One sunny Kunming morning, at the ungodly hour of 9 o'clock - ungodly yes, when you're used wandering your way to class for 13:30 - half of Keats School congregated in the lobby. We were ready to set out to Kunming Museum, armed with bottles of water generously provided by our teachers who were possibly more excited than we were.
Upon reaching the museum, the teachers promptly commandeered a beautiful green clearing by the side of the museum, little did we know such a ferociously tight battle was to soon take place... All students had previously had the opportunity to see and take home a set of chinese tongue-twisters. From each of our language classes two representatives were elected to compete in the final competition.
Sample in pinyin: sì shì sì, shí shì shí, shísì shì shísì, sìshí shì sìshí, shéi néng fenqing, qinglái shìyíshì
With everyone expectantly sat in a circle, one of the teachers read out what was to be the order of the morning:
Round one: each competitor would read a tongue twister of their choosing, one prepared beforehand.
Round two: each competitor would read TWO tongue twisters chosen by the host.
Round three: a brand-new, never-before-seen tongue twister would be presented to the competitors, this would possibly be the decider...
As it happened, only I and one other of my classmates had been able to attend that morning and with nine others I gathered round to draw a number from a hat which would determine the order of play.
Lea, player number one, with beautiful pink hair, blew us away, (certainly sent me cowering) with her high-speed delivery, so fast even chinese mouths were agape with a "wow, this girl is amazing!".
The atmosphere was wonderful, people clapping, everyone supporting and laughing at each other - nothing quite as hilarious as people stumbling over fuh's and huh's or making strange noises and words with no sense in attempts not to trip over their tongues.
"Player No.7", my turn. Bleary-eyed and blearier still I slurred and stumbled my way through my elected tongue-twister. Although I was pretty much chosen by default, I certainly felt some sense of responsibility representing my class... I flopped. Not dramatically and not terribly, so I was pretty happy to not embarrass my team.
While the scores were being calculated, entertainment was provided by the teachers themselves giving a tongue-twister performance. In some cases this was ridiculously impressive, in others simply hilarious/risible. Even after some English tongue-twisters and a round of a chinese playground game the judges still were not done; at this point our host, Teacher Wu took to the stage. And with paper microphone in hand, sang a capella a love song called “你是我的眼”。
Not easily impressed, I can honestly say I was amazed at the apparent talent. Something I have yet to encounter is tone-deafness in a chinese person, everyone seems to sing, and sing very well at that.
FINALLY, the results were in. Not all that nervously I awaited for my name to be called - I was hardly expecting to come a ranked place. I did however receive a commendation of excellence, a certificate and a box Yunnan black tea as a prize. The winner and runners-up were more than deserving for their glossal acrobatics.
Grinning and gay we huddled together for a group photo, proudly holding our certificates and prizes. Then everyone squished together, teachers, host, judges included, for a final photo.
All in all it was a very fun experience. Even though I had been anxious about the competition and rather put out by the early start, I'm so glad I didn't miss it. In class our teachers are always so enthusiastic, but today their eagerness to get involved and involve everyone really made the day what it was. Everyone had a good time, and I for one look forward to next month's activity.