La Salle Study Centre Changjiao
March 2008 Newsletter
EASTER SUNDAY 23rd March 2008
Greetings from LSSC Changjiao. Peace and Joy is within you.
The last time I wrote, I was back in Malaysia for our annual meeting at Majodi and to celebrate Christmas in community at PJ and with my sister, brothers, nieces and nephews. Time was in short supply then. I managed a short visit to Penang but missed many friends there. I skipped Melaka and Muar completely. I apologise to all my friends I did not manage to see. I managed to slot in my annual medical check-up at Fatima Hospital in Ipoh and was given a reasonably clean bill of health from Br. Dr. Patrick Liew. I was ready for another year in Changjiao, China.
I left PJ for Hongkong on 8th January. The year did not start smoothly for me. When I went to renew my visa, I was told that a new policy was in place. I could only get 3 months multiple entry visa instead of the one year unlimited stay multiply entry visa that I was issued for the last three years.
Brother Thomas Lavin, Visitor, wanted to visit LSSC Changjiao. At first we were supposed to leave on 14th January. Then it was delayed for 2 days till 16th January as the Visitor wanted to attend two other meetings before traveling to Changjiao. Owing to the delay, I missed the visit of a Michaelian, Michael Lee Oon Hean and family on 15th January. Even though we missed one another, Michael stuck to his plan and visited LSSC. My cousin Kian Nian, who was looking after LSSC for me in my absence, welcomed and showed them around. We thank his party for bearing gifts of books, magazines, CDs and three guitars. On behalf of the students I thank Michael and his uncle Mr. Lee Ngeow Seng for the gifts and their generous cash donation towards the cost of running LSS as a gratuitous education service centre.
While we were on the way to Meixian, I had a surprised telephone call from Old LaSallian from Kowloon. He is Mr. Thomas Wong. He told me that he had arranged for a business couple in Meixian to meet us on arrival. I had planned to take a public bus from Meixian to Dabu-Huliao and then a motorbike taxi from Dabu to Changjiao so that our Visitor will experience exactly how I normally travel to and from Changjiao. Sure enough, on arrival in Meixian, we were met and given a really comfortable air-con ride in a nice new Toyota MPV. Thus we arrived back in Changjiao in style. The couple, Mr.and Mrs.Fung, owns factories in Meixian. At the end of the trip with us, they promised to help sponsor needy students. It is another possible break into the local financial resources for funding.
Visitor stayed at LSSC for two nights. He was briefly introduced into local culture and was invited to lunches and dinners hosted by villagers and parents. Of course, the village Political Secretary and administration members also honoured him with a dinner. Thomas is now referred to as the "white skin smiling visitor". He told me that he was impressed with and will always remember Angeline Liao Genmei, one of my students who spent time talking with him in English.
On Friday 18th January, we left Dabu-Huliao at 7 in the morning and traveled by taxi to Meixian to meet the Bishop of Meixian and had lunch there. I tried my best to act as interpreter in the exchange of questions and answers. It was a good meeting for the Bishop as the Visitor promised to raise RMB100,000/- to help the Bishop put up a new school block in his home village of Wu Fa where he is the Chairperson of the School's Board of Governors. Visitor left Meixian on board the 2.30 p.m. bus direct to Kowloon, Hongkong. I returned to Changjiao the usual way by pubic bus.
In previous years, when I leave Changjiao at the end of the year, my niece looked after the house. Last year, owing to poor health my niece decided to stop working in September. I managed the housekeeping myself till the end of the year. When I left, I decided to ask one of my distant cousins to look after the house for me. In previous years, LSSC opened as a study centre in the evening throughout the week and the computer centre remained opened. Last year, I had to close down all activities at LSSC while I was away. Thank God, everything was just the way it was when I left, albeit, a bit dusty and cold. The garden however was lush and green and the seasonal flowers blooming. It was a great feeling to be "back home" among those whom I am sent at this part of the journey of my life. I thank God for this gift.
I immediately set about cleaning and setting the place up for re-opening. By Friday 18th January, most students and parents knew that I was back and some came visiting in the evening to re-establish contact. Saturday and Sunday 19th and 20th January was registering days for the 2 weeks Winter programme. In the two weeks, about 180 students attended lessons. It was the first time that students from outside of Changjiao and neighbouring Cicun joined the classes. I feel sorry for the students and parents as the weather was exceptionally cold and many had to travel on motorbikes or bicycles from Huliao to Changjiao, all wrapped up against the cold and sometimes wet mornings..
It was a good two weeks. The students were eager and attentive except for a few who were "sent" to study by their parents. They were quickly identified and "given permission to be absent" much to their delight! The two weeks also reconfirmed previous experience that the best intake of new students should be primary 4 and 5. Secondary students who had not attended classes at LSSC in their primary days are very difficult to teach as they are already entrenched in their own way of reading and speaking English in a very "Chinglish" manner and often have extra syllabic sounds. Furthermore at age 13+ (or 15 by local Chinese calculation) they are reluctant to open their mouth for fear of "getting it wrong". I am determined not to accept new secondary students this coming summer.
