The first time I heard of Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Gardens was when local ex colleagues were incredulous I hadn't heard of it before. According to them, "every" local school kid will make this trip at some point or other, because there are so few of these to see in bustling, concrete jungle HK, and so the few places with animals and plants are well, "famous" to locals. For "city kids" growing up in apartments 30, 40, 70 stories high, navigating the dusty, polluted taxi and mini bus-ridden narrow streets in between school, tuition/ music/ art centers and parents' workplaces around Central, my "very local" ex-colleagues considered this place a "must see."
Back when Rockstar was about 3 we had like, a 15-minute visit because of bad weather, so this time round I was determined to really see the place. School staff wearing large smiley-faced badges would be stationed at the various attractions, and us parent volunteers (ratio of about 3 kids to 1 adult) were to navigate the park and bring the kids to the various attractions, whereupon they would ask/ be asked questions, shown the various exhibits - and the kids would later write accounts in their diaries in class.
3 tunnels and my first ride in a school bus later, after much appreciated "Quiet Games" and the discovery I don't know my left from right in Cantonese well enough when they play the "Turn Left/ Right/ Go Straight" game (btw the Indian mum next to me knew them better than me), we arrive. Rockstar is....... beside himself with excitement.
Initially I'm disoriented and too squeamish about telling someone else's child to behave themselves. So it's getting away from me a little and school staff have to keep intervening to keep the kids in line because I'm such a wuss..... And then when I'm herding Rockstar and friends together for the umpteenth attempt I give them a goofy thumbs up - and my son scowls. "Stop that I hate it."
He's five, and I'm embarrassing him already? Thought I had at least five more years...
Nope, can't have it. Break forth the Dragon Mother. The next time he strays, I bark at Rockstar hard. (Later, I would point out how rude he was, which makes him sheepishly agree he deserved it - hammering Rockstar is always a balance, because he chalks these up and if he thinks you've overdone it he will seriously fight back, which is just all manner of unproductive. And it can be a really long time after, when no one else remembers all the little things. But if he thinks he deserves it he'll even suggest suitable punishments...)
After that no more straying. By my child anyway - I'm still "too" wary of being short with anyone else's child, so someone has made off with my map - I end up getting it back the same way I get stuff back from the baby: Wait for her to be distracted, Oh look! Boar! then grab and hide it in my pocket, only consulting it when she is not looking.
I'll say it for you. Wuss.
We pass at least two other big groups of uniformed kids, roughly the same size as Rockstar's friends. Their accompanying adults (whom I assume are the teachers who follow the entire class around telling them stuff about the exhibits) are all speaking in Cantonese.
It's a much bigger group than what we've got - but I don't remember hearing a single child's voice in Cantonese when the teacher is talking quietly at the front - nor do I spy a single raised hand.
Hmm. Our Singaporean friends have told us this is not unlike quite a few schools back home - the kids don't say anything. It's just a very different school of thought, not that different from what we had growing up - my dad always used to say "Children should be seen and not heard."
Obviously we're for the ESF way (or we wouldn't be sending our kids here) where the kids are supposed to be "risk takers," always raising hands asking questions, risking wrong answers rather than not trying at all, volunteering nuggets of information - Rockstar has "lectured" me before about how "mistakes help you learn" in his little authoritative too-serious voice (I am not kidding) but I have to say, when we were in that narrow insect cave where "ARE THESE THE ANTS THAT CARRY POISON?" "THAT LOOKS LIKE A TRAP-JAW ANT" "THIS IS LIKE MY NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC BOOK" is just bouncing off the walls and ceiling I feel like my head is going to pop. Obviously I am not in small space with a bunch of little kids enough to have developed that coveted "selective deafness".
There's what looks like a whole class of local school kids standing quietly at the start of the tunnel with a teacher explaining something very quietly at a glass display (in fact both me and my partner would strain to hear what they're saying on several occasions as we pass classes like this) when we unleash Rockstar and his half-a-dozen-or-so friends into the cave. I almost try to explain in broken Cantonese that we. are. parents. Not. teachers. To be fair in class our kids are not like that at all, I've seen them. They're just like that now because we're the ones whose authority is just getting stomped on by those big little white sneakers. Well me, anyway. My partner is busy trying to find all the attractions on the map and asking for directions along the way because a) my map has been swiped and b) my direction sense sucks anyway. It's always sucked. I don't even drive because of it.)
