La Salle Study Centre Changjiao
December 2001 Newsletter
The road to Changjiao ….2001
This journey of my life had its quiet beginnings at Tanjong Malim, Perak. My dear mother passed away peacefully on 1st June 2001. I did not return for her funeral as I was away in Guangzhou, China, at that time and my family had difficulty contacting me. An early opportunity presented itself for me to be at my parent’s graveside when I was invited back to Malaysia by the parents of one of my former students at the end of July for a wedding. On my way to my sister Mimi’s house in Teluk Intan on 3rd August, I stopped by at Tanjong Malim to visit an old friend Father Charles Chin who had just been appointed as parish priest in Tanjong Malim. I did not know where the church was, so I called on my cousin’s furniture shop to ask for direction. Apparently, Fr. Chin had just ordered furniture from my cousin Wan Nien’s shop and they were about to deliver. While waiting to follow the delivery van, I was informed by my cousin’s wife that he was away on holidays and that he would be in Hong Kong by September. I told her that I would be back in Hong Kong by then and gave her my Hong Kong telephone number. That set the stage for us to meet in Hong Kong.
My cousin Wan Nien left our ancestral village at the age of 10 in 1949. We met in Hong Kong on 18th September and on 21st September we were on out way back to our ancestral home in Baijiang, a hamlet in the village of Changjiao, in the district of Dabu, of the state Meizhou and in the Province of Guangdong, China. It was a very interesting short visit of just five days. My cousin had a great time, visiting places that where he played as a child and meeting people he knew, including many of his classmates. I kept very much in the background, enjoying endless mini cups of tea. I tried to tune in to all the interesting conversation between my cousin and the villagers. I had not spoken Hakka for almost 40 years.
In one of the home visits, my cousin started to speak to the villagers of the importance of English as China engage in international politics and trade. A gentleman in the group who had been rather quiet all the while responded saying that they were aware of the importance of learning English for the younger generation but they cannot afford to hire an English teacher and furthermore no good English teacher will want to stay in a village. It was then that my cousin pointed to me and told them that that I had been a Secondary School Principal, that I pursued my post graduate education in England, that I had just retired and that I had been looking for a suitable place in China since March to offer my services as an English language teacher. The gentleman immediately popped the question, “Would you like to teach at our Primary School in ChangJiao?” ChangJiao is the administrative center of a cluster of eight hamlets of which my ancestral village of Baijiang is one. The village centre of Changiao and the hamlet of Baijiang are separated by a small hill. I was taken aback and I said that I needed an invitation otherwise it is against the law. He replied saying, “I invite you. Come for a meeting tomorrow.” That was it!!!
As we cycled back to our hotel in Dabu, which is 7 km from ChangJiao, I asked my cousin who the gentleman was. I was told he was the Political Secretary of Changjiao. The next day we went to meet him as arranged. There he was in his office together with the Headman of the village of Changjiao, the Chairlady of the Senior Citizens Committee, the Headmaster of Changjiao Primary School and an elderly gentleman, the former teacher and historian of the area. It was a rather former meeting.
The secretary Mr. Liao Chow Kai, spoke on behalf of all present. It was apparent that they had met to discuss the matter the night before. Without hesitation, he invited me to assist in the teaching of English in the Primary School of Changjiao and to help improve the standard of English among secondary school students living in the village. I will be provided with accommodation. I will eat lunch with the teachers from Monday through Friday. I have to look after myself for the other meals. I will work closely with the Headmaster in all matters related to the school and liaise with the Headman when I am ready to offer English tuition to secondary school students. I was advised to stay away from anything political in nature. I will be free to practice my religion but advised not to preach religion openly. I had told them that I am a Catholic and that I belong to an international Catholic teaching society La Salle, which was founded more than 300 years ago. I can begin any time convenient to me. This verbal offer is for six months. After that, if they like the way I teach and conduct myself, and if I like to continue to offer my service, we will work something out that is more lasting.
