Day 7 – Hangzhou
It was Confuscius’ birthday today, as well as our last full day in China; the time is now passing very quickly indeed. Many people’s thoughts have turned to home and what little presents we can take back for our families and friends. Although I have also considered this, I did wake up wondering how the breakfast terrapins were and felt the need to check on them early in the proceedings. I have to report that this morning one of them was floating at a strange angle in a position that suggested it was not well. It was a sad start to my breakfast but nobody else seemed to notice and I hoped that perhaps it was just asleep.
There was still one more school to visit – an international school an hour away from our hotel. It was a very new school and although it only had 300 students at present, it would soon be at capacity of 750. We walked through an impressive set of new buildings (the gym looked like a parliament building) and show classrooms with the usual paparazzi following and snapping away. The entrance foyer housed a beautiful, shiny grand piano and some fabulous artworks. The amazing empty classrooms were clean and tidy and we marvelled at the whole wall of clearly unused woodwork tools. I smiled at the phrase above the board at the front of each classroom - “Lovely global citizen and forever Chinese”.
I have found that if you hang around at the back of the group, there are times when you can sometimes come across a student and have a quick chat before the supervisors catch you being subversive and move you on. John (Year 4?) showed me his brilliant annotated poster of a battle droid with amazing powers and I reflected on the similarities between small boys the world over. I photographed his work with him grinning in front of it, we shook hands, smiled at each other, and moved on - both of us clearly the naughty ones in our respective groups.
We were treated to two Year 1’s on stage, presenting the results of their IB summer project on how Chairman Mao could influence the world. Peppered with interesting quotations (“We can live without eating every day but not without reading” – I particularly liked that one) they had clearly worked hard on their research. Mao was apparently a warm-hearted, kind man who cared for his soldiers. His many skills included being a military strategist and a poet. Reading the school brochure during the presentation showed fabulous descriptions of the courses on offer which including iScience, iRobot, iSing, iChess and (my personal favourite) iBeauty. It was good to know that the teachers here are “knowledgeable, skilful and talented”. Upon my return, I shall check with Mr Webber and Ms Macdonald in the Community Relations Office that the GGS literature includes this description of us.
The Year 5 students presented on their Unit of Inquiry on migration (animal, planet and human) and concluded that “we worked and worked and worked some more … and we succeeded”. It was pointed out that they were about to embark on a nine day break from school during which time they had already been given another project to complete. The Principal clearly had some time on her hands as she had written a book entitled “Educational Happiness”, a copy of which was kindly given to us all. She signed the inside cover with the most beautiful of signatures in Chinese characters. I shall bring it home for Mr Cheah to read with his Year 11 and 12 students.
90 minutes of speeches later, we had learnt more about extra-curricular courses including compulsory American football and baseball and it was time for yet more photographs of us which apparently featured on the school news channel that night. The best bit of the visit, however, was being allowed to sit in on a Year 1 Maths lesson. A lovely young teacher took the class and we held up fingers to be counted in English and helped the kids with some sums. The teacher did a great job and the kids behaved perfectly, sitting beautifully and answering questions with hands up and stopped talking as quickly as was required. At the end of lesson, the young man apologised for the kids’ behaviour, saying they had only been in school for a month and were still learning what was required. I wondered whether any of our Year 1 students, if asked what they had enjoyed during the lesson would stand up and answer “the play-based learning” …
The afternoon was a relaxed affair of a very pleasant boat trip across West Lake (so-called, apparently, because it is a lake situated to the West of Hangzhou) and some shopping. We enjoyed haggling for things to take home – I had been seeking some calligraphy paintbrushes and pens and was very happy to find what looked like lovely examples at what felt like fair prices. We also had free time in the evening to find our own dinner (we enjoyed hot, stuffed pancakes) and to wander around the city at night. It was beautifully warm and bustling with people – still very exotic and foreign, but it felt quite safe and it was great to be able to wander around at leisure without supervision. Tomorrow is a free morning and I have arranged to walk to West Lake with a colleague at 7 am, return for breakfast, then do a few last minute bits of shopping before catching the bus to the airport at 1:30 pm. Unfortunately we will not be able to watch the grand final live unless the IT man in our midst manages to fix this up on someone’s device before tomorrow – no easy task given current restrictions. I have great faith that he can do it. We have considered locking him in his room until he makes the necessary arrangements, but I think he understands the significance of the occasion.
