A Day At School

Photos by Hui-chen and MJ Klein

UPDATE: If you think my story is bad, then check out this story from Thailand!

Awhile back Hui-chen and I attended a lunch given by the local elementary school. While I was at the lunch they asked me if I wouldn’t mind coming to an event and talking with the school kids about camping. I told them that I’m not qualified to teach and am not a teacher, but as long as it was informal, sure I could come and talk with the kids and teach them about camping.

This is the school, up in the mountains. It’s a very nice area.

The material on this wall features the Hakka language, which is spoken in this region.

“Teacher, there is a big kid at the back of the room!”

Here we see Ms. Huang asking how many students will be camping overnight at school this evening. I was surprised at how many were staying overnight.

Ms. Huang teaching the kids new vocabulary related to camping

Next, I was asked to talk with the kids. The first thing I explained to them was the meaning of the word “outdoorsman.” They were shocked to find out that I have spent up to a few weeks at a time in the forest alone. I used their newly learned vocabulary in the course of my discussion.

Here I am explaining how to select a campsite. Later some high school students were scheduled to come over and set up some tents for the little kids. I had a question/answer session and the kids asked some pretty good questions, showing that they were indeed paying attention. One kid asked how to make a place to sleep and I showed them how to build a lean-to shelter. I had brought one of my Dutch ovens and told the kids that I was going to bake them a cake over a campfire that evening. Of course they never heard of that before and were very surprised to learn that this is even possible.

Another kid asked me if I would be joining the water balloon fight they had planned for later on. “Sure” I said. “It would be fun.” Little did I know….

Believe it or not, I am exercising hard every day and losing weight, although photographs like the above are discouraging.

Next, we all went outside for some more activities. Ms. Huang had several things lined up for the kids to participate in which would show how much they had retained from the classroom experience before. I thought it was pretty cool and the kids seemed to enjoy it.

Hui-chen decided to try out some of the playground equipment. I did not dare suggest that she was too old for any of it!

Hui-chen is on the opposite end of the see-saw from me, and naturally, off the ground!

After a few kid-sized sandwiches and some green tea, the water balloon fight broke out.

The kids were going at it, hot and heavy. They decided to gang up on me. That is exactly what I would have done at their age.

I didn’t mind getting wet at all. I didn’t mind even being targeted and ganged up upon by most of the students. This is what kids do. A couple of the boys came over to my side and were on my defense team (but not the one shown here). Several students got behind me and clobbered me very well. However, I noticed that something was hitting my back, and it wasn’t balloons – it was fists.

I take aim at one of my antagonizers

A young girl was actually punching me as hard as she could! I asked her to stop doing that, but in the meantime, the other students had re-loaded (from a seemingly endless supply of water balloons) and were pelting me good! A few more water balloons popped nearby and I heard a little voice say “get the foreigner” in Chinese. Then, more fists hitting me! It seems they weren’t satisfied with balloons, it was as if they wished to do me bodily harm. I heard some kids farther down make remarks like “we’ll get the foreigner now” and when I looked up I saw them running towards me with a tub full of water. Well, I wasn’t going to just let them throw that on me so I got off the field and walked up to the class room level and was able to cut them off just as they were about to throw it. That same little girl who was previously hitting me screamed at me in Chinese “give that to me you foreigner! that isn’t yours!” referring to the tub of water I had spilled out and was holding. She then started punching me as hard as she could, screaming “you foreigner, I’ll get you foreigner!” over and over. Clearly, this situation was turning ugly and I got a very sick feeling in my stomach – the feeling that I get when I encounter racial prejudice. That girl has some serious issues and I certainly didn’t need that. I told Hui-chen that we were going home because I’d had enough. I went back into the classroom to get my belongings when 2 students came up to the door with a tub of water and were actually considering throwing it on me inside the classroom when some adults (Taiwanese) showed up.

The head of the Parent’s Union (or whatever it’s properly called) tried to talk me into staying but I told her that she wanted the kids to learn a lesson, so here’s one: no cake, no campfire, no song because the foreigner is not welcome and is now going home.

I don’t know about those kids, but I sure got my Taiwanese education today.

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  1. Hi MJ. I see what you mean about the quality of your pictures. I am really impressed. You must have a very nice camera as well.

    My camera is okay but I am going to upgrade sometime soon.

    I look forward to spending some time reading your blog posts.


  2. Colby, the head of the Parent’s Association was nearly in tears when she was talking with me. the viewpoints that we take for granted in the US are hard fought and won. as you know, i’m 51 years old. i grew up in a time when people of African decent were known as “coloreds” (or worse). my mother and father never used any such terms, and would even refuse to use terms to distinguish people such as “the black guy” because those descriptions are completely unnecessary and don’t conform to a color-blind society. in our country we had the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s Liberation movement and a mass awakening of the American people to the concept of equality. i can proudly say that i personally do not know of anyone in the US that has prejudicial attitudes.

    the rest of the world is different however. Asian in particular seems to promote and perpetuate stereotypes and these aren’t considered to be improper by any means. i’ve told you stories about things people have said to me in China and Thailand for example, but even in high-tech rich countries like Taiwan and Japan, people don’t share our values. they haven’t had their butt kicked by those movements to the point where its become a standard of behavior like it has in the US. just one small example is resumes. in Asia, standard practice is to attach a photograph to your resume so the potential employer can see what you look like. they use looks to discriminate against certain ethic groups. they might not hire you if they don’t like how you look no matter where you are from. this practice is highly illegal in the US (as it should be) but you can’t get a job in Asian without that photo on your resume.


