La Salle Study Centre Changjiao
June 2002 Newsletter
A Second Start in Changjiao.
I am happy to report that I am fine and enjoying my stay here in Changjiao. When I wrote last, I mentioned that I had to suspend all evening classes. In fact, I stopped teaching altogether as the headmaster was “worried about the safety of children” coming for evening classes “in the dark” ... there are no streets lighting here in the village. The other problem cited by the headmaster was that the teachers complained that my lessons were affecting the alertness of the students during regular school hours. I left the “problem” with the political secretary and went back to Hong Kong for Holy Week and Easter.
I returned to Changjiao with my brother Andrew on 9th April. I immediately reported my presence to the political secretary but did not go back to my room in the school. Instead, my brother and I stayed with my niece and her husband. They normally stay in Shenzhen but returned to the village when they heard that I had been teaching there since the beginning of March. I had never seen them before but have heard of their existence from my father before he died more than 44 years ago. The political secretary came to see me in my niece’s house three days after I returned. Apparently, it was my niece’s husband Pin Ho who introduced him to be a member of the Communist Party many years ago. In a sense then, Pin Ho is his “lao-da” ... big Brother. I have connections after all!!! Anyway, the visit was for the political secretary to “pay his respect” to Ping Ho as well as an opportunity for him to tell me that everything is organised. He personally presented me with a time-table for my English lessons which they, the headmaster, the former headmaster and the political secretary had worked out.
So, once again I am giving English tuition to the Primary 3, 4 & 5 kids. This time round, I need not resort to night classes as I am now allowed to teach during regular school hours. The drawback however is that I have to teach everyone in the classes. I must admit that it is very difficult to teach as some of them no interest in English at all. Previously, when I was teaching evening classes, only those who were interested come for lessons. Teaching was much easier then. Anyway, some students who are very keen to study come for extra lessons early in the morning at 6.45 a.m. for about half an hour. School begins at 7.20 a.m.
The headmaster is still adamant that I do not use the school in the evening for secondary school students. He is worried about “security”. I now go a house in the village of Baijiang to tutor five secondary 1 & 2 students on Tuesday and Wednesday evening and on Saturday morning (Hailian, Yanli, Cuiting, Wenjuan, Meixia). These students organised themselves well and their parents are very cooperative. There are others who want to have lessons but are unable to get organised. I am firm on my position as one willing to be an English tutor but will not get involved in arranging for the lessons.
The weather here in Changjiao is getting hotter as the summer closes in. It’s very hot during the day. Last week things were so bad that many rice fields were completely parched ... the earth cracked! The villagers are afraid that the rice crop this year will be ruined if not enough rain falls in the next couple of days. I hear stories of scuffles among farmers in the village of Jicun nearby as individuals try to divert water exclusively into his field ... usually in the middle of the night!!! Crop failure is a major problem here in China. The farmers are already poor. With a crop failure, they also loose their capital cost of seeds and fertilizers. I guess this is a common problem to farmers all over the world ... they are at the mercy of the weather.
Recently, I befriended a family in the town of Dabu. They own a photo studio. They have a cable internet connection in the shop that they allow me to use. Internet connection via the telephone line is available but is very unreliable as connections get disrupted very easily. Cable Internet is only available in town. I am fortunate that this family allows me to use their computer to do my emailing and browsing the net for world news. There are no English newspapers here and my reading of Chinese Characters is still at a very primary stage. In the past, I access the net in an Internet Centre. It was convenient but very noisy as most of the youngsters using the service play loud games ... the louder the better!!! As a service to the family, I teach English to their 11 years old son (Yang Tao) and 17 years old niece on Sundays after I am done with the internet. I get to eat lunch with them.
Generally, life is very simple for me. I spend my time learning Putonghua and give English lessons. Learning Chinese Characters at my age is not easy. I forget as fast as I learn. I have to admit that I am no longer young! I must say that I am very much accepted by the villagers although many of them think I am a bit nutty ... that I should offer to teach English in this little village when they know that I can earn big money giving English tuition in the big towns. One day one of them said to me, “we get milk from you without having to give you grass”. Wow, what a metaphor!!! but I guess he is right because I teach gratuitously. In general they are very respectful and appreciate what I do for their children.
At the end of May we had an exciting Monday morning. Apparently the previous Friday evening there was a “break-in” here in the Primary school. I was not affected. The teachers’ rooms in the second floor were broken into. They created a mess in the rooms affected... bed sheets and quilts were taken out to the nearby river. Those responsible are from outside the village except for one “suspect” who is well known as a trouble maker in the village ... he broke-in last year and stole RMB800 of school fees from one of the teachers room. After breaking into the school, they stole young corn from the fields and a duck from the village. They roasted the corn and duck under a bridge. I was amazed that no one in the village challenged them there that night. We only know of the problem when school reopened on Monday and the teachers arrived to find their rooms “raided”. I must have been in my room on the third floor when they were around. Anyway I have been careful. I have a backpack into which I put all my valuables ... computer and camera ... and I leave it in the village shop whenever I go to town. Still if they had broken into my room I am sure they will also make a mess of it ... apparently they look for money and whatever they can eat.
The headmaster held a meeting after the incident. I pity the lady teacher whose down quilt worth RMB800 was taken and made a mess of. We retrieved it for her and had it washed and dried. She is rightfully still very upset about it. She said to me that she “does not feel like teaching anymore”. Poor thing, she is the youngest in the school, and I hope this will not affect her career as a teacher. Anyway, the teachers requested that all teachers’ rooms be fitted with metal grills to prevent future “accidents”. A contractor was called in. The headmaster was reluctant to go ahead with the project as the estimated cost was RMB1500, which is half the budget of the school for a year. A former student of mine gave me some money for my mission here in Changjiao. I decided to use if for this purpose. I told the headmaster that I will get a donation to cover the cost. He was delighted. I felt it was a good move for me to “invest” in goodwill. It also gives me extra comfort of knowing that my room cannot be broken into so easily. Now I have a metal grill on my window and there are two metal gates at the bottom of the stairs to provide a certain amount of security for the second and third floor.
So life may be simple but not completely dull after all here in Changjiao. We do have some “exciting moments” but I would rather do without them!!! Meanwhile, I have to be more careful over the weekends especially on Sundays when I go down to town to send and collect emails, have lunch and visit friends. It’s a bit of a nuisance having to put my things in “safe-keeping” every time I go out ... but prevention is better than cure. Whenever I go out for short period as when I go for my dinner at the caretaker’s house, I stashed my property away in a disused storeroom that is full of rubbish. I had asked the headmaster for the key to that storeroom but he could not find it. He said that room, which was formerly a toilet on the third floor, had not been used for ages and is full of broken desks and chairs. He was right ... I was able to pick the lock. I opened the barrel of the lock and reorganised the pins to fit my room key. I now use that room, albeit on the quiet, as my secret hid-out when no one is around. This is a little extra precaution I make to ensure some kind of safety. To be honest, if someone really wants to break-in, nothing can stop him ... he will bid his time and will come prepared. What I can do is to present “opportunistic theft”.
The political secretary came over again a visit a week ago. We had a friendly chat with the headmaster in his office. The PS again asked about my meals arrangement and told the headmaster that he should see that all my daily needs are provided for. They even took the trouble to explain to me how I can boil water and cook simple meals of noodles in case I get hungry at night! Anyway, the conversation slowly turned to the “troubles” over the weekend. They told great pains to explain that the break-in does not normally happen. However, if “outsiders” come along, these things do happen. I was very diplomatic in my response. I told them that in my years as a teacher and headmaster, incidents such as this had happened to me. I also told them that this is a problem common to all developed and developing countries ... where there are children who do not have to “work for a living” anymore! They were relieved that I was not “frightened” by the incident.
I have been here for more than a month now and will stay on till the end of this month. This weekend is the Chinese 5th lunar month “zongzi” festival. This will be my second experience of Chinese lunar festivals in China. The first was the “qingming” festival around Easter time when they visit their ancestral graves. My host, the caretaker of the school and his wife promised me a good dinner on Saturday. I am looking forward to that.
With this note on festivities, I end here. Please remember me in your prayers. I will be tutoring throughout the summer months of July and August. I am not sure what I am in for but judging from the weather condition right now, I will not be surprised that summer is going to be really hot and oppressive.
Take care and God bless.
As always with love in DLS in the service of youth and nation,
Changjiao 12th June 2002.
All good things must
come to an end...