I was then taken to the school and shown the rooms that I can use as bedroom and classroom. They are on the third floor of the school. I was immediate struck by the similarity of the situation of school and community that we are used to. I had no hesitation in accepting the offer. I felt very comfortable about it. Since arriving in Hong Kong on 1st March, I have had numerous offers to teach or assist in the teaching of English but they just did not feel “right”. In Changjiao it just felt right.
On my return to Hong Kong, I related my story to the Brothers. Br. Patrick Tierney then called for a meeting to study this opportunity in the context of a possible future Lasallian education service to mainland China as a natural extension to our existing schools in Hong Kong. It was decided that I should accept this offer and give it a try. I was then asked to prepare a budget to Br. Visitor and Br. Bursar before the end of November for presentation and approval at the next DC meeting in December.
On the advice and support of my director Br. Alphonsus Breen, I made preparations for another visit to the village before I return to Malaysia at the end of the year. There were three good reasons why I should make the trip. First of all, I need to try to get there by another route. Second, I will have to teach there for a few days so as to get to know what to expect when I start teaching there so that I can gather materials when I am back in Malaysia. Third, my second visit within a month will convince the villagers that I am serious about my intention to teach English in their small little village primary school.
On 24th October I returned to ChangJiao. When I cycled into the village, I felt very much at home. I was given a very warm welcome. They were absolutely delighted to see me again. Just as Br. Alphonsus had predicted, my return to the village within a month assured them that I am serious about offering my services. I asked to teach for two days and the headmaster was more than delighted to accommodate my request.
Changjiao is a small rural village of about 400 registered households. Most families are made up of grandparents and grandchildren. The main workforce of men and women are away in neighbouring cities to earn valuable hard cash for the families. The school has a small population of 72 pupils. There are 8 teachers including the headmaster. Student population has been falling steadily in recent years as parents who can afford it send their children to schools in the nearby town of Dabu, just 7 km away. The school in Changjiao was rebuilt in 1996 with donations from Hong Kong businessman who is a descendant of Baijiang.
A typical school day is long. It begins at 7.30 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. The first bell rings at 7.30 a.m. I am amazed at the discipline of the students. The first period from 7.30 a.m. to 8.10 a.m. is for self study and the students work quietly without any teacher supervision at all. Lessons begin at 8.10 a.m. to 8.50 a.m. The teachers then retire to the staff room while students complete their written assignment. The next lesson is at 9.10 a.m. to 9.50 a.m. again followed by 20 min for written work. The same pattern repeats itself at 10.10 a.m. and 11.10 a.m. At 12.10 p.m. the students go home for lunch while teachers had lunch together provided by the school at 12.30 p.m. At 1 p.m. the bell rings for siesta. Yes, siesta for all, the teachers have beds in their individual rooms while the students sleep at their desks in the classrooms. At 2 p.m. the bell rings to signal the end of siesta. Lessons begin again at 2.10 p.m. following the same pattern of the morning periods. The last lesson ends at 4.50 p.m. and by 5 p.m. students and teachers who have completed their individual assignments begin to leave for home. On Fridays, the last period is for cleaning up the school. Students and teachers together clean up the school building and the school compound before they break off for the weekend.
I must admit that there is still much that I do not know nor understand about the school and the life style of the village. In my conversation with the teachers I realised that many of my preconceived notions of people and situations do not apply as far as ChangJiao is concerned. I guess I have to be very alert and have to have an open mind as I strive to fit in so as to gain the trust and confidence of the villagers before I can do more than just teach English.
February is the month-long mid-year break of their academic year. I am determined to return to ChangJiao on 1st March 2002. I arrived in Hong Kong on this China Project assignment on 1st March 2001. I thank God that within a year I am able to begin my journey into China. I feel very good about this. 1st March is the feast day of St. David of Wales. “Chang” is the Chinese character for long, good, lasting or strong. “Jiao” is the Chinese character for the verb to teach or the noun religion. “ChangJiao” can therefore mean “lasting education” or “good religion”. This sounds auspicious. I look forward to 1st March 2002. Keep me in your prayers.
May the Peace and Joy of this Christmas season be with you all always and I wish everyone a Happy and Meaningful New Year 2002.
As always with love in DLS in the service of youth and nation,
Teluk Intan - 30th December 2001.
All good things must
come to an end...