La Salle Study Centre Changjiao
March 2011 Newsletter
Greetings from LSSC Changjiao. Peace and Joy is within you.
I returned to Changjiao on 18th January 2011 and immediately settled down to prepare for our Winter Programme. The primary students were already on holidays. The secondary students were facing their end of semester exams. The university students were busy preparing for their mid-year examinations. So, it was a busy time for all of us. Thank God, my teaching assistant Ms Nancy was around to help get things organized. By Friday 21st March, our regular group of junior high school student helpers checked in and from then everything went like clockwork … washing, cleaning, tidying, setting up of classroom facilities etc. They know their duties well. I want to record my thanks and appreciation.
As usual, the main problem before the Winter programme got going, was to deal diplomatically with attempts by parents asking to “just slip in my child and I will not tell anyone”. As a principle, we only allow regular weekend students to participate in our Winter and Summer programmes. Sons and daughters of relatives who study away from Dabu-Huliao, in cities like Guangzhou , Shenzhen, Foshan, Dongguan, to the south or Longan, Shanghang, Xiamen to the north, are accepted on condition they stay with relatives in the village and have a local student acting as mentor to assist them.
This year, we scheduled our Winter English Reading Programme for 6 days beginning on Monday 24th to Saturday 29th January. Everything went off smoothly from day one as the majority of the students were regular weekend students and knew the procedures well. The first two days we were a bit hard pressed for assistant teachers as most of our university students had not returned. I am very proud of our junior and middle school students who took on tutoring duties in their stride and later attend lessons，spending a total of 4 hours each day at LSSC. Thank God, by Wednesday 26th, all but one of our village university students were back to shoulder their duties. I taught all the main lessons from 7.30 to 11.40 a.m. In the first two classes we had around 130 students each. The one hour tutoring sessions were very important. It was there that every student had the opportunity to read and speak.
There were about 90 students in the 3rd class of mainly junior middle school students and about the same number in the 4th class of senior middle and university students. I am always very relaxed with the 3rd and 4th classes as almost all these students attend lessons because they wanted to study and not because their parents forced them to attend. I always enjoy the 4th class as almost the entire lesson is in English and I can impart life-skills and universal values for nation building and the betterment of society – the Lasallian Spirit of Faith, Service and Community.
While LSSC was busy with students coming and going, the villagers were also busy putting in the final touches of clearing the fields, repairing farming equipment, touching up their houses etc to get ready for the most important activity of the year, the Spring Festival. We ended our programme on 29th Jan which was the 26th day of the lunar month so that students can all help in the house cleaning activities which usually takes place on the 27th day.
After 6 days of continuous teaching, I took Sunday 30th Jan as an off day to relax. I also wanted to be away from the village to avoid the frayed nerves among villagers that accompanied the massive washing and cleaning activities that soaked up unusually large amount of water. Having said that, I am afraid I was indirectly involved. When I returned home in the evening, there was insufficient water in our supply system to create the water pressure needed for a shower. I must admit that I was annoyed at having to get dressed again, got out of my bathroom, went outside to turn off both external water sources, and then switch on my electric pump to get my independent well water supply flowing.
This year we slaughtered two pigs with a combined total of about 500 kilos of meat. As usual, in the early morning of the appointed day, Monday 31st January, villagers gathered in front of LSSC, some to watch, others to help. Very early in the morning, one started to boil two big woks of hot water that was needed to remove the pigs’ hair. The weather was cold but the spirits was warm and festive. It was a much awaited affair for us at our little sector of Baijiang in the village of Changjiao . In a spirit of cooperation and “many hands make light work”, the two pigs were slaughtered, cleaned, every part of the pigs was as evenly as possible, packed. The helpers were treated to a good lunch of pork porridge. At 2 p.m. every family sent a representative to draw lots and took home a packet of roughly 10 kilos of meat with a small portion of bones and innards thrown in. By 3 p.m. it was all over and the place scrubbed and washed. As usual, there was the comparison of who drew the better portions, although as I see it, everyone received more of less the same. As some villagers put it, “You put out your hand and the fingers are not even.” On the whole everyone was satisfied.
The event also marked the beginning of my “eating” duties. A week before, families began inviting me over for lunch or dinner. Based on past years experience, I made sure that all invitations were properly recorded so that I would not be obliged to attend two meals at the same time. This year, the feasting went on for a total of 18 days, a total of 36 invitations. I keep myself to families in Baijiang and it was only on the 18 day of the lunar month that I accepted a few invitations from parents of my students to have lunch or dinner in Dabu-Huliao.