It was the third year I celebrated the Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year as it is called in other parts of the world, in Changjiao. On Sunday 10th February the 27th day of the lunar month, I invited villagers in Baijiang to LSSC to witness the slaughter of a cow, to share a simple meal of beef stew from the bones and innards, and to have 5 catties of meat to take home for CNY. I was told by one of the elders that the last time a cow was slaughtered to celebrate the Spring Festival was in 1966. It had been cold and wet for days so we thank God for the blessing of the bright sunny Sunday. The older folks concluded that "the eyes of heaven can see that a work of charity is going on" and gave us a sunny day to celebrate the event together. To ensure that the meat was shared fairly, the villagers drew lots for their share. Everyone was satisfied.
I bought the cow last year for RMB2860. The villagers of Baijiang took turns to look after it. It was just about 200 catties then but had been well fatten since. The butcher offered RMB3800 for it a few days before and RMB4000 on the very morning we decided to slaughter it. It was not for sale. At that time beef was going for RMB25 per catty. The butcher suggested that the cow be forced fed with water to increase the weight of the meat as is the practice for beef sold in town. His suggestion was meet with a loud and clear unison chorus "No" from all present. Apart from having 5 catties or more of beef to take home for each family, the villagers of Baijiang also had their fill of beef stew for lunch and dinner. To cooperative spirit and festive mood thus generated was worth every bit of the money spent for the occasion.
By then my little pocket diary was filling up with invitations for lunches and dinners. Since my return to Changjiao on 16th January to the time I return to Hongkong for Holy Week, I had all my meals with different families, mainly in Baijiang but also in Changjiao and occasionally in Dabu-Huliao. I did not have to cook at all. At time I just ate the ample supply of fruits donated for dinner.
As in the previous two years since we bought a set of drums and gongs, we organized our own drumming to go round Baijiang on the 30th night of the old year and on the 13th night of the new year. This year however, we were more serious about our playing skills. Every night we held a practice session from 8 – 9.30 p.m. at LSSC. Thus LSSC was the center of evening activities throughout the festivities. We also consumed dozens of Coke and Sprite and ate up 60 catties of groundnuts and 180 catties of mandarin oranges. Thank God, some ladies and some students stayed back each night to clean up and to set the place up for the following night.
This year, the festivities of Changjiao centered at our hamlet of Baijiang. Three new houses were completed in time for CNY. One belonged to a developer. He invited the Political Secretary of Meizhou and the Mayor of Meixian for the housewarming party on the 13th night. Of course, with the presence of the top officials of Meizhou, there was the usual entourage of supporters and those wanting to be "introduced". I decided to sit with the locals and avoided the official tables where I normally sit with our village secretary and his officers. However, our host personally came to invite me over to "high table" to introduce me as "the famous overseas English teacher". I had to drink a one-to-one toast with each of the four top officials present that night.
LSSC resumed operations on 1st March. I picked up my teaching duties again at Changjiao Primary School and Upper Cicun Primary School on 3rd March. Weekend lessons reopened on 8th March. So, life finally returned to normal in March.
I cannot end this report without making a comment on the weather. China experienced the worst winter in last 60 years. Snow and ice came down so far south to the northern borders of Guangdong as to paralyzed transport, cut off air, rail and road links to the north throughout the CNY season. The worst hit were the migrant workers trying to return north. Thank God, only a few lives were lost but the economic losses were enormous. In the 6 years I have been in Changjiao, we experienced a few odd frosty mornings just a couple of times each winter. This year there were numerous and once we even had frost four mornings in succession. Riding a motorbike in cold weather was getting to me. I was advised to get a car but after weighing the pros and cons of owning a car, I finally decided to buy a three-wheeled fully covered motorbike from Meixian on 2nd March. It looks like a little green bun. It is now popularly know as Liao Laoshi's "Bun car". It serves the purpose of keeping warm in cold weather and keeping dry in rainy conditions. Ha ha ha .. I have wheels!
I am now in Hongkong for Holy Week and Easter. I will return to Changjiao on Thursday 27th March. I managed to partially solve the visa problem mentioned at the beginning. I now have a one-year multiple entry visa but it restricts each trip to 90 days. I have other pieces of good news too. The PTA of La Salle College, Kowloon recently delivered a used photocopying machine and lots of good quality printing papers to LSSC. Mr. and Mrs. Wang Chee Seng our seasoned volunteers, and four pre-university students from England confirmed volunteering to teach this summer. Anyone else interested to come and work with us? The Peace and Joy of Easter is within you.
As always with love in the service of youth and nation in DLS,
All good things must
come to an end...