I knew one of the following things before the rehearsal started:
- The rehearsal is at 2:00 pm.
- (Why are we having a rehearsal? A rehearsal of what?)
- The contest will run all day for two days.
- The venue is near the main intersection downtown.
- Over ninety children will compete, aged from 3 to 12.
- We will climb four flights of stairs in hot humid weather to get to the auditorium.
- The children will give a speech, sing a song or tell a story and then I will ask them a few questions to test their English comprehension.
- The first place winners will go on to compete in Beijing.
- The contest will be filmed for broadcast on television.
The other thing I learned was that the private school hosting the competition accepts the graduates of the school I teach at, -- that is to say my students -- for internships and summer jobs. Many of them were hired by this company after serving their internships. From what I could see, the curriculum and activities at this school were very good and the pupil/teacher ratio was excellent. So I had every reason to be on my best behavior, even though I felt like I didn't know what I was walking into.
Although I was told I'd be the lead questioner, I decided to share the question-asking duties equally with another Chinese judge whose academic credentials were superior to mine. We foreigners don't deserve star billing just because we're foreigners. It could be too easy to get a swelled head around here and think that you're something special just because you can speak English.
Of course the children were as cute as the dickens, but by the afternoon of the second day, The Speech became rather hypnotic and we judges were quietly struggling to stay alert.
Every morning and afternoon, so four times in total, winners were announced and certificates presented. To the tune of the theme from the Magnificent Seven. When I first heard this music used at a government event, I was quite bemused. But I've heard it used twice since for ceremonial occasions. It's obviously a favorite.
*Not a violation of my ground rules because I let them know I was not happy with the lack of detail provided beforehand.
**Happy birthday, son.