Thursday, May 31, 2007

Playing in the park

One of my freshmen classes invited me to join their class party at Nanhu park yesterday. I'm always up for getting to know my students better outside of class (and photo opportunities), so I happily obliged. The outing was a fun afternoon of playing. Yes, as an English teacher I grimace every time I hear my twenty year old students say they are going to play together with their friends. And yes, I have frequently told my students that only children "play together" and that adults "hang out". However, I'm starting to rethink my position. Because my students really do play together--and it's one of the things I love about them. There is no pretense of trying to be "cool" in the American sense (in other words, displaying a marked apathy for most things). Jumping on a drawbridge and hence making it difficult for classmates to cross offers boundless amusement. A never ending competition at bumper cars evokes continual laughter. An American bystander may watch my class play and label such enjoyment as naivete or immaturity. However, I think there is something to be learned in their ability to take joy in the simplest of activities. Indeed, I think a lot of us stoic, mature adults could benefit from an afternoon of playing together in the park.

Watching my students play in the park was also a cultural insight. There were two aspects of Chinese culture that were particularly noticeable throughout the day--the power of in-group relationships and bargaining. The first cultural observation is apparent merely from the fact that almost the entire class (we're talking maybe 1 or 2 students missing) were there for an outing on their
only free afternoon during the week. Certainly, not showing up to the party would result in losing face. It was also very important throughout the day that the whole group was together or at least aware of where the other members were. When we were walking to the park and got to where we needed to cross the road, we waited for everyone to catch up so we could cross together.

The second observation was apparent from the moment we arrived at the park. The class monitors attempted to get the large group free admission to the park in return for picking up trash. The bargaining continued with each ride in the park, as students haggled the price down for log rides and bumper cars. Yes, even though prices were clearly printed on windows, students still bargained them lower. I am continually amazed at the energy put forth--and the results--of working for the best price possible.

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