On leadership, 4×100 relays, and Beijing Opera

On the morning of Saturday, October 12, 2019, my dear classmates and I stood in a bloc formation decked out in full Beijing opera dress, marching onto the center stage of the track to the beat of Chinese military marches.

All dressed up! That’s our 班主任, 李老师.

About two weeks before, Logan, the 高级班班长 and me, the 中级班班长 were called into Liu 主任’s office for what I thought would be a scolding of some sort. (He gives off a disappointed older cousin vibe, which sounds oddly specific and it might just be because I feel an intense desire to please every authoritative adult figure while wearing my school uniform. Hm.) Instead, Liu launched himself into a speech about this very important performance that we need to pull together for the opening ceremonies of this year’s 运动会, the yearly fall track-and-field meet. Apparently, last year’s and the year before’s performances were only so-so, (sorry guys, his words, not mine), as they were basically the same thing—running around the field in formations while waving large flags to represent the ~diveristy~ of the international department here at Beijing 80.

I wanted to do something big. Something marvelous. Something to set the standards high, something to make Greta and the folks back in Washington proud. The first thing that came to mind? Beijing Opera.

You see, we’ve had a culture class with a wonderfully entertaining professional Beijing Opera performer and teacher during our first Friday two-period culture class. He taught us 二龙出水 (I think that’s what it’s called) and some various hand-waving movements, all the while shaking his head at how absolutely hopeless us Americans are. This, coupled with some energetic music, cool costumes, and a big red banner with some sort of slogan to be presented at the end, was sure to induce some sort of excitement at this very important opening ceremony. (The sarcasm is a little intentional here, I really didn’t know the extent of how large this 会 was.)

Naturally, I enthusiastically proposed my idea and plans to both Logan and Liu, barely giving poor bewildered and perhaps slightly flustered Logan a moment to process my idea before launching into questions and affirmative non-verbal Chinese noises with Liu.

A few days later, I told everyone about this big event we had to do. Liu was soon my ass about getting the information out to everyone, and beyond that, practicing, that this task stopped being fun and became a little more stressful. That, coupled with a few of the boy’s lack of interest and/or motivation in engaging in practice with intention and purpose, made me a little (a lot) frustrated. Somehow, I got everyone to meet outside on the dusty track and Kat and Carolyn, two wonderful bad-ass dancers, learned and taught everyone our 20-second Beijing Opera performance.

Now, leadership is a big word. I don’t think that I necessarily realized that I was taking on a lot of responsibilities, but as the weeks pass here in Beijing, more and more things are kind of put into my hands and I just take them and do them. I’m struggling with delegating—having Carolyn and Kat step in like that lifted an almost physical weight off my shoulders. The first week here I was really into volunteering myself, full of excitement and energy, to be the class monitor, to fill out 请假 (absence) sheets, to fill out all sorts of various forms, to create charts for classroom cleaning duties… This 运动会 finally made me realize how much I’ve been taking upon myself.

To clarify though, I really enjoy it. I get to channel a lot of my “big sister” energy, especially as the two little “bothers” are so far away from my life here. (Side note, but I definitely feel like I’m riding the edge of homesickness now as we pass the 6-week mark, will update when it hits—if it does.) I channeled so much of that energy, in fact, that Liu put me in charge of shouting the commands to move us across the field and into position. Thank god good ol’ Joel had his trusty pen in his pocket so I could write down the pinyin of “forward march” and “stop” and “places” in Chinese on my hand during every practice.

Finally, the big day came. We stepped in time, looked bad-ass, and performed better than we ever had. I very much so believe we’ve set a lasting impression on Beijing 80, and I’m excited to see what next year’s cohort cooks up—try to top us, I dare you. 😉

Leila in I (in the boys uniforms!)

As for the 运动会 itself, Charlie crushed every single event he participated in (it was wondrous to watch him leap across the field like a gazelle, leagues ahead of all the poor Chinese kids left in the dust—literally), Genrietta, Leila, Kat and I ran in a 4×100 girls relay (Kat’s line got messed up because the teacher forgot to line them up and I ended up having to run 200 meters and finish off the race, then we all had to run it again), and I think we all got a splendid dose of endorphins from the running.

All in all, wouldn’t change a thing.

Translation: We love 80, We love Beijing!


  1. Wonderful to see you just going for it Mei, forgetting any self-consciousness and stepping up into what needs to be done.

    You find that people know what needs to be said and crave to hear what needs to be said and when ‘SOMEONE” actually has the courage to stand up and say (and do) what absolutely needs to be said and done, a ton of energy is released.

    Keep it up! We’re behind you 100%.

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