Although I did not write the Armchair Guide to Parenting, I adhere to many of its tenants. Like not having a party for children all day, several times a week, for the last 6 weeks of school. Parent volunteers are wanted almost every day. The teachers tell me this phenomenon is parent driven. If that is the case, get me OFF this bus. Things 2 & 3 have had so many festivities, outings and events I will be astounded if they have learned anything during the last month. Is this what Expat National Company pays $20k in tuition for for each kid? So my life is encumbered by a raft of cupcakes, brownies, and tug-of-war games? I don’t think so.
Against my better judgment and in violation of the aforementioned philosophy, I attended a field trip today with Thing 3 to a local Peking Opera boarding school for children. The last field trip was such a muck up I swore off all things school related. But the lure of the opera was too great. The boys from the soccer boarding school had already run such circles around Thing 2 and his soccer team, I am convinced China will win the World Cup in 2018. If the soccer team was so great, what tricks could a bunch of twelve year old operatics perform?
Plenty, as it turns out. Think Cirque du Soleil meets yoga in platform shoes meets vaudeville at a high pitched whine only certain animals can hear. Children, scouted from all over China, are selected to attend the school starting at age 7. They train daily, get Sunday afternoons off, and return home for Chinese New Year. I asked V3 about the grueling training schedule and he responded with proverbial wisdom, “If you stop training for one day, your body will notice. If you stop for two, the teacher will notice. And if you stop for three, the audience will tell the difference.” During a female dance practice, I thought one little girl’s lumbar spine was going to disengage from her thoracic, she whipped it back and around in a circle so fast. Three preteen boys, in platform shoes, stood on their right leg, one arm outstretched and holding two long knives, with their other arms flexing the left over their head. Impressive. The opera is not for wimps.
The music, however, gets tiresome after about two minutes. Instead of waterboarding, the CIA might want to try Chinese Opera Torture. Cymbals clang and clash like unruly garbage men lifting off aluminum trash can lids. The three stringed instrument produces a sound not unlike a baby’s sustained teething scream. And you all know what a gong sounds like. One little number, performed by students who had only been there a year, portrayed a tea house woman who protected injured Japanese POWS from Chinese soldiers in the Sino-Japanese war of the 1940s. The mustaches were a little Hitler-esque, a look that might have been popular back in the day but sent shivers down my spine. V3, who stayed for the performance, his first live one ever, did not enjoy it so much and called it a “government story”. Everyone agreed that the performance of the men fighting with swords in the dark was much better – there was no music.
In other news, Thing 2 was afflicted for two days with the June Bug, a mystery fever which started on Sunday during a soccer BBQ for 50 here at our house. Thing 1 has her panties in a bunch over finals. Science, her hardest final, is on Friday and she is already grumpy about it. Why be a crankster on Tuesday in advance of Friday? Mr. U reminded her that “life is short”. “Especially in China,” Thing 3 rejoined. A new, postquake awareness in nine year olds.
Packing paralysis has set in. Gifts are piling up in the guest room at an astounding rate. I just look at the mound and think, “Later.” I don’t want to get too excited about going home just yet. Packing the suitcases makes it real. It has been a long 10 months since we first set foot in Shanghai. This trip, I am flying solo with my Things. Finally, we are back in the expat groove. Ironic, no?
Happy Birthday, Winnie!