|Our Kashgar tour guide, Ms. Wu, informed us
that China International Travel Service (CITS), her employer and the organizer
of our tour, had booked for us a visit to a local Uighur kindergarten. Tom
and I were instantly wary – school tours like this are a staple of
CITS and seem designed to showcase how content, well-treated and gosh-darned
cute China’s minorities are under Han rule. On the few times I haven’t
managed to avoid such visits I’ve felt very uncomfortable, and the
kids appeared to be forced and almost robotic, ultra-conscious of the fact
that their smiles must be at their widest for foreign guests.
But Ms. Wu pointed out that our kids might enjoy seeing other children and their school, and since Miranda and Sami are, after all, heroically dealing with the challenges and mysteries of a Chinese school, we figured that they might be interested to see how similar or different this Uighur school was to Fang Cao Di, their school in Beijing.
Turns out that this is a special elementary school emphasizing the performance of traditional Uighur music and dancing, and that we were going to see not an ordinary day’s classes – the school was actually closed for the October 1 holiday – but a special, just-for-us performance by the children. Now we were intrigued.
We arrived at the school on a beautiful, sunny morning, and spent about 45 minutes just looking around.
While waiting for the performance, Tom and the kids found a small playground and – purely in the interests of comparison, of course – proceeded to check out all of the apparatus, accompanied by a young boy who turned out to be the son of one of the teachers who was preparing the kids for their command performance.
We were finally escorted into a special performance hall – complete with a miniature, red-carpeted stage, proscenium and curtains, and rows of seats for the audience. In the few moments while the kids got organized backstage, we checked out a couple of glittering display cases stuffed with medals, trophies and plaques these kids – or their older predecessors – had won in various musical competitions. It was a school for the performing arts, and these kids were pros!
From the first moment they strutted onto the stage, these five and six years olds owned the place – and us.
Yes, they were cute, but they were also talented and obviously having an incredibly good time, singing with gusto and dancing with surprisingly graceful and subtle moves. Miranda and Sami, longtime dancers themselves, watched with great admiration and I led the enthusiastic clapping for some of the more jaunty numbers (since we were the only guests I felt like we were on show as well, and didn’t want to disappoint!)
One of the two boys in the group was a natural ham, and danced his duet – a boy-meets-girl story – with great verve. Next, the girls did several numbers with props like tambourines and tiny saucers that they clicked together like castanets. And through the whole thing they sang their adorable hearts out. The final song, to our delight, was a sort-of English-language rendition of “Do, Re, Mi.” The kids onstage were surprised and then ecstatic that we sang along. (You can listen to the performance -- and us singing along -- by clicking here).
After the performance, we whipped out our little Iphoto Polaroid camera (BIG thanks to our friends Janis and David!) and lined up the kids so each could have their own mini-portrait – our way of thanking them for a wonderful show. We also got them together for a group photo with their teachers, and then Miranda and Sami finally sat down with the group for a goofy pose.
We came cynical, and left enchanted. Just proves that when traveling, it’s best to keep an open mind.
Speaking of which, we took advantage of an "open mind" moment the next day for a little lesson in rural life.