Apparently Suining is pronounced SWEE-ning, not SOO-ning. I was only wrong for 2 months. So Suizhong becomes SWEE-jong, not SOO-jong. Ah well.
For a fortnight the staff and students continually mentioned an upcoming “sports meeting”. Initially I thought this might mean something about extracurricular team sports although when these kids would find time to add more to their schedule was beyond me. After repeated questions and puzzling things through on my own I realized what they meant was that the school would be having a Sports Day… or a Track Meet. That’s when the mao dropped from me.
Through a series of questions I discerned this sports meeting would happen over Friday and Saturday. It run from 9 to 5 (more or less) and the events would be traditional track and field challenges. The events were as expected, from 100M sprints to an 3000M run, field events were limited to shot put, long jump and high jump. The only team event proved to be the 4x100M relay. Each class in each grade could accumulate points in each competition towards winning a plaque for a top three finish. Participation seemed to be voluntary, which explains why one of my classes performed much better than the other.
Technically I had three days off. I opted to stay on the school grounds and make myself seen.
I only teach two classes, roughly 60 students, out of 6000.
While my students just see me as their teacher, from the rest of the populace I’m still an unknown. I made myself visible. I wandered the grounds in the late autumnal sunshine while the students ran their races and in between gathered in their classes to do homework or to chat or to socialize or even watch the other competitors… and now they could stare at the laowei. I based myself around the good class I teach but I made multiple orbits of the track. Frequently students would come up to me to ask for photos, which I unfailingly posed for with them. I know people who take offense when people snap their pics, I understand their reluctance but I can’t support their duplicity. It is fine to visit a country, work there, see the sites, take pics of people and places but when the lens gets flipped the tourist flips out?
Now, how a person approaches plays a major role in my response to pausing for a photo, but most times, it’s a simple stance and then continuing on my wanders. One of the keen kids from International One padded around after me like a smitten puppy. He suggested we sit down, but my intent was movement, flowing through the crowds of the school to maximize the number of people who could interact with me. Most just paused and waved or called out hello, the bolder ones asked for photos. He then suggested we go play basketball, but my orbit centered on the track so I kept pacing throughout the infield and along the outfield where the desks and chairs were arranged by class.
It’s an old story for me now. The ripple of variety being the races being run… which leads me to China… and by extension… Asian sense and sensibilities. I am positive this is a yearly event held around the same time each year, after the heat of summer extinguishes, before the chill grasp of winter encircles this region. And yet, the number of ludicrous outfits the students competed in. Middle distance races in jeans, high jump in sweaters. Five years ago Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics, could they not have spared a few yuan to make an add depicting appropriate sportswear? (The answer, clearly, NO.)
While the athletes ran, or jumped or puted? Putted? Shotted? What is the past tense for ‘shot put?’ I walked my own laowei marathon and socialized with any and all who dared approach. Some did.
Everything ticked along with near military precision, “My race is at 3:11.” Me, “it is 3:11 now.” “My race will be soon.” Fair enough.
The final student event of the sports meeting… sensibly… the 4x100M relay. Personally, I prefer the more casual and rustic charm of a Rockcrest SportsDay but these kids reveled in two days without classes.
However, Suizhong made amends with the final surreal spectacle event of the sports meeting. I’d been pestered to participate but declined – potentially I could overshadow the rest of the race. Plus, anyone who knows me knows I have two rules when I race nowadays, one) cheat and two) get caught and disqualified. Until I saw it in action, I didn’t believe it. I felt some practical joke was being played on me or that something had been lost in translation.
Turns out it was exactly as I heard it…
The Teachers 20x100m marathon relay.
Yes, twenty teachers each doing one hundred meters meaning that they would make five laps of the track. And each Grade supplied a team. Meaning SIXTY teachers racing, running, weebling, wobbling, sauntering, sprinting, cantering and careening around the track while their classes roared with approval.
Never did I expect Suizhong to provide this level of barely controlled chaos.
I have no idea who won, other than the students who clearly adored seeing their teachings in various stages of ‘sprinting.’
Finally, this morning (Monday) I found out that International One finished third overall in their year! Huzzah!
(WIth only 31 students – some classes of 70 – that’s quite an achievement.)