Christmas 2013--Green had the idea of holding BBQ parties for the students. One would happen in late morning and then another in the early afternoon. This was the first time we held an event that was outdoors, requiring little work from the teachers, and involved the parents.
I remember it as one of my favorite events and 2013 was one of my favorite years. There was some static from foreign teachers. But it is amazing how many wonderful things there are to enjoy when you shrug off the drama that some people want to bring. 2013 was one of those years. And it was also the year of some great photography.
All I had to do was float around from group to group, eat the barbecue they prepared, chat with their parents who are eager for opportunities to show their appreciation for me, and take photos.
The children who want to run around had rocks to climb, creeks to cross, and sticks to wield like swords. Most of them were happy to sit by the fire and chew on fatty pork ribs and eat charred vegetables off of skewers.
The students arrived, running up the road with their parents in tow. We created an English challenge where they had to answer some questions before they could cross the bridge to the fire pit area. Families were grouped together to circle around a small barbecue. They then cooked their own food. Green had a restaurant provide the food and the small metal cooking units. A bonfire was in the middle that kept a supply of coals burning. Everyone had fun cooking and sharing food. It was really relaxing. Some parents brought their own cookware so they could make their own stir fry, in addition to grilled meat.
This party filled our requirement for hosting a Christmas event for the students. There was nothing Christmas-like about it on the surface. The surrounding woods held a perfume of decaying foliage in the background that mixed with the smell of smoke and meat. This had the hallmarks of an ancient festival. This was more like a winter barbarian feast than it was like a Christmas festival with Victorian-style lace and crystal.
Christmas took on a whole new meaning in China. It took many years for me to get used to it. The student event, in 2013, was fun. That is something that I could rarely say about any other Christmas event during my time in China. Overall, I would say that China is not a great long-term choice for foreign teachers. Visa are granted on condition of a work contract. This gives too much leverage to the employer. Conflicts are always bound to arise in work relationships. What I found was that the issue never get resolved. They fester and accumulate and the solution is to throw away the old relationship and welcome new people. What I mean is: After many years in China I felt like I was being treated like an old shoe.
I didn't care. I had my reasons for being there. As an avid photographer, I loved the chance to photograph the children with their parents. The classroom is an artificial environment. For them, English is far from natural. The lessons and methods do not sink in so well and the schools aren't really trying to bring better teaching to the students. They are happy with a sellable gimmick. Bonus points if you can slip in some solid pedagogy without putting any pressure on the students. Someone young, charming, willing to do anything will do. this event was divorced from that work. Other than the English challenge at the start of the event, there was no need to speak any English. We spoke the international language of barbecue. I could converse in Chinese and I am not a picky eater. I am always up for a second serving of pig ears.
But there was another side to all of this, By 2013, I had already received a watch for Christmas. And in 2014, I was gifted a second one only because I didn't get the message the first time. People who know about Chinese social cues (read: passive-aggressive behavior) know what I mean.
There were problems. And although I could not entirely ignore the problems, I often chose to point my camera in a positive direction.