Friday, April 20, 2007

Butterfly in the Ming public park

Butterfly in the Ming public park
Butterfly in the Ming public park

Huge black butterflies glide across the park for 8 months of the year. They've just come back and are all over campus!

No rice!

After a good solid meal of ten "lamb-on-a-stick"s and four "duck-heart-on-a-stick"s, something to soak up the meat is often good. This being China, a simple bowl of rice seemed the best and easiest option. So, in search of this basic staple, I went into a nearby restaurant, where a few people were being served food.

The conversation went as follows:

"Could I have a bowl of rice please?"
"Don't have it."

Stunned silence..

"This is a Chinese restaurant, right?"
"I'd really like some rice."
"Don't have it."

By this time, I'd noticed a large bowl of steaming rice on one of the tables. Pointing to it, I ventured:

"Really? I can see the rice on that table. Can I have a bowl of that?"

The owner's look was rather grumpy at this point.


So she stormed off, fetching my food. She didn't offer a single word for the rest of the transaction.

I've come across two possible explanations for this strange behaviour:
1. She was brought up to dislike foreigners ("white devils").
2. She didn't want me to occupy a table in her almost-empty restaurant for such a low fee.
Surely it's rather more important to grant someone a single bowl of rice, though! As for her lying, that's pretty much a part of modern life. Telling a lie - in daily life or as part of business - isn't really so much of a big deal.

Pukou Twin Dragon Hope School

Recently, due to a reduced timetable and a little inspiration, I've started working on a charity project.

There's a huuuge poverty gap here, and people in the countryside can't afford good schooling, so they move to the city to do really underpaid hard work, and their kids go to school in the city. The problem is, cos they're from the countryside, workers can't register as residents in the city, making their presence illegal. This social set it often called the "floating population" in local media. As a result of their status, their kids can't go to schools officially.

The Chinese education & employment system is heavily affected by population pressure - there are always ten people to take your place, so everyone gets treated badly. Leaving your job is unheard of. To get to university and out of the fields, the kids have to maintain a squeaky clean record, and get good grades, else they'll spend their lives working in underpaid illegal jobs hoping their kids can get a good education and escape the loop - just as their parents hope now.

People set up budget schools and stuff for them to attend to, without government support, but these are often in oppressive conditions. There were many poor kids on TV during the Spring Festival celebrations, saying how they don't complain that there're holes in their school roof, or that they have to hand-copy out their textbooks, or that they have no windows or food at school.

Well, rather than be apathetic and simply remain irked about the situation, action was taken! I decided to set my students homework, of writing a letter to a foreign company, explaining the problem and asking for a small donation. We're offering press releases and a presence at a trade fair in return for any contribution, as it's fairly trivial to get on TV or in the local media (for a foreigner).

The schools do have some really poor children; there's one girl I met who's mother died and father's in prison, so she lives with her gran who can't work. They're definitely well below the poverty line. A scholarship for this family would only cost £20 a year - cheaper than a single cocktail in London.

Last friday, I visited Pukou Twin Dragon Hope School (Pukou shuanglong xiwang xiaoxue, 双垅希望小学) with some students. Here are the photos from my visit. It's not the worst-off school that I've seen - not by a long way, some of them are unbelievable - but it's the only one I have pictures of so far.

View slideshow
(slideshow opens in a new window)

Track leading to the school

Talking to the youngest class


The children came out to greet us

A difficult question..

Girls with bunches

Grim rice

Happy girl

Skipping girl



Trying to get a look

If you'd like to donate, you can use the link below. I'll take photos of what the money has bought, and show you it in use, as well as write a press release, or pretty much anything you want.

Just £10 will cover six months of tuition - that's a lot of days out of the fields and in education.

There's also a Chinese language website for the hope school project in Nanjing, which organises donations to rural schools. Nanjing Hope School project