La Salle Study Centre Changjiao
April 2002 Newsletter
The beginnings ….
I am writing this as part of my Easter reflections. I wrote about my return to Changjiao on 10th March 2002 as follows …..
I returned to Hong Kong on the Feast of St. David of Wales, 1st March 2002. A week later, I was ready to embark on my mission to attempt to establish myself as an English language teacher in a rural setting in China. I was very fortunate that the timing of my trip to China coincided with a journey Mr Yeung, a non teaching staff at St. Joseph’s College, wanted to make to attend a wedding in Guangchou. He accompanied me to Shengzhen on 9th March and made sure that I got on board the right train to Sanher. It was a night express. It left Shengzhen at 9.40 p.m. and arrived at Dabu at 5.40 a.m. the next morning, Sunday 10th March. The journey was very pleasant. I had a sleeping berth in a cabin shared by four passengers. It was very comfortable indeed.
My two previous trips to Dabu last year proved invaluable. When I arrived at Sanhe the next morning, I knew exactly what to do. I avoided the many transport touts milling around at the exit gate and headed straight for the shuttle bus. It’s just RMB5 to Dabu. By 6.30 am. I was already in Dabu. I went straight to a noodle shop run by a couple I got friendly with when I was there last year. They lent me their bicycle when I was there previously. They were delighted to see me again. After a good local breakfast of noodles and bamboo shoot cakes and numerous cups of Chinese tea … all for free!!! … I went over to a shop owned by Mr.Yeung’s son. Mr. Yeung had arranged that I stay a night at Dabu with his son before reporting to the village of Changjiao on Monday 11th March. I spent the rest of the day going around looking for and buying what I feel are basic essentials that I must have to set up residence in a small 12x20 ft room on the third floor of the school.
12th March 2002
Thank God I have established myself at Changjiao. Yesterday, I went over to the school at 10.30 a.m. Mr. Yeung’s son gave me a ride on his motorbike. The headmaster was surprised to see me. He had not been informed of my arrival!!! There was a communication problem. I telephoned the political secretary from Hong Kong two days earlier but he had not informed the headmaster as I expected. Anyway, I left my luggage in his office and went back at about 11.30 a.m. for Dabu. The headmaster promised that he would get the room ready in the afternoon. I returned on my bicycle which I bought for RMB240.00 (about US$30) at 2.30 p.m. The timing was just perfect. I met the whole village leadership as they all just returned from a lunch function at a nearby village. I was invited to the political secretary's house for a cup of tea. The headmaster was informed and he came over to fetch me at about 3.30 p.m. By the time the school dismissed at 4.30 p.m. I was already installed in my room. It was a simple room indeed ... a hard wooden bed ... a desk ... two small tables ... a chair ... two stools and one small light! Thank God, I arrived prepared with my own quilt, mosquito net, water bucket, basin etc. There is no plumbing up there. The washroom and the kitchen are on the ground floor. I had sufficient for the first night.
By 5 p.m. I was alone in the school. Everyone had left. I worked at setting up my room, arranging the few furniture, fixing the mosquito net etc. At 7 p.m. the caretaker of the school turned up. I went down to meet him. He recognised me and was very happy to see me. Within minutes he disappeared only to return a short while later to inform me that he and his wife wanted me to have dinner with them in their house. It is just about 150 meters away from the school. The dinner was real simple ... rice porridge with a dish of fried eggs and a plate of green vegetables from their garden. The welcome was very warm. I accepted the simple dinner with grateful heart. They shared what they had with me. That was not all, they also gave me a glass of home brewed rice wine and called in their neighbours, a husband and wife to share a bottle of beer between us ... a little for everyone. I felt so welcomed by his gesture. He is Liao Kian Pan, the cook and caretaker of the school.
I did not sleep too well because of the heavy traffic on the road beside the school. Anyway I feel very good today ... I am sure something good will come out of this, my adventure into Changjiao.
14th March 2002
Thank God, things are moving smoothly. I am more or less settled down. Most of what I need to have in my room are in place. My meals are also settled. I eat lunch with the teachers. The caretaker of the school, who is also the cook for the school, and his wife offered to look after my evening meals. With that, I do not have to worry about my meals. I only have to prepare breakfast.
These few days, the kids have been "visiting me", coming over to my room every opportunity they can. I guess they are just curious. A few of the Primary Three and Primary Four students have approached me to ask that I teach them. In China, English is taught at Primary Five onwards. I am interested in this group. There are 15 of them. I sense that 8 of them are really keen. I have to wait and see.
Meanwhile, after meeting with the headmaster and the English teach numerous times, we finally agreed that I teach a class of Primary 5 and a class of Primary 6 each week. The headmaster wanted me to organize Special English Tuition for Secondary Students in Summer rather than teach the kids of the school. I can understand why. Right now I offer free service. If Summer Tuition is organized, the school can collect tuition. Anyway, I insisted that my intention is to help the students of the village of Changjiao, especially the little hamlet of Baijiang (where my ancestral home is). I also offered to take over a singing lesson for Primary 3 & 4 combined. After much discussion, he agreed, only if all the students agree ... democracy in action!!!
With that behind me, I can now go ahead to organize my lessons for secondary school students. Some of them have approached me for lessons. I can now organize tuition for them now that I have fixed my commitment to Changjiao Primary school. This will take some time to organize.
Meanwhile, there is much activity in the village. Tomorrow is their local village election day. There are three candidates for the two seats in the local provincial council of Meixian. Mr. Kian Pan is the polling officer. He is responsible for the distribution and collection of the ballots.
