1000 a Day – Day 6

Short memories of my school:

I’ve already mentioned the boarding school I went to. I think it was from when I was four until I was six, just before coming to the US. One time, we were all watching television, sitting on the floor, some cartoon about monks in a monastery, and one particularly clever, young monk who would thwart the elder monk’s attempts at making his life difficult. See he and the other young monks had been tasked to count all the little outcroppings on the roof. Imaging one of those traditional Chinese style roofs with the curved tiles that form bowl like shapes with points where two met and you’ll get the idea. Obviously, counting all these tips would be a daunting task, especially since when first told to do it, it was a bright day with a full sun, and all the other young monks were blinded when they looked up to count. The elder monk laughed at their suffering, but this particular young monk, being the most clever and the protagonist of the cartoon, counted the shadows on the ground. Another time, it was pouring rain and when the young monks tried to look up again to count, water got in their eyes. Again, the elder monk laughed at their suffering, but this particular young monk counted the streams of water instead. Whenever our hero thwarted the elder monk, the school kids I was with would break out laughing. I don’t know why though, but laughing wasn’t actually allowed and they’d get scolded by the teachers. In later years I would think it was some kind of weird, sadistic social experiment, to show kids something funny and laughter inducing but not permit them to laugh, and to actually reward for not laughing. I had caught on to that fact, and actually didn’t laugh though my peers did, and I would get praise from the teachers for behaving so well. This was short lived though because at some point, in an attempt to show off to some of the other students, I started imitating the monks as they meditated on the TV. They were sitting cross legged, their eyes closed, one handing knocking on an ancient Chinese wooden instrument, one that makes those loud, hollow kind of sounds. I did the same, cross legged, eyes closed, one hand knocking on an imaginary instrument. The other kids laughed as I did this, and I felt good at having illicited that response. But then the teachers came, scolded them for laughing, and scolded me even more for having incited it, and told me that I had been doing so well, but that this one act ruined it all. I imagine this must have meant that there was more involved than praise. I think it was that whoever behaved the best that night, during the communal television watching time, got to stay up later and watch more TV. I really wanted that to be me, and so had behaved very well up until that unfortunate act of mimicry. Once it was time to sleep, I didn’t win the priviledge of having been best behaved, and went to bed with all the others. I remember being able to look through the wooden bars around my bed and see the light come from the television room, and hear the sounds of the TV, and hear the laughter of the student who beat me at behaving the best.

Young kids in China only get their hair cut in two ways: the classic bowl cut we’re all familiar with, or buzzed very short. The latter is called an “exercise” style hair cut, and is typically gotten at the beginning of summer when it starts getting hot and left to grow until until the fall. There were hair cutting facilities at the school I went to, and I remember being very excited to get my hair cut that first time. I had ran all the way across the great yard that we played on to where the barber was, and I was completely out of breath as I asked to get an “exercise” hair cut, a big smile on my face. I wasn’t the only one there, some of the other students were already there and before me, getting the same hair cut. The barber told me to wait quietly. I sat down on the chair, catching my breath, but unable to contain my excitement. I’d look up expectantly every time I heard the buzz of the clippers, and I practically jumped when it was my turn.

Most of the other students I was with had very bad teeth. I’m not saying that my teeth as a child were perfect, but the other students’ put mine to shame, if that’s appropriate of a descriptor. When they smiled, it was to a sea of black decay. I never understood how or why their teeth were much worse than mine, and being baby teeth it wasn’t that big of a deal really, but it still bothered me knowing that there was something that different about what it was they were doing to their teeth and I. I felt left out, jilted even, at not having horrible teeth. Years later I’d realize that in fact, I had good reasong for feeling jealous as I did, but not at the fact that they had bad teeth, but at the circumstances around which they did. Apparently, it was from eating too much sweets and candy. Being a boarding school, the students were only allowed to leave the campus on Wednesday nights, if possible, and Sundays when the school was closed. Since my grand parents were so old and basically unable to take care me, hence why I was at this school in the first place, I never got to go home on Wednesday nights. I remember being very lonely those nights, because I’d be alone in my bed, all the other beds around me empty, and only the light of the staff room shining in. Since going home was a treat, it was a chance for the parents to treat their kids, seeing them so infrequently as it was, and treats for kids consisted of, as it does in the States, candy. Thus the bad teeth.

Speaking of beds, they were actually cribs. I mean, we were all under six, as young as four or so. We all slept in one big common room, with rows upon rows of cribs, two side by side. The cribs had wooden bars to keep us from crawling or falling out and to separate one from the other. I remember at night that I’d talk for a long time with the other child sleeping in the crib next to me. We’d play “doctor” through the crib bars separating us, examining one another as we had been by the doctors we’d seen. We’d reach through and tap at each other’s elbows and knees, checking our reflexes. We’d lift up each other shirts and feel our hearts beat, feel our lungs fill with air with the palms of our hands. I really liked the attention I got during those times, always telling the child in the crib next to mine that he’d forgotten to examine here or that he’d forgotten to examine there, always coming up with another reason to extend my examination before I’d examine him. I didn’t want him to stop.

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