Monday, May 29, 2017

A Trip To A Village School

In the past 7 years I have worked in various remote and impoverished communities. Mountain village schools with stunning backdrops in Ecuador and hillside schools in Honduras with the toughest children I have ever encountered. There was a small town school in Guatemala and a shanty town in Nicaragua whose school had no walls. So when asked if I could join our school to head into the QinShan area about 90 minutes outside of Xi'an I did not hesitate which I think caught my colleges a bit off guard. Regardless I find myself quite comfortable in this type of setting because when it is all said and done, kids are kids no matter where you are in the world.

What I had though was going to be a school visit by 2 or 3 of started out with Myself, BeiBei who is in charge of Teachers, Ting who owns the school and BieBie's cousin who drove us. Ting also brought along her daughter who had good entertainment value for the 60 minute ride. We pulled off the highway into a small hamlet called Nu Pie, which you would never find on a map. We pulled over for a few reasons. The first was a pee and water break, BeiBie needed a smoke but ultimately we needed permission from the Governor to enter the zone. I was assured it was not an issue because he was only a small Governor and not a Big Governor. In China it seems every government official has their hand out and it is just accepted practice to pay for even passage into a community. As China goes you go with it.

** Ting's husband is well connected which allowed us this visit. He has an interesting story but that is a post for another day when I have left China. **

I was hanging out minding my own business on the side of the road when I hear a loud shout. " Teacher Ken, Teacher Ken". Naturally knowing nobody here except the people I was staring at a black van with a ridiculous look because the smiling faces looking back at me were laughing and pointing. "We are coming to!" Cindy, Dan and Sisi are adult students and friends of BeiBie and along with Cindy's husband came along for what was not turning out to be a full blown day trip "Chinese Style". Everyone is related so as we are standing there smiling Cindy turns to me and says "welcome to the family" and everyone cheered. What a sweet feeling to be fully embraced by this fantastic group of people, my new posse.

We pulled into the school and were greeted by the local teachers and 6 smiling but seeing me, suddenly nervous kids. This is not an area that has seen many if any Western White Men. As I said, kids are kids and the walls come down quickly with smiles and a bit of silliness. I can do silly with the best of them. The first order of business what a quick English lesson and our go to is Bingo. I am so fu**ing sick of that song!  I started by having the kids write their names on the board with no others so as to build a bit of rapport with the kids. We started with Bingo and BeiBie jumped in on cue to help with translation and off we went into Bingoland..over and over and over and...well you get it and I hope feel my pain.

** If I EVER find a dog named Bingo I will kill it without prejudice and regardless of repercussions.

When Bingo was finally kenneled we headed outside for a small ceremony of gift giving and photos. I was handed a red scarf to wear to show respect for the student community, which I took as communist government. Who was I to argue as I am a guest in their country. The kids received notebooks, pencils, soccer balls (which are universal) and a few small toys. Then each child was given a new track suit and shirts which took their breathe away. These are poor kids that live a life of real poverty and the respect and excitement is the reason I look west and shake my head with sadness Yes I am a product of the West and that can not be erased. It is when I enter these communities that I know I will never go back to the life that I had. I have a better life now.

After a couple of hours we said our good byes. As we walked to the vans the only phrase I heard was "now we must eat", I like my new friends allot. We drove a few minutes from the school and turned into a parking lot that was obviously a local restaurant but any western person would have driven right past. The thing about the Chinese is they know how to eat. I have one bad photo of the food but it does not do it justice. The plates kept coming. Warm flatbread with onions, boiled black eggs that turn out translucent and I was dared to eat and down it went, delicious. Tofu and spinach, fried tree flowers and garlic, eggplant, cold potato and cucumbers in spiced oil, noodle soup, and various other plates plus sweet tea to wash it all down. We sat for the better part of 2 hours and each time I wanted to stop eating Cindy kept putting more food on my plate. "Eat teacher, it has been a long day".

I was taught the proper use of chopstick because apparently I was doing it wrong. It was determined that Cindy's husband would find me a girlfriend but I had to tell him what type of girl I wanted. There were 4 woman at the table, Ting, BeiBie, Cindy and Sisi and I had to choose what type and he would find that girl because each one at the table was different. I think if I told him that I wanted his wife Cindy the game would have ended right there. It was also when they formally embraced me into their family. We will take you where ever you want to go. Hiking, rafting anything you want. Cindy and I had spent most of the lunch translating and chatting and she said it was nice to have a western friend and her husband was excited to be friends. The Chinese for all their odd ways are about as genuine as it gets.

I am just sorry I do not have a picture of the group but I suspect there will be more pictures and stories in the coming months. I think this picture tells the story. The Chinese love to take the pictures of the sky when it is blue (again a post for another time). Ting took the photo and was sitting beside me at lunch. She then sent it to me on Wechat because I guess she figures I could not look up into the sky. She then quietly said "This is a good day."

Yes Ting. This is a good day.

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