July 12, 2010

Well, here I go again. I may get a lot of flack over this…

The World Cup of Soccer.

Who cares? I suppose a lot of people are getting into this sport lately. Personally, when I was in school taking gym class, there were a few sports that I did not care for. Living in a country like Canada, where we basically have four seasons, we also have a chance to learn many sports.

On the whole, there is nothing wrong with sports. They keep you active. They keep your blood flowing. They keep you in shape (at least as long as participate in them!). However, there are some sports that just don’t interest me.

Let’s start, since it’s taken over the world right now, the World Cup of Soccer. Now, soccer to me is boring. A bunch of neanderthals running around kicking a ball, trying to get it into a net the size of my house. How difficult is that to do? Apparently, very. The thought of running around a half acre of land, in the blazing sun, just doesn’t do it for me. It’s bad enough in hot weather to walk around in the sun, why would one want to RUN around in it? Shall I keep going? What the hell.

Basketball. Dribble, dribble, dribble, basket. Dribble, dribble, dribble, basket. That’s all this game is. Final score? 102-100! Come on! That’s a blood pressure score, not a sports score. I’ve watched some of the kids here in Tainan playing basketball. They all seem to love the sport, but hey, you have to be what, 6′ tall just to be CONSIDERED a player!

Golf. I’ve never really understood the draw to this game. To me, dressing up like a clown is something you do for a kids birthday party. Also, isn’t it considered a ‘fashion faux pas’ to wear stripes and solids together? And why would anyone, in his right mind, want to hit a tiny little ball around 100 acres of land to get it into a hole the size of your, well, I can’t really say here, but you can imagine what I WOULD say!

Hockey. I suppose in the ‘hey-day’ of hockey, it was a good sport. I noticed over the years growing up, that it became more of a bloodbath than a game. How many fights start out because someone ‘high-sticked’ another player, or took the puck, or scored a goal? There are more penalties in hockey than probably any other sport. I could be wrong, because, what do I know?

Football, and by that I mean, FOOTBALL – not soccer. The only player on the team that even resembles an athlete, in my opinion, is the quarterback. And what does he do? He gets the football from another player who he has his hand against his butt, and tosses it to someone else. His $400,000 was just earned. I’ll say!

Frankly, I think baseball is probably the best, all rounded sport. Baseball players have to, just by the nature of the game, stay in shape. I think that if you are an athlete playing any professional sport, baseball is the way to go. Players need to be able to run fast, thus, legs are in shape. They need to be able to hit a ball, catch a ball, and throw a ball. Thus, arms are in good shape. You also need to have good hand-eye coordination, otherwise you won’t last long! As with any sport with testosterone involved, fights do happen, but not to the extent as in hockey!

Back to soccer. I suppose my only real reason for not knowing anything about what’s going on in this sport, is the fact that most of free time these past couple of months, has been helping the students at Giraffe with their story-telling. The fact that Canada and Taiwan don’t have teams involved in the game, helps. Why bother watching something that you honestly can’t cheer for? I’ve noticed a few ‘flip-flops’ in team loyalty though! Many people seemed to be cheering for the Netherlands, and now, Spain? Whatever!

Speaking of the Story-telling contest, the results from yesterday’s regional competition.

Our four students competed in their respective classes – Kindergarten, Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced (I suppose is the best way to classify them). The Chinese versions may be different, but this is how I will refer to them.

In the Kindergarten class, Nadia was our story-teller with her story, “Froggy Gets Dressed”. This story is about a frog who wants to go play in the snow, keeps forgetting certain clothing items, and finally, is too tired of putting on and taking off clothes, decides to go back to sleep.

In this class, only the First and Second place winners are invited to compete in Taipei in August. While watching these performances, it still amazes me just how fun it is to watch little kids, who haven’t been learning a second language for very long, can adapt. I think that of all the classes, this one has got to be the hardest to score. When the final marks came in, Nadia placed – FIRST! Yes! I will admit, and I’ve already mentioned it to her mom and Janice, that I was a bit nervous. There was another little girl who did very well. Nadia obviously, has been invited to compete in Taipei. Way to go Nadia!

