I spent the last month working as a counselor at an English camp in Shanghai. This camp markets itself as one linked closely with the Ivy Leagues and charges an exorbitant amount of money to wealthy parents wanting to send their kids off somewhere that will be an investment for their future. To give an idea, the cost for just one two week session could pay for at least two months of rent for my room in San Francisco, or one third of yearly public university tuition.
As you can see, these kids come from money, and I mean ridiculous loads of money. As an example, one of these kids said, “My dad is in charge of all of space” (He means that his dad is in charge of the company that is one of the sole providers of airplanes to China). One child’s dad is an elite director for the Shanghai Stock Exchange. Another’s father invented a chemical that is in widespread use throughout China.
While that’s great and all, problems come with trying to lead a group of wealthy children.
Firstly, there’s already the problem of trying to manage a group of squirrelly children. My first day on the job, I was exhausted trying to play tag and Sharks and Minnows with my class. Children, as you know, seem to have unlimited energy and never seem tired of playing any sort of running/chasing game. However, when they coerce the adult to act as “It” for almost every game, it becomes tiring, especially for someone who hadn’t really run like that since being in high school. Furthermore, constantly telling children to “Sit Down” and “No, we can’t play on the playground now. It’s not playground time” becomes not only annoying but tired. By the end of the month, it became reflex. I didn’t even think about saying the words. They just came out.
Secondly, there’s the language barrier. While I had studied Mandarin Chinese for one year and knew enough to find the bathroom, I definitely didn’t have the capability to manage a group of Chinese children who had poor English ability. For example, a kid pushed over another peer and I told him, “Say sorry to her”. Rather than saying “I’m sorry”, he said “Sorry to her”. In another case, my older 13 year old kids constantly went around saying “Lao Si Ji” or Old Driver. Now being a non-Chinese speaker, I had no idea that this was a curse word implying someone who is more sexually experienced. So I just let them say it naively. This definitely leads to some hilarious antics but also much frustration as it’s hard to communicate or even build a close personal connection with the kids.
Thirdly, there’s the spoiled factor. Most Chinese children are highly valued in their home. As a result, many of them end up very sheltered. This is something that man of Chinese coworkers also attested to, something that surprised me. For example, it is normal in United States camps for children to fall over while running and get scrapes. Parents will usually just pick them up, dust them off, and let them continue running. However, Chinese parents called to complain not only about those similar bruises and cuts, but also paper cuts, and walking around in light sprinkling rain in the short 50m distance between the gym and the school building. As a result, the nurse will put a protective soft eyepatch when a kid gets a ball to his/her face, even though there’s no bruising. She will heavily gauze up a foot just because someone stepped on it. These are only a few examples of the ridiculousness that I observed from the American point of view.
Most of the children are also only children and have never been accustomed to knowing how to share. As a result, when I take a class of 9 to the gym to play basketball, rather than playing a game all together, each kid takes a ball and plays with it by him or herself. It’s not that these kids don’t know how to play, as each one says “I’m so good at basketball” and is excited to go play. If there are no more basketballs, kids will try to dribble a soccer ball, and when even that is gone, they will just sit out simply because they don’t understand the idea of sharing. You can only imagine the fighting that breaks out when there aren’t enough scissors or tape during arts & crafts. One problem child actually said that he didn’t like playing with other kids and would physically sit out of activities if it wasn’t an independent game/activity.
These children are also very competitive to the point that cheating is prevalent in every game. In the United States, and probably everywhere outside of China, we are all used to the idea of shaking hands with the opposing team and saying “Good Game” or something similar. Furthermore, we believe most of the times that games aren’t really fun if you have to cheat. It defeats the purpose of playing. However, whenever I introduce any sort of game, kids will do anything to win. It becomes their sole purpose. And non-competitive games don’t perk their interest. These kids will peek at other peoples’ work and steal answers for example. And at the end of the game, when someone wins, everyone else will instantaneously scream “HE/SHE CHEATED!” and this argument will not end even after I tell them to shut up several times. For example, we played Jeopardy and there was no way to cheat in this game since all the answers were in my head, and not anywhere that children could look or search up. However, one particularly bright kid was able to answer many of the questions and all the other kids yelled that he cheated, even though, again, there was definitely no way this was possible.
Other crazy things I noticed: I’m sure you’ve heard of the tiger moms. I found out that there are actually other crazy moms out there, that goes beyond the standard craziness. These moms are wealthy wives. Many of them come in with five inch heels, fake eyelashes, and ooze a gaudy sort of showiness. One of them was going with her child to a camp in the U.S. for two weeks and was given $6,000 by her husband for shopping, just shopping.
Another story: One girl played Blind man’s bluff and stubbed her toe against a table. The next day, her mom put her in a wheelchair, said her toe was broken, and demanded proper compensation. And what indeed was that compensation? Basically she and her family were meant to go to London after camp ended. However, because of this broken toe, she stated that the family couldn’t go. Therefore, she demanded the camp reimburse her for the entire London vacation. The arguments went on for awhile between her and the camp. The hilarious part was: During camp, the girl would physically get off her wheelchair and run around and play with the other kids. And only upon asking, “Hey, are you okay? Shouldn’t you be in the wheelchair?” would she return to the chair in a sheepish manner. And finally, her mother sent photos of X-rays to the camp as “evidence”, except that the X-rays clearly showed that there was nothing wrong.
And lastly on a final bitter note: China became a very gender equal society after the Cultural Revolution. However, there’s still a definite play of gender stereotypes that both females and males play into, almost on purpose, because that’s how they feel they are supposed to be. It’s a little bit like how the United States is supposed to be racially equal on the surface, but racial stereotypes are definitely very active still. For example, I taught a leadership class in the camp. And for one session, all the students happened to be girls ages 11-15. Upon asking them questions like “Who is your role model?” “What is your dream job” and “Do you want to become wealthy and powerful in the future?”, many of them answered, Taylor Swift (and not because she just wanted to be a popular singer), Cinderella, Snow White, etc for role models. For dream job, a couple of them answered princess. And for the wealthy/powerful question, many answered no because they believed it would be too much work/pressure. On posing the same questions to boys, they answer with more substantial answers, like CEO, Engineer, etc. Girls were also more likely to say “Oh, we cannot do that because we’re girls” or “Can we do the girl version of pushups because we can’t do real ones. It’s impossible”.
Of course, there’s also the distinct and obvious difference between the personalities of girls and boys. The girls were so quiet, almost to the point of saying nothing. They enjoyed drawing and other “quiet activities”. Boys on the other hand said a lot, said they enjoyed fighting, and actually fought a lot with each other to the point of extreme violence.
And lastly, please take into account that this is only a brief glimpse into the gender divide and the qualities of the social elite in China and based off of only my one sided observations of a few children.