La Salle Study Centre Changjiao
March 2006 Newsletter
La Salle Study Centre expanding … new premises.
It’s a cold frosty morning, 2nd March 2006. The temperature is down to 4 degrees Celsius. It’s more comfortable to be indoors. I have been busy ever since I returned to Changjiao on 15th January and had not been able to find a suitable time stretch of time to sit down to write. This morning is as good as any to start writing as it is so much warmer in my little room than anywhere outside. In case you have forgotten, I live in an old style house where the hall and all else faces the open courtyard so the only really enclosed areas are the bedrooms.
Let me take you back to January. I left Kuala Lumpur for Hongkong on 6th January. I intended to stay just five days in HK but as it turned out I left for Changjiao on 15th January. I decided to travel by express bus from Hongkong direct to Meixian as I had books, computer parts and two used laptops with me. For the first time in almost 5 years, on crossing the border, I was detained by the custom authorities. They wanted to know why I had so many books, computer parts and two laptops with me. I identified myself to them as a volunteer English Language teacher in Dabu, Changjiao. I explained to them that I was taking teaching materials and that the laptops are for the use of my students. I was pleasantly surprised when they asked no more and let me go through without further ado. Thank God.
The overland air-con express bus from Wanchai in HK to Meixian in Meichou, was very clean and comfortable. I left HK at 7 a.m. and arrived at Meixian at 2.45 p.m. We had a lunch stop along the express way. I took a motorized trishaw from the express bus stop at Huajiao Hotel to the local Namqiang bus station. There I boarded a 28 seater air-con bus back to Dabu-Huliao at 3.15 p.m. The 90 km ride was not as comfortable. The air-con did not work properly and the bus stopped to pick up passengers along the way. At times, there were as many standing passengers as those who were seated. On arrival at Dabu-Huliao, I boarded a local bus for Changjiao. When I arrived at Baijiang, the little corner Changjiao, I was very happy to see that the 4 meters wide new road that I helped raised money for, was completed and streets lights installed. It was 5.45 p.m. I was glad to be back at La Salle Study Center, Baijiang, Changjiao.
The children were having their winter school holidays. So, the next day I started teaching those who turned up for lessons. At first it was just the children of Baijiang where LSSC is located. Then the children of the whole village of Changjiao started coming in and before the week was over, students from Dabu-Huliao also turned up for lessons. I had ten full days of teaching and it was time to call a halt as students had to help in the annual spring cleaning in preparation for the Spring Festival as Chinese New Year is called in China today. I took the opportunity to visit some friends as I had not seen them for a long time.
The Spring Festival is celebrated in a big way here in Changjiao. The old custom of returning home for the Reunion Dinner is still very popular here. While some older folks go to the cities to be with their grownup children families, the majority remains in the village to welcome their children and grandchildren home for the Reunion Dinner. As for me, I joined my niece’s family for the dinner and thereafter it was lunch here and dinner there in the homes of friends and students for two weeks. I only ate at home twice for the next two weeks. Firecrackers and fireworks are forbidden in the cities except in designated areas. However, in the villages it is a free for all. Here the adults indulged in an orgy of thunderous firecrackers blasts and rockets of fireworks, beginning at midnight on Chinese New Year’s day and on the 13th day. Adding to the cacophony of sounds were the village drums and gongs troupes. They were out in force as they completed with one another to visit homes to usher in the New Year and to collect the customary “hongpows” (little red packets with money in it). Four such troupes visited LSSC. On the 3rd day of CNY a group of villagers turned up at La Salle Study Centre at night to celebrate CNY with me. Among them were the leaders of the various drums and gongs troupes. We had real jam session that night with the drum leaders showing off their skills. I had to stop them playing by 11.30 p.m. We were making such a din that we must have kept the old folks from going to sleep.
