“Xie xie,” said Asheville Middle School seventh grade teacher Rebecca Cobbledick as students brought their computers up to her one by one. “It is important to know at least and hello and thank you in lots of languages,” she said. At the end of the second hour of a special day of instruction on a variety of Asian customs surrounding the Lunar New Year, students were starting to get an awareness of a culture very different than their own.
Over 200 seventh grade students rotated through a variety of Lunar New Year stations, from ancient customs and traditions, origami, tai chi, culture, and a web-based hunt for understanding of one of the world’s oldest traditions. Oh yeah, and they went to Asiana for lunch too.
Learning how to use chopsticks and the differences between South Asia and North Asia was an eye opener for some students. Others listened with rapt attention at the explanation of Yin and Yang, and the theories of the ancients. Of course, origami was a favorite of many of the students, as they learned why cranes and dragons are revered creatures in many Asian cultures. Still others were amazed at the diversity of language and ethnicity in China. With over 200 local dialects of the 10-or-so main languages — most only separated by the tone of the words — understanding Chinese can be difficult for western ears. The best example may be how European languages changed from Latin into a variety of tongues from Spain to Norway, and how sometimes if you speak one, you can understand some of the other.
The physical was not ignored, as students got a short introduction to tai chi. An explanation of the traditional hand-over-fist salute and how it relates to the yin and yang and the observance of the natural world led into a discussion about joints and movement and then to actual movements. Students squealed with delight as they felt their bodies do what the teacher had described, and even several students of various martial arts came away with a different perspective on this ‘slow movement’ form.
At Asiana, where students were encouraged to find traditional Lunar New Year foods, the students discussed if Chinese people ate food like that. One of the waiters, Min Zhaou told students who asked, “No, only very rich people, and on special days or holidays.”
After filling out note sheets about the day’s events, students returned to their lives, with maybe a little understanding of what life is like 10,000 miles away.
Students learn basics of Tai Chi.
Students show off their origami creations.
Showing the Yin and Yang proper respect.
Photos by Bill Rhodes