  3. I like your story of a Giant in the small kids world, Giant was tied down with ropes, nailed to ground with pegs, the camp fire is for the BBQ of this RED HAIR GHOST.
    Kids will know you and get close to you after the fist fights. You need to play nicely with them, yet get hard on them when they are naughty.
    It is not a easy task to deal with kids.

  4. anon, here’s a novel idea: parents teach their kids how to act properly. its not my job or position to “get hard” on them. i did play nicely with them until the inappropriate behavior. i left after that.

  5. Hi Brunty. flickr.com does a really great job hosting photos, don’t they? their re-sizing routines work better than most so the resized photos look crisp. these days i’m shooting with a Nikon D80 but honestly, just about any camera these days will produce great photos for blogging. its more about the content and framing of the subject matter than the technical quality of the camera.

    i think your blog is great, and i’m going to mention it in a post for my readers to check out.

  6. well, Anon #2, i don’t really want to elaborate on my personal experiences with racism or stereotyping in a main post because its completely negative, so i’ll just reply here. once i was in Japan going to bars and clubs with my Japanese friend. we went to a place and he stopped short, apologizing. he said “sorry they don’t allow gaijing here” (not sure how it’s spelled – too lazy to look it up right now). we just went to another place and had a great time (that’s a post in itself!).

    just today my wife and i were looking at a new house in our neighborhood in Taiwan. we just finished the tour with a nice lady and as i was walking outside a man showed up and said right out loud “laowai” which is not a complimentary term. i looked directly at him and said (in Chinese) “yeah, i’m a laowai. is there any problem?” of course he said “no no, no problem!” (he wasn’t expecting that i understood him) what an idiot. i’m a potential customer and his first words are insulting. he wasn’t even talking to me, just about me to a total stranger on the street.

    in Thailand the word is “farang” which used to be a bastardization of the english word “French” because it was colonized by France once upon a time. Farang has now evolved to mean any white person but the distinctions between nationalities are completely lost. Thais don’t refer to white people as “he” or “she” but as farang, like a completely difference species. i hear Thais say stuff like “i hate when farang do that” instead of using a normal pronoun. this works in first, second or third person. Thais will talk to you about you and say farang – its bizzare. what’s even stranger is that sometimes you hear things like “farang love ice cream” but everyone loves ice cream, so the need to single out the farang is unknown. on a daily basis i hear stuff like “move over and let the farang sit down.” one night at the resort a female guest saw me and she went off on farang! my Thai language is lacking but she said the word farang in every sentance for the next ten minutes, completely ingoring my request for her to explain what she is talking about. it was so bad that the people who work at the resort got up and left the area. the man she came with got up and left too. she ended up sitting by the fire alone. the next day she saw me in the kitchen in the morning and again, farangfarangfarangfarangfarangfarang over and over. i shouted some trash at her in English and she shut up. the workers at the resort were visibly embarassed by her. as unbelievable as it is, in Thailand and even in Taiwan, people talk about foreigners as if they were all one nationality and language. i have seen Thais baffled by farangs who couldn’t communicate in a common language because they were from different countries. however, since these days, almost everyone speaks English, this ability has reinforced the notion that all foreigners are the same. most of the time the local people can’t hear accents, so they can’t figure out that 2 people speaking English are from differing continents just by listeing. if you try to explain they don’t get it – because they have a common language, therefore they are the same. in Taiwan people say “foreigners like [this or that]” and i always ask “what nationality are you talking about?” invariably the answer is “all foreigners” because the differences aren’t readibly comprehensible.

    here is a funny example of that. i see Taiwan kids dressing in rap and hip hop styles, flashing fake gang signs. i’ve asked some of them “why are you trying to act like you’re black?” puzzled, they say “we’re acting like Americans.” of course, i mention that i’m an American and i don’t dress and act like that. their inability to even recogize a sub-culture within the culture pretty much sums it up.

    all over Taiwan you see things like “Darlie” toothpaste. it used to be “Darkie” but international pressure forced the company to change the name. but they only changed the English name. its still literally called “black people toothpaste” in Chinese. often you’ll see shows where Children are dressed up as “indians” or “africans” and its stereotyped trash.

    thanks for reading and commenting.

  7. MJ,

    I agree with colby. I don’t know what to say regarding this incident.

    Can you speak a bit more (here, or in a separate post) regarding your experiences regarding race in other parts of Asia?

    I enjoy the blog.

  8. Do you have children?
    It appears you are totally ignorance toward child psychology, the school teacher can teach pupils, without being hit, teachers are dealing with same pupils who are rude to you.

  9. yeah, i’m ignorant of “child psychology” because that is just an excuse for bad behavior. sorry but i don’t buy into it.

    please stop and think about what you said. why would the children hit a teacher while screaming “foreigner” when the teacher is Taiwanese? i am not a teacher. i was a guest at the school and when that incident happened there were no adults around at all. the teachers have authority over the students and i have none. the students know it and abused that fact. they saw an opportunity to express aggression towards someone who is clearly an outsider, with no fear of punishment.

    seems that you are totally ignorant of the psychology of prejudice.

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