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2006.3.30 – dramatic talent

Reaching the end of week which has had one or two minor unplanned extras attached.  I was directed, at no notice, to watch a drama contest last Sunday afternoon.  When I arrived I was seated on the front row as one of the judges.  Not what I was told.  Towards the end of the afternoon the Chinese teacher sitting next to me whispered into my ear that they would like me to make a few comments on behalf of the judging panel – I suppose you never get an invitation for nothing. Fortunately I had done this type of thing a few times before so knocking together a congratulatory speech in the space of 5 minutes wasn’t quite as bad as it may sound. Some of the acts were so-so but others were really good, the winning act especially.  It was a rendering of one of Aesop’s fables with a Chinese slant plus a touch of Chinese humour.  The humour contained a touch of irreverence which, if it had been done only a few years previously might have landed someone in gaol.  Certainly made me smile.  Odd thing was none of the students involved were studying English Language but the standard was tremendous.

This afternoon I was persuaded to go to a speech competition run by the Business School.  Again there was the usual dose of judging.  I really don’t know why I said ‘yes’ as I had already done two double periods in the morning and have just now returned from the evening class.  Friday should be a piece of cake by comparison.

Extensive Reading classes are going well for the moment. If things continue in this way we could be communicating with each other by the end of the term.  I just hope I can continue to unearth suitable material from the internet.

More information has been arriving and from several different sources.  It was either ‘great’, ‘terrifying’ or ‘shocking’ depending on whose message you read.  It was certainly no bun fight.  Every shop on the campus was broken into and every single item removed, No. 2 canteen was broken into and set on fire but that didn’t get far as it is just a concrete shell with very little inside which is combustible, many dormitory blocks were attacked, mainly those belonging to teachers, but none were entered and two cars were burnt outside the White House. Other vehicles were attacked and damaged. Almost every piece of street furniture – signboards, noticeboards, street lamps and phone booths – was destroyed. I asked how many people were involved but the only coherent estimate came from Johnny,  he guessed a few thousand and it may well have involved the majority of the male students.  When he saw the crowd outside the White House but could only see boys.

The campus has a small PSB station but with only a handful of staff; if they had tried to stand in the way of a few thousand angry students they would have been turned into mincemeat.  The PLA had arrived early Saturday morning and the message was put out that they would be there for the rest of the semester.

As to what triggered it all, again Johnny’s comments made a lot of sense, ‘a mixture of alcohol and seething resentment’. Each year the students are required to make an advanced payment for utilities to be used in the coming year.  The charge is always an overpayment so quite a lot of it is repaid at the end of the year.  This year the college told them that no repayment would be made and this seems to have been the straw which broke the camel’s back. The college is simply one big money making machine for those at the top [President Huang Bo Qang ended up in gaol on corruption charges] or in any position to cause problems and the students are exploited to the limit, and beyond. All goods at the campus shops are overpriced, as are the canteens which are also of notoriously poor quality.  The college is able to get away with all that as it enforces a ‘closed campus’ regime from Sunday evening to late Friday afternoon, allowing only teachers and a few privileged students to pass through the gates during that time.

My co-teacher had no kind words for the rioters which I can understand as she had been shaken by the experience [though not physically] and I won’t repeat what she thought should be done with those responsible, but, having been there myself for longer than is sensible, I could sympathise with the rioters.

No one mentioned any deaths, during or immediately after the fracas, so maybe, apart from a few scratches and bruises, no one was seriously hurt.  I hope so.

During the weekend I received a number of text messages from students at Jiujiang college.   The first arrived late Friday evening and spoke of a mob of male students surrounding one  of the female dormitory blocks.  This was not a prank or a bit of fun as the doorkeeper was threatened and the boys intended to “violate us”, in words taken from a text message.  As more messages came during the night it became apparent there was a riot in progress.  My co-teacher from the Civil Engineering Department contacted me the next morning with further news as her dormitory block had also been attacked, but unsuccessfully.

