My student is crying because her father made her finish her food.
Usually, she brings a lunch from home. That’s why today, when I sat down, I was surprised to see her eating a plate of macaroni from the caf.
It would be an exaggeration to say that the food in our cafeteria is bad. The food in our cafeteria is terrible. Overcooked greens, limp noodles covered in thin sauce, grayish-brown tofu and vegetables served over rice . . . I stopped eating the caf food—and most of my students stopped buying it—after the first day.
One thing to know about the caf is that they serve huge portions. If a primary student goes through the “big kids'” line, they end up with a mountain of food that only a ravenous sumo wrestler could finish. My students are petite Asians.
When she had eaten as much as she could, my student asked to go talk to her father, who is also the local church pastor. He usually eats lunch at the same time and was sitting just across the room. Imagine my surprise, then, when a few minutes later a couple of my girls said, “Look, M-‘s crying.” I looked to where they were pointing. There was M-, tears streaming down her face and her father towering over her, scowling.
The next thing I knew, M- was trudging back to our table with her unfinished plate, sobbing. She had to eat all of her food.
She’s been teary ever since.
And my question is, “Why?” I’m not a parent, and my intent is not to criticize, but . . . Why? The cafeteria had obviously given her way too much food, and it’s not like the food is expensive. And even if she was eating caf food because she’d forgotten her lunch at home: who doesn’t forget their lunch once in a while? What had she done so wrong?
A friend of mine tells me M-’s father’s behavior is quite normal. Some Asian parents beat their children for less. It’s cultural, he says. It’s about respect and control: Asian parents like to exert their control, and Asian children are more disciplined than Westerners because of it. On the flip side, Westerners tend to be more creative than Asians. There’s no use in thinking outside of the box if you’re going to be beaten because you didn’t stay inside it.