by Lee Mook

Everyone sings in the shower. Everyone. However, unlike in the privacy of your own home, in the dorms you can be heard singing in the shower by every room right above or below you. For the past 6 months, every day at 9:45PM, I have heard a shrill, soprano-pitched voice reverberating lyrics of Chinese songs through the pipes and into my room. My curiosity finally got the best of me. I went to the floor below me to investigate this mystery singer. The door opens, and it was the largest high school student I have ever seen. China remains to be full of surprises.

Another surprise, better in my opinion than discovering the next Christina Aguilera, is a new opportunity to volunteer. My Chinese class has started teaching middle school students foreign language at Beijing 80’s partner school.

Two fellow classmates, one from Russia and another from Kazakhstan, and I create a lesson plan and teach an hour long foreign language class every Wednesday.

Instead of forcing our students to learn a certain language we give them the choice to learn Russian, English, and Spanish. Our class is split into three small, more personal groups. We teach the lesson for the day, and then play games to test whether our students understand the lesson of the week.

This past week we focused on getting to know our students and introducing ourselves. I am teaching Spanish, which finds a large reception in Beijing as many in China consider it very important in today’s world. My students played musical chairs after the lesson, cha-cha-ing to various Spanish songs, many of which were from Mexico and “del campo” meaning they had a strong mariachi presence. When the music stopped, whoever could not find a chair had to answer a question about Spanish for example, “how do you say ‘Hello’ in Spanish” or “what is an important Mexican holiday?”

The students were really getting into the game, and as they salsaed to the music, the game’s intensity built up as fewer and fewer students remained, until the last two students, a boy and a girl, circled the chair like sharks waiting for the right moment to strike.

I stopped the music, and, silence. Neither the boy nor the girl sat down, but instead walked away from the entire game. I stood there mouth open, trying to understand what happened.

It was as if neither wanted to win. I am still trying to understand, but I believe that it was a form of chivalry. The boy wanted to let the girl win, but then why did the girl not sit down? Was it a refusal to be given the victory, did she refuse to win because it would not have been fully earned? Did the boy insult her by allowing her to win, deeming her unable to win on her own?

I compare it to a situation I have found myself in a number of times while in China. I am playing a competitive, challenging, and fun game of soccer with a group of my classmates, and then a group of girls join our game. Immediately, all of my classmates run slower, defend worse, and play less competitively.

When I ask why, I am always given the same answer, “because there are girls playing.” I believe this to be an injustice, and not just to the girls playing but also to all my classmates on the field as well. The sense of “chivalry” that compels my male classmates to slow down so as to include girls in reality excludes them, creating a sense of dependency on the lower level of play that the boys give them. Everyone, including girls, wants to truly contribute to a game, genuinely earning their part in a win or loss, not to be treated differently by being handed a win.

I say let the girls compete, for that is the only way for both boys and girls to achieve their full potential.