Monthly Archives: September 2011

Idul Fitri and Mooncake Festival Celebrations

This is how we put on a festival at Kingston, y’all.

I mentioned before that Idul Fitri is the Indonesian translation of “Eid al-Fitr,” the holiday at the end of the month of Ramadhan. The Mooncake Festival (aka Mid-Autumn Festival, Moon Festival, or in Chinese, Zhongqiu Jie) is a festival holiday in China that is celebrated by getting together with relatives, Moon-gazing, and eating dense round cakes filled with egg yolk or lotus bean paste. There is a whole story that goes along with it that I’ll talk about when I get to the performances.

Indonesia’s main ethnic populations are local Indonesian/Islander, Hokkien Chinese, Indian, and Muslim descended from the Arab traders who inhabited the coasts of the country from the 1400s on. Our school is largely ethnic Chinese, because those are the families that typically have money for private tuition; as a result, we try to give as much attention to Chinese holidays and traditions as to the Indonesian ones (which usually are the Muslim holidays). It just so happened that this year, Idul Fitri and the Mooncake Festival occurred around the same time, so we decided to put on a celebration honoring both holidays.

In the staff meeting where we discussed the celebrations, I realized I was sitting around a table full of Indonesian and Filipina teachers, most of whom are Christian, and the rest Muslim. The school has a few Chinese teachers but they are all either in Nursery and Kindergarten, or special subjects (IT and Mandarin), and also weren’t present for the staff meeting. So, since I speak Mandarin enough to teach a song or story, and since I’ve also lived through an actual Chinese Moon Festival, I figured I’d probably better offer myself as a resource for putting together the Moon Festival side of things.

(It was the next day that I found out I was being shipped off to Malaysia for two whole days.)

We decided to split the classes down the middle, to have half working on Idul Fitri, and half working on Moon Festival. So the class teachers for P1, P4 and P5 (same as 1st, 4th, and 5th grades) volunteered to have their classes do the Chinese celebration. Of those classes I only teach the P5’s, so I was looking forward to working with the P4’s (a handful of whom are in my choir) and the little P1’s. We decided it would be a good idea to have each class take on some aspect of the holiday.

Well, I was looking forward to it until I found out that I’d be in Malaysia for two of the practice days, and also didn’t have internet for the entire weekend previous. I got that email on Sunday saying, “Hey, we need something for these classes to do on Monday and Tuesday.” I suggested that P1 do a presentation on mooncakes, P4 could do a traditional Mandarin children’s song, and P5 could do a pantomime drama to tell the story. So basically had I set myself up for researching all of these things, putting together crib sheets, plus teaching P4 and P5 their song and drama, and I wasn’t going to be there for two of the days; but I didn’t want to short shrift the holiday celebrations.

Thank God for my colleagues, who are seriously awesome.  Our Mandarin teacher, who has been insanely busy teaching the Mandarin for the entire school this term since the other Mandarin teacher quit at the beginning of the year, dedicated a whole extra class period to teaching the P4 class the words to their song; the P1 teachers took my notes on Mooncakes and told me not to worry about it at all, they would handle making a presentation of some sort out of it. The P5 class teacher was instrumental in arranging schedules and rooms so that I could have the P4 and P5 classes for as much time as possible on Wednesday and Thursday. Without those women, we would not have had a show.

I forgot to mention – while all of this was going on, the students and class teachers were also preparing to have a bazaar after the festival performances. We’ve been working on a series of charity fundraisers and projects to send money to Somalia via ChildFund. They’ve all been working incredibly hard to get this off the ground, and the culminating event was this bazaar where the students sold arts, crafts, and food for the parents who came to watch the performances.

Oh, and the Y7 class teacher contracted Dengue fever this past week, and was out until Thursday afternoon.

Needless to say, this whole week has been absolutely insane. Wednesdays are usually really busy for me anyway, since I teach 6 class periods plus lunch duty and a study hall; but this week every spare minute (and a few where I was supposed to be somewhere else) went to the P4 and P5 classes for performances, as well as trying to cover the sick teacher’s periods with Y7 and P4 (math).

Poor P4 had to put up with me for 4 whole class periods. We had a lot of fun working on their song, “Grandpa Makes Mooncakes for Me” – they were so impressed when I started working with them and they found out I could sing in Mandarin! And we put together a cute little choreographed dance to go along with it.

