This winter I had the pleasure of being invited to be a judge at a youth winter camp activities talent show as part of a four-member panel and the only foreigner. We were allowed to score up to 50 points for each performer; there were some 150 children of middle-school age. The judging spanned two sessions in the course of a morning and afternoon.
The youngsters—hailing from cities such as Ningbo, Wuxi, Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin—had a great stage presence and performances consisted of various acts with traditional Chinese as well as international elements. For example, the poem, I'm Proud to be Chinese, which includes references to historian Sima Qian and Confucius, was especially popular, perhaps indicative of China's renewed national pride.
There were also Mongolian and Latin American dances as well as the smallest boy of the bunch, rapping in an oversized sweater and sneakers. Some children sang a cappella, or used KTV style background music while performing hits such as Avril Lavigne's Innocence. If the tune was familiar, the other children would croon along.
One boy gave a short PowerPoint presentation about his science projects and engineering aspirations. Others demonstrated their calligraphy or art work. Every child got two minutes to perform, with the vast majority of them remembering their lines and making few, if any, obvious mistakes.
The children were completely unfazed by me as a foreigner since they had already had some interactions with others, including English teachers in their hometowns, I was told. But they were naturally curious about me and wanted to have their photos taken with me. They called me "auntie" and used their vests, notebooks or scraps of paper to get mine and all of the other judge's autographs. We felt like movie stars!
A little girl named Stella, who knew her name meant "star" in Latin (which she really was during the show), was very talkative and had salesmanship potential as she invited me to come to her hometown and browse her mother's shop.
The students from the Ningbo and Wuxi teams each gave me a red scarf and a little boy whose English name was Hanson gave me a poster he drew with his favorite activities such as painting, playing piano, reading and playing basketball. I was profoundly touched as this was the first time children had ever given me any gifts.
Some of the youngsters were preparing essays and interviewed me about my profession as a reporter. When they asked me what the most important quality was—I replied true to Chinese fashion—the need to "study well."
While the first day consisted of judging, on the second day the judges were called back to hand out certificates during the awards ceremony. Every child received an honorary certificate in a red folder resembling a book.
Overall, the children struck me as mellow, sweet and well-behaved. So it was no surprise when I was told they were at the top of their classes back home. I was also quite impressed when the teacher from Ningbo said that for many of them, this was the first time they were away from their parents for several days in row and with no hotel room service, they had washed their own clothes and tidied their own rooms.
I was heartbroken as I said goodbye on the second day. Still, I especially valued this interaction as I have no children of my own. Parting ways with the children was difficult since they had "grown on me," as we say in the United States, but this experience will always hold a special place in my heart.
The author is an American living in Beijing
Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo
Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org