FAIRHOPE — Earlier this year, Lily Frances Fontenot, a 4th grade student at Christ the King Catholic School, dressed up as a Chinese dancer for the school’s talent show. But the Fairhope resident said she probably would have done it a little …
FAIRHOPE — Earlier this year, Lily Frances Fontenot, a 4th grade student at Christ the King Catholic School, dressed up as a Chinese dancer for the school’s talent show. But the Fairhope resident said she probably would have done it a little differently had she visited China prior to the program.
However, it was weeks later that Lily traveled to China with her aunt, who planned the two-week trip in order to visit Lily’s cousin, a school teacher in China.
“I would like to teach there like my cousin when I’m older,” she said.
This was not Lily’s first time abroad. According to her mother, this well-traveled little girl has spent time in Mexico, France and the Bahamas. Although the school was a little reluctant to have her take so much time off right at the end of the year, the principal relented and allowed it, asking Lily only to keep a daily journal.
“My school was very supportive, and my teacher really helped me along,” she said.
Cyndi May, Lily’s teacher, said she was impressed by Lily’s journal. Despite her tender age and the absence of her parents and siblings, May said, Lily seemed to enjoy every aspect of her trip.
“She seems to have developed a real appreciation for the Chinese culture,” she said. “Her journal comments were always written with a sense of awe and fondness for everything she was experiencing.”
This is unique, she said, because in her experience, kids often make comments like “How weird,” or “That’s gross” when exposed to unfamiliar foods and customs.
Lily said the most discomforting thing she noticed on her trip was that parents did not use diapers on their babies. Baby pants had slits in them, she said, and the parent would simply hold the baby or child over the ground, wherever they might happen to be, and allow them to evacuate.
“It was weird,” said Lily (wrinkling her nose a little). “How do the parents know when the children need to use the bathroom?” she asked.
She pointed out that because the 2008 Olympics will be held in Beijing, the Chinese are planning on adopting the Western custom of using disposable diapers. Lily also found it curious that everywhere she went, families wanted their picture taken with her. Other things she noted in her journal were that the elders would work out in outdoor public fitness parks, that “all the people in China smoke,” that the food is fantastic, that they use “squat” toilet systems, and that the cities she visited were dirty and polluted. She said she also thought the children were well behaved.
“Lily loved seeing the new places and all the people; never once finding things to be strange, only different. She really loved it all. In fact, I would be surprised if her world travels didn’t influence her later in life when choosing her professional path,” said May.
Some of the highlights of her trip, said Lily, were seeing the Great Wall of China, visiting the Beijing Zoo and seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors.
“There are thousands, and each one is different and represents a real soldier,” said Lily.
She looks forward to visiting some of the Warriors while they are on loan to a museum in Atlanta this summer.
Lily said it was hard to come home and face all her school makeup work, but the trip was worth it. She said she plans to return to China someday.
Her last journal entry reads: “Today I am going home!!! Even though I just left, I miss it so much already. I LOVE CHINA!!”