Soon it was back to work. This year, in addition to my usual lessons at two primary schools, night study and computer classes, Saturday and Sunday lessons, I am also teaching 5 days a week at Fushan High School, the premier school of Dabu. My lessons are early in the morning at 7.10 a.m. during the morning self study period. I teach two classes of Senior One, two classes of Senior Two and one small group of Senior Three students.
I continue my story today 22nd March. A very good bit of news is that during the Chinese New Year, my uncle who has two rooms in my grandfather’s house suddenly decided to let me have the use of the whole house. I guess the reason is very simple. It was a very practical decision for him. The roof in the main hall and two adjacent rooms had collapsed. The roof to his rooms was also about to collapse. Rather than having nothing when the house collapses, he decided to let me use the whole house as a study centre. In return, I offered to build him two new barns to store his farming tools and firewood etc. I decided to take up the offer as the one study hall and a computer room that is now available to me is far too small for the number of students who now come to study. Furthermore my grandfather’s house has three halls and eight rooms. So, it is a win-win situation for both of us. I informed the local administration of my intention and was given the go ahead.
On Sunday, 12th February, I gathered a team together. I was fortunate that there is master carpenter in our village. He is 73 years old and had retired for more than 10 year. He agreed to come out of retirement to do the carpentry and help supervise the reconstruction of the old house. Most of the younger local workers, carpenters and masons, have never worked on a 80 years old before. There are lots of customs involved in repairing an ancestral house. I also appointed the local village section leader, Mr. Black, to be the work team leader. Before work could begin, the most crucial problem was to source for logs for wooden beams that are 5.8 meters long. Logs available at local saw mills are normally 4.5 meters long. According to local customs, the centre beams for the main hall and the front hall must come from a “twin tree”, meaning two trees growing out of one same main root! We scour the hills nearby and managed to local a set of twin trees. On 14th February, the decision was taken to start work. We managed to buy 9 logs from local villagers and the other 7 had to be imported from Fujian.
However, not everything is smooth going. Two weeks later, as the workers were clearing the trees behind the house, three ladies from one family decided to lodge a police report. They took turns to make calls to say that I was stealing logs! I was teaching at Fushan High school on Wednesday 1st March when I received a telephone call from the police demanding that I return to the village immediately. I responded saying that I was teaching and that I would only return after my lesson 45 minutes later. Meanwhile, in the village, I was told later, there was a shouting match. The police team of 8 ordered the workers to stop work and come down for the hill side. Mr. Black warned them to stay away as a huge tree was about to come down. Just as the police team was about to go up the hill, the tree came crashing down. They scattered. Then Mr. Black came down to meet them. By then tempers cooled a bit when the police realized that the man in charge of the tree cutting is a local official. At the suggestion of Mr. Black, they retired to Changjiao’s Administrative Centre to wait for my return. Even before I returned, the police realized that the report was unfounded since the work has the approval of the local administration. When I eventually returned, I was cordially greeted by the police officer and told the whole affair was a small matter resulting from a misunderstanding. The village Political Secretary and his officers were furious. To cut the story short, it was a blessing in disguise. At the Village Peoples’ Assembly held on 12th March, repairing my ancestral home so that I can have more room for the Study Centre was on the agenda. By unanimous vote, Mr. Black was given the green light to do everything he can to ensure that the repair works go ahead smoothly. It was also decided that all trees that threatens the safety of the houses below are to be cut. The tree line is to be moved up another 15 meters, thus creating a broad band of hill land for planting flowing plants as part of a beautifying programme for the village.
Before I end this report I would like to mention that I was asked to buy land in the village for future development by well wishers in Malaysia and Singapore. However, I am putting this idea on hold for the time being as recent developments in the village has pushed the price of land up by almost 5 times. I will talk about that in my next report. I thank all Lasallians of our District of Malaysia, Singapore and Hongkong for continuing to support this little mission. I ask for your prayers too.
As always with love in DLS, in the service of youth and nation.
Take care and God bless. BDLiaoFSC
La Salle Study Centre
22nd March 2006
All good things must
come to an end...