Our last day in China! With free time until we had to leave the hotel at 1:30 pm, we were determined to make the most of it. Although they stay open really late into the evening, the shops never open until 10 am, so we decided to have a walk by the lake in the lovely cool temperature of the morning, before returning for breakfast and then going shopping. At 7 am, the sun rising over the huge lotus leaves made for good photographs, as did the people flying beautiful kites, in the shapes of birds of prey, monsters, and a lovely little butterfly. Many groups of people (often very, very old people) were by the lake dancing, doing Tai Chi or just hanging out with each other. We wandered happily for an hour and a half, smiling and saying good morning and soaking up the last bit of atmosphere. I’m impressed by the way I have acclimatised to the sheer number of people around and at how comfortable it now feels. At the beginning of the week it was daunting merely being in the presence of so many other human beings, but now I barely notice they’re there.
After another breakfast of eggs and toast and the happy sighting of the breakfast terrapin looking so much healthier it was virtually waving at me through the glass, it was time to shop. It wasn’t until later in the day that I realised the thing had probably been replaced as there was no way it could have recovered to that extent. We wandered through the markets and shops and I found final tins of tea, two Chinese flags and a little cup with Chairman Mao’s face on it together with a thoughtful quotation. Quite enough gifts and souvenirs.
A cooling shower back at the airport was followed by last minute packing. There was no point packing too tidily, as I was safe in the realisation that everything would be so smoky it would need washing anyway. I won’t miss the cigarette smoke that has pervaded our hair and skin and clothes this week – it has been a long time since it was banned inside both here and in my native land and that makes a huge difference.
The drive to the airport wasn’t too long and one of our party had paid a fortune to be able to livestream the grand final onto his ipad. He was a popular man on the bus. Hearts in our mouths and with slight regret that we weren’t at the MCG, we watched the score change as we gazed for one last time at the vast numbers of high rise blocks of flats into which so many millions of people live their lives. My shopping colleague’s Fitbit assured me we had completed 21,000 steps and I rested, happy in the knowledge that the rest of the day would be spent wandering through terminals or just sitting down in a confined space.
We watched the final quarter of the grand final crowded around a tiny phone screen in a queue of half a zillion people at Ghangzhou airport, waiting to check in our luggage. The locals were slightly surprised by the roar that went up on the final siren, but we were so elated it didn’t matter. What a result. I grinned all the way onto that plane. The perfect end to a trip.
Reflecting on what I’ve learnt from this study tour, I have been most impressed by the way things can be achieved on a grand scale when one person is in charge of making all the decisions and so many millions of people have no choice but to get on and enact those decisions. In fact the people don’t even seem to question the decisions, at least not publicly. (The only caveat is that I would like to be the person making the decisions as I’m not very good at being unquestioning).
I have also now understood the importance that Chinese people put on ceremony and honour and doing things in the right way. Whereas we might summarise a speech in three lines and thank the person for their time, they could easily spend fifteen or twenty minutes doing this at extraordinary length, to denote their respect for the person and how much they value their contribution. I recognised that we must at times seem very rude and cursory in the way we do things, even though it might be quicker and more efficient. Bearing this in mind when working with different people can only help us to bridge cultural differences.
I have also learnt the importance of public health and hygiene and the impressive nature of droplet infection, having returned with a foreign (presumably Chinese) virus which has caused pharyngitis and the entire loss of my voice, albeit hopefully temporarily. My son is delighted with the new, silent me and the dog is merely confused. The way that people are happy to cough and sneeze liberally and wetly all over each other may not be the best way to proceed; however for us this is probably a reinforcement of known best practice rather than a new learning.
I think that the China I saw would be a good place in which to grow old. Old people (and I’m talking ages up to 90 or a 100) are revered and valued and their lives seem to consist of lots of sitting around and chatting but interspersed with gentle public exercising and stretching and dancing and TaiChi-ing in parks and near lakes. I like that.
I shall look forward to sharing photographs and memories with colleagues and friends over the next few months and thinking further about what I have learnt from such a fantastic opportunity. And if I embark on a 15 minute speech at any point when a sentence would have sufficed, you will know why.
Dr Julie Harris
Director of Teaching and Learning
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