Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Dreaming of golden hair and blue eyes

on October 22, 2013

Since I was rather “costaude”, and looked as big as my sister, and since we always dressed the same, and since all French in those days couldn’t tell one Chinese from another, my mother told the administrators at the kindergarten that we were twins. That is how, at the age of two, I enrolled in kindergarten, the Maternelle St Ferdinand.

In the US, three-year-olds attend “preschool”, and two years later go to kindergarten for one year. In France, the three-year-olds go to a three-year “maternelle”. There the children learn somehow¬† in the style of a Montessori, yet not quite so. We learned basketry and ceramics, as well as reading, writing and counting.

I quite enjoyed schooling but not its social aspect. Television wasn’t around (this was 1959) and France is certainly not cosmopolitan like the US. The majority of children had never seen a Chinese in their life. So, at break time, they surrounded us and made a circle and danced around us, their index fingers pulling the outer corner of their eyes, then pressing their nose down, all the while chanting all together, “Oh, la chinoise! Oh, la chinoise!” (sol, re, la, sol… mi) Oh, the Chinese girl, oh, the Chinese girl! The two of us would just freeze and hang our heads and wait for the circus to be over. The teachers never did anything about this. This was the school yard and as in the jungle, it was survival of the fittest.

Once home, we didn’t talk about it. Or did we? I wonder. Then the next morning, my mother would try to hand me over to Madame Mireille, and I would hang on to her for dear life, howling my heart out. She would push, and Madame Mireille would pull, until the adults pried my fingers open and won the battle.

And I still wonder how I turned out so very shy…

For Chinese parents, the rule is: you never interfere with school life. Kids have to tough it out. The only time I remember them running to school was some time in the beginning. We were at lunch, when my parents rushed in. They had forgotten to tell the teachers we couldn’t eat pork. Too late, we already had some!

Galette des rois: puff pastry cake, with golden crown and trinket

Galette des rois: puff pastry cake, with golden crown and trinket

My other memory of lunch in Maternelle was a great one! In February, the French have a feast (preceding Mardi Gras) where a “galette”, or sort of round cake made of puff pastry is served. The top is scored into diamonds and glazed sweet, and inside it, somewhere, a tiny little baby Jesus about one centimeter long is hidden. This is the Kings’ cake or Galette des Rois. Everyone is served a piece, and whoever gets the trinket, gets the golden crown that comes with the cake. There were two cakes that day, one boy got the first trinket, and I got the other. We were crowned king and queen and got to sit on some elevated stage for the rest of the lunch hour. I was on cloud nine! Everyone was jealous of me! I might have been two or three only, yet the memory is engraved forever in my little heart that was starved for recognition and friendship.

At night, I dreamed that I was fair-skinned, with beautiful golden hair and blue eyes. No one laughed at my skin, eyes or nose.

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