La Salle Study Centre Changjiao
March 2007 Newsletter
15th March 2007
Greetings from Changjiao. Peace and Joy is within you.
The festivities of the Spring Festival, as Chinese New Year is known as in China today, are behind us now. In general, Hakka villagers do not begin work until the 21st day of the Lunar month. There is a saying here, "yu sit mo sit, liao dao nee sip" which means "whether there is everything to eat or nothing to eat, we relax till the 20th". The 20th day of the Lunar month was on Friday 9th March. The villagers were promptly back in the fields and farms and I resumed weekend lessons on Saturday 10th March.
I guess this report will not be complete without giving an account of the activities of the Spring Festival. I returned to the village on 15th January, just in time to begin the Winter English Programme. The students are mainly those living in Changjiao or those who are in boarding schools and universities. They are my regular students. I taught three classes each morning. I based my lessons on the difficulties they encountered at school. Some students came over in the afternoon to play Scrabble, Boggle, UpWord or Sudoku, while others horn their computer skills. LSSC did not open at night. I wanted the students to spend time with their parents during the holidays. It also meant that I was free to go visiting my students and friends. Our last lesson was on the 24th day of the Lunar Month, Sunday 11th February.
From 12th February on, families begin their washing and cleaning their houses and immediate surroundings. Some families also clean the graves of their parents or ancestors and perform the customary ceremonies associated with "grave sweeping". As my niece was away in Shenzhen to celebrate CNY with her mother and family members, I was alone in Baijiang. Thankfully or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the villagers of Changjiao took turns to host me for lunch and dinners. I insisted on eating my own breakfast. As I accepted invitations, I wrote them down on my wall calendar. For the record, it ran continuously for 20 days without break. It was only after 20 days that I was able to accept other invitations from friends in Dabu-Huliao. I am afraid I am taking on a bit of the characteristic of the Golden Pig – I have to work hard in the months to come to get rid of my expanding belly!
LSSC was the centre for three cultural activities activities of the Spring Festival. On CNY’s eve, villagers of Baijiang gathered around to say goodbye to the Wooden Dog and usher in Golden Pig at 10 p.m. LSSC hosted them with snack and drinks. Young men of Baijiang who returned from the cities to celebrate CNY at home, came over to meet one another and join in the fun. We had three sessions of drum and gongs, each preceded with a blast of firecrackers. We timed the final session of drums and gongs at 11.30 so that promptly at 11.45 we started firing crackers and fireworks. Villagers started moving back to their own house so that they can also be at their own front yard to fire their own crackers and fireworks at the stroke of mid-night. The children were all give a small supply of sparkers and small hand-held fireworks to play. I must record my thanks to my secondary students who took charge of the storeroom, for organizing the party, looking after the needs of guests and cleaning up immediately after. The firing of crackers and blasts of fireworks could be heard around the village till about 1 a.m.
On the 3rd night of CNY we hosted another party. This time, members of the village administration came to join us. It was hosted to enable young men of the whole village of Changjiao who were either away working in the cities or studying in universities to meet again or get to know one another. Again there was drum and gongs sessions accompanied with fire crackers. The front yard of LSSC was littered with pieces of red paper "man tong hong" in Hakka. To the Chinese, it is auspicious as red is the colour of well being and prosperity.
On the 10th night of CNY, LSSC hosted a new event, "Return to School LaiXi Day". School reopened the day before. A generous Lasallian from Singapore offered to pay for "ang-pows" for CNY. I suggested however that it be given as financial aid for students as school reopens. All in all, 5 university students, 28 primary and secondary and primary students as well as 7 toddlers were give "laixi" (Good Luck) to kick off the second semester.
On the 13th day of the Lunar calendar, for the local Festival of Welcoming the Light (praying for a son to be born into the family to continue the family line), the villagers first gathered in the main village to hold a ceremony at the graves of the Founding Couple (Bai Yi Lang Gong) of the village. I am one of their 24th generation descendants. We started promptly at 9 p.m. with drums and gongs and at 10 p.m. a massive fireworks display blasted off. LSSC hosted guests at 11 p.m. Again we had three sessions of drums and gongs. In between, the children play sparkers and handheld fireworks. This time round even some adults joined in the fun playing fireworks. As it was the final event of the season and a Friday night, I agreed to an extended time. We finally dispersed at about 2 a.m.
