No. 2 Arriving at Hong Hu No. 1 Senior Middle School
When my brother and I arrived at Wuhan airport (Tian He JiChang) we were met by Hong Hu Number One Middle School's Head of the English Department, Mrs. Wendy Gong.
|Mrs. Gong the Head of the School's English Department. A beautiful lady and an excellent singer, dancer, basketball player and Party Cadre.|
She was accompanied by Liu Xi Wen (Lawrence) who later became our Liaison Officer, and by Yuan Fu the driver of the school van. Our greetings were exchanged in under a minute and we were immediately whisked away (without even the opportunity to visit the men's room), and driven directly to Hong Hu.
We had had no idea where Wuhan was when we landed, and other than being informed that it was the Provincial Capital, we received no further illumination from our hosts. The drive to Hong Hu took three hours despite having used the expressway.
It was my first 'real' glimpse of China. I found it both surrealistically beautiful and pitifully shocking. The contrast between landscape and farmhouses was 'marked', as too was that between farmