It was a long day of travel that landed us here at midnight. The power was out. I couldn’t see much, but what I saw made me wonder if I should have asked more questions. I was beyond tired. I managed to brush my teeth in a very unkempt bathroom and decided that that was enough maintenance for the night. I dropped my jeans in front of a roommate I didn’t know and threw on my PJ’s. I climbed between two comforters that made up my bedding, atop a sheet of plywood. I put in earplugs and passed out. I slept better than anticipated.
I’m in China by invitation from a fellow painter, Kevin Macpherson. His organization, ArtAmbassador.org is collaborating with Jiuqian.org, an NGO based in China that supports the children of migrant workers, of which there are many.
Arriving in Shanghai I realized that google and Facebook were not allowed so posting has been slow. I sucked up the local color for two days then set off for the province of Xishuanagbanna, to the Long Lin Elementary School.
The Long Lin School building is new, and currently still under some construction. Things move at a different pace here, and expectations of anything you’re accustomed to should be flushed. It took me a full day to mentally adjust, but I’m in it now.
first day lunch
This school is a rural school, and most teachers prefer to work in big city schools where they make more money. Many of the teachers here are local people. They teach Chinese and math, and that’s it. The government still sends supplies for all of the other subjects, and they are thrown on the fourth floor in an unused classroom waiting for someone to use them. We spent the first day wading through boxes to determine what could go to ‘The Art Room”. There was plenty. Basic shapes cast in plaster, busts for sketching, LOTS of paper, paints, markers, easels, spot lighting, sculpting and block printing tools… no books or teachers, but plenty of supplies to inspire young minds, in dust covered boxes… waiting. Mr Zhang and his team and I waded through the boxes while the principal and teachers napped after a long rice wine filled lunch.
Day two in Long Lin:
Noodles for breakfast, which I’ve become addicted to. They are covered with ground pork, tomatoes, broth, peanuts, chili peppers and soy, and if that doesn’t get your day going, nothing will.
My bathroom has been abandoned. The principal decided that the kids made it too messy so now it’s reserved for “volunteers”. That’s me. They didn’t clean it for me, but it’s all mine. I have my own key, so when I squat near the non-curtained window, no one will come in through the locked door. There is a curtain on the sink side though, but it’s taped up for some strange reason, and a poor gecko got stuck in the tape and died there, and there he remains.
My class began at 9:30, and the kids were excited. I was excited. Mr. Zhang translated for me and we talked about why art matters, and what we were going to do about it, and then we did it. My class is followed by lunch, and then a nap, which I’m convinced, is more for the teachers than the students. The ‘napping’ was followed by a really great walk through a village up the road with Mr. Zhang and the kids. We climbed steps to elevated houses, livestock downstairs, family upstairs. We talked to elders about traditions from the past, and what they hope to see for the future of their grandchildren. We roamed around, all the kids very much at home – boys being hooligans and girls giggling, and me, the light haired stranger. My light hair scared at least one child, and perhaps a few dogs. I took over 100 pictures (which have disappeared from my hard drive). I had a great day.
Day three and day four in Long Lin: very much the same, though the dinners were taken outside the school, both at the home of teachers. Eating here has been an adventure. I haven’t mastered chopsticks, but I can get food to my mouth. I’ve eaten so many things that I thought I never would, with the exception of intestines – but the project is not over yet. Chopsticks dip from bowl to bowl, and if your good at it, you take what you touch. If you’re not, you fumble around the bowl. Or if your eating soup or something saucy, forget about it – you’re all in it together. I’ve expanded my pallet with pig blood stew, chicken feet, whole shrimp (eyeballs and all), pigs ears, fish skin, and broths made of who knows what. It’s all been good and plentiful. I’ll go home looking like a dumpling.
The kids here are the best part, and the reason that I’m happy I came. They are silly and excited to share and learn. They are happy and helpful, and full of life, and they think I’m funny.
I’ve had no time to paint on my own, as my days are scheduled (except for when the teachers nap, then I hand wash my cloths and try to get the internet to work).
Tomorrow is the last day of class before the kids go home for the Chinese New Year holiday. Mr. Zhang and his team and I will be spending a few days with students and their families to see how they celebrate the New Year. I will be painting, though not at all sure I will have access to the Internet. More soon, I hope. I’m very pleased to be here, and growing with all of it.