Saturday 16th March 2002
My work here has begun. As far as the school is concerned, I only have a class each for Primary Five (Wednesday) and Primary Six (Friday) during school hours. I also have a music class for Primary 3 & 4 combined on Thursday. I am to teach them English songs. As far as the children of the village are concerned, I have two classes, one for Primary Three students and one for Primary Four students. Actually we had our first lesson today Saturday 15th March. I taught the Primary 4 students from 8-9.45 a.m. and the Primary 3 students from 10-11.45 a.m. I enjoyed my lessons very much. The children are just so interested and eager to learn. I have a very good feeling about this. I have begun visiting. I intend to visit the parents of all the students as soon as possible. I have many invitations for lunch or dinner but I have not accepted any for the time being.
Apart from the above, arrangements are still going on for me to tutor teachers of English and some secondary school students of the village and of the town of Dabu. I will write about that when the time comes.
20th March 2002
Since then, there has been progress and setbacks. First, I was assigned to teach Std 3 and Std 4 students. I have a singing lesson for the Std 3 & Std 4 combined on Thursdays. I teach Standard 4 on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 to 10 a.m. There are only 7 students in this batch. I then teach the Standard 3, also on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. There are 6 students in this group. My first lessons with them began on 16th March.
On 18th March, the English teacher arranged for me to teach the Standard 5 and Standard 6 students as they asked for it. Classes had to be at night as the headmaster insisted that I do not upset the established timetable. So, we arranged for two lessons each evening, one from 7-8 p.m. and the other from 8-9 p.m. from Monday to Saturday. The Standard 6 students were divided into two groups of 9 and 10 students each. There are 14 students in Standard 5. I also teach a class of secondary students who study in the nearby town of Dabu. There are 13 students in this group. It is a mix of Secondary 1 and 2 students with one Secondary 4 student. These students came to see me on their own accord.
So, the week from 18th to 24th March went by in a flash. I spent the day partly to continue my study of Putonghua and partly to prepare for my evening lessons. As I did not have access to a computer or a typewriter or photocopying machine, I had to write everything on two big blackboards on either end of the class. I had to make do with writing out copies of worksheets for the students. I will have to have my laptop computer and a printer with me the next time round!
As a background for most those not familiar with the education system in China, let me first present a very brief over-view. They have six years of primary education from Standard One to Standard Six. There is a nation-wide examination at Standard Six. Students with good results can gain admission to better quality secondary schools. Secondary education is divided into two levels, year one to three in lower secondary and year one to three in upper secondary. There are two national examinations one at 3rd year lower secondary and one at 3rd year upper secondary.
Most parents will try their best to send thier children to kindergarten. Those who can afford it, send their children to kindergartens that offer “daily lessons in ABC”. Officially, English is a compulsory subject from Standard 5 onwards. Better “quality” primary schools start teaching English at Standard 3. Some “expensive” primary schools even advertise that English is taught from Standard One. There is no doubt that the learning of English is encouraged nationally. It is every parent dream that their children know and speak English fluently. However, the sad reality is that most English teachers in small towns and especially in rural schools, are unable to keep up a simple conversation. They know their textbooks well and teach confidently but because of the lack of opportunity, they are unable to participate in an ordinary conversation. Consequently, most students are also unable to converse in English although they can read and write simple English.
Now let me get back to my teaching. As I said, I had a busy but satisfying week. The students are just great. They are very eager to learn and did not mind going back to basic ABC alphabets and pronunciation drills. I am really glad that when I was in Singapore in December last year, I was presented with a complete ALPHA-PHONETICS Reading kit that comes complete with cassette tapes, flashcards, workbook and 14 books of graded Readers. The secondary students picked up the reading course very fast. I am able to teach a few lessons at a time. They have already progress to the point where they can read the 1st of the 14 graded Readers. I will begin to introduce basic grammar while I continue to go through the Alpha-phonetic programme with them.
Well, just when I thought things were moving smoothly, I was shocked in the morning of Monday 25th March. The headmaster asked me to stop teaching the Standard 5 and 6 students. I was a bit puzzled. Since he told me that in the presence of five other teachers while we were drinking tea in the morning, I did not ask him for a reason. After lunch that day, I was able to see him privately in his office. It transpired that the teachers of the Standard 5 & 6 classes had complained that the students were “distracted from their normal studies” since I started teaching English in the evenings. They “fear” that the students will not perform well in the pubic examination and will therefore affect the reputation of the school. They further argued that since the school is not a Special English Medium school, English should not be give “prominence”. Therefore it is best interest of the school and the students that I stop giving English lessons to the Standard 5 & 6 students.
That evening, the most of the students turned up for lessons but I had to turn them away. It is sad but that is the situation at this moment. I know some students are unhappy and some parents are also very disappointed with the decision of the headmaster. I kept reminding them that I am at the service of the village and under the direction of the Political Secretary, Village Headman and the Headmaster of the school. I only teach as directed.
Just as this “problem” cropped up, it was time for me to return to Hong Kong for the last part of Holy Week and Easter. I left the village early on Wednesday 27th March. As I write this, I am not sure what if anything related to this matter has transpired since I left the village. I am scheduled to return to Changjiao on 9th April. Right now, as the schools in Hong Kong are closed for the Easter Holidays for a week, the schools in China are also closed for a week for the Farmers Holidays. It coincided with the traditional Qingming holidays for visiting and cleaning the graves of ancestors. I am not sure if there is going to be any further changes to my teaching schedule. Keep me in your prayers.
As always with love in DLS in the service of youth and nation,
St. Joseph’s College, Hong Kong.
Easter April 2002
All good things must
come to an end...