More news arrived from Johnny Ray, an American teacher at JJ who I had met while there.  During the night the main entrance to the Bai Gong [White House] had been broken down and two vehicles parked outside – not far from the balcony outside 301, where he now lives with Ruby his wife – were burnt.  The PLA had arrived in the morning and were now patrolling the grounds.

2005.6.16 – weekend on the farm

Last weekend I was invited to spend the weekend at the farm of Wang Xiangfeng [Jessica], one of the students from the ECIT North Campus. I met her and Hong Ruxian at the front gate of the college on Saturday morning, expecting to walk to the long distance bus station just 10 minutes away.  Instead we spent 15 minutes in a taxi reaching another long distance bus station.  The bus was the usual 16 seater and this took us to Nanfeng.  So far so good.  Then Jessica told us we had to catch another bus to reach her village which was another 30 minute ride.  At the village we were introduced to her sister-in-law, brother, uncle and a few other relatives and had lunch at her sister-in-law’s house.  Altogether there were 8 people living there.

After lunch we got on board two motorbikes and set off on the last stage of the trip to her village. About half the bike trip was on paved roads, the rest was on dirt tracks.

The village was similar to the one I visited in Guangdong in 2003 but much poorer.  Every house in the Guangdong village was a decent house, though some were better than others; in Hangshan [Jessica’s village] there was only one good house, and some were worse than others.  The Guangdong farmers had found their niche and were making money, the Hangshan farmers were getting by.

On Saturday afternoon we went out into the woods on the hillsides to collect yang mei fruit [bay-berries, in English].  I had seen these things on the markets but never eaten them.  They grow wild on large trees [about 20 metres high] and are hard work to collect.  The trees were on very steep hillsides covered in thick undergrowth and having found a suitable tree  someone had to climb it.  While up in the tree you looked across the woods to spot the next possible tree; finding them from the ground level would have been very slow work. There were four of us in the party, Jessica, a young man, and Hong Ruxian and we might have managed 3 kilograms between us – not a lot.  Thinking of how much they would sell for on the market we would have just managed to feed ourselves.  In addition to the the cost in time there are other costs to take into account; every one of us was filthy on returning to the farmhouse so all our clothing had to be washed, we collected a number of cuts and bruises from slips and falls on the slopes and received a few stings from airborne insects.

In the evening we went out walking the tracks, I’m not sure why as there is no street lighting and finding your way around in pitch blackness isn’t easy.  But what made it worthwhile for me was the fireflies which I had never seen before.  Although Hangshan is only a short distance from Fuzhou the difference in conditions is enough to permit these insects to exist. Jessica caught a few and put them in jar and to use as a lantern which was surprisingly effective.  But then, after a long enough period of darkness your eyes begin to adjust and the retina uses its ‘night vision’ cells.

On Sunday morning we had a similar fruit-picking expedition but much closer to the farm.  I don’t know the name of the fruit, only that it was green, the size of a plum, with a very hard skin similar to a gooseberry and it had a large stone in the middle.  And it was bitter to taste.
At lunch time I was invited to try my hand at cooking in the farmhouse kitchen,  This was something of a challenge as the cooking range was wood-fired, the cooking pans were bigger and fixed in place and the cooking tools were different to those I had used at home.  All the food was home-grown and freshly picked – there was no fridge-freezer in Jessica’s home – and one of the vegetables I was told to cook was new to me.  But the result was passable.

The return journey on Sunday afternoon was the reverse of the outward trip and took about 4 hours overall, but the distance was probably less than 150 km.

It seems ECIT has quite a lengthy history, though how long in years I really don’t know.  At present it is made up of three campuses in the city of Fuzhou plus another one somewhere in Nanchang.  The old campus, sometimes called the north campus, was the Fuzhou Teacher Training College until it was amalgamated and still specialises in teacher training.  Many of the students there study for a diploma rather than a degree.  The buildings are old and some rather tatty suggesting they have been around for 30 years or more.  The south campus, not far from the main campus, is the newest and has the poshest and most modern buildings of the lot. The music and arts department is located here and some of the students I know are lucky enough to live there.  The main campus is harder to date as it is made up of a mixture of old and new buildings, the most striking of which is a rather futuristic sports hall on the edge of the site.  The swimming pool, yes we even have an outdoor pool, is small and old  – too small for the campus now so must have been built when Dong Hua Li Gong was much smaller.  Likewise the concert hall is also too small to house anything involving the whole campus with a maximum capacity of about 1000; it is just a plain brick shell with a wriggly tin roof, very cold and damp in winter and unbearably sweaty in the summer.

