As far as I can remember, the giving of mandarins to teachers has been a Chinese New Year custom. As a little child, I brought those bright round citrus fruit to my school to wish my teachers a Happy New Year. I don’t remember if I ever got any back from my teachers, but that was still what I was taught as a child to do.
Then when I became a teacher myself, my primary pupils would tot these down to school and our staff room would be fragranced with the tangy fresh scent from the many mandarins we received.
We of course would do our utmost as teachers to return the gesture and send children back with a pair of mandarins as well.
Fast forward to the present.
Now as a mom of a preschooler, I thought it would be a nice and appropriate gesture for me to prepare mandarins for my son to take to school for his teachers.
So we got out a roll of colourful cellophane paper, fuzzy bumpy pipe cleaners, red ribbon and sticky tape.
And we wrapped pairs of mandarins into little handy packs little hands could carry like these:
I was secretly feeling a little pleased that we had managed to prepare something simple for his teachers.
This morning my boys were so excited about bringing the oranges to my eldest son’s school.
Alas! We were not prepared for the controversy and reception we got for these oranges.
The first thing the school administrator said, eyes wide with fear, was: Oh! But we cannot accept these gifts. You have to take them
back! We have to fill up paperwork to declare these.
I was of course going, ” WHAT?!”
The principal came out and her reflex response was exactly the same as the administrator’s.
Not a word of appreciation of my son’s effort but rather the concern that these would compromise their professional integrity and contravene their administrative guidelines. If they accepted them, they would have to fill in forms to ‘declare’ these gifts.
I was just plain shocked. Not offended really but stunned that such a thing would happen.
I am not sure how to describe what I did next but I ‘insisted-begged’ her to let my son just bring those mandarins and allow him to at least present them to his teachers. But I said, to save her the pain and hassle of paperwork I would take them back after.
I admit I had to be the ‘difficult’ mum then because I wanted to protect my son from such a rejection. The other adults present may not have thought anything significant about turning away these mandarins but I did.
This is a cultural tradition I have been taught from young by my parents and even school teachers to do.
Though I am pretty ‘banana’ and ‘kantang’, there is still a bit in me that wishes to preserve my cultural roots.
And so, they quite grudgingly allowed my son to take in those mandarins. But then, they stuffed those heavy oranges back into his bag and he carried them
So now, I do wonder as I stare at these bags of mandarins, sitting on my table at home, about a few things:
1. Was I wrong to have my son bring these mandarins to school?
2. Should I have just apologized for my oversight and take home
the oranges instead of insisting they allow my son present them to his teachers? I must admit I really didn’t want to deal with tears and a broken heart this morning if I took them away from my son who was excited about giving them to his teachers.
3. Can we no longer expect schools to help uphold and teach our children some of these cultural practices?
4. Has such cultural traditions become less common in Singapore schools now?
5. When does bureaucracy get in the way of education?
What do you make of this episode?
How would you have responded in such a situation?