of living and working at Zenguofang School
and I can¡¯t believe that it is almost time to go back
home. How this year has flown. We came to China with
mixed feelings of uncertainty and angst for the unknown,
but also excitement at the prospect of doing something
new and different with our lives. Looking back, the
few days spent in Yangshuo to acclimatise was nice,
but nothing could prepare us for the culture shock that
is a rural village in the heart of Hunan province and
here we experienced the ¡°real¡± China. We saw how the
bulk of the Chinese people live, coping with their daily
grind with a ready smile and an inquisitive eye. Being
the first Westerners that they had ever seen, we felt
like we were a sideshow. Everybody would follow us around
and often even open our shopping bags to see what we
had bought. The shop assistants would giggle and run
away when we approached them. The novelty eventually
wore off, but the nosiness remains.
cost of living is very low with fresh fruit and vegetables
abundantly available at the market or street vendors
at give away prices. A taxi will take you from one end
of town to the other for 3 Yuan and the bus fare is
only 1 Yuan. A haircut and upper body massage will set
you back 10 Yuan, male or female. But for every pro
there is a con. Leisure activities are none existent.
No parks, movies or libraries. Every TV channel is Chinese.
The few English VCD¡¯s that are for hire are either war
movies or Kung Fu fighting. They seem to be copies of
copies of copies with very poor sound. After 9 months
we found a ten-pin bowling alley in desperate need of
would have lunch in the school canteen but because all
their food is liberally spiced with hot peppers we prepared
our own breakfast and dinner. Chinese take away can
be ordered and is delivered to the school gate. For
5 Yuan you get a meat dish, two vegetables and rice.
We would ask a student to phone on our behalf and to
specify no hot peppers. There are no Western style groceries
or dairy products available here and the local bread
is sweet. To overcome this we had to take a 3-hour bus
trip to Changsha once a month to do our shopping. Any
bus trip in China is a hair-raising, white-knuckle ride.
Overtaking at blind spots, dodging animals, pedestrians
and cyclists and stopping in the middle of the highway
to pick up or drop off passengers with traffic passing
on either side and in both directions, is all in a days
work. Broken down vehicles of any size and description
would undergo major repairs right there on the spot.
We have become seasoned travelers and are now used to
would fill up 2 suitcases with bread, margarine, cheese,
sliced ham and beef, bacon, jam, mayonnaise, yogurt
and Lipton tea. We still can¡¯t figure out why the Chinese
don¡¯t like sweet chocolate but add sugar to their bread
and milk. This sounds like a terrible drag but it was
fun to get away and indulge in Big Macs, Kentucky Chicken
and Pizza. We would sometimes extend our overnight stay
and do some sightseeing. The local theme park, the ¡°Window
of the World¡±, was a disappointment but be warned if
you are over sixty. A sign at the ticket office declares:
Old tourists above 60 years can take half price tickets
if they show their perfect instruments.
school however was the counter balance for all the inconvenience.
Everybody, from the headmaster Mr. Li, down to the handyman,
was most courteous, friendly and helpful. On the few
occasions that we were ill the school doctor treated
us with empathy and concern. She would hook us up to
the obligatory drip and dispense high quality western
medication and drugs. Like rural communities everywhere,
the people of Shuangfeng are extremely hospitable and
we felt very welcome. We were given a very comfortable
flat on campus with all the amenities that you had promised
us. This was most convenient as we could go back to
our flat in between classes for a cup of tea and to
read the China Daily. We would leave to teach when we
heard the bell ring. There were two classes in the morning
and two in the afternoon, and a two hours lunch break
in summer allowed us to have a siesta every afternoon.
The one big irritation however was that our schedule
would be changed and we would not be informed. As there
is not much to do here we agreed to work on Saturday
mornings but every now and again we were told that due
to circumstances we had to work the odd Sunday as well.
These ¡°circumstances¡± cropped up more and more frequently
and we eventually just refused point blank to work another
Sunday. Internet access was provided in our flat at
one Yuan per hour.
Experimental School is a private boarding school that
has only been operating for 3 years. It is, by Chinese
standards, a small school with about 800 students from
kindergarten to grade 9. They have just started adding
a new wing to accommodate, I think, 800 more students
and it should be ready by next term. This will be used
to expand the school and to eventually cater for grades
10 to 12 as well.
the students. They made it worth our while. We have
come to love them dearly. When we got here we found
that they have very competent English teachers and the
standard of English is high. Their reading and writing
ability is good. Their oral English however was relatively
poor. We could not understand the students, nor they
us. Now it¡¯s a different kettle of fish. We can have
long conversations with many of the better students.
At this stage the little ones are limited to identifying
colours, numbers, the alphabet and parts of the body.
They know how to greet you, can tell you their name
and have quite a big repertoire of nursery rhymes and
songs. The beauty however, is that because they could
start their English education with the help of Helene,
their pronunciation and accent is better than most of
the older student¡¯s. On a cold and blustery Christmas
Eve the students held an English concert (or as they
say a party) in our honour. They realized that we would
feel lonely and melancholy at this time and wanted to
cheer us up and showered us with Christmas cards, birthday
cards, wedding cards and homemade cards. They succeeded
admirably and for the first time in our lives we also
experienced a white Christmas.
two occasions the school laid on a car and driver to
take us to visit the birthplaces of Chairmen Mao Ze
Dong and Li Shao Qi. We also managed to visit Shanghai,
an incredible place, which can rank with the world¡¯s
great cities. Mr. Li also took us on overnight excursions
to neighbouring cities to visit other schools. They
were interested in appointing foreign English teachers
and we had to do our stand up routine for them. It would
seem that both the management and students were impressed
as we were offered employment with them for the next
academic year. We politely referred them to you.
have been most supportive and we want to thank you for
giving us this opportunity. This past year is etched
in our memory forever. Some of our friends and family
would wish that they could have experienced what we
have and some will say that we were crazy. We took the
plunge and came up spluttering but it was downstream
all the way with the odd rapid here and there.