The Spring Festival is the biggest feast of the year. We began practicing drumming every night, 10 days before the event. On the 30th night, after the traditional family reunion dinner, villagers began gathering at LSSC for our final practice. On the morning of the first day of the Chinese Lunar Year of the Rabbit, many villagers gather at LSSC for our annual drumming activity to usher in the new year for every family. We set off at 8 a.m. and every family welcomed us by setting off fire crackers as we approach the main door. We took the usual route and by 10 a.m. we arrived at the new house we built last year for the old and his son who lived at the fringe of Baijiang along the riverside. We were tired then and they were more that happy to host us with drinks, biscuits, fruits and groundnuts. The old man was delighted as it was the first time that many villagers visited him at the same time. For most villagers, it was the first time they visited his house … and were very impressed! By 11 a.m. we had visited all the houses and were back at LSSC for the final drumming session. The men and children then stayed behind to have refreshments while the women returned home to prepare lunch.
On the third day of CNY two of my nephews, a lady friend from Dabu-Huliao and I went to Xiamen airport to welcome Ms Maryrose from Malaysia . She had taught 5 summers with us and was curious to see how CNY is celebrated in a rural village in China . She came armed with a video camera. The students were delighted to have her with us. I was glad that she came as she was able to record many activities that I had not recorded in the past as I have always been an active participant. Throughout her stay with us, we took her to see different festivities in villages around.
The 13th Day of the 1st Lunar month is a very special day for this village of Changjiao . It is Feast of Welcoming the Light. The Chinese character for light “灯” is also the Hakka dialect sound for “son”. Here in Changjiao, it is therefore a celebration, first, to officially record all sons born in the previous year by writing their names on a red piece of paper and paste them on the wall in the main hall of the ancestral home and second, to invoke the help of “ancestor spirits” for the birth of a son this year so as to carry on the family bloodline.
This year, at Baijiang, this Feast of Welcoming the Light was celebrated in the grandest manner in the 9 years that I have spent CNY here. After dinner, at around 6.30 in the evening, villagers started to gather at LSSC. By 7 the five lantern bearers and the two big gong carriers were ready to lead the drum and gong and cymbal troupe to go round the village. LSSC had the honour of being the starting point. With a blast of fireworks that lit the sky accompanied by the thunderous blast of a roll of 18,000 firecrackers, our procession started. Unlike previous years where most families just burnt firecrackers to welcome the troupe, this year all families burnt firecrackers and set off fireworks. The cacophony of the sound of drums, gongs and cymbals, the continuous combustion of firecrackers, and the blasts of fireworks brought everyone out of doors. It was truly a festive night. Cigarettes were shared freely, rice wine flowed freely and everybody talk at the same time with few able to catch what was said because of the continuously noisy festive atmosphere.
Well, all good things must come to an end so that better things can begin. Even then, most villagers were still reluctant to work 20th day when every family cooked sticky tapioca flour balls in very sweet brown sugar soup. It signified the end of all celebrations and the sticky balls symbolizes the need to stick together while the sweet soup is symbol of a successful year ahead.
Since last year, I was heading a major community development project to transform long abandoned farmland in the hills into a pomelo plantation. I realized that helping students do well also means helping them leave the village and thus villagers staying behind have to be helped too. In October 2010, we paved 220 meters of cement path, rebuilt 300 meters of irrigation canals and we carved out 1.2 km of dirt road into the abandoned hill. I proposed this project in 2006 but was unable to get it going because some villagers objected because the proposed road went through part of their land. Thank God, last year, because those who took part in the limited pomelo planting scheme in 2006 where 1600 saplings were given out, had their first harvest and made tidy profits, the villagers on their own accord coxed one another to allow me to cut a dirt road in. Many thought that the project was just hot air because there was no access road until we bought in an excavator via the river bed. CD Project Pomelo was thus successfully launched.
On 24th February the 3500 pomelo saplings finally arrived. We sorted out the saplings according to the list of requests and distributed them. The villagers had waited anxiously for them. Many had cleared long abandoned farmland in the hills in order to plant pomelo fruit trees. In the beginning I received requests for 2800 saplings, and then it was 3500 saplings. In the euphoria of competing with one another to plant, more land was opened up and we had to buy another 1000 saplings for distribution.
There is always the flip side of everything. Unfortunately, in their eagerness to plant more pomelo plants, squabbles over land ownership arose. Some inconsiderate villagers plant their saplings right at the edge of their land thus encroaching into the “air-space” of the neighboring land owner. I had the difficult task of settling some disputes. Thank God, no fights broke out as most of the quarrels were between elderly villagers engaged in shouting matches and later the matter amicable settled by their sons or daughters who have been actively cooperating with me in this project. They can understand my argument that this plantation project is in fact a sort of “retirement benefit” investment that will give a reasonable income to each family within 5 years. Some of them jokingly said to me, “You have sentenced us to at least 3 years of hard labor!”
This is rather lengthy report. I will elaborate more on this CD project in my next report. I will be returning to Hongkong for Holy Week and Easter. Again, I take this opportunity to thank every one who has been so generously funding me in this education and community development service through La Salle Study Centre, Changjiao.
I pray that this coming season of Easter will enlighten us with this prayer:
I pray that I
become more conscious of all that I have,
Take care and God bless. As always with love in DLS,
All good things must
come to an end...