For the next three classes, Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced, the First, Second, and Third place winners are invited to compete in Taipei. So, away we go.

In the Beginner class, Jonas was our story-teller with his story, “Lizzy the Lion”. I think the story may have been called “Lizzy the Lion Cub”, but that’s not important. While having the opportunity a couple of times yesterday to watch Jonas practice, I mentioned that he really looked tired. This little kid, has the energy of sun! I don’t know how else to explain it. I want about 25% of his energy pumped into me. I don’t know where he gets it from, but perhaps he should lay off the coffee for a while! Just kidding!

My role in all the competition process, ended (for now) on Saturday night, after the kids were finished with their practices and dress rehearsals. Yesterday, I was merely a spectator, offering whatever support I could. There are enough nerves and tension surrounding these youngsters, that to have me, a non-Chinese speaker in the way, would have been exactly that – in the way!

Jonas got on stage, and did his thing. I wouldn’t say it was his best performance, but it was pretty damn good! His parents should be really proud of him, as should he. There were probably 25-30 speakers at his level, so the competition to get into the top three, was tough, no matter how you look at it. Last year, Jonas didn’t make it to the final three. His mom was really worried that this year, may have been a repeat. Jonas pulled it out of his hat, so-to-speak, and came in Third Place. Not bad. Just means he has a bit of work ahead of him, but I’m sure he’s up for the challenge. His parents were, understandably, very happy yesterday after the awards.

Our Intermediate class story-teller was Wayne. In my opinion, I think his parents were wanting this more than he. They went through a lot of trouble to create and have built a set for him. It looked incredible. However, the competition is about speaking, not set design.

Over the past few weeks, Wayne has, to me, shown little enthusiasm towards this competition. I chalk this up to a variety of reasons. One, his age. He is 7 or 8 years old. This is his first competition. I’m sure he was more nervous yesterday than in the previous competitions at the bushiban. All through the practice sessions, he had more adults telling him what he should do, that I’m sure, being a boy and 7 years old, he just kind of blocked us all out!

When you’ve got two parents, the director of the school, the foreign English teacher, your teacher, and the head teacher, all giving you advice on what you should do, how you should do it, where you should stand, how to speak, pronounce, act, move… I’m sure it gets to you! It’s like having 6 bosses! Everyone has their opinion, and all you can do is take it all in, and toss it out, right?

I gather from the discussing this at the ‘after-competition’ dinner, that Wayne’s father would really like him to compete again next year if the opportunity presents itself. I think that would be a great idea, and I have no problem with that – well, not a LOT of problems. I believe that next year, Wayne will do a lot better for a variety of reasons. First, he will be a little bit older. Second, he’s already competed, so he now knows what is involved. Third, and this is for me personally, how much I appreciate the fact that mom and dad are involved in what he’s doing, I HIGHLY recommend that they stay out of our way, that is, Janice and I.

Janice has been through the Giraffe competitions with her students for what, 10 years or more? I’ve been helping students with their story-telling competitions almost since the day I arrived in Tainan 8 years ago! We have a lot of experience with this sort of thing. Mom and dad don’t. I realize that may be difficult for parents to understand. They want to see their child do well. They want to help. They want their voices heard.

We have all either heard, seen, or been at a pee-wee hockey or football game. You notice there will always be at least one parent who feels, and rightly so, that their little child is the star of the team. They are the loudmouths, the ones that argue with the umpires or referees. They are the ones that start the brawls. Okay, so story-telling may not be at the same level as a baseball game, but, let the people who are paid to do the task, and have the experience and know-how, do their job. When it comes down to it, who will the child listen to? A teacher or a parent? At that age, I will wager on the parent!

Unfortunately, Wayne will not be invited to Taipei. He placed Fourth in his class. Again, this is a rather tough level. There were about 30 students competing at the the intermediate level. Only three received the invite. However, Fourth Place winners did receive a trophy, so for that, Wayne should be proud. Perhaps next year, mom and dad will sit in the back seat of the car, and let the driver and front seat passenger get us all to our destination! Interesting analogy.

