Sunday, June 01, 2008

Entering the Dragon’s land

A group of Rajagiri Public School students, along with a teacher, went on a fortnight-long trip to China

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Rajagiri Public School teacher, Cisily George, met Ming Ping, 13, at the Baoding Eastern Bilingual School in China, she asked her whether she would like to come to India. “My father told me to say no,” said Ming.

When Cisily asked why, the girl said, “In India, there are plenty of hungry people.”

After a few days, Ming gave a lollipop to Cisily. “Thereafter, she gave a lollipop every day,” says Cisily. “When we were leaving, she hugged me and cried and said she would surely come to India one day.”

Cisily and seven teenage students – four girls and three boys – went on a fortnight-long cultural exchange trip to one of the largest private schools in China. Baoding is situated in Hebei province, 120 kms from Beijing.

Nearly 80 per cent of the 2,100 students are boarders. There are also international students from Korea, Indonesia, Mongolia, Norway and Russia. Asked why foreign students come, Cisily gives the example of Bahadur, a 14-year old Russian boy, who wants to become a diplomat. “He says that since China is going to be the next superpower, it will be an advantage if he knows how to write and speak in Chinese,” says Cisily.

For the Rajagiri students, the trip is a revelation. “The classes start at 7.15 a.m.,” says Esther George. “At 11.30 a.m., there is a lunch break. Following that, the children go to their rooms and can rest or study till 2.15 p.m.”

The next session lasts till 4.30 p.m. Thereafter, there is a break, which includes dinner at 5 p.m., and lasts till 6.30 p.m. Then there are classes till 8.30 p.m. “It works out to about 13 hours with five hours of break in between,” says Esther. Vivek S.J. says that at night, the lights were switched on in all the school buildings. “It was an unusual sight,” he says.

And for the students, it is one long slog. Says Abjy P. Kurian: “They work from Monday to the Friday of the second week, which works out to 12 days.” On Friday, the students are allowed to go home, but have to return on Sunday afternoon.

It seems to be tough for the younger children. Cisily remembers a four-year old boy, who held her hand, and began crying. “I asked the teacher what was the problem?” she says. “She said the boy was feeling homesick.”

The Rajagiri students did not feel homesick. In fact, they enjoyed the spotlessly clean surroundings and the 15 degree centigrade temperature. Asked about the subjects being taught, Malavika Satheesh says it is the same, as in India, but with one difference.

“Everything is in Chinese, while English is taught only as a subject,” she says. The Rajagiri students had lessons in the Chinese language, paper cutting, calligraphy, dancing, painting, singing and wushu (a martial art).

On the weekends, the students, along with Cisily, would go to the nearby Jingxiu park, where groups of elderly Chinese would either play cards or music, or do exercises. “In Baoding, there are very few foreigners,” says Malavika. “Hence, we were treated like celebrities. In their culture, big eyes are a very attractive feature. So, they would stare wonderstruck at us.”

Most of them had seen Hindi films and were aware of Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai. “They felt that, because of our films, all Indians can sing and dance,” says Soha Abdul Shukoor. “So, we danced to Kuttanadan Punchayile from Kazhcha in the heart of China.”

Of course, the highlight of the trip was the visit to the Great Wall. “It is 6,400 kms long,” says Vivek. “When you see it from a distance, it is very beautiful. But, at close quarters, you realise that there are no carvings, it is just a wall.”

What amazed the group were the superb expressways. “Nobody blows the horn or cuts lanes in China,” says Abjy. “From far, you can see this straight line of cars.” A worried Cisily says: “The Chinese will get a heart attack when they come to Kochi and see the chaotic traffic, the dirt and the garbage lying all over the place.”

Meanwhile, Fr. Austin Mulerikal, the director of the school, is happy at the successful outcome. “This trip was a leap in the dark for us,” he says. “We were keen to send the children, because no school from Kerala has gone on a cultural exchange visit to China.” Says the principal, Susan Varghese Cherian: “Thanks to the efforts of the PTA, which handled the logistics of the trip, we were able to give our students a unique experience.”

The happy smiles on the students’ faces confirm that, indeed, it had been an unforgettable trip.

(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Expres, Kochi)

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