International Education or What MsCaroline Has Been Up To

Photo from the incredible Cathay Pacific Chinese New Year Night Parade in Kowloon. This may be the only thing I ever write about it.
(Note:  MsCaroline knows that many of her readers are expats who spend much time and energy worrying and wondering about the quality of their children's education overseas.  MsC is not saying that overseas education is a trouble-free proposition, but in the last few weeks, she has observed some amazing stuff at her own child's school, and she knows that what she has seen is more of the rule - rather than the exception - in many international schools.  She still wants to hit Son#2 upside the head (please excuse the Americanism) on occasion and shout, "Do you have any idea how fortunate you are? How incredible this opportunity is? How incomparable these experiences are?" But she knows that there is no point in it.  Suffice it say, parents, these are the aspects of international education that are priceless.)

Make no mistake:  MsCaroline is an independent spirit, wild and free, who answers to no one but her Inner Voice, so she does not feel obligated to update her blog regularly or provide posts about her travels even though she explicitly promised her readers that she would do so and typically posts fairly regularly. No, MsCaroline goes where the wind takes her, blogging when the spirit moves her, and dancing to the beat of her own drummer.  However, as a courtesy, she wants to let her readers know the whys and wherefores of her unusually long silence and why they probably will never hear haven't yet heard about Chinese New Year in Hong Kong.

First of all, those of you who have children and/or jobs will understand that, while taking a whirlwind 5-day trip to Hong Kong sounds fabulous and jet-setterish, the reality is that preparing for - and recovering from - such a trip takes much more time than it sounds.  MsCaroline wishes she were the type who just threw a toothbrush, a few pairs of clean underwear, and a thoughtfully-combined selection of mix-n-match tops and bottoms that would all coordinate flawlessly and take her from the boardroom to an evening at the Nightclub with the merest addition of a well-placed scarf.  However, either because MsCaroline does not frequent boardrooms or Nightclubs, or because she buys the wrong scarves, she always ends up packing too many things and ends up wearing the same jeans and sweater for her entire trip anyway.  The problem is, MsCaroline never knows in advance which jeans and which sweater will turn out to be the perfect combination, so she has to pack all possible options, which then just sit in the corner of the hotel room, being pushed around by the housekeeping staff while MsC trots out the same boring ensemble each morning.  

The point of this rambling commentary on MsCaroline's poor packing skills is that, once she gets back home, it's not just a simple matter of unpacking a few items, tossing the suitcase into the closet, and returning to daily life.  No, it's piles of washing, drying, folding and putting away (times 3) and fighting your way into the storage closet shelf which only MrL can reach anyway. Not to mention all the flotsam and jetsam you pick up when you go on such a trip (ticket stubs:  keep or toss? Brochures? Free magazines? Complimentary maps? Dragon calendar? MsCaroline does not scrapbook, so there's really no point in keeping any of it, yet she struggles with letting it go.  Topic for another post.)

So, what with the unpacking and washing and trying to cram the suitcases into the closet, and going back to work, MsCaroline found herself a bit short of time and therefore has not yet been able to share anything but the tiniest taste of the glories of Chinese New Year in Hong Kong with whomever's reading these days.  

This time, however, there was even more to contend with.  Within days of her return, MsCaroline found herself sucked into a whirlwind of activity, most of it concerning Son#2 and his involvement with his school's interscholastic activities in the area of Drama.  The international schools in the Asia Pacific region have a variety of competitions and exchanges in all the areas you would expect(sports, music, arts), which is just like what one would expect Back Home, except that, instead of hopping onto a bus or train or plane and spending the day or weekend in another city, the teams all hop onto airplanes and spend a day or weekend in another country in Asia, staying with families at the hosting school and learning about another country and culture.  (Note:  when people talk about the 'incredible opportunities' experienced by expat kids, this is an excellent example of what they mean.)  

