I’ve been very fortunate in recent years (with the expert help of BOOKED OUT SPEAKER’S AGENCY ) to have had the chance to do overseas school visits at the Jakarta International School (twice), The British International School of Jakarta and The American Community School of Abu Dhabi (see blog 33).
In January this year I was given the wonderful opportunity to do talks and workshops at three schools in Southern China.
These overseas visits first started when I met Dianne and Kate in 2006, two lovely librarians from the Jakarta International School, at a CBCA conference in Sydney. After hearing me talk, they asked if I’d ever thought about doing school visits overseas. I said I hadn’t, but I certainly would!
That conversation resulted in two very enjoyable and rewarding trips to Jakarta. A few years later when Dianne got a new position in Abu Dhabi she contacted me about going there and then last year she emailed me from her new location, the Nansha College Preparatory School in China and asked, “Are you still doing overseas school visits?”. To which I replied, “Only when you contact me!”. So I owe all my school globe-trotting to Dianne and for that, and our friendship, I am very grateful.
Anyway, what follows (along with of course some poetic and writerly licence) is the first part of how my China trip went …
Well I left Brisbane bright and early on the morning of January 5th. So lucky to have all the family at the airport to see me off!
After an 8 hour flight (see blog 20 for helpful plane travel advice!) I arrived in Changi Airport in Singapore. I passed the next 5 hours there by visiting London and the butterfly house …
… and trying not to stare for too long at the carpet.
After another 4 hour flight and then an hour’s taxi ride from Guangzhou airport, I arrived at the Nansha College Preparatory Academy teachers’ apartment just after 2 o’clock in the morning. I was tired but looking forward to the weeks ahead.
After a late sleep in, I had the rest of my first day in China (Wednesday 6th Jan) to relax, find Dianne, meet people and check out the library and the school.
I started the next day with a presentation on the morning assembly to the years 9 to 12s. It mainly covered my incredible life’s journey from being raised by a pack of wild wombats right through to my ascendancy as a modern Australian icon. I think they were duly impressed!
Overall I had 7 days of presentations and workshops at NCPA with classes ranging from year 7 through to 12. All the students and teachers were very welcoming and great to work with.
NCPA was different from the other two schools I was visiting, in that basically all the students there are Chinese with English as a second language which did make communication slightly more of a challenge on occasions.
The subjects at NCPA are taught in English to prepare the students to go on to English-speaking Universities in England, the USA and Australia.
When students enroll at the College they automatically give up their right to ever attend a University in China, so it’s quite a decision and commitment that they and their families make particularly if they enroll in year 7.
I have to say that I think the students coped remarkably well with having a crazy Australian with a strange accent in the class with them.
All the classes went well but one of the highlights of my time at NCPA were the sessions with the Years 7 & 8s on Writing Funny. The challenge I gave them was to take a normally very serious situation (eg a Bank Robbery) and turn it into comedy by adding the element of surprise to Characters, Action and eventually Language Use.
First we needed to make sure the students understood the fine art Robbing Banks (I hasten to add that I did urge them not to put their new-found knowledge into practice and never to play with real guns!)
To help out, Dianne and the wonderful Year 7 and 8 teachers and teacher aids acted out a typically serious robbery scene for me (which the kids of course found hugely hilarious and entertaining. As did I).
Sadly, all the attention eventually went to the teachers’ heads and they started making excessive demands for increased pay as well as ridiculously unreasonable requests for things like luxury trailers, gourmet catering and personal assistants. So after three outstanding performances for three different sessions, it all came to an end.
Then it was the students turn to transform serious into funny – and they were seriously funny! Every group came up with a scenario the was unique, clever and contained laugh out loud moments. ( Disclaimer: no students were injured in the performance of these robbery scenes. And a huge thanks to JEREMIAH for the use of his terrific photos – as well as for his company and conversation.)
But of course, all my time wasn’t spent in the classroom. Back in the apartment I’m proud to say I managed to successfully break the code on the washing machine instructions. Although I do admit that my first attempt at random button pushing resulted in my clothes starting to be spun dry before any water had actually entered the tub. Almost immediately I realised that probably wasn’t right.
I also want to thank Dianne and all the teachers at NCPA and the two other schools who invited me into their homes or took me out to wonderful restaurants and who in many other ways were so kind and generous. A special thank you to Janet at NCPA who had the apartment below me for the beautiful dinners, for supplying the iron/ironing board and other items, and for constantly loading me up with food supplies, including the odd Budweiser. Much appreciated.
Speaking of food, my lunches from the school cafeteria at NCPA were pretty special too. And as for chop sticks, by the time I left China I could pick an ant up by his little toe with those babies!
On my days off at Nansha I managed to get in some great sight-seeing thanks to Dianne and other staff members.
On my first Saturday I went with Dianne, Raymond (IT) and Karen (library assistant) to the Xiqiao Mountain about an hour’s drive from the school.
First stop was the Wong Fei-hung Lion Dance & Martial Arts School. A place with an amazing history. The origin of Kung-fu I believe.
After that it was on to the bronze Nanhai Kwan-yin Statue – at 62 metres tall and sitting on top of a mountain 290 metres above sea level, it is the biggest seated Buddha statue in the world.
On the way to see it, we passed lovely gardens.
The Buddha statue itself was spectacularly impressive.
On the quite long climb from where I’m standing in the photo above to the base of the statue are a series of magnificent stone carvings.
This is the view from the Buddha statue. If there was a little less pollution you would be able to see the city in that white background.
Before we left the mountain top I wrote some wishes and threw them into the Wishing Tree. (You can see where the tree is in the photo above. It’s that smudge of red colour at the top centre/right.)
After four failed attempts I changed my wish to, “Please let me get this thing to stay in the branches sometime before I die!’
I eventually succeeded and the proof is in the photo below. Mine is the red and yellow one around top centre, just next to the two yellow and red ones.
Our last stop before heading home was beautiful Tianhu Lake …
… where we saw quite a few of these cute little guys …
… and we didn’t do this because … well … we are.
An awesome day and I was so lucky to get to spend it with these lovely people.
The next day (Sunday) Dianne took me to the markets in the old section of town. I loved it. Such an interesting, bustling place with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and other products.
However, the meat and fish sections were no places for vegetarians or passionate animal lovers like my beautiful daughter. Avert your eyes Meg!
And with those images of a whole skinned goat and a bag of live frogs, I think I’ll end PART ONE of my CHINA blog.
I’ve covered the first 11 days up till Friday 15th January. I have a day and a half left in Nansha before I head off on Sunday 17th for my next destination – the International School of DONGGUAN.
Sorry about the overload of photos, but considering I did take hundreds, I’ve actually let you off easy.
PART TWO coming in a few days.