I can't believe it's December already and that I've been in China for three and a half months, with three months of that at 'home' in Wenshan. Coming here has, so far, been one of the best decisions of my life and one of the most rewarding, uplifting experiences I've known. The students here are wonderful, helpful, co-operative and generous yet when they tell me about or write about their family life it's extremely moving. Many of them come from very poor families with few material possessions - a sofa is a luxury some don't have - and speak of a life of hard toil back in the hometown they love. Their parents are often very poor hard-working farmers out in the fields from dawn to dusk with their buffalos, no machinery, working on the paddy fields or tending the fruit, vegetables or tobacco that they later sell at market. The students can get home only about twice a year, as it's often a long way off and the bus-fare is too expensive for them, but they speak with deep love for their families and strongly feel the responsibility of being the one in the family for whom so many sacrifices are being made. Their education is costing the family dearly and they hope to repay this in the future by getting a good job back in their hometowns, to begin contributing to family expenses and to make a difference in their hometowns. Often sisters and brothers have been denied education as their help was needed on the farm, and financially, so our students feel strongly the onus is on them to pay back. And they want to do this. They're generous with what little they have and tell me that their family life is happy but poor. They speak with great affection of the primitive conditions in their villages but, at the same time, welcoming 'progress'. Many still wash vegetables and clothes in the river, walk miles to market with heavy loads on their backs but the local community is strong. Not all country life would appeal to British people however. Festival activities usually include animal fighting involving buffalos, c*** , dogs and so on. Many men get drunk on 'bai jiu'. translatable as 'white spirit', smoke too much and domestic violence is not unknown, not to mention the ubiquitous hawking and spitting dawn chorus. Just in case it was beginning to sound like some rural Utopia!
We had a VSO workshop last weekend in Kunming and it was good to see some of my intake again, plus some old -timers. There was a good mix of Chinese teachers from our Colleges and the volunteers so we were able to discuss education, teaching styles, Aids and also have a good time with meals out and time for shopping. I went shopping with my Chinese colleagues and bought a pair of new trousers - only 'large' this time. I must be losing weight! I also bought a 'birthday' card for a VSO friend. Well it passed for one anyway as she can't read Chinese. My nephews were highly amused that the 'Christmas' cards they got from China in Chinese could be anything from New Year cards to Wedding invitations!
I'm off to Kunming again next weekend to meet Tim and just hope I still recognise him and that we don't miss each other at the airport after all this time. I'm really looking forward to it now - someone to share the lumpy mattress with. The students are also very excited about it and tell me they have lots of questions for him but that they're a secret. Nothing incriminating, I hope. Speaking of which I expect my card has been marked here. When talking in class about 'A good teacher should/shouldn't be..' they came up with 'bad-tempered' and I was just demonstrating it loudly when the Party Leader walked past the door. Peter, my fellow volunteer here said he (Party leader) probably thought I had the class wonderfully under strict control. However maybe 'Mr Left' walked past again when I was doing my Aids awareness lesson on World Aids Day with the mosquito bite impression, the 'immune system breakdown' activity, 'sex' written in big letters on the board and the condom being shown round.
This afternoon, weather permitting, I'm out with 30 odd fourteen year olds and their teacher on a picnic. I'm the token English person and my role is to make them like English. Apparently a lot of them don't like it. I can sympathise, as I struggle to understand their teacher's English myself. I'll go armed with plenty of songs. Singing in public for me is no problem now. You lose your inhibitions when they all think it's wonderful no matter what it sounds like.
Well, that's enough for now. I've got to sort out Oral exam times for more than 300 students in the week after Tim goes and rehearsal times for the English staff rendition of White Christmas at the Christmas Eve performance. So I am busy here, but I make my own pressures, which is great. No strategy meetings, no schemes of work...... Something to look forward to next year (not) .To any of you out there who are half thinking of doing VSO or something similar, to coin a phrase, just do it.