Lisa McClure's China Diary

Lara in front of the foreign teacher's guesthouse
Lara in front of the foreign teacher's guesthouse

Lara's first day of school at Jinzhou
Lara's first day of school at Jinzhou. I took this photo and left quickly, before either of us could have time to weaken.

Lara's Classroom
Lara's classroom is very large and airy, with plant filled windows on two sides of the room, and its own attached toilet and wash rooms. The dining room is down the hall. Before class begins, the children play with building and puzzle toys.

Lara at school
Lara with another student. In Jinzhou, children are bundled up very warmly in the wintertime, to keep out the cold. Sometimes I wonder how they can move around at all!

Lara with her teachers
Lara with two of her teachers and another student. You can see the children's very warm and comfortable cribs in the background.

Meng Meng and Lisa
Here's a photo that Lara took of her friend, Meng Meng, and me, at her school.

Lara and friends, singing in Chinese
A couple of weeks after Lara started school, I picked her up one afternoon, and she and Meng Meng, and another by in her class sang me a song they had learned, in Chinese!

Lara and Meng Meng at school
Lara and her best friend, Meng Meng, sharing a joke at school.

March 3, 1999

Lara started pre-school on Monday. She attends the pre-school (called the Primary school) that is on the LIT (Liaoning Institute of Technology) campus where I teach. Since we are living in the foreign teacher's guesthouse on campus, it is only a short walk to her school each morning and evening.

Obviously, one of my big concerns before accepting a job in China was to try to make sure that Lara would be well cared for while I am working. Jinzhou does not have a large expatriate community, and Lara is the only American child in town as far as I know.

The school that Lara attends is for the children of the LIT staff, and is for the younger children who have not yet started Elementary school. Unlike Lara's daycare in the States which cost me $500 per month, Lara is allowed to attend this school for free because I work for LIT.

When we first arrived, my boss suggested that the 'nurse' at the school wanted Lara to start with the younger children, aged 18 months - 36 months, because she is such a small child and doesn't understand any Chinese. I was dismayed at this, because Lara is now 3 years, 8 months old, has been attending full time pre-school since last June, and is very outgoing and gregarious.

And, as I mentioned in my last post, Lara's adjustment to China has been somewhat rocky. In fact, the only thing that she has looked forward to with enthusiasm has been the prospect of going to school. But when you are in China, you need to be able to discuss these matters in a 'Chinese' way. So, I held my counsel for a day, then suggested delicately that I was worried that if Lara went with the younger children, she wouldn't have any friends, since two year old children really haven't matured enough to play with others, and Lara really wants and needs to make friends in school. Happily, that suggestion was accepted and she was enrolled into the 3 year old class. The Chinese value relationships very highly, and consider one of the main purposes of primary school to be to help all of these only children learn to live in a cooperative way.

The school requires that each child have a thick cotton mat, a cotton quilt, and a pillow, each of certain specific dimensions. My boss told me about this on Saturday morning, and then offered to have his staff arrange for these things for me. (As a foreign teacher, I work under the Foreign Affairs Office. The staff in this office help coordinate things for foreign teachers.) One staffmember went out to the market on Saturday morning, and purchased the cotton material needed to make these things. In our guesthouse, two women oversee things, and one of them made the mat and quilt for Lara on Saturday afternoon. They are wonderfully warm and soft and beautiful, and I will try to get a photo of Lara sleeping in them sometime.

On Monday morning, the guesthouse manager (who used to be a teacher for many years, and taught at Lara's school, too) and another of the staff of the Foreign Affairs office escorted us to Lara's school and introduced us to the director of the school and to Lara's two teachers. These teachers seem very sweet and kind, and function pretty much the same as pre-school teachers in the States. However, they wear white coats and refer to themselves as nurses. (Maybe that's where the term 'nursery school' came from?)

Lara's classroom is very large and airy, with plants in the windows and lots of space to work at low tables and a large open area for physical activities. Half of the room is taken up with small criblike beds, one for each child, for naptime.

I have only seen 5-10 children in the room at any given time, but was told that the class size is around 20. The semester is just starting now, and more children will probably be coming to school soon.

Lara looked very dubious when we arrived, but was seated at a table with the other children who were playing with some building block sorts of toys. I left fairly quickly, because I definitely didn't want her to start to worry or maybe start crying. Since Lara has never cried about going to school before, I definitely didn't want her to start it with her Chinese school.

I think the others with me wanted to hang around and watch Lara a while longer, but after a minute or so, they followed me out into the hallway and we continued our conversations for a few minutes longer out there. I was secretly pleased to see another boy in Lara's class screaming his brains out at the prospect of being left at school by his mother, and was very relieved that Lara was being a lot braver about the whole thing.

I didn't have any classes to teach on Monday, so I went back to our rooms and unpacked some more and cleaned up a bit and worried about how Lara was doing. I was very pleased to receive a favorable midday report that she had not been crying and ate a good lunch. Unfortunately, later on in the afternoon, the FAO (foreign affairs office) got a call that she'd peed in her bed at naptime. However, the other guesthouse caretaker hand carried some more clothes over to the school for her. (We are very well cared for here in China)

When Lara got home, I asked her what the potties are like at school and she told me that there was nothing on the potty. (i.e. squatting toilets) However, that has not been a problem for Lara, since we started her practicing outdoor peeing and pooping when she first started being toilet trained and she's not inhibited about it. The teacher had also assured me that they take all of the children to the toilet before naptime. However, because of her jetlag and general stress at all the changes, Lara's been having a few 'accidents' since we've arrived, mostly during naptime, and I can only hope that she won't keep peeing at school. No doubt, the teachers are as concerned about it as I am and will help prevent such accidents in the future. Nevertheless, I was the one given all of the dirty laundry to wash up on Monday night.

Other than that, Lara seems to be adjusting very nicely in school. One thing that has helped a great deal is that one of the FAO staff members has a niece just exactly Lara's age (3 days younger, in fact) named Meng Meng, who also started in Lara's class on Tuesday morning.

Meng Meng and her aunt and grandma came to visit us at the guest house on Monday evening. She and Lara got along great, and walked to school together on Tuesday morning. Meng Meng is a very well brought up child, but definitely has a lively personality, and she and Lara are like two peas in a pod, despite the language differences. The highlight of the evening for me was to hear Meng Meng sing the little Chinese song about the importance of a mother's love. In return, Lara sang the alphabet song to her.

Yesterday, school was only for a half day, because yesterday was the Lantern Festival. As we walked home from school, I could hear Lara chanting a little ditty that sounded sort of half Chinese and half English, so I think she's already beginning to pick up things in school. In China, I think 3 years olds do a lot less artwork and crafts and spend a lot more time in organized physical exercises (dances) and verbal stuff like pre-reading skills, numbers, etc. than in the States.

The noise of the firecrackers all day long yesterday was very noticeable, but as the sun went down, the area began to really sound like we were engaged in a serious battle. Many of the fireworks sounded just like I imagine cannon fire to sound, while strings of firecrackers rattled off like machine gun fire, etc. It was very exhilarating and festive, but I was glad to spend the evening at home.

Lara's in school right now as I write this. As we were walking into the school building this morning, she turned to me and said, 'Meng Meng's calling me!' When we turned around, and looked back, I could hear Meng Meng calling, "LiLi, LiLi!" (Lara's Chinese name) And the two children happily ran into the classroom together.

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