Speech Judging in Shangri-La La Land

Earlier this month I was asked to judge an event called the USAD (United States Academic Decathlon) at the very salubrious Shangra-La Hotel in Pazhou. The idea was to judge students from many schools all over China. To break the ice, some of us held a dinner together a few weeks prior in another part of town which was also a hoot so to speak.

So come February 11 (possibly the chilliest day of the whole winter) some of us knew each other when we assembled at the hotel to kick off our training and a copious amount of fine food. As I was first on the scene my allocated number was obviously one. We were presented with a nice bag full of instructions and a leather filofax (remember those?) So that took care of the morning.

In the afternoon it was down to business as we all descended to the banqueting hall for the main competition. This is where things got a little kerfuffled when my judging partner, a women in bright blue jeans, who I had met upstairs didn’t show and there was a third, polite tubby male #1 in her place. Confused yes, though we continued nonetheless.

Inside, a row of tables were neatly arranged and having surveyed the plan in advance knew where to head, top left near the stage and a considerable draught. On each table was a bottle of water, and varying packages for our table manager who took care of time management for the contestants. Unfortunately he was not responsible for the departure and entry of the next incumbents into the hall. This fell to a woman on the stage whose talent at making 2 minutes more like 20 seconds was absolute.

The only problem with that was, we were supposed to mark fairly but were not given ample time to do it before the next contestant was standing before us! This in my opinion devalued the whole process. Midway through my judging partner #1 version 3 departed and in his place was the woman I was expecting in the first place who stayed until the end. Quite where she had been the whole time was a mystery. Had they perhaps double booked?

The drill was this. Student stands before me, secondary judge and the table manager then delivers a four minute speech, not easy even for a native speaker. This was followed by six minutes of excruciating agony. I have never been a fan of the military or war, conflict call it what you will but for some reason the organisers insisted that alongside general questions would be the theme of WWII. I can tell you I would have had trouble answering those questions myself. Not surprisingly few of the young students could either. Pointless!

On completion we all piled into the lobby to gain our travel expenses, and certificate. All in all very generous of the organisers but… there was more to come in the evenings gala performance. I didn’t stay for the whole show because the comperes had their mics switched right up to deafening which in China doubles up as normal. There were dancers, singers and anxious looking dad’s in the audience during the more racy number that had their dancing daughters strip down to black vests and shorts. And that was pretty much that. Another one-off and another string to my bow.

My thanks to the organisers USAD China and SKT Education for inviting me.


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