Email From Bernadette
Summer Camp 2004
While most foreign teachers are back in their home countries I preferred to stay behind for the summer break. I opt for December as a better time to go back to the Philippines since it is Christmas time. Besides that, July and August are rainy months and school has just started so most of my friends are busy.
Fortunately, I was accepted to teach at a summer camp for two weeks. It was an opportunity to see Minhou County and to earn extra money as well. The summer camp was organized by the Fujian Adolescent Activity Center. The participants were middle school students from all over Fujian province. These young people were eager to learn and practise spoken English.
On July 8 at 3:30 in the afternoon, a bus brought the foreign teachers and the students to Minhou County. It had been a very pleasant one-hour trip of getting away from the bustle of polluted Fuzhou and of watching the picturesque countryside of mountains, rice paddies, rivers and villages unfold. The Earth village was to be our home for the next two weeks. We were told that it is privately owned. It must be a popular place for summer camps since there were several groups of students when we arrived. We later found out that they were having a military training. Much to our surprised, there were also children who were between the ages of 7 and 10 having their summer camp. It was indeed very delightful to watch them marching and following their leaders. After exploring the place, we found it to be considerably large. Beside the main gate is a castle-inspired building where we were housed and had classes. The multi-media and the main buildings are designed after the hakka (roundhouses) architecture. The small lake is one of the most pleasant spots. It has two bridges leading to the smallisland at the center of the lake. Several times we saw some locals fishing in the lake. We even had the chance to go boating with the students one afternoon. It had been our after-dinner ritual to sit by the lake and enjoy the beauty and the serenity of clear blue skies and mountains. Most of the time the students would come to sit with us and have a conversation. Janet and I found that they were more at ease in speaking in English in a more relaxing atmosphere like this than in the classroom.
For the next two weeks the students learned from and practised with Janet, Patrick, Nick and me spoken English. We played games, had film viewing and English corners. The student teachers taught them English songs. I brought them to the bamboo forests several times for our lessons and outdoor games. They seemed to have enjoyed it. One time a class was so fascinated with a yellow caterpillar that I had to stop the lesson and let them watch it. It gave me an opportunity afterwards to integrate in the lesson caring for all creatures. The highlight of the summer camp was the speech contest. The students were given the topic "My Most Unforgettable Person". What was heartwarming for me was the speech of Sunny, one of the girls from Class D. I was her most unforgettable person. My lesson on making choices must have left a deep impact on her. To have helped a soul to get in touch with something intrinsic in our being human is indeed rewarding.
It took us awhile to compose ourselves and come to terms with what we saw. The most enjoyable afternoon was when Janet, Nick, and I went to Rabbit Ears Mountain. A boat took us to the other side of the river and where we got off, a woman gave us an entrance ticket for 15 RMB for each person which included the payment for the boat ride. We climbed for about an hour towards the top. Just like the other mountains I have climbed before, there were paths to follow. There were pools along the way where people can swim. The water was very inviting. After the disappointment of the dirty swimming pool at the Earth village, a dip into clear mountain water was indeed a treat. We were almost at the top when Janet and I decided not to go on further. The path was steeper and we were getting deeper into the thicket. It was also starting to get dark. So Janet and I came down and waited for Nick in one of the pols. The family who had been there earlier left and we were the only ones there. I took off my shoes, pulled my jeans up and dip my feet into the cool water. The water was so inviting that I went for a swim in my jeans and top. It was truly a relaxing and wonderful afternoon. The orange sky cast its glow on the water as we headed back to the village on the same boat.
The heat and the food however affected us after several days. The food was awful and it didn’t change all the time we were there. After the first week we asked for an afternoon off. The four of us came back to Fuzhou to have some proper food, do our laundry and check e-mails. The organizers were so kind to provide us transport. They also cancelled some of the activities because the students were starting to get sick. They complained about the food and the accommodation. After classes we explored the nearby village. We went for a boat ride down the Da Jiang Xi, a tributary of the Min River. It is on this river that the barges collect the sand to bring to Taiwan and Japan for construction purposes. Another time we went to check out a hot spring. Janet and I were dismayed when we found out that it was inside a building. There were some locals who were bathing and were wearing not a stitch.
I am back in my apartment. I am glad the summer camp is over. It was not an easy work for us. We had to be very innovative to keep the students interested and entertained as well. We had to put up with the food. The organizers tried to adjust the schedule to make everybody happy. In fact they brought fruits for all of us because they know that we were not happy with the food. We even had a barbecue one afternoon. We wanted to bring the students to Rabbit Ears Mountain but they were so concerned with the safety that even a walk down the village was not allowed. They had all sort of excuses. There were times when we got lost in the translation that we didn’t bother to ask. During the farewell party selected students were given prizes for being outstanding in class. They were probably chosen by the student teachers because we were not even consulted about it. What surprised us was the fact that some of them have not really made themselves heard in class. Those who we thought were deserving of the award were not at all in the list. Nick concluded that family status was the criteria used. It was a bit disappointing for us. We just hope that the other students would not think that we, the foreign teachers had something to do with the selection. There are realities we had to put up with being here in China. But just as said earlier thank God it’s over.
I have gained new friends in this summer camp. Janet promised to call after she gets back from her holiday in Thailand. Sunny has been sending me e-mails. She is now back in Zhangzhou. It has truly been a wonderful and learning experience for