09 September 2005

Opening Day Ceremony

Tuesday marked The Opening Day Ceremony for the high school where I teach and, I believe, all the other elementary and secondary schools in the country. It was my understanding that the new school term had actually started two weeks ago, but I could be wrong. All I knew for sure was that I’d received a formal invitation which included a listing of the events. Enclosed was a small sheet of paper translating the order of events; A speech of the Principle, A speech of Authority, A speech of the Parent, a speech of a student/ A buffet lunch.

Leaving the house at 7:30 AM, I passed in front of the local community center which was hosting an Opening Day Ceremony for an elementary school. Two rows of boys and girls, each dressed in blue and white school uniforms, white gloves and hats, flanked the entry way. Several had drums suspended from straps around their necks. As one dignitary or another entered the gauntlet, the drums began to roll, and little hands saluted.

I was thankful that the morning was overcast and relatively mild. I knew that the ceremony would have to take place in the open courtyard of the high school, with over a thousand students and who knows how many teachers, staff, et al. I didn’t relish sitting out under the tropical sun for several hours of speeches.

Arriving at the school, I was thoroughly impressed with the transformation that had taken place overnight. Five giant, blue and yellow circus tent-tops had been suspended over the entire quad. Aluminum poles in their centers, and long cables strung to the second floor of the building, created a cool, comfortable venue.

The entire student body was already in attendance, seated tooth and jowl on small plastic stools. One of those persons of authority directed me and the other English teachers to the red carpet walkway that led to the front of the courtyard and a large stage. Oh god! Were they going to roll drums and salute! Thankfully, we just had to walk through the throngs of students who waved and called out. Upon reaching the stage, we were instructed to be seated to the left in an area reserved for the staff. I tried to make a b-line for the back, but was not quick enough. A chair in the second row seemed to have been reserved for me.

Although it was not yet 8AM, pre-ceremony entertainment was already underway. First were the young women signing a modern, pop tune. Initially I thought they were lip synching, but it was Karaoke tapes, and they were live. Next, and what I am sure will be Vietnams answer to Frank Sinatra, a young man strolled up on the stage. This kid had the walk, the look, the stage presence of a much older performer. He gazed seductively out over the crowd and I heard more than a few audible sighs. The music started, his body swayed to the beat, he looked down towards his feet, then slowly raised his head, brought the mike to his mouth, and launched into a slow, heart felt number. I wanted someone to ID this interloper. No way was he 17.

A few more singing acts and the speeches began. At one point, our attention was directed to an area behind me and to the left. Gym maps covered the stone walkway and were soon filled with karate uniformed students. They performed one of those position routines, flowing from one pose to the next. The next group came jogging out with balloons, and soon the little ones holding the balloons were on the shoulders of the larger ones. Then another student either ran, or jumped, or ran and jumped to kick and burst the balloon. Those flying kicks were within centimeters of various noses and eyes. One guy even did a blindfolded high kick as the balloon was held directly in front of his classmates face.

More speeches followed, and although it was extremely well managed, and everything went smoothly, it was getting a little warm, and I was getting a little uncomfortable in my second row seat. I gazed out over the mass of pupils, all of whom were still seated like sardines in backless stools. I don’t think a one of them was fidgeting. I tried to remain still. Eventually, it came to a close. Someone else came over and directed us to the elevator where we rode up to the 5th floor for the buffet lunch.

Happily, the 5th floor was a massive, covered area, open to the outside. Long tables of food filled one section, banquet tables filled another. I got a small plate of pretty tasty food, but opted out of the beer they were serving. I said hello to everyone I passed, and spoke to several of the classroom aids whom I’d met over the past month. Everyone was dressed in their finest clothes and clearly took pride in their school.

All and all, it was a lovely way to spend the morning and start the new school year.