For many of us waiguoren, the closest we’ve gotten to encountering Chinese culture before setting foot here was a chicken fried rice and chips on a Saturday night (forgive me, I’m British!). Fast forward a few years, after the early onset of middle-aged spread and the addition of a couple of kids. Many of us who’ve stuck around the Middle Kingdom find ourselves embroiled daily in the midst of the much feared culture clash. Flashpoints range from the moment during a meal at which one should be slurping soup (and in fact whether or not said soup should be slurped at all) to heated discussions about to whether a kid is run down or is, in fact, reqi (热气, a TCM term that translates to “inner heat”) – the required course of action for the latter, going far beyond the conventional “lie down and you’ll feel be better in the morning, darling.”
An area that Xiao Qing and I have come to differ has been on education, and more specifically, weekend classes. As a young lad, I recall this time being spent investing in my future, maneuvering Cardiff City to the top of the football league on my computer game console or, on warmer days, attempting to reenact the moves of my favorite footy stars on the nearby field. I have since become a teacher, however, and while belatedly realizing that my youth may have been better spent, I was startled to learn recently that Chinese families spend on average 15 percent of their income on education.
I had always found it difficult not to be judgmental when I saw some of our Chinese friends’ children moving along a conveyor belt of weekend classes, playdates having to be fit weeks in advance into the busy schedules of 7-year-olds. Surely it won’t be long before I hear my daughter and her friends discussing the relative merits of ballet over fencing vis a vis the requirements of the respective universities that they intend on applying to in 10 years time.
Despite my outdated overtures to let the kids roam freely in our xiaoqu, Ariana has been bolstering her CV through painting classes, piano classes, and a homeschool teacher whom I assume was recruited to keep her calculus up to scratch. And last weekend, my wife took her to a singing class. Although I’ve found some of the classes a tad superfluous, I am beginning to be a believer. Whereas I’d previously feared that we were trying to live through our kids, I’m seeing that the creative activities that Xiao Qing has lined up for Ariana are having positive effects.
While she doesn’t have a sufficient sack of troubles, she is starting to choose artistic outlets over electronic ones after dinner. In fact, there have been completely unforeseen consequences: Not only has her four year old sister taken to the ivories with “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” but her slightly older father has jumped on the bandwagon in an attempt to make up for his misspent youth.
While it seems that the giddy heights of F major may be as far as my rigid digits will allow me to advance, I can’t help but admit that the wife got this one right. As Xiao Qing had predicted and intended, the number of classes has been cut, Ariana having quickly let us know which ones were or were not “rubbish,” leaving her to find her path and her dad attempting to get out of the mud in which he was stuck!