For reasons I am not even sure of, I have a barrel of 840 ping pong balls (pīng pāng qiú ) in my classroom, the amount counted and verified by my second graders.

Correction–the pīng pāng qiú (Chinese word for ping pong balls) are not legitimate ping pong balls, but are bootleg. They are made of a heavier material that doesn’t bounce worth a damn.

Other than keeping my ADHD students occupied, the only other use I’ve had for the balls is for dividing my older students into groups. I placed twenty-four balls in a stove-pipe hat, each one scribbled with a student number, and do my Channel 9 Lotto Lady impersonation. I pull out balls randomly, but instead of announcing you’ve one a million dollars, I just snap my fingers and say, “Please move your chair by Xiao Qi.”

Of course, my ball drawing lead to countless ball jokes by the boys, the most memorable being from Brazilian Lou, a gregarious middle schooler. With the ping pong balls in his grip, he yelled, “Hey Albert and Dylan! I got your balls!”

Lou, like many of the students at an international school, is a SPAMMER, which some call a Third Culture Kid or TCK. I prefer calling them SPAM. They are a mystery found in every country that’s actually a blend of lots of things. A bi-product of living in the Middle East, entrails of a year in Asia, preserved with care packages from their home country. A mix of everything in my international classroom in Kunming, China. No two cans the same.


When Lou announced he would be moving to Orlando, what did his classmates do? Each signed a ping pong ball for him to take with him.

Giving a beloved classmate one of their balls–albeit sophomoric humor–was a priceless moment. Middle school boys–especially language learners–do not have the vocabulary to express their feelings. All they could say while stroking their lip fuzz was, “Yeah, uh, we’ll miss you. Yeah.”

They also shoved cake in each other’s face.

So now I’m down to 816 balls. I hope I don’t lose any more to SPAMMERS.

As for his new school’s admission department? I’d love to see their face when they realize that this new kid from China is a Brazilian with impeccable English.

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