“At school, we can make friends with different students and do activities together. That’s a good thing. Because we have chance to develop friendship, it’ll be important for our future. After all everybody need a group to achieve something together.”
-Lucy – S2 class 12 – most profound statement of Guanxi and cheating/etc I’ve ever seen
I’ve been having some trouble with cheating recently, especially in this long week – a 7-day workweek leading up to 国庆节, the National Day holiday which is a mandatory one-week vacation. But why the full seven days of work preceding the holiday, you ask?
Simple! During the preceding week, we had two days off (as did all schools) for the Mid-Autumn Festival, which happened to fall on a Tuesday. And if you have a two-day vacation during the middle of the week, of course you should make it up by working over the following weekend! Thus is the logic of the enigmatic bureaucrats who plan China’s vacation schedule and therefore determine the bliss (or the misery) of millions of students and teachers (See this article in the Times).
In this case, it was misery. While the mid-week vacation was nice (I’ll talk about it later in this post), the students were CRAZY over the weekend (Sunday class, anyone?) and even crazier by the time day six of the week rolled around. And – of course – day seven was a Thursday, my busiest day of the week. And my birthday.
I would have gone crazy had I held normal classes for my birthday. Instead, I devised a Jeopardy game to test all of the materials we had gone over so far this semester. The game worked very well, even with class 14 – the usual troublemakers. This time, though, I had a secret weapon: Caroline, a friend (and ViA’s volunteer in Guyuan, Ningxia province) had arrived in Xining the night before to meet up with me, Sarah and Devin for the vacation. The presence of a blonde foreigner at the back of the class surely helped with discipline (not to mention Caroline actively forcing the kids at the back to participate). Thanks to Caroline, everything went well with class 14. Not so with class 13, my final period before break. They knew it was my birthday. But it was the last period before vacation, and they were INSANE. I had to physically pick up one student by his jacket and take him forcibly to the teacher’s office. By the end of class, I was exhausted and ready for a vacation.
Which quickly came. I was whisked away to my apartment for a quick succession of baijiu shots with Sarah, Devin, Caroline, Brooke and Kim, then whisked again to a delicious hotpot restaurant where we met up with Ligaya et al, then off to Bill’s Bar for more insanity. The next morning, I woke up feeling like shit. Right before a three-hour car ride across winding mountain roads to 互助北山国家森林公园 (Huzhu Beishan National Forest Park). But more about that in the next post.
INTERLUDE: one student’s thoughts about 师大附中, written in their journal.
“My school is very big. I have a lot of schoolmates. Some of teachers are very kind. But another teachers is not good enough. THe school usually takes exam. I have it. We have homework to do everyday. But there are still a lot of activities in this school. I don’t mind it. Actually, I hate here. So, I have nothing to say anymore.”
I’ve been really happy with the journals, as students seem to be more willing to speak openly in writing than in class. I get a great diversity of opinions, as well as a lot of truly creative writing which reveals the students’ hopes, dreams, fears, emotions, and daily lives. So far, this is perhaps my favorite part of teaching – learning about the students through their journals, as they rarely come to talk to me in person.
Anyway, enough about school; I’ll talk briefly about my trip to Rebgong last ‘weekend.’ I went to Rebgong during the Mid-Autumn festival vacation to visit Brooke and explore the area; though I grew up in Philly, I’m really not too keen on big-city life and enjoy getting out in the country every so often. Rebgong was the perfect break: only two hours away by car and a totally different world. At the time I was there, an important Rinpoche was preaching in the grasslands nearby, an event which manifested itself in the massive numbers of pilgrims and nomads swarming the Tibetan part of town during my entire stay. Every few minutes, I would see small flatbed trucks pulling up, their beds filled with people going out to the Rinpoche’s prayer session. I spent a good bit of time just wandering around the markets, people-watching.
I also visited the town’s main monastery (Longwu Si) which is RIGHT next to Brooke’s apartment; she has an amazing location! I did the kora around the monastery with an old man muttering mantras the entire way. See photos below.
Then I went downvalley a few kilometers to the famous Wutun Si, where the Tibetan world’s most famous thangkas (sacred paintings) are painstakingly created by monks in two neighboring monasteries. But the monasteries were empty; a lone monk guarding the entrance told me that all of the monks were at some kind of art festival event thing and wouldn’t be back for a couple of days. So instead, I decided to go on a hike. I set off up the mountain above Wutun Si, and climbed the steep, eroded grassy hillside to its summit. Just over the summit was a small village, and a surfaced concrete road which wound farther into the hills. I decided to continue along the road, which passed more small villages where old men and women peered around half-closed doorways, eyes full of fear/curiosity/suspicion? and children trailed me along the street, laughing. I eventually ended up in a high grassy valley with herds of yaks everywhere and sheep being prodded by slow-moving shepherds. After some time perambulating through the peaceful, beautiful landscape, I realized I was very far from Rebgong. I could see the Rebgong valley in the distance, a gash cutting through the plateaulands upon which I was walking, but I had no idea how best to get there.
Oh well – it was a nice day, and I still had some time before sundown, so I decided to keep walking. I came across a group of Tibetans picnicking on the grassy hillside, and we had one of those great conversations where no one understands what each other is saying. I continued along and eventually got a short ride on one of those terrifying three-wheeled scooter things that are so ubiquitous in China. The scooter took me to a small road-construction camp where I continued on my way. By this time I was pretty tired and dehydrated, but I was still enjoying the beautiful views of the plateau and mountains as I walked. I passed a few more villages with cute children before finally ending up right above Rebgong. Between me and the town lay numerous switchbacks, which I started to descend. After a few switchbacks, a guy on a motorcycle stopped and asked if I wanted a ride. I accepted. (SORRY MOM AND DAD #2) This was TERRIFYING. We careened down the switchbacks towards town, the driver barely (if ever) using his brakes, me clutching his back with a fear-induced death grip. After about five minutes – it seemed like forever – we were in Rebgong, and I gratefully hopped off the motorcycle and walked unsteadily, wobbling, back to Brooke’s apartment. All in all, a great day – and one commemorated by a sunburn of which I am still peeling off the remains.
The next day was much more relaxing; after Brooke inadvertently locked me into her apartment in the morning (who knew that if you locked a door on the outside, someone on the inside couldn’t actually get out?), we went on a short walk and talked for a while. I spent some time lesson planning and had some delicious fresh yogurt before finally going back to Xining to begin the seven day week from hell (see above). A great short break. I will update soon with a post about the October break, which is ongoing…