling Asian immigrant with imperfect English, although she is considered good compared to her classmates, if she does go to Canada like she hopes?

It should be exciting to consider the prospects of children, but to me, it is daunting and a bit sad. What do they have to look forward to? What do I have to look forward to? I am sure we will each find out for ourselves. I wish them all the best.

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