(Btw they took a lot nicer pics with the school cameras, getting the kids up around the attractions for lotsa photo ops, just that I don't put any pics up with others' faces in case anyone minds so that puts a huge constraint on my own number of pretty pics...)
In the end I only really tell off Rockstar's Partners In Crime once - when they attempt to stomp in the organic flower beds. "Stop!!!" That one was reflex, and it turns out that was all I really needed - after that I finally get over my fear of kids who go running to their mums with "Rockstar's mum is mean!" "She wouldn't let me go to the toilet (wherever the hell that is when we are standing in the middle of some organic garden)!" "She wouldn't let me eat my lunch (in the middle of the flower beds) when I was so hungry!"
(Like, name one princess or fairy who has her lunch under the blazing sun in the middle of organic flower beds fertilized with That Which I Would Rather Not Know. Yes those are flowers. That is where any semblance to fairytales ends.)
When I talk about liking the dealing room stress of markets-moving-at-breakneck-speed sort because it's good for me, keeps me fast and careful (boredom will always kill me where hard work never would), this would probably be the little kiddie school equivalent. You know, that old sushi story about diners being able to taste the difference if the fish has been dead for awhile, and then their realizing even packing the fish sluggishly alive wasn't good enough, so someone got the brainwave of putting a shark in the tank because making the fish swim around a little to avoid being eaten made them taste better when they finally were.
We all need a shark in our tank. You kids were freaking stomping in the flower beds. That is just wayyy beyond acceptable, there is no way in hell any of your mummies would accept that. I have found my carnivorous, predatory Chondrichthyes. Hello, shark. So nice you're finally here. 8 Golden Words:
"I know your mum. I'm telling on you"
(A-hah! So they are mum-fearing! It's less that they're doing all this because their mums let them, more like Let's Have A Revolt While Our "Government" Is A Big Fat Wuss)
"Aww... You'd tell? Whyyyyyy..."
I have a lot less problem after that. Fist pump, and I don't care how embarrassed the Rockstar is.
Only problem is, we initially missed a lot of stuff, "overshot," partly because the kids were so excited they were moving really fast - and so we end up navigating a huge part of the park in the hot sun twice - in order to see more sights.
By the time we approach the monkeys at the other end of the park, Rockstar is about to crash. I'm quite disappointed, because school staff do a valiant job of trying to cheer him up for photos, pointing out the different species of monkey, and having all the kids identify them... The whole monkey species conversation would've been right up Rockstar's alley (as were the flamingo/ turtle vs tortoise ones at the station after that), if only he had still been receptive to it. And if there weren't a whole bunch of local kids who arrive at the same attraction right then.
AND now I've lost two of our kids amongst the huge sea of local uniforms crowding round the glass. Two mildly apologetic local school teachers smile and wave at me (without a word) that they are aware I've got two kids over by the windows on one end of the monkeys' cage - which is now 2-3 local uniformed-kids deep. Then I extract Rockstar's friends and move them a little further away to a quieter area. There's going to be hell to pay if he drops that. I take his lunch box from him and start stuffing sushi pieces in his mouth.He couldn't make it up and down the hilly roads to all the attractions. Is it because he's too little??
Obviously not the first time I worry about that. But later at home, I would go over the day and realize each time his friends stopped for snacks Rockstar had insisted on pressing on to see the monkeys and what-not, at one point standing impatiently in the hot sun while the others sat on a kerb to get out their snacks. I should've made sure he ate.
Ah well... after the sushi break (and turtles) Rockstar would catch his second wind, just in time to make it back to the lunch area where he's already eaten almost everything and so proceeds to run around with a few friends, in a little circle like a nut.
And then back on the bus, where Rockstar sleeps the entire trip back to school. He comes up tops in the Quiet Games 😀 I look behind me, unsurprised to find he's not the only one.
Next to me, his two classmates borrow my map, go through where they've been, and then politely return it, before beginning a discussion about whether Ninjago or Star Wars is better........
ps: Rockstar came back from school today still all enthusiastic about the trip, as they're still doing classwork around it...