April 21, 2004
There is a friendliness here which I have not often found at home. And there’s an interest in and concern for newcomers which has blown me away.
Today we went to perform at the Hongde School [a private secondary school]. As our bus pulled in, we were met by two rows of class representatives [--probably 100 students in all]. Each wore a red satin banner, such as Miss America might wear, bearing the name of the school written in gold. As each of our feet hit the pavement and we walked through the long aisle they formed, they applauded us, smiling broadly.
We were ushered into a meeting room where we were given a warm welcome by the head of the school--a cheerful man--and a charming interpreter. As children pressed their faces to the glass of the conference room, we were presented with gifts and information on the school.
The highlight of that afternoon was when we were able to join classes which had come to a standstill in honor of us. As we introduced ourselves, the students looked at us with complete interest. I was amazed at their English, fully aware that when I was 14, as they are now, I hardly knew any second language. Perhaps this is inherently important to the growth of China, but I feel it is a shame that the same expectations don’t apply for students in our nation. I’m humbled by their skill at English when I can barely stumble through basic phrases of Chinese. Relationships with different countries are so important and language is key.
We did our performance on a wacky wooden stage in front of a mixed audience [faculty, secondary and elementary school students]. I feel it went over quite well.
After that, dozens of Hongde students gave us a performance of dance, singing and recitation. Children as young as five performed whole poems in English—including one by Dr. Seuss. Students closer to our age performed “We Will Rock You” which our kids sang along to. The performing ended with Americans and Chinese singing a tune by The Backstreet Boys together [completely impromptu].
If I take nothing away from China, I hope to take the lesson that all people, no matter how different they are or how many barriers exist between them, can relate to one another.
I talked over dinner with two teenage boys. Charming and engaged, one wants to go into politics or economics, the other into foreign languages. They asked oodles of questions—everything from how they could improve their English lessons to what I do in my spare time. The closer the encounters, the more we learn: The kids have indicated that, too, especially in their writings from Hohhot.
-- Lianne Segar
Note: The troupe did beautifully at the Hongde School—where the venue was a huge ‘cafetorium’ with predictable acoustics and a shallow, wide and very low stage at one end. Since the audience seating wasn’t raked, it was tough for those seated to see. They craned their necks, sat up on their heels and shifted position frequently in order to catch the action. “Make it big…even bigger,” was the theme of the warm up—and they did. They just get better and better at delivering their material—an aspect of their culture —and in so doing they stretch themselves as performers and as people. -- Ann Landenberger