by Kek Chee Swee Jeremy
The trip to Hengshui, Hebei started with a bumpy ride on the hard-sleeper train from Beijing West Station. For many of us, this was our first experience riding on the hard-sleeper type train. The configuration was slightly cramped but we kept our spirits high by keeping each other’s company with some simple pleasures from a few bites of McDonalds.
Upon reaching Hengshui station, we were greeted by an affable school principal, who ushered us into her car and told us many short stories of the school and its surrounding county as we embarked on an one-hour ride to our accommodation for the night. At the hotel, the principal kindly bought us some donkey meat sandwiches and left us to retire for the night.
I was awoken by the cold in the morning with the temperature creeping below -12 degrees. The heater in the motel appears to be no match for the bitter cold. Though we hurried to get ourselves prepared for the long day ahead, stopping by briefly at a local breakfast store before heading to middle school. The middle school is located in a remote area with no visible human installations around its surrounding. The principal told us learn that students spent 11 days straight in the school and only return to their homes for 2 days after every cycle.
Most of us were doing voluntary teaching for the first time and had no idea what to expect. I was pretty nervous myself and feeling unsure if I could conduct an entire lesson solely in mandarin. However, our worries appear to be unfounded the moment we entered the classroom. Most of the students had never seen a foreigner before and were really excited when we entered the classroom. I recalled vividly their amazement when I wrote my name in Chinese on the blackboard using my left hand. Perhaps what surprised us most were how engaging the children were. The students indulged me by giving their full attention throughout the class even when I ran slightly overtime. After the classes, the children crowded around us asking for our autographs before we could leave perhaps as a positive sign that we have earned their respect. We were slightly tired, but unable to resist the children’s innocence and ended up signed several dozens of them!
To sum up, this was a truly meaningful trip for me. I have never really visited an actual rural county and had no idea what to expect, though I end up having a really wonderful time. I was especially touched by the energy of the children. This was also a quality time spent with my classmates outside of the classroom. I have never learnt so much in 24 hours. I look forward to returning and contributing more for the children.