La Salle Study Centre Changjiao
June 2004 Newsletter
Mission accomplished …. La Salle Study Centre in Baijiang.
Greetings. Peace and Joy is within you.
How time flies. The last time I sat down to write about my work in Changjiao was on 18th March 2004. It’s time to write again if I were to catch the 25th deadline. I wrote in March that I was making final preparations to move into the renovated house in the hamlet of Baijiang in April. This is the story …
The computers were promptly delivered on 2nd April. The children were at school when they arrived at 9 a.m. The older folks were on hand to witness the occasion, marveling at the boxes of computers, monitors, keyboards and headphones. The boxes had to be carried, a few at a time, up a narrow pathway. Thankfully all went well and nothing fell into the wet rice fields. The computers were installed without a hitch before noon. I was lucky to have selected a good and capable supplier who has since proved to offer very efficient support services.
My students were more anxious that I was to move to the center. On Sunday morning 4th April, a group of them turned up at my niece’s house where I was still staying then, to help me move house. I was not ready but they insisted. A bicycle brigade was promptly organized. Whatever I did not need for my immediate use were carted away. It was when the students were carrying the boxes of books and things up the narrow path that I became keenly aware that the narrow path could be hazardous. It was a full two meters drop down and the narrowest part was barely half a meter. There and then I decided that something had to be done.
Meanwhile April 8th was selected by my niece as the auspicious day to officially “start a fire” for the new house. The term perplexed me when I first arrived in Changjiao two and a half years ago. Then I was told that the caretaker of the school was also responsible for “starting the fire” in school. I had thought he was responsible for an electrical sub-station. There was no sub-station and I did not see him start any kind of “fire”. It was only later that I learnt that he was actually the cook in school. “To start a fire” in the local dialect is to cook a meal. So when my niece suggested that we “start a fire” on 8th April, I knew that it meant that we cook the first meal in the house to signify that the house is officially opened for occupation.
My nephew from Shanghang, Fujian, came down for the occasion. He made sure that a long roll of firecrackers hung from the roof to the ground at the front of the house. My niece made sure that a generous supply of food was in the kitchen … cooking oil, rice, noodles, sugar, tea, meat and vegetables, fruits and nuts and biscuits etc … to signify that those living in the house will never be in want. At 9.05 a.m. the stove as lit and cooking oil and glutinous rice put into the pan so that heated rice grains would “explode” exactly at 9.10 a.m. It did and my nephew promptly lit the firecrackers. As expected, relatives and neighbours turned up on hearing the sound of crackers. Tea, sweets, groundnuts and biscuits were served.
I am sure those of you who are familiar with Chinese numerology will be able to guess why 8th April and 9.10 a.m. were chosen as the auspicious day and time. For those who are not familiar, let me briefly explain. The number 8 signifies prosperity. The month of April is 4. The combination of 84 is supposed to mean “very prosperous”. The number 9 signifies forever. The number 10 signifies stable. So, 9.10 a.m. is supposed to mean “forever stable”. Villagers here are still very traditional and follow old customs for most important occasions.
I mentioned that when the children helped me to move in on 4th April, I was concerned about the narrow path. So, after the officially blessing of the house on 8th April, I brought the subject up with my nephew suggesting that we open a three and a half meters road to the house. My nephew was absolutely taken aback by the request. He told me that my uncle, formally head of the village, living next door had tried unsuccessfully for years to open a road. Two ancient out-houses (toilets), a milling barn and a plot rice field stood in the way. I asked him to try anyway. He said to me, “Uncle, you have to have a lot of goodwill to get this done. No one in the village has ever been known to part with let alone sell an out-house which is a family heirloom.” Thank God, I had enough of goodwill credits with the locals. After three days of negotiations involving four families, of which two do not talk to one another, and the village administration, we had an agreement. It cost 10,000 yuan (about RM5,000/-). It is expenditure beyond my budget for this year but I decided to go ahead anyway. The documents were signed in the morning on April 12th. With the help of volunteers and workers, the walls of the buildings came down before sunset. I was amazed at the speed they set about it. I moved in to spend my first night in the house that evening. I was invited to have supper with a family there that very night. I was then told that it was necessary to demolish the two out-houses before the ink on the documents was dried just in case one of the four parties had second thoughts.
On April 13th, a day after I moved in, I had my first Malaysian Lasallian visitor. Mr. Yoong Yan Pin, who now serves as a voluntary economic advisor to the Meixian government, came to visit me. Four education officers, two from Meixian and two from Dabu, came with him. I politely turned down their request to go to Meixian to help them. I told them that I am still experimenting with my method and will require another year or two to fine tune it. The Meixian officer called last night (23rd June) asking me to run an English programme for the English teachers in Meixian during the summer. I again declined stating that I already have a full summer programme here in Changjiao.
Meanwhile, I continued with my teaching in the two primary schools but shifted my weekend tuition lessons to the study center. I spent whatever free time I had vanishing the wooden tables and stools. I need more time to install the computers with learning and teaching programmes. I am lucky to have an adult student who is a computer teacher from Dabu-Huliao’s vocational school. He helps me maintain the computers. He is also helping me to train 10 selected primary school students this summer in basic computer management skills. These students will in turn be team leaders in computer classes in the future.
I scheduled the first operational day of the study center to coincide with the weeklong May 1st. holidays. Luckily, this year it fell on a Saturday. It was a hectic but rewarding week. The children were delighted to have the opportunity to learn how to use the computers. Many students studying away from home also joined in as they were home for the May holidays. The week before, I trained eight primary students, two P6, four P5 and two P4, in handling a key-board learning programme. They were a great as they helped me to supervise the activities in the computer room, which ran from 6.30 a.m. to 8.30 p.m. each day. Some of the students have since progressed to basic word processing and keying in Chinese Characters using China’s official Wubi input method which is difficult to learn but very efficient once learnt.
With the success of the May week and with the support of parents, I launched the night study programme for P4, P5 and P6 students on 10th May. Five P6, seven P5 and four P4 children joined the programme. They come in between 6 to 6.30 p.m. and leave at 8.15 p.m. from Monday to Friday. Simultaneously I also began adult computer literacy classes from 8.30 to 10 p.m. There are 4 adult students at the moment, the political secretary, the village headman, the village scribe and a young dropout who works in his father’s pig farm.
The first FSC to visit me is Br. Jeffrey Chan of Singapore. I was in Hong Kong to show him the way to Changjiao. We arrived on 12th June and he stayed 10 days with me. He joined in all my teaching activities in the two primary schools as well as in the study centre in Baijiang. He was well received and parents and children are expecting him to return in the near future. In fact they hope to see him again this December.
I have a busy schedule ahead of me this coming summer. I already have new many requests for places on top of the 122 students I had last year who are returning for this year’s programme. This should be an interesting year. I have enlisted a few of my better students to help me run this summer’s programme. The new primary school headmaster Mr. Zhong will also be helping me. He will be in charge of discipline. This will make things more manageable for the students who are helping me.
Keep me in your prayers.
As always with love in DLS, in the service of youth and nation.
Take care and God bless. BDLiaoFSC
24th June 2004
All good things must
come to an end...