Naturally, Son#2's school was hosting this year, so of course MsCaroline was hosting a student from another school.  Our guest turned out to be a delightful young Aussie from Hong Kong, of all places, which gave MsC an opportunity to learn all about the Egg Flip, a sort of Australian(British?) breakfast smoothie involving raw eggs, which seemed suspect to her but was heartily consumed by her young guest, who was just bursting with health, so the raw eggs apparently weren't a problem. Naturally, MsCaroline had also volunteered to help feed the hordes of starving teenagers who were spending long hours each day at school learning about a variety of aspects of international theater arts, performing for each other, and creating a final performance for parents and the community.  For the most part MrL and MsC's involvment (when not whipping up Egg Flips)consisted of carting students (or food for them) back and forth from the school (a 45-minute drive across Seoul) and/or attending performances, which was definitely the highlight of the 5-day event.  

For this year's event, the school had arranged for instruction by experts in 3 different fields of theatre arts, including a type of Indian dance,  Japanese dance/performance art, and a rare type of Korean Mask Dance.  The 3 experts in their fields (and I do not use the term 'expert' lightly:  the artist who taught the Korean Mask Dance workshop is listed as 'National Intangible Treasure #17' in Korea, where people can be National Treasures, along with the more mundane priceless ceramics, palaces, and artwork;  the other two are also internationally known for their work) coached their teams of young thespians to teach them the basics of their respective arts and put together a brilliant performance in the space of just a few days.  

The culminating performance was a far cry from the typical American high-school auditorium fare, and included:

Son#2's most excellent eyeliner

  • Kathakali dance, a type of Indian classical storytelling dance that includes highly stylized gestures, makeup, and costumes.  Son#2 performed with this group, and - as far as we could tell- acquitted himself admirably.  (Granted, when he was an infant and we were engaging in those parental daydreams of our child's future, I admit that we neglected to include Kathakali dance in the list of possibilities, but once we got used to the heavy eyeliner, we enjoyed it tremendously.) The piece we saw involved a Hindu God who wanted to find a flower for his wife and included encounters with a number of other deities, all with their own glorious face paint and stylized hand and foot gestures and facial expressions.  

  • Butoh, a post-WWII performance art that originated in Japan and is (in a huge, over-generalized nutshell) a response to post-war industrialization and the exploration of societal taboos.  This performance we saw was a group of students who moved together in slow, waving motions, like a giant sea anemone, with hideous expressions on their faces and extremely ungraceful foot placement.  MsCaroline thought it was all very grotesque, and was relievedpleased to discover after the performance that that was precisely the look they were going for. 
This made MsC think of zombies, which turned out to be pretty much the reaction they wanted.

Tremendous use of shadow and light.  My favorite part.
  • Korean Mask Dance, which was very colorful and bright and accompanied by traditional Korean drums and percussion instruments.  The masks themselves were all hand-made by the expert leading the group, and were works of art within themselves.  All of us living in Korea have seen at least a little bit of this type of dancing, so it was very enlightening for the students to get an inside look into the art and its nuances.

Masks hand-made by an expert

While MsCaroline absolutely enjoyed the weekend and her (extremely polite, much-neater-than-her-own-son-as-she-pointed-out-on-several-occasions) out-of-town-guest, she found it slightly difficult to keep up with her own job and her duties at home, which, naturally, is why she volunteered to spend her day off going on a field trip with Son#2's art class.  Needless to say, it wasn't anything normal, like going to a museum. If MsCaroline's readers know anything about her, it is that she jumps at the opportunity to experience the bizarre, which explains why, just days after watching our son stalk around the stage in yellow makeup and artfully angled  eyeliner, I accompanied his art class on a short field trip to the fish market.  

Yes, you read that correctly.  A field trip to the fish market.  Let me point out that, since I knew what was going on, this did not strike me as an unusual thing when I posted my status on FaceBook until one of my friends responded:  "Art trip class field trip to the fish market? Interesting.  Does the band club go on field trips to slaughterhouses?"

However, now that I recognize my error, let me clarify:  Son#2's teacher had learned about the Japanese art form of Gyotaku, and decided to teach it to her high school art class. For those of you not interested in following the link, Gyotaku is, at its most basic, the art of covering your fish with ink and using it like a giant stamp.  Apparently, this was how Japanese fishermen recorded their catches (no more lying about the one that got away, I guess) which eventually evolved into an art form in its own right. Given the fact that we have an outstanding fish market here in Seoul, she arranged for the students to take a brief trip to the Noryangin Fish Market where they could purchase their own fish/octopus/denizen of the deep for use in preparing their own prints.  MsCaroline - who is hardened from years of teaching teenagers - volunteered to chaperone, which basically involved riding the bus there with the students and walking around the fish market watching the groups bargain for their fish and explain to the mystified fishmongers that they would be using them for artistic purposes.

