don't actually get paid but I suppose the experience and the free
lunch are reward enough.
Friday was just here in the city teaching at another of the Middle
Schools. The class were hand-picked Junior One students and were
bright and active and the lesson went smoothly and was very
Saturday was rather different.
To begin with the school was an hour's drive away in Jingyuan County
Middle School Number 2. I'll skip right over the drive itself, apart
from mentioning that if I were a religious man, I'd have been praying
very hard for us to survive the trip. There was a reason for some of
the suicidal haste, the driver had arrived late and we were a long way
behind schedule. With the lesson due to begin at ten twenty, I was
ushered into the building at ten-nineteen.
And a half.
One difference was clear right away. This was Senior Two class in a
provincial school and they were weaker than the Junior One class I'd
had yesterday. There were one or two strong students but on the whole
the class was weak, very weak.
I went ahead with the prepared lesson anyway and it actually worked
out well enough but it's obvious that the standards vary greatly
between big cities and small towns.
Not that Jingyuan is all that small. It's a decent sized place that
looks as if it might be nice enough to live in if only it wasn't quite
so difficult to get to and from. After the class I had an hour
chatting to the English teachers who were articulate about the Chinese
education system and inquisitive about the UK one. The shortness of
our school day, the small numbers in our classes and the
inadvisability of our not beating the children were all discussed.
They seemed astonished at how our child protection laws work and
incredulous that it's possible to teach at all under such conditions.
When we had finished I was taken by taxi to a very good restaurant
where I managed to eat a meal, including the nicest lamb I have ever
tasted, with only a few smears and splashes getting onto my clothing
and then for a walk around the shopping heart of the town which was,
in many ways, more interesting and colourful than Baiyin. The main
square is surrounded on three sides by colonnades under which people
were sitting playing mahjong or chess or cards. There are small
fairground attractions for the kids and a row of about fifty open-air
pool tables for the teenagers. Two hoop-la stalls had been laid out on
the ground. At one kids where trying to pitch wire hoops over various
cuddly toys while at the other adults were doing the same but with
packets of cigarettes.
In the centre of one end of the square is a large stage where, I am
told, there are regular free public theatrical performances while
facing it at the opposite end is the beautiful classical Chinese bell
Another difference was the prevalence of other Chinese ethnic groups.
Mongolian and Tibetan faces were very much in evidence where the most
of the people in Baiyin are from the majority Han Chinese. There are
some traders in the markets and a substantial Islamic group but the
faces on the street are usually Han. In Jingyuan there was a much
greater ethnic diversity to be seen.
After an all-too-brief stroll around it was time to head back.
The drive back would have been accompanied by more prayers had I not been
a) still the unbeliever I was on the way out
b) distracted by the video GPS which when not showing the location was
showing a video of almost naked pole dancers writhing to a throbbing
The driver was fortunately not paying it much attention, being too
busy playing chicken with oncoming vehicles, chattering in rapid
Chinese on the telephone, lighting and smoking cigarettes and
occasionally turning around to speak to the people in the back of the
Nevertheless we made it with bodies intact, though with shattered
nerves. Another day, and another demonstration lesson completed.