China, day 13: Visit to a school

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Sunset on the Yangtze

Sunset on the Yangtze

Sunday, April 26

After passing through the dams, the river is much lower and the surrounding countryside is much flatter, producing some beautiful effects as the sun drops toward the horizon.

School children performing

Schoolchildren performing

We stopped in Jingzhou, a small city by Chinese standards (about a million people). Here we visited a public school, one of three that Viking supports in China. Viking has provided equipment like computers and projectors and a new running track. But the school still seems hard-pressed. The desks are old and beat up, and the average glass size is 53.

Even so, the school seemed like an oasis in the middle of largely commercial and somewhat grubby area. The students welcomed us with drums and then some dance and martial arts performances. After that, our group went to a fifth-grade classroom. Each of us was escorted in by a student and led to a desk. My escort knew the back way in and got us quickly seated but didn’t seem to know any a English, so I had trouble making contact. Robin’s escort was charming, seemed to understand what Robin said, and was fluent in counting in English.

A Chinese classroom

A Chinese classroom

The teacher in the room was their English teacher, and she led them in a couple of a English songs, but her English didn’t seem to be good enough to talk to us, so Matthew interpreted and did most of the talking. At one point he asked if we had any teachers in our group. Several people raised their hands and one woman got up and taught the children to count to 10 in sign language.

Over all, it was an interesting and pleasant experience, but it was a little uncomfortable having these children trotted out for our entertainment and enlightenment, and on a Sunday no less.

Robin's student escort

Robin’s student escort

Matthew also talked some about his own educational experience and that of his daughter, who is preparing for her exams to enter high school. China offers nine years of free, compulsory education, but students must then be admitted to a high school, for which their parents must pay. Only about half of ninth graders make it into high school, and only about half of those go on to a college or university. That means that of the students we saw today only a quarter will finish college.

From Matthew’s description of his daughter’s life, it appears that the school day is about 12 hours, though with a two-hour break in the middle to go home for lunch.

A dish we did not eat

A dish we did not eat

The government is apparently considering changes in the system that will make it more like ours, but whether China has the resources to provide 12 years of free education is not clear.

After the school visit, we returned to the ship and sailed away. Lunch offerings included street food like chicken feet, pig’s tails, thousand-year-old eggs, and jellyfish salad. We passed, but one man at our table went back for seconds on chicken legs. Apparently they taste like chicken.

After lunch we had a brief tour of the wheelhouse. The ship has lots of modern equipment but the wheel in the wheelhouse was kind of disappointing, smaller than the steering wheel on your car.

Tomorrow we disembark in Wuhan to fly to Shanghai.

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