Finally, Advanced class. May was our story-teller in that class with her story, “The Quirky Queen”. All the way through these practice sessions, I’ve been trying to stress to May that she can’t ‘sit on her laurels’ from past years. Sure, in the past two years she has done extremely well, and placed First. However, as I mentioned to her, the other bushibans in the region, as well the country, are going to be looking over the previous years’ competitions. They are going to do everything in their power to have their students do better than May!

We do it. We look over the previous years’ competitions on CD. So why would the other bushibans NOT do it? My biggest thing with May, is pronunciation. I have tried, and tried to stress to her about her pronunciation of certain words in her story. The next thing was the character she is portraying. Her story is supposed to be told by a member of her queen’s staff. She is supposed to be a lady. She should portray that image while telling the story.

No matter how many times I tried to correct her pronunciation, it just never worked. She, like so many other students, have heard their Chinese English teachers or parents or whomever, give them the pronunciation of words, and they can’t get out of it!

I also HIGHLY suggested, three weeks ago, for her to watch one of two (if not both) movies – “Dangerous Liaisons” and/or “Elizabeth”. These two movies, show the way that ladies would wear their clothes, walk, talk, etc., in the period in which her story was supposed to be based.

On Saturday, and I know this may have sounded mean, but while she was doing her practice, all I could hear and see was May from Tainan. She didn’t look the part. She didn’t act the part. Honestly, I was really worried about her in the competition. There weren’t as many competitors at her level, and thankfully, most of the students competing, where blah. These students are probably grade 5 and 6 students. They are young pre-teens. The idea of competing at this type of competition for some of them, is, for a lack of a better word, embarrassing. Most just got up there, said their thing, and got off stage as quick as they could. No feeling. No emotion. Nothing.

I really like the idea, again, similar to Wayne, that her mom and grandmother are involved in what May is doing. They care about what she does. However, sometimes I honestly feel that parents should back away. Yes, May’s mom wants her opinions heard. However, what she doesn’t seem to understand is that the competition is for 3 minutes! Her mom cares more about image and how May will look on stage, than what May is supposed to be doing.

I know for myself, having been a judge many times for these competitions, not only for Giraffe, but for other schools as well, that something as simple as image, can affect how the judge scores the student. If one is wearing the wrong outfit, something that doesn’t seem to fit the story, then it’s hard to sort this out. If the background music doesn’t fit the story, it’s hard to pay attention. If the props don’t seem to go with the story, it’s hard to use the imagination. All these things can be distractions to the judges, and thus, hamper the score.

I used the analogy, again at the dinner, of writing a test. Once you score 100% on a test, you have to maintain that score. Once you do less than perfect, people think you are failing. Well, this is how I sort of felt with May. She had in her mind, I’m sure, that she had done very well in years past, and she did! But she has to do BETTER!

I feel a couple of things hampered her winning First Place this time around. One: she wasn’t ‘lady’ enough. Watching her move on stage, as in her practices, all I could see was “May from Tainan”. I didn’t see a person who would be worthy of being on the staff of a member of royalty. Two: pronunciation. No matter how much we tried to get her to change her pronunciation of certain words, they still came out as incorrect words.

May did win Second Place though. So, as with Jonas and Nadia, she is invited to compete in Taipei. However, if there is any way possible, I would HIGHLY recommend that mom stay out of the practices, and again, let Janice and I help May get to First Place. I know it’s difficult to take ‘second chair’, especially for a parent. You want to see your little child do well. You want them to do good for the school or bushiban or even for themselves. You want them to look good, act good, and do their best. But sometimes, we all have to take the back seat.

I do feel that all these students did their very best. I don’t think any of them did badly at all. As these competitions go on, year after year, the competitors get stronger. The various bushibans start putting only their very best students on stage. After all, it may be the students who tell the story, but it is the bushiban that gets the credit.

Now, my final comment is about the judges.