P5’s contribution was, as I said, to do a pantomime drama of the story of Hou Yi and Chang’E, otherwise known as the Archer and the Moon Princess. The basic story is that Hou Yi was this great hero who shot down nine of the ten suns that used to be in the sky and saved the kingdom from drought and famine, and as a reward was given the Pill of Immortality. One of his apprentices tried to steal the pill, and to protect it, Chang’E swallowed it herself, and it caused her to float away off to the Moon. Hou Yi saw that the Moon was very bright that night, and that her shape flitted over its face, so he put out her favorite snacks on a table in the garden and stared up at the Moon the whole night. Now the Moon Festival is celebrated according to the lunar calendar on the 15th day of the 8th month (which is the Full Moon in September or October, depending on the year). P5 chose some students to narrate the story and some to portray the characters in pantomime, and the resulting drama was unbelievably cute.

Thursday was much the same, every spare moment dedicated to practices and songs and dancing and making paper masks and all sorts of craziness. Meanwhile the students were spending all of their spare moments finishing lanyards, bracelets, bookmarks, and other goodies to sell at the bazaar. Kingston was this week an absolute hive of activity.

I think we were all a little relieved at the arrival of Friday. Our schedule was seriously wonky for the entire day, because we had to have the performances in the morning before Kindergarten and Nursery (who also had little, ADORABLE presentations) went home. So classes were about 20 minutes long all day, and there was an hour to set up the bazaar stalls, and everyone was running around getting their food and drinks prepared, and doing last minute prep for the performances. I was just glad when the performance started. I had to get up onstage to conduct the P4’s, and was backstage cuing entrances for P5, but after that was over, I was all done and got to sit back and relax for the rest of the performances. That was actually really nice, because I got to see the P6 and Y7 (my students) perform without having to worry about anything else. For the amount of time we had to put it together, it was a tremendously well-run and enjoyable performance. So proud of my kids.

Oh, but not so proud of their parents. Apparently no one knows how to applaud here, unless their child is performing. Also, the parents trickled in at various times through the performance, some missing their child’s performance completely, and left as soon as their child was finished. These are stay-at-home moms, y’all. They spend a lot of days hanging around the school uninvited anyway, and yet couldn’t spend 40 minutes watching a performance that the whole school worked so hard on? Community-building is something that needs a lot of work here. But the kids were fabulous.

And the bazaar went really well, also! I don’t have exact figures, but it sounds like we will be sending almost $700 USD to Somalia to help the relief efforts. Really impressive, considering their wares mostly cost $1-$2 each. Some classes did some sponsorship activities as well over the last few weeks, but still, I think we pulled in most of that just from the 1-hour sale. Go Kingston! And that’s thanks to the parents, to give credit where it is due. They are great at spending money for a cause, even if they can’t sit still and watch some adorable kids perform for less than an hour.

So, a totally crazy week, but lots of fun. I am very much looking forward to things getting back to normal next week.


Mother Nature, and a Bit of Malaysia

Things have been a bit exciting around here lately, both on the clock and off. Between earthquakes and earthquake drills, festival holidays, upcoming projects at school, an unexpected trip to Malaysia to finally get my paperwork all sorted out and an aggressively stormy beginning to the rainy season, this week has been sort of hectic.

Let’s start with Mother Nature, shall we? Anybody who gets here through facebook probably saw my post earlier this week and knows that Northern Sumatra experienced a “massive” earthquake this previous Monday night. The earthquake was evidently pretty large, registering 6.6 and only about 110 km (68 miles) away from us, but it was over 9 km (5.2 miles) deep. Closer to the epicenter the quake did cause some houses to collapse, and unfortunately at least one child was killed as a result; here in Medan, though, it was just a moderately mild shaking. I was almost asleep and thought, that’s odd, I wonder why my housemates upstairs are stomping on the floor? and then., as the cobwebs receded from my brain, I realized that my bed was shaking and my closets and windows were creaking pretty loudly. At that point I figured, since the shaking was still going on, I should probably go stand in a doorway, so I got out of bed, unplugged my computer and headed for the door, and stood there for a good 15-20 seconds before the shaking stopped. All told it lasted a full minute or more, and certainly got my adrenaline pumping.

Well, that got us to thinking we’d better get serious about emergency drills at the school. So the students have now been roundly instructed in what to do if there is an earthquake. Unfortunately, when the Primary 4 class did a presentation on How To Behave in an Earthquake, they were somewhat… interpretive with emergency procedures (there may have been a song and dance, it was pretty cute) but the upshot is that now all the students run around putting their hands on top of their heads since that was the dance move when P4 instructed everyone to “cover their heads.” Also unfortunately, a lot of the teachers didn’t learn it the way we did, so we have a lot of teachers with hands on top of their heads instead of actually, you know, protecting anything. That’s a battle we’ll be fighting for a little bit.

