Zhouzhuang school, Zhouzhuang village, Zhecheng county, Henan province, April 2013
In this school yard, water balloons shaped like plump apples with strings attached at the stems are hot commodities. Yet in the span of four days, I only saw a balloon thrown once in this school of almost 300 kids.
Since that is clearly suspicious and unnatural, I thought maybe the balloons were like Pokémon cards – you know, satisfaction from the simple act of possession and status conferred.
On the day I took this photo, kids had been shoving water balloons in the my hands in a show of affection, shyly grinning and then running off a little aways, delighted with their gifting. I was extremely touched, but also extremely unsure of what to do with the balloons as a ‘responsible adult.’ While trying to figure that out, I wandered around the school yard, awkwardly balancing three colorful balloons in each hand. A gaggle of little ones followed to see what I’d do or say next.
This photo is what I saw by the side of the school, next to the bathroom area. These boys are 13 to 16 year-old 6th graders, tall enough to reach the branches.
The repeating Chinese character on the wall refers to the self. Together those characters mean: Self Reliance, Self Strength, Self Esteem.
FYI: I’ve been a skills-based PR / media / fundraising volunteer with the education NGO Stepping Stones for several years. They’re the ones that arranged this trip to the school. If you are interested in volunteering your time, expertise or money, check out their website here!