For this, I am a little bit at odds about the judges this year. It could just be because I’m from Canada. When we do almost anything, we try to make sure we have a good mix of people representing the various groups of our population.

There were three judges yesterday. One foreigner, and two local. Okay, fair enough. However, all the judges were women. That I think, is a bit unfair. I feel that at least one of the judges, either the foreigner or local, should have been a man. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to judge the contest. First off, it would be a conflict of interest, since we did have four students, one in each class, competing. However, the foreigner who was judging, I had a problem with.

I don’t know Emily personally. I’m sure she’s a very nice person. I have no doubt. However, she did judge at our bushiban competition on June 25. For that, I felt she had a conflict of interest. She already knew who our winners were at our bushiban. She should not have been judging this competition. In another region, okay, but not ours.

She may argue that she was impartial to the competition. She didn’t know the competitors personally, as would I. She could argue that she doesn’t really remember the night of June 25. However, as an example, when Wayne came on stage with his candy house, she SURELY would have remembered that! His display was, by far, the best display or prop used in the competition.

Also, she is, from what I understand, the girlfriend of one of the Giraffe staff in Tainan. Where, I don’t know, and quite honestly, don’t care. She would have already been privy to certain information that perhaps the other judges did not have. Obviously, one being who OUR winners were.

I’m not trying to say that we deserved to have all four students go to Taipei, but I do think that our marks showed that perhaps, on some unconscious level, Emily may have been a bit more hard on us than with other students. Maybe not. As with most things in life, we don’t know what the final scores are for each student, or what judges gave what marks. However, from a purely personal reason, I think Emily should have suggested that she judge another region. Hell, she could have traveled for 30 minutes to Kao-hsiung and judged their region’s competition!

On June 25, I had reservations about judging our own students. Some parents apparently voiced their concern that I would be biased towards certain students. Fair enough. I felt the same way. However, to give a fair chance to all students, my marks were for composure on stage; something that I do not train the students, at the bushiban level, to do. At that stage, my task was pronunciation and speaking, not composure. However, having at least ONE teacher from the bushiban, doing the judging, would be appropriate.


Of the four students we had competing, three have made it to Taipei. It would certainly have been nice to see all four go, but three is better than most bushibans will see. Some bushibans will have no one going to Taipei… some will have one or two. We have three students. For that I am proud of each and every one of them.

Advanced – May (2nd Place – Taipei competition)
Intermediate – Wayne (4th Place)
Beginner – Jonas (3rd Place – Taipei competition)
Kindergarten – Nadia (1st Place – Taipei competition)

It will be difficult, I feel, to explain to Wayne’s parents why he isn’t able to go to Taipei to compete. They must understand that we are just as upset as they are. However, each student in all classes, who won First, Second, Third, and Fourth place, all received trophies and special recognition, above and beyond the certificate that EVERY student received just for competing. They should be very proud of their son. He did do an incredible job on stage. It was, by far, his best performance to date.

As for May, Jonas, and Nadia – take a break for a week guys. Relax, enjoy the win, but remember, the competition in Taipei on August 15 will be even more of a competition. You will be competing with the BEST OF THE BEST from all the regions in Taiwan. I don’t want them to get nervous about it, but this is the real McCoy as we say. This is the contest! This is the one that will show us, you, and Giraffe Corporate, just what Giraffe-Nanmen is made of!

We are the best! You are the best! Let’s show Taiwan just how good you REALLY are!

Again, congratulations to each and every one of you – May, Wayne, Jonas, and Nadia. With almost 100 story-tellers yesterday, you have shown, not only us and yourselves, but all of Giraffe, that Nanmen is a bushiban to be proud to learn at. When you look at the fact that there were only 16 trophies to be awarded, we did very well! I am personally, very proud of each and every one of you!

Now, let’s get down to business, and show Taipei that Tainan, and in particular, Nanmen Road, is the best bushiban in all of Taiwan! Jia-oh!


1 Comment

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One response to “July 12, 2010

  1. Marie

    Wow!! Way to go May, Jonas, Nadia and Wayne. Keep up the good work.

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