Sheila's China Odyssey
30.06.2010 26 °C
I’ve been in China for the past few days and as the plane landed my mind went back almost 30 years to the first time I arrived in this country. It was a hot August night and the streets were crowded with people trying to cool off while playing mahjong and card games, or just chatting, under the dim street lights. The Cultural Revolution was over, but the devastating toll it had taken on China’s economy and educational system was evident everywhere. It was a world very different from the one I had left and, for the next three years as I rode my bicycle through those ancient streets, I felt like I was living on the set of an old Chinese movie.
This time as I arrived in Chengdu, I found a very different place. Now the wide, modern roads are crowded with fast cars, the tall buildings are festooned with bright lights and the stores are full of products that would be at home in any Canadian mall. Today, Chengdu looks just like many western cities and, as I went to sleep in my hotel room on the 31st floor, I felt a little nostalgic for the old China. However, I discovered that even in this city of 8 million people I could still find remnants of the China that I had known in the 1980s. Just around the corner from my smart hotel is a bicycle repair shop and, nearby, an old-fashioned noodle shop.
There are still a few cyclists, road sweepers and old men drinking tea on the sidewalks, and in a nearby market I found “little red books” and Chairman Mao buttons.
From Chengdu I went to the Primary School in Yingxui. Three years ago I visited this school to celebrate Vancouver Island University and Holland College’s successful completion of a five year rural teacher training project. The upgraded teachers demonstrated their new methodology and their pupils obviously enjoyed the student centred learning. I was greatly impressed as I watched the students working in groups and seeing the brightly coloured displays of their work. Here are some of the happy students as I saw them in 2007...
I could never have imagined that I would return three years later to mourn the loss of 222 of the 437 students and 20 of the 47 teachers. On May 12, 2008, Yingxiu was at the epicenter of the magnitude 8 earthquake that killed 80% of the town’s population. 9,700 people perished that day in this pastoral community of just 12,000, and all that remained of the school that I had been so pleased to be connected with was the flag pole.
To be continued...