The nature of the art dictated that the fish would need to be gutted (but not de-scaled) and, ideally, have their eyes removed (apparently, they tend to leak if you press them too hard onto the paper) - an activity which resulted in a great deal of squealing (on the part of the girls) and hearty laughter (on the part of the good-natured merchants.)  

The return bus ride was relatively quiet, as all of the students came to the unpleasant realization that they smelled like a fish market and would be likely to spend the rest of the day smelling like one.  The gloom was only punctuated occasionally by hysterical shrieking as one of the freshly-butchered fish engaged in some post-mortem reflex activity and began flopping jerkily on a bus seat in its shroud of newspaper and plastic bags.  This made the return trip somewhat less pleasant, but far more exciting.

Fortunately for MsCaroline, her presence was only needed during the Fish Market part of the day, and she was able to gratefully head straight home, where she washed every. single. thing. she wore to the market, including her shoes, her coat, and her purse. Son#2 and his classmates, however, spent the rest of the day in Gyotaku workshop, where - after a number of dismal failures, he produced this, which MsCaroline thinks is much cooler than anything she ever produced in art class:

Octopus and, no, he did not drop the octopus, those are called 'ghost prints.' 

While MsCaroline realizes that she still hasn't told you about Chinese New Year in Hong Kong, she's pleased to report that things are looking pretty good on the international education front, although she reserves the right to change her mind after Son#2 sits his iGCSEs in May.  Stay tuned.


Gosh, you have been busy. All fascinating stuff. We can certainly wait for Hong Kong, but I am still expecting it you know!
MsCaroline said…
NVG- I've been reading your posts and think of you every time I look (guiltily) through my photos! I have to say, there's so much to talk about but still so much more that we didn't even get to see. We are just going to have to go back - no other option. ;)
Nance said…
Holy Crap. In high school, my kid went to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame And Museum.

No fish.
BavarianSojourn said…
Glad all is well, apart from incredibly busy. The dragon at the top is stupendous, and I am slightly in love with that octopus picture! :)
MsCaroline said…
Nance - Yep, pretty bizarre, isn't it? In all fairness, though, there are probably activities that your kids took/take for granted that would seem pretty exotic to kids at this high school. Son#2 - who loves living here 95% of the time - turns 16 today. No driver's license: driving age here is 18. He's been a little sad about it, if the truth be told-even though he can travel independently anywhere he wants in Seoul using public transport. You can't have everything, I guess.
MsCaroline said…
Emma- If I ever have the time and patience to sort through the hundreds (no exaggeration) of photos we took, it's going to be a really fun post to write. Key word: 'if.' I completely agree with you about the octopus picture as well - it's hanging in the hallway at school right now, and I'm impatiently waiting for him to be allowed to bring it home. I've already told #2 that he can't keep it in his room - it's mine!
Wilma said…
I have a feeling the highlight of my son's high school career will be getting to leave campus and go across the street to McDonald's with his best friend who will be a junior when he's a freshman. LOL The octopus picture is really cool. I have a picture of the Catalinas that Sean did in 5th grade hanging up on our games cabinet so I know how you feel about wanting that octopus home. :)
MsCaroline said…
Wilma- Cullen would probably quite jealous - they're not allowed to leave campus for lunch - so it just goes to show you that it's all perspective, right?
Wilma said…
Ray says they have to stop in the office and get permission to leave but that it is no problem. They sometimes even leave between classes and run across to Starbuck's to by an over-priced cup of coffee. LOL In the plaza by the school there is Starbuck's, Subway, Jack In The Box, and now McDonald's. Those places make money hand over fist from the high school students.
WOW! You're right, this overseas education is amazing. And no, they will have no idea right now how fortunate they are but they will one day. Like so many things about parenting--they payback happens many years from now!

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