Unit 24 A Teacher Goes Deep into China………………423
INTRODUCTION：February, 1988：I set out to start on a teaching assignment in a closed area of China where I was to be the sole foreigner in Yishan County, population of about half a million Chinese.
PART I THE INVITATION
I had to get an invitation from the Bureau of Education in Nanning, capital of Guangxi Province in order to accept an offer from the Hechi Teachers’ College (河池师范学院), Yishan County,Guangxi Province. Why? Because Yishan County was closed to foreign visitors due to a lack of adequate tourist facilities. The name of the county was changed a couple of years ago to Yizhou and thrown open to outside, but things were different back in 1988.
From a background briefing which I had prior to departure I learnt that the Hechi Teachers’ College trains teachers in a variety of faculties and, after finishing the curriculums, sends them out to the middle schools of Guangxi Province, mainly in poor country areas, to teach a varied syllabus,including English as a foreign language.
My job was to introduce a method of teaching English known as "the communicative approach(交际法)" and not only to train the English Department undergraduates in this approach, but also to improve their communicative competence in the English language.
I had quite a journey before I reached the College. I flew to Guangzhou via Bangkok(曼谷) and Hong Kong(香港) where I was met by Mr. Ye, a foreign affairs official from the Guangzhou University of Foreign Languages. He gave me the VIP(贵宾) treatment. I was soon to experience as a "foreign expert(外国专家，中国政府对外教的称呼)" in the People’s Republic.
He ushered me past the customs into a mini-bus and on to the University. I was quite travel-tired by then and was grateful for the comfortable suite with a bathroom where I was able to get a good night’s sleep.
Next morning after a tasty Chinese breakfast Mr. Ye told me that the University was founded in 1965 and was the first institute of higher education in central and south China. It is set in a beautiful and tranquil part of Guangzhou’s northern suburbs.
After breakfast I had a marvelous experience: a visit to the Flower Market (广州花市) in Guangzhou, part of the Spring Festival when Chinese celebrate their New Year. The whole of the city’s central area was closed to traffic and transformed into a gigantic mall. This arrangement enabled innumerable citizens and visitors to wander through row after row of stalls filled with exotic(奇异的) flowers, small trees, fish and birds offered for sale by peasants from the rural regions of Guangdong Province.
On the way into the city in a bus with Mr. Ye, his wife and a party of foreign experts from the U. S. A. , we drove slowly through the crowds rushing through the streets on foot, on waves of bicycles, in buses and other vehicles. The sight was so unusual that my eyes could not take it all in!
For another two days I wandered around the University campus and climbed Baiyun Mountain on the top of which is a fascinating lake. The scene was something from a delicately Chinese greetings card. At the other end of the lake was a restaurant of Chinese architectural design and along the shore to the right I saw small colored canoes fluctuated side by side waiting for someone to hire them. Time, unfortunately, prevented me from the pleasure of rowing out into the middle of the lake and enjoying the tranquil circumstance from that vantage point.
After a few days of these simple, yet unique pleasures, and in spite of the wonderful hospitality, I yearned to reach the destination where I was to live and work in the large county of Yishan. The thought of being the only foreigner in this county of over half a million Chinese excited me and I wanted to get on with it. Mr. Ye assisted me to catch a train to the city of Liuzhou in Guangxi Province, where we transferred to a car.
PART Ⅱ THE ARRIVAL
The Dean of the English Department at the Teachers’ College, Mr. Zhou Yi, together with some senior teachers and a representative of the College president greeted me at Liuzhou Railway Station. Three hours later we drove through the gates of the College.
My first experience of a well-established Chinese custom came the evening after my arrival at Hechi Teachers’ College. I had been installed in my spacious, self-contained apartment--a privilege for a single person--and now it was time for my welcoming banquet. Because a "foreign expert" is regarded as a VIP (at least in that remote part of China), the banquet was hosted by the sincere College president, and attended by three vice-presidents, several senior teaching and administrative staff, some local officers (including the deputy mayor and the county’s Head of Security) and the driver of the car which had transported me from Liuzhou to Yishan.
It was jolly affair with welcoming preliminary remarks and a convivial atmosphere. I wonder how you would have liked the food which included crab, chicken liver, and fried duck’s legs in sauce. All this was complimented by the brimmed rice wine and a plentiful supply of local beer.
Next morning I had a hearty breakfast of rice noodles, corn porridge, some small spongy cakes, and a couple of bowls of warm milk.
PART Ⅲ SETTLING IN
Once I began teaching, I realized the size of the College. The English Department had nearly two hundred students and, in those days, was one of six departments offering courses to about a thousand students. There were two hundred teaching staff. The students came from all over Hechi,a remote mountainous area composed of several counties with a population of nearly five million people.
Most of the students enrolled belong to one or other of the fifty-five minority nationalities that make up the truly multi-cultural nation of China. The majority of Chinese people are the Han nationality. Having students from such a variety of backgrounds enriched my educational experience.
Another bonus for me was that my students lived, worked and played on the College campus.I was, therefore, able to assist their learning during most of my waking hours because I lived,worked and played with them. This was quite a contrast to my situation at Curtin University of Technology in Western Australia(西澳大利亚州) where my main contact with students was during official lesson periods.
Being the only foreigner on campus, I had quite a lot of attention from what I called "staring squads(注视小队)" both at the College and in the little town of Yishan, which was located in the bosom of the mountains. After a month or so, however, everyone had become accustomed to my face as I walked through the town or the College grounds; and so my walks were then usually punctuated with friendly "hellos" from all, including the delightful children from the kindergarten opposite my apartment block.
On one of these walks I met with a Chinese custom, which slightly puzzled me at first. On my daily walks to the town area for shopping I would pass many residences. In summer, many of the occupants would leave their front doors open because of the heat and sit in the front room eating their meals. As I passed by they would call out friendly greetings to me and, lifting their bowls towards me, indicate that they were inviting me to join them.
At first I had no notion of what this meant, and didn’t know how to respond. However, I learnt from my students that the gestures were merely symbolic and traditional and that I was not expected to accept. After a while the custom ceased to embarrass me and I was able to handle it by smiling and saying, "Xie Xie" and move on without offending anyone.
Many of the students, the town people and, certainly, the rural peasants had never before set eyes on a foreigner. After a time, though, they all got used to me. the "staring squads" diminished in number and finally dwindled(缩小) to the occasional small circle. As a result I constantly got invitations to banquets within the College and in the homes of town residents and teachers from other educational faculties.
One school called the Hongxing Elementary School invited me to a music and dance performance staged especially for me. At that event I was presented with gifts and was made an honorary instructor and member of the Young Pioneers. This entailed being the center of a ceremony during which I was presented with a neckerchief to wear as a token of the honor conferred on me.
All of these experiences were new to me as I had never lived and worked in an Asian country before. The Yishan experience was unique because of the status thrust upon me in my role as the only foreigner in the entire County.
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