La Salle Study Centre Changjiao
April 2003 Newsletter
SARS … a blessing in disguise.
Easter Greetings from Hong Kong. Peace and Joy is within you.
It’s time to write again. I returned left Changjiao on 12th April, and was back in Hong Kong on 13th April, in time for our annual Holy Week. I came home by coach via Meixian. It was a departure from my normal one-day train journey for Sanher. I did that to avoid having to pass through the very crowded Shenzheng-Lowo crossing into Hong Kong. The SARS epidemic is affecting everyone and I was no exception as I sort to travel “as safe as possible”. It was a two days journey as I spent a night in Meixian. It was a welcomed change of routine, all the same as I took the opportunity to visit the Catholic Church in Meixian. There I renewed links with the clergy and the nuns whom I first met in 1996.
Hong Kong is very much affected by SARS. It is evident in the streets and even religious services are affected. We had a very simplified Holy Week Service and the Easter Celebration was very low key. I planned to return to China at the end of this month but now with travel restrictions within China looming in horizons, I am not sure when I will actually be able to return to Changjiao.
Let me now update you with my “story”. I will begin from the beginning so to speak. I returned to Hong Kong on 21st January to be here for the visit of the Brother Superior General of the LaSalle Brothers worldwide. I really did not have anything to do except to be present for the many functions and gatherings that the Brothers and Lasallians of Hong Kong put together. However, the events proved to be very “profitable” for me as I made contacts with the old boys of HK. They all expressed interests in my work in Changjiao. One actually gave me a cash donation to buy a computer and some accessories while others asked me to keep in contact and let them know if I should need assistance in the future.
After the visit of Brother Superior, I wanted to travel back to Changjiao to spend Chinese New Year in the village. However, I took the advice of the non-teaching staff of St. Joseph’s College not to travel. I read in the papers that millions of people were on the move and that transport systems were under tremendous pressure. I was told that even if I had a train ticket I might not be able to get on board. So, I decided to celebrate Chinese New Year in Hong Kong. I was invited to have the traditional CNY dinner with my cousins in Hong Kong. I then spent a few days as guest to a teacher of La Salle Primary School at their holiday house in Panyu in China, close by to Guangchou and Zuhai, an hour ferry ride away. I had a great time with them. We even spent a whole day at the Zhongsan Memorial Garden, the birth place of Dr. Sun Yat Sen.
I finally left Hong Kong on 11th February. Thank God, as predicted by the staff of St. Joseph’s College, crossing the border at Lowu to Shenzheng was smooth. However, waiting in line to buy a train ticket was a bit of a hassle. There were five genuine tickets buyers on the line I was in. The others in the line were just there to make the line “looked long”. Tickets touts paced up and down the line offering “instant tickets” to those who did not want to stand in line. I waited with the four other genuine tickets buyers. I finally got my ticket after an hour or more. It was smooth sailing all the way from then on. I arrived at Dabu the next morning at 6.15 a.m. I decided to have a bowl of beef-balls and noodles at a stall by the bus station. After that, I hired a motorbike to take me back to Changjiao, a journey of 9 km for a princely sum of RMB5/- … it was still CNY price!!! The normal fare is RMB3/-
In China, CNY is officially celebrated as the Spring Festival. Schools closed for a month and most factories close for at least two weeks. It’s the annual home coming event of the year. I arrived in time to celebrate the “Ngiamten” (Welcoming the Light) festival at Changjiao on the 13th day of the Lunar month. For the village of Changjiao, I am told, most old villagers will try their best to return especially if they had gone to the big cities to celebrate CNY with their children there. In the local Hakka dialect, the word “ten” (light) also means “son”. So, in a way it is also the festival of “home coming” or “welcoming a son”. Chinese families in general want to have a son in order to continue the family line. Anyway, the village lights lighted since the 1st day of CNY, was lit for the last time to mark the end of the official CNY celebrations. Normally there are no streetlights in the village at night! I must admit that CNY really ended with a big bang … crackers blasting non-stop and fireworks lighting up the sky for almost four hours from 7 to 11 p.m. It was a night to remember … thought some do forget if they happened to get drunk!
Before I left Malaysia, my niece Felicia generously gave me RM300 o buy a roasted pig to share with our relatives in Baijiang where my grandfather Liao Nammu was born. A friend from Klang, the parents of my god-daughter, Doralisa, also gave me RM300 for the same purpose.
Well, the roast pig saga was really something. When I first mentioned the idea to two families, the news spread like wild fire. Within a day, “representatives” came to see me to “bring up a problem”. You will not believe this. The point they raised was that a pig has many parts. Dividing a pig according to weight is easy enough. Deciding who will the best parts of the pig is a problem. So, they suggested that I give a red packet to each family. I just wanted to make a gesture of goodwill, so I agreed. They then listed out for me the number of families involved. It was still within my budget. One of them volunteered to get me the red packets and write the names of the families. Well, well, well, before the second plan was executed, another delegation turned up. They pointed out that the number of people in each family is different. Again it will not be fair. I then decided to seek “outside help”. I consulted those who are not from Baijiang but are villagers in Changjiao. They advised me to give a red packet to every senior citizen 60 and above actually still living in Baijiang. No one, they said, could argue against that as respecting senior citizens is always right. That was what I did and it turned out that I had to give out exactly 24 red packets. I had RM600 which is RMB1200 for the two pigs. 24 red packet of RMB50 each came to exactly RMB1200!!! Mission accomplished thanks to the generosity of Felicia and Mrs. Teresa Lee.
