(Blog) Soy Sauce and My Withdrawal Symptoms

Author: Roger Sinnett, Headmaster

During my 13 years of living and working in China many windows opened onto a far-eastern world I gradually grew to respect. 

Prior to my arrival in Shanghai in 2006, China only existed for me in books, stories, faded photographs and the occasional BBC documentary with vistas of small sun-browned farmers in coolie hats toiling in the paddy fields.  Exotic silks, red lanterns, plastic toys and takeaway food added colour, but nothing prepared me for the amazing assault on the senses I experienced when I stepped off the plane at Pudong Airport into a steamy August 40C.

My first task was to establish an international stream in a large Chinese school, and an invitation from the school’s Executive Principal found me the next morning on the doorstep, dressed respectfully in 3-piece suit and tie and shoes shining like a bluebottle’s bottom.  Gently perspiring, I was ushered into the inner sanctum to find this smiling gentleman clad in a T-shirt rolled up to the armpits and trousers up to the knees.  Over the next hour I gradually cooked like an oven potato in its jacket, sipping the glass of hot water which I was offered, and turning a fine shade of lobster pink.  We learn the hard way…

The streets of Shanghai at night.

Arriving home to my air-conditioned flat, refreshed by a shower and now attired in polo shirt and shorts, I disgorged into the hurly-burly of the back streets of Shanghai where I could be forgiven for thinking that all 23 million of its residents were right here, right now.  Open-air markets with their street-food wafting the combined smells of a hundred different dishes – from stinky tofu to crispy-skinned duck, the jostling mix of people, cars, bikes and lorries and the ear-buffeting noise emanating from such a heady mix of humanity, it was an intoxicating experience.  Now turn the volume down and look carefully.  Hundreds, if not thousands of people rubbing shoulders as far as the eye can see, but without friction, without conflict, where the ego is suppressed for the benefit of the common good. 

To live within another country’s culture produces two options.  One, stay as you are, eat fish and chips, bemoan that the Daily Mail is unavailable, belittle the locals, complain about everything.  Alternatively, take the other path, get under the skin of another culture, absorb without being judgemental, learn from them and go with the flow, enriching and expanding your world-view.  So what does the world teach us?  For me, the answer is simple. 

The narrow pursuit of academic success is the sound of one hand clapping.  The other hand comes from the deeper skills which only a well-developed character can provide.    The balance between IQ and EQ.  A mind which is open to other opinions, other beliefs, other ways of life.  Critical thinking. Thinking outside the box. What better way to grow a rich and multi-faceted personality than to expose yourself to different cultures?

St Bees School has a well-defined road map for providing our students with life-changing experiences.  First we prepare them with an EQ skill-set which develops their character attributes. 

Then our twin-campus approach provides them with opportunities to experience life in other countries.  We want our children to go out and change the world.  Before they can do so, they first have to understand the world.  Let’s take the journey together and discover what lies on the other side of the educational horizon.  And bring some soy sauce back to flavour those life-changing experiences.         

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