Mother Nature’s also been gifting us with quite the storm season. We’ve now moved into the “Rainy Season,” which as far as I can tell is different from the dry season by roughly an extra hour of rain per day, and a bit of increase in the number of thunderstorms. The second weekend in September saw 6 thunderstorms in 2 days, and more than one morning this week we’ve awakened to torrential rain pelting our windows. Last weekend we had a windstorm that knocked a huge branch into the building’s transformer and killed our power for the better part of 2 days. It’s been interesting, to say the least.

I’m going to talk about the Festival in a separate post, because it just went on today and it was actually quite the production, with lots of funny little incidents and goings-on. So next post I’ll tell you all about that.

I’ll wrap up here with a quick description of my trip to Malaysia. As many of you know, the visa situation has been rather frustrating and drawn-out, what with having to get a new passport and then a week-long trip to the States. It’s finally all sorted. Here’s how that happened:

Friday afternoon I got called into the principal’s office, because she had just received news that my work visa was finally ready to be put into my passport. The thing can only be picked up, by me, from an Indonesian consulate, and because of our location it made the most sense to have it sent to Penang, Malaysia, which is an island city on the western coast of Malaysia. So Friday afternoon I’m told I have a flight to Penang at noon on Sunday, and I’ll need to be gone for two days (the first day to drop off the passport, the second day to pick it up), and can I please have detailed lesson plans ready for substitutes by Monday morning? So I’m scrambling to figure out what materials I can take home, what I need to leave for subs, how I’m going to get all my worksheets printed so that the subs will have them before I leave (that didn’t at all happen, I wound up emailing everything to the school) and generally working in a frenzied state for most of that afternoon.

Plus, then the internet went out. All weekend.

I have a dial-up broadband modem (broadband is a loose term), a little USB attachment that I plug into my computer to get internet at home. Well, the thing is incredibly slow, and only sometimes finds a network to which it can connect, so my internet at home is spotty at the best of times. I mentioned about the weather this weekend – as a result of the wind and rain, the broadband networks were all unavailable for most of the weekend. I wound up going to Starbucks for about 5 hours on Saturday just to try and get any work done, and of course it was packed and there is one outlet in the entire cafe (this is not unusual here, at all) so I sat smiling serenely with my cup of coffee, all the while going slightly mad with stress.

Thus, I wound up spending a goodly portion of Sunday afternoon, after reaching Penang, checking into the hotel, getting switched to a room that had working lights and internet, and scrounging some food, I sat down and finished downloading all my materials and emailing out my lesson plans. For Monday. At 10pm on Sunday night.

Also, whilst checking my email on Sunday night, I found out that I was supposed to be in charge of coordinating the Chinese portion of the Festival this week, which meant being in charge of figuring out activities and performances for 3 class grades. Whew! I told them I would figure out something the next day, and went to the bar for a much-deserved glass of wine.

Monday I got up at 7am to get breakfast and shower (blessed, blessed hot water in the shower! I should stay in hotels more often) and then head over to the consulate as soon as it opened. I got in, waited patiently in the madness, a complete lack of queues, for all of 5 minutes before decided to pull a China-style line cut and just walked up to the visa window. After some finagling, we managed to work out that I’d come back and get my passport that afternoon, so I had some time to go back to the hotel and finish my lesson plans before returning for the passport. I also wanted to wander around the city a little bit, since I had been out walking in search of food the previous evening and stumbled upon two Buddhist temples just a few blocks away – one of them houses the Largest Reclining Buddha in Asia (refer to first Spring Festival post of last year for discussion of ridiculous Buddha superlatives), but I actually did wind up working for most of the day, getting my lessons sorted and then making plans for the Chinese Mid-Autumn festival portion of today’s activities, though I got out to try some Malaysian street food (delicious) and go for a swim in the hotel pool. It was pretty hazy and gray for most of the two days I was there, which precluded a trip to the beach so I wasn’t too sad to miss out; next time I go to a tropical island, though, I want a drink with a tiny umbrella and a beach towel and several hours of uninterrupted reading/iPod listening/sunbathing. Thank you very much.

Okay. Back soon with tales of the combined Idul Fitri/Moon Festival celebrations, because they were epic.