Next door to the campus is the Fuzhou People’s Park, a relic from the 1950s and it looks it.  Recently ECIT bought the park [how you buy municipal property I really don’t know] and built a spanking brand new library in the middle of it.  It is excellent and would do credit to any college or university.  The public are still able visit the park just as they did before.  One of the more questionable parts of it, the zoo, seems to be gradually closing down [about as fast as the animals die off].  On the first floor of the library is a small geological museum which gives a clue as to where the main part of ECIT comes from.  Originally it was the ECIG, East China Institute of Geology, and this is still its speciality and to rub it in a bit further, in geological circles, it is world renowned which explains the mysterious strangers sometimes seen around the campus; visiting academics from around the world.  Apparently it also has connections with the military, though which part is something out of bounds for me.

Bordering the main campus and the Peoples Park is Xi Hu.  This is a large pond or small lake used for fishing, pleasure boating and washing your clothes – you can often see small groups of people in a far corner by the lake and it has been given the same name as the slightly more renowned lake  in Hangzhou.  Whether the name is real, or is a bit of tongue in cheek Chinese humour I’m not sure but it seems you can visit two world-famous places in one swoop here. Stay at the White House and view West Lake at the same time.

2005.3.17 – white stuff

Settling down quite well with most of the classes.  The first year English majors are a gem, the second years are more reserved- maybe I will have more to say about them later.  The good thing about both of these classes is their size, about 30, which, after Jiujiang with 50 to 60 in every class, is wonderful.  Most of my timetable is taken up with composite classes, each one is made up of students from every school in the Institute.  These are not English majors but have all passed their CET 4, which means they are all of a reasonable standard but the class sizes is anything from 40 to 60 and there are eight of them – four each week.  This is an odd arrangement and makes it difficult  to memorise names and faces.   Seeing each class is like meeting them for the first time every time.

Temperature has been very low and the skies steely grey.  Earlier this month the temperature seemed to be creeping up but Chris [from Oz] said he saw a forecast which said that we were in for a cold spell.  And it was right as last weekend it snowed.  It has gone away now but everything still feels cold and damp.

2005.2.10 – ECIT, new pastures

Arrived at Chang Bei airport, outside Nanchang, and met Liao Huaying [Maria] the vice-dean of the English department, Mr Luo, responsible for Foreign Teachers at ECIT, and Mango [a co-teacher].  I would have preferred to travel the last stretch by train but time was pressing.  Went through all the usual hellos etc and was then bundled into the back of a large, and very comfortable, car for 150 km trip to the city of Fuzhou, Jiangxi and the East China Institute of Technology, otherwise known as Dong Hua Li Gong.

At the campus I was taken to a restaurant and treated to a slap-up meal.  I would tell you more about it but I was so tired I can hardly remember anything beyond rice – except some exceptionally hot stuff which made me sit up and take notice.  All very kind of them, but really, all I wanted after more than a day and a half of travel from the UK was to sleep.

Accommodation is in a white building built as a hotel [sometimes called the White House or Bai Gong]  but with a wing specifically for foreign teachers and visiting officials. The flat is rather nice although the lounge window doesn’t have much of a view. All the rooms were tarted up last year when some government inspectors came to stay, hence the rather posh panelling in the main room.  Bedroom has a balcony partly obscured by a large tree growing outside.  The balcony ceiling has a rather nifty rack, raised and lowered by a pulley, for drying clothing.  The only place to have not been modernised is the kitchen, but I suppose government officials don’t do their own cooking and why bother when you have a hotel restaurant on your doorstep.

It is chilly but I slept like  a log last night.