“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” (Henry James)
Yes, think glamourous Victorian ladies enjoying their delicate cucumber sandwiches and creamy fruit scones at Fortnum & Mason or the Ritz or wherever, drinking tea served in floral china tea-cups, talking about the weather – and just a bit of gossip – and there you have it, that’s Afternoon Tea, English-style. Well, that’s kind of the impression we all have, me too!
And that’s what I was doing at Xingren Elementary School (新北市淡水區興仁國小) last Friday, November 20. Starting at 8:30 am, all 6 classes, Grades 1-6, each came for 40 minutes each, all dressed up in their best outfits (me too!), and we drank tea together from dainty little tea cups and had chocolate biscuits. Fortunately Carrefour in Tamsui sells PG Tips and McVities chocolate digestives (labelled “Imported from the UK”), so it’s perfect. No cucumber sandwiches or cream scones, but hey, it was great! Such a simple thing to do, but such fun, and everyone was so happy – and the kids were so well-behaved! The principal came for one of the classes too. We learned how to sit and not slouch, to stir and not slop, to sip and not slurp ~ ladies and gentlemen in the making! And we learned a whole lot of English too, like, ‘Would you like some milk?’ ‘Is the tea good?’ ‘It’s delicious!’ ‘Would you like some more tea?’ ‘Yes, please’ and ‘No, thank you’.
Xingren Elementary School is our local school to St. John’s University, just 2 bus-stops down the road towards Tamsui. Many of the children who come to our summer camps here at Advent Church are pupils there, and Advent Church members go there each week to teach character education classes. The school has 91 pupils, ranging from 12 pupils in Grade 6 (although 7 of them had gone to a sports event at another school that day) to 19 in Grade 5, and all others in-between.
In May 2015, we went along to Xingren to help the children celebrate their Sports Day, and in October 2016, we went to help them celebrate their centenary, and we also went a few years ago for Christmas carol-singing. This is the first time I’ve been invited by the principal, academic supervisor and English teachers, and with the support of Bishop Chang, to give a little input as a real live foreigner. Rosa from Advent Church kindly came with me to help. Thanks to everyone for the warm welcome and their appreciation!
It’s just so easy for children (and adults!) to be weighed down by spelling, grammar and vocabulary when learning English, sigh ~ it is such a nightmare! I mean who invented this crazy grammar whereby a word like ‘go’ changes to ‘went’ in the past tense? Why can’t verbs just stay the same, like they do in Chinese? And all those complicated tenses that we have in English, sigh and groan! English Tea-Time provides a little light relief, something to encourage the children to keep up with their English, and to use it in a fun way, and learn a little about international culture at the same time ~ plus the Taiwan government is pushing for more and more English in schools and this is one good way of achieving that aim.
Thanks to the English teachers, Ariel and Sophia for all the photos ~ they were posted on the school facebook page, linking to their photo album here. And special thanks to all the children for a great day!
Regarding Tea-Time at Xingren in a time of Covid-19, Taiwan continues its long run of no domestic cases since April, and is running normally as far as work and school is concerned. Temperatures are checked on arrival at school, and facemasks are required for entry at the school gate. Once inside, masks are not compulsory, but as from December 1, new winter regulations will come into force, so changes are coming.
Next month, I hope to return there for a class about Christmas. Watch this space, and in the meantime, sit yourself down and have a nice cup of tea and chocolate digestive biscuit!