(Written by Kristin)
Thank you for those of you who have responded to our petition to p-ay for Malia’s entrance exam to elementary school. That day was a normal day in China for us which means we had no idea what to expect!! I’ll confess that I’ve been worried for the past six that the school would test her and use her low score as an excuse to not let her in. Lots of unnecessary worry, it seems. Doesn’t it say somewhere in the Good Book about not worrying?
Last Thursday Kai’s teacher called me and said we can register Malia. Finally!! When we met she explained that we were registering her for the entrance exam. And what I understood from that day is that Malia was being entered into the system under Teacher Wang’s recommendation. That in itself is amazing to me because it means that having a foreign kid in her class has not been all bad (??). It’s been good enough that she’s recommending it! Good news! Friday night at 9:45pm she called and said the test was the next morning at 8:30. “You want to be there early; 8:10 or 8:15. ?? (MoLi; Malia’s name means “jazmin” in Chinese) needs to bring a pencil box with pencils, eraser, ruler, and markers.” That’s the pretty standard supplies every student needs. She also said we needed a very specific invitation card to get into the school compound and we’d have to enter through the west gate. She said she would come up with a plan (???) to get the card to me because once she got to school she wouldn’t be able to come out. It felt like a top secret mission.
I slept fitfully. My main areas of worry were that Malia doesn’t know simple Chinese characters or math terms in Chinese or how to write her name in Chinese. Does she know all the colors? I was one nervous mama!!
Saturday was supposed to be our Sabbath day. It’s disappointing when looking forward to a day of rest and have such a sudden change of plans the night before. Then to be overwhelmed for your six year old daughter’s elementary entrance exam. Ugh!! Ok, so I internalize a lot of unnecessary feelings! I know, I know.
The next morning Teacher Wang called me at 8am. “I left the invitation at a restaurant across the street. You only have to ask for it. Zhang Ming Kai’s (???) name is on it. You should leave soon in case traffic is bad.” She was really looking out for us. Malia and I were ready and jumped on my electric bike. I was just arriving at the restaurant when she called again. “Are you here yet? It’s about time to be here.” “I just need to cross the street.” She was really looking out for us. It took me the whole walk across the street and up the alley before I got the envelope open. She had taped it so tight. Inside was just a simple card that said “invitation” in English. I had no chance to look inside or on the back. We were at the gate and the guard (whom I recognize) was holding out his hand and I hand him the ticket. Surrounding the gate was a crowd of people. Either they had accompanied other parents and children who were testing or they were hoping to get in for testing. Have you every read or watched “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” when Charlie and his grandpa are going into the factory with their golden ticket? That’s how I felt.
Meanwhile, sweet Malia, hand in mine, was starting to squeeze tighter and tighter. Holding onto me with both hands. There’s lots of other people around; don’t forget that! A few teachers were outside directing us where to go and one male teacher that I don’t recognize asked me, “????????” Are you Zhang Ming Kai’s parent? I nodded. Who was it? Was it someone who knows our situation and might work in our favor? Had I talked to this teacher on the phone? I don’t know. Oh well…
On the soccer field we were lined up; children on one side and parents on the other. I was expecting to walk with M into the building and now realized that we were being separated. She lined up bravely and walked off with 40 other students into the school and into some classroom to take her test. Before she left I said, “Malia, write your name in English, okay?” She nodded her head. Later she said she didn’t write her name at all because she doesn’t know how to write it in Chinese. Great! One test in 300 with no name on it. It is humorous, I guess!
Teacher Rosy, Kai’s English teacher, was helping Malia’s class get inside. She, along with the other teachers, made a big deal over Malia. “?, ????????“ Zhang Ming Kai’s little sister! I felt a moment of panic watching Malia walk away with her pig tail swaying and pink backpack on her back. She was so brave! Much braver than me!
My line of parents was paraded away to wait in the auditorium for the test to be done. We sat watching videos of a teacher in BeiJing telling us how to raise our children. Teacher Wang was paired up with our line of parents. I realized while being led away that I actually have a tiny bit more experience than these parents. I already have a child in second grade in a Chinese school. Most of these parents are registering their only child in first grade. And though they have a HUGE advantage on us, they’ve never actually done it. We have!! I know some of what needs to happen and I know some of the teachers!! Wow! Let me soak that in a minute!
While still outside in line I immediately made a new friend, Feng. She was there with her daugher, Apple, who was also testing. They bought their apartment in the apartment complex next to the school specifically because there was an elementary school attached to it. Her English is very good and we had a 30 minute, very meaningful conversation. She is a university teacher and part of her teaching needs to be done in English. She said that if her students don’t have English names she tells them to look in the Bible. She asked me if I read the Bible or believe in Jss. I said, “Yes, do you?” “I believe in Buddha,” was her reply. Good to have that clear! We chatted some more then at one point she mentioned the teacher on the parenting video was comparing Chinese parenting to American parenting style. She said, “We always compare and always are compared to someone, something better.” I was dismayed. “But American culture isn’t all it’s presented to be.” I went on to say how I think in the West we need to learn better how to respect our elders. My new friend asked, “You know Confucius?” “Yes, I know about Confucius.” “Confucius teaches us to obey and to respect no matter what. Even if we have different ideas or might want to ask why we don’t, because we’re taught to obey and respect.” It is one of the biggest differences between East and West culture. She continued with an example: “You know the ferry that sunk in South Korea?” “Yes, I know” It’s very big news in Asia and has shaken East Asians to the core, especially Koreans. In some ways it is like 9/11 for them. She continued, “If that same situation would have happened in America everyone would have been saved.” I had to agree with her. We North Americans may fight and bicker and dislike people different than us, but when there is an emergency we pull together because we value life!!! From her perspective all the young people on the ferry died because they were following culture and obeying. Only the ones that disobeyed lived. Profound! I’m still percolating that one!
After 40 minutes we were given the OK to get back in line and parade back out the soccer field double file and stand in line till our children were also led outside. Very organized and professional! A little over the top, maybe? Regardless, I was impressed. Malia’s class was the first to come out and she was at the back of the line. She saw me and hugged me so tight. What a brave little girl! We tried to get information out of her. What was on the test? Did you understand? At one point she said that they were allowed to color whatever they wanted. At first I was imagining a test paper covered in doodling, but later I realized they were given freedom to draw any picture they wanted. She drew an apple tree like her desk mate. I asked later in the evening if there were any math questions. She said no, but one question asked how many legs a frog has. She said, “I wrote 4, but some kids wrote 3.” The next question was how many legs a bee has. She didn’t know, but one of the teachers in the classroom told her it has six. So she wrote 6! My Chinese friend laughed when I told her this and said, “That’s how Chinese show love.” Telling a cute foreigner kid the answers to the test. Right!
We still don’t have a definite, definite answer, but it looks like Malia will get into Kai’s school this fall. I’m writing that with weak faith. We’ve lived in China long enough to know things could change in an hour. We don’t know what’s best for our family; He does. We continue to find that “in quietness and trust in our strength.” Have you heard the song “Oceans”? “Spirit lead me where my trust is without boarders…” This journey through Chinese school is a test to see if our trust has boarders. Lord, expand our boarders!!