Sunday, October 13, 2019

My China :: Personal Narrative Essay

My China I had lived in Beijing for a year and a half at the age of four, and had attended Chinese nursery school. I had also grown up speaking Mandarin at home. However, I was not at all prepared for what met me the year we spent in Beijing when my father headed an international program for a small group of American students. At the time, though I spoke Mandarin without a foreign accent, my vocabulary did not extend far beyond a grade-school level, and I was next to illiterate. Well aware of that, my parents, fond followers of the "sink or swim" theory, dropped me off at the local Chinese school the first day of classes and promptly disappeared. In thinking back, I can honestly say that during the first few months I was completely in the dark both socially and academically. There were so many intricacies of the classroom that no one had prepared me for. I was shocked by the power that the Chinese teacher held over the students: the volume with which she scolded them even after they had been reduced to muted sobbing and her unceasing rhetoric about their duties to the ancestral land. I was shocked at the same time, however, by her extreme involvement in and dedication to the lives of the students. The relationships shared among the students were foreign to me as well: I had to get used to girls holding hands with girls and boys likewise with boys. Arguments were settled in the open, often with loud screaming and eventually crying. Nothing was suppressed. I made all sorts of blunders, such as wearing my hair down, crossing my legs when speaking to the principal, or forgetting to stand when answering a question in class. Actually, the students greeted everything I did with laughter, giggling, and stolen glances in my direction. It took me so long to understand and accept the nature of that laughter. Gym class (or rather, military marching drills class) provided me with the ultimate chance to be a blundering fool. Though the students assured me that the teacher was speaking Mandarin, I could hear only a garbled shout of "Fragrance," followed by some vowelless consonants, while the others somehow heard "Face right and march." Of course, my being run into was not beneficial to the appearance of the drill.

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