Festivities aside, Baijiang was the centre of attention when a reporter sent directly from Beijing’s Kwang Ming Po arrived to investigate at the personal request of the paper’s Deputy Chief Editor, Mr. Ho Tung Pin. I have always resisted publicity. I had turned away reporters from local newspapers. Mr. Ho Tung Pin was an honoured guest at the 100 Anniversary Celebrations of Pui Yin Primary School in neighbouring Jicun last year. He heard about LSSC and came over to see me. He asked for interview and I refused him. Two weeks later I received a telephone call from him. He called from Beijing to say that he had visited my website at <lasallechina.com> and so he had access to sufficient material to write an article but he still would like to hold an interview. I told him that I would consider after consulting the villagers.
On 1st Feb I received a telephone call from Mr. Ho calling from Beijing. He requested that I welcome a reporter he personally entrusted to interview me. I agreed as the village elders felt that national publicity is good for the village. The newspaper’s Bureau Chief in Guangzhou, Ms. Wu Chun Yah arrived early on Saturday 3rd Feb lead in by Changjiao’s Political Secretary Mr. Liao Chow Kooi and accompanied by an entourage of Dabu-Huliao’s Government information officers and local reporters and photographers. Word spread round like wide fire and soon a large crowd gathered around. As to be expected, many moved as near as possible in order to be photographed while others manoeuvred to be interviewed. At noon, at the invitation of Ms. Wu, Chow Kooi and I joined her to have lunch with officers of Dabu-Huliao’s Information Department. At lunch Ms. Wu suggested that she return to Baijiang with me, alone this time, so that we could have a quiet private interview. That we did and later I took her to the three families who opened their doors to me to give tuition in their home when I first returned to Changjiao in 2002 so that she can hear their version of what happen in the early days.
The local Dabu TV station also wanted to get into the act. They sent a TV crew in on Monday 12 Feb and contacted our political secretary. They turned up at LSSC and found that I was alone. They then asked me to call some students to come over to LSSC so that they could take some shots of me teaching. I gently told them that we do not "put on a show" for anyone. Even when we have lessons, they will be allowed to film only on condition they do not upset our classes.
We had a tragedy in the village on Monday 5th March. Two elderly villagers quarrelled over a very small piece of vegetable plot not much bigger than 1.5 sq. meters at noon. One of them, the grandpa of one of my students, just dropped dead in the heat of the verbal exchange. The other party was so shocked that she also fainted. We had to work through the night and much of the day following to ensure that the younger men on both sides keep their cool - and the many old ladies around keep their mouths shut! The police and coroner came to investigate and concluded that the death was caused by a massive heart attacked. I made clear to all around that the idea of compensation, which is very common here, must not be brought up because it is double-edged. If the deceased family members ask for a small amount, other will say that they did not value the life of their father. If the sum demand was too big, the other party would not be able to not pay. Furthermore I added if the sum demanded was too large the other party, an elderly lady, dies of fright, I asked "Who is going to pay then?" Thank God by Tuesday night, we were assured by the eldest son of the deceased that no demands for compensation would be made against the other family. I offered to take care of the two grandsons at LSSC till the end of this academic year if no relative is available to take care of the two students (Secondary 2 and Primary 5).
The village tragedy story took a strange fortunate twist the next day. First, we are all delighted that the son of the deceased agreed not to make any claim against the other party. In fact the deceased brother in law personally went over to console the old lady and advised her to eat and sleep well and assured her that no demands of compensation would be asked. The interesting twist was that the collection of "white gold" for funeral expenses more that adequately covered all funeral expenses. Apparently, the deceased was born in the Year of the Rabbit. Number players in the village gambled on the number on Tuesday night and many struck the jack pot. So, they all say that "Pak Gong" is looking after them and so are more than willing to contribute more. Thank God, the maternal grandmother of the children living Jiangxi had been contacted and is willing to come over to look after the children. So, all is well. Thanks be to God.
I began moving equipment to my grandpa’s house on 15th March. It will take a few weeks before the new LSSC is properly furnished and fully operational.
Take care and God bless. Please keep me in your prayers.
As always with love in DLS,
Changjiao 15th March 2007
All good things must
come to an end...