Thursday, September 2, 2010

July 23rd, 2010 Parent Update by Jason Patent

Today was bittersweet, as it brought our departure from Huairou and your children's week with their Dong Dong roomates, turned friends.

Beijing summer days are frequently not only brutally hot, but oppressively humid. I'm not talking the delightful sultriness of a warm summer evening. I'm talking hot, heavy, wet blanket dropped on your head as you exit the air-conditioned confines of the indoors. Today was one of those days.

Thankfully our morning gathering was indoors. On the agenda: closing ceremony. First, students were given a choice of one of three items to decorate: a canvas bag, a T-shirt, or a fan. They were then given markers and paints for the actual decorating, along with a model of how to draw Peking Opera masks, should they want to go that route. It was so sweet walking around the room and seeing all these "big kids" engaged wholeheartedly in artistic creation, putting their hearts into this last "task" of the week. They and their Dong Dong counterparts clearly genuinely enjoyed the "work"; you will soon see the fruits of their labors.

After a brief potty break was the "party" — in quotation marks because Chinese parties have a specific structure that is quite distinct from what Americans tend to think of as a party. Essentially a party is a string of performances: dance, song, acrobatics...whatever. A free sharing of talents. And boy did your kids perform! Songs and dances galore. The Dong Dong kids certainly held up their end as well. But without question the crowd favorite was Benoit's showstopper. He began by walking on his hands all the way across the floor, to where his Chinese yo-yo awaited him. He proceeded to dazzle the crowd with amazing trick after amazing trick. Oohs and aahs issued forth from the stunned crowd. Each time we thought he couldn't possibly top himself, he did. After taking a bow, as a final flourish on the way back to his seat he did a one-handed cartwheel. We all knew we had witnessed something very, very special.

Once the party was done it was time for another "party" — this one of the autograph kind, as YingHua and Dong Dong students proudly circulated their handiwork for signing by their cohort.

Then, lunch. A bounty of no fewer than eight dishes, the centerpiece of which was ròubǐng (肉饼), a Beijing specialty and a YingHua favorite: crispy bread-like pancakey dough layered with ground pork.

Then, the moment of truth: goodbye. The heat of the day in full effect, your children lugged their heavy bags out to the bus, where they parted with their Dong Dong friends. Sweetness all around.

Back to Beijing...but not quite yet! First, an encore visit with Yao Laoshi, the "puzzle man". Or, as he prefers to be called, "Puzzle Yao, like Yao Ming. Anyone can be a 'puzzle man', but there's only one 'Puzzle Yao'." What made this visit extra special was that he welcomed us into his home, literally just down the road from Deng Shan, where we had been staying. His wife and sister and great niece graciously hosted us for 30 minutes of puzzle madness. With his characteristic generosity and faith, he allowed the students to rummage freely through his glass cabinets, filled with mind-bending puzzles of all kinds. Most everything in his house is a puzzle, or at least looks like a puzzle — down to a couple of the chairs in the living room. As he instructed us on how to solve various puzzles, I noticed that even his shirt depicted a puzzle. We all feel truly blessed to have had so many wonderful interactions with this one-of-a-kind man.

Then, for real, back to Beijing and the cozy confines of "home" — the Yong'An Hotel. We all unpacked and unwound for an hour or so before meeting for dinner. We walked to the zhou (porridge) restaurant visited previously, again with each student given a budget of 25 yuan to work with. We all did well with our money.

A quick walk back to the hotel, and an intimate round of reflection closed the day.

Tomorrow morning, early, we're off to Beijing South Railway Station for the bullet train to Tianjin. The 70-mile ride we'll cover in under 30 minutes. Should be fun!

It's all wrapping up so quickly. Hard to believe these four amazing weeks are coming to a close so soon...

Jason Patent (Pei Laoshi)

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