With the festivities behind us, school re-opened on Monday 17th February. The headmaster was more than delighted to see me. He immediately prepared a timetable for me to teach the Primary 2, 3 & 4 students during regular school hours, much to the delight the villagers. He has good reason to be very cordial and welcoming this year. For the first time ever since he became headmaster in the village, a number of students won top prizes in English in the Primary Six public examination for the academic year 2002-03. Two students, I was told, even qualified for the best secondary school in Dabu. The local education authorities acclaimed the headmaster for the students’ achievements. No wonder he was delighted to see me return.
The students of Primary 4 & 5 I taught last year have been transferred to a much bigger school in the neighbouring village of Lower Qicun, 2 km away. I was told they are now doing very well in English and are among the best students in their respective classes. The headmaster of the Upper Qicun Primary School approached me twice, once with the Political Secretary and the other with the local headmaster, to teach English to his Primary 3 & 4 students. I was reluctant at first but then I relented. I now teach two hours each week at Upper Qicun Primary School which is slightly more that 3 km away.
In the Baijiang itself, I now have a patron. He is a businessman in Dabu but has a house in the village. He offered his house for me to use since his whole family stays in Dabu. He has since installed a modern toilet cum bathroom, re-surfaced the floor of the house, put in additional lighting and fixed a new metal grill to his front door. I am now using his house for my Monday to Saturday night tuition classes from 7 to 9 p.m. He has invited me to live in his house and to set up the English Language and Computer Literacy Centre there. He insisted that he takes care of all electrical, gas and water bills. When I raised the question of security during the periods when I will be away from the village, he assured me that his caretaker to look after things while I am away. It’s a very attractive offer indeed. However, I will have to find time to consult with the Political Secretary and get the views of respectable senior members of the village especially the two retired headmasters who have been very strong supporters of my presence and work in the village since I turned up last year. One drawback I am not comfortable with is that I will not have absolute privacy as his caretaker has a set of keys to the house and his family members sometimes spend the weekends in the house.
The Political Secretary and his assistants also make an offer to use a room in the village administrative building. They are keen to have the center set up there as it will give them easy access to the computers and printer and whatever other equipment that I may eventually install. One major problem there is that students will not be able to gain access at night and on Sundays and Public Holidays when no officer is on duty.
The headmaster of the primary school also offers me rooms in the school. However, as there was another attempted break-in one Saturday afternoon in March. Security is a problem if the center is set up in the primary school. Most villagers advised against it. The school is on a hill away between the main village of Changjiao and the hamlet of Baijiang. The caretaker is on duty only from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day.
I am now looking at anther option. A nephew of mine who now lives in Hebei, is willing to let me have the use of his abandoned house in Baijiang. What is missing is modern sanitation. I will have to install a toilet and bathroom. The cost of fixing up the house is not much more than the construction of security grills to the school. A decision will have to be made when I return to Changjiao. I hope to get the Centre up and running before I start my summer programme in mid July.
I am glad that my first tour of teaching in Changjiao this year was almost 2 months. It is important for the students and parents as it is a sign that I am serious in my undertaking to teach English. It is important for me too as I needed a sufficient period of time to organize and work out a timetable of lessons that is suitable the students and one that I can carry out smoothly. My day generally begins with my first lesson at 6.45 a.m. I do remedial teaching to two small groups of Primary 4-6 kids. They did not follow my lessons last year and wanted to catch up with their friends. I have two adult students for lessons at 9 a.m. My regular school time lessons at the two primary schools are at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. My daily regular evening tuition hours are at 7-9 p.m. except on Sundays. On Saturdays and Sundays I have tuition classes from 8-12 noon and from 2.30-4.00 p.m. Most students attend tuition classes twice a week for an hour lesson each. However there are some, who are boarders in the town secondary schools, who attend just one lesson a week for 90 minutes. I still continue with my Alpha-Phonics lessons at the beginning of each tuition session before I coach them in their regular school lessons.
Work is relentless as I have to prepare and print out every lesson from my laptop computer. However I am happy and actually enjoy my work. I thank God that I have this opportunity to give an extra edge to study of English to my students. I enjoy my work and the simple life style in Changjiao. I am often invited to participate in the activities of the village. As a “huaqiao” i.e. overseas Chinese, I fixed my contribution to RMB100 per function. I get invited to the official function lunch ….. and the unofficial dinner that evening for committee members of the event. I have my little “doggie bike”, thanks to a generous donation from the Brothers of Ireland, which makes it easier for me to go the town of Dabu twice a week to send and collect my emails. I still ride my bicycle when I move around the village. I also ride my bicycle for exercise. I was advised not to climb the hills around the village until well after the Qingming festival period. When I get back to Changjiao in May, I will resume my walks, roaming the hills surrounding the village.
I thank God that with the financial contributions from LaSallians in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong and from the Brothers of the District of San Francisco, I am now in a position to start work on setting up the English Language and Computer Literacy Center. When I report next, I hope it will be about La Salle Lin … (Lin is a Chinese character that is made up of two characters … rain on top and forest at the bottom … it stands for “timely/appropriate rain” bringing with it the moisture necessary for the trees/plants/vegetation/vegetables/fruits to grow i.e. nurturing natural water)
On Monday 28th April, I called Changjiao to announce my return on Friday 2nd May. However, I advised by the political secretary to stay away for a while. He suggested that I avoid going back as I may get into trouble crossing the border … getting quarantined if a health officer should decide that I look like a possible SARS candidate. I guess it is part of his job to limit traveling into or out of the village as a first line of defense against SARS. I am SARSed … not infected but affected! I am staying put in HK. I might as well enjoy my stay. It’s time also to catch up with family and friends.
Take care and God bless. Keep me in your prayers. God willing we will have a LaSallian Education Centre in Guangdong, China, by the end of this year.
As always with love in DLS in the service of youth and nation,
St. Joseph’s College, Hong Kong.
15th April 2003
All good things must
come to an end...