Cathy in Asia

News from China #5 - November 28, 1999

Goings On at School

Classes have been humming along more or less uneventfully. Some students study really hard, filling all the white space in their textbooks with tiny Chinese characters. At the other extreme, others have only pristine pages to show, evidence that they haven't opened the book. Extracurricularly, there are are clubs and organized sports. Journal entries from students often mention their efforts in interdepartmental volleyball and soccer games. Unfortunately, from most reports our department seems to lose quite often (we are a small department, after all) and there are frequent vows to do better: "be a man, never say die!" More recently, however, our department has been doing well on the soccer field.

Back at the end of October, before the Midterm Blues hit (more on that later), there was a special event: a university-wide Sports Day.

The Sports Day

Margaret, Susan and I reported as requested, at 8:20 a.m. at the new, still-under-construction track. Each department was seated in its own section in the stands, each in its own uniform, specially purchased for the day. Groups had different kinds of noisemakers and cheering sticks, and there were large drums at the foot of the bleachers for cheering runners on the track.

The national anthem played and we stood and watched the beginning of the procession past the judges' stand. First came the Chinese flag, carried by four young women dressed alike in white shirts and black skirts. Another flag bearer followed them. After that came the representatives of the university, the men in front dressed in smart navy tracksuits with a white stripe down the trouser leg. They were carrying flags of different colours. Behind them was a group of women all dressed in white shirts and jeans, each carrying a single red carnation. The sports meet officials, faculty of DNU, followed in bright red blazers and white pants. Another team had red tracksuits and white gloves, yet another had blue suits with "Chicago Bulls" emblazoned on the back. The "minorities" group was resplendent in various brightly coloured ethnic dress--pink, green, red, royal blue, yellow--and carried masses of helium-filled balloons which they released in front of the president and distinguished guests' stand as they marched past. Another team marched by in blue and white tracksuits, swishing cheerleaders' pompoms back and forth in unison and with great vigour, every now and then letting off a cheer. Profs went by, in trousers, white shirts and ties. Another team all in white. Then, near the end of the procession, a casual looking group, dressed in jeans and plaid shirts and baseball caps, reminiscent of Canadian lumberja--oh my, the Capilano College team, a.k.a. the "Going Abroad Department." They looked proud as can be, marching in step, and perhaps it was only to my eyes that they looked distinctly underdressed in the company.

After Pres. Jin's long opening speech, the minorities group did a dance by the side of the track. They were lined up seven by seven, each person holding two pink fans and sweeping the air with them in unison. After that, the trackside entertainment wasn't over, but the races had begun, amidst much cheering and drumming and waving of tinsel batons from the stands. Hurdles were first on the agenda. The nature of the sports day was soon evident as we realized the participants were not necessarily even close to being star athletes; they gamely raced off at the starting gun, and knocked down a few of the hurdles on their way to the finish line.

Meanwhile, the activities in the centre of the track continued, including school exercises by perhaps half the student population in their teams. The Foreign Languages Department did a great job of keeping all their members in time to the orders coming over the loudspeaker, but the department beside them had legs and arms going all over the place at different times. After the exercises the students streamed back into their seats in the stands, and the ball room dancers, then the folk dancers, took over the now dusty area beside the track.

Meanwhile, back in the Cap College area of the stands, we were all issued toy horns, which we blew with especial gusto as our own team members flashed by. The students preparing to race kept changing in and out of the brand new running shoes bought by the department for them to share. I didn't ask, but I'm hoping they didn't have to share the red racing shorts and vests they wore.

The faculty were certainly not excluded from the sports day. For the athletically inclined, there was serious racing. I saw our Mr. T sprinting by at a speed far surpassing the capability of most 44-year olds I know; he and Douglas both won prizes (long underwear and a towel). For those faculty whose racing days are over, there were relay races which were variations on "egg on the spoon" and involved carrying buckets of water, and balancing a pop bottle on a string. There was also a Tug of War.

The Sports "Meeting" lasted two days, a Friday and a Saturday. For some people, its effects lasted longer: a few of our students hurt themselves, probably as a result of lack of training and warm-up. Mr. T himself broke a rib in the high jump. Nonetheless, a good time was had by all.

Midterm Blues

Our first term continues until January 21, so we are now just past the midterm point. It's been a disturbing time, as during the midterm exams we have had to deal with the cheating we were warned about at the beginning of the term. I know that the students don't view cheating the way we do. They know it's wrong, but even those who don't cheat don't share our revulsion for it. Cheating is for some of them perhaps a survival mechanism. Unfortunately, compounding the temptation is the fact that for many of them, the course material is simply too difficult.

With each test I have given, my eyes have been opened to different forms of cheating. Now that I am more worldly wise, I take a number of precautionary measures. First, the students have to rearrange their desks into three rows. They sit at the wrong side of their desks (so they can't use a cheat sheet inside the desk) and with their backs to me (so they can't see me coming as I soft-shoe it up and down the aisles). Pencil cases have to be stashed. Eyes down. Floor clear. Suspect characters sitting up on the teacher's platform. I inspect all the desktops (once I found a desk with the ink still glistening wet on the words for a spelling test). Then, for good measure, I ask a few people to change seats. During the test I watch for peeking into sleeves and hands and keep my ears sharp for any whispering.

I dread the test giving and the suspicion that surrounds it. Now when some weak student does well, I cannot fully believe that they really did well. It's an unhappy climate of distrust for me. However, the students don't seem to be affected at all in the same way and they don't seem to begrudge me all the measures I feel I have to take.

In Susan's computer class, cheating is perhaps the most difficult to control. One day she discovered, by checking the creation date of individual students' files, that students had been copying each others' documents for a word processing assignment. At the next class, she told the students that she knew some of them had copied the assignment, and that she knew who they were. She had decided to grant an amnesty; anyone who came to her and confessed could have another chance to do the assignment on their own. However, there was a surprising outcome: a whole lot of students that she hadn't suspected of cheating came forward to confess. What's a teacher to do? We just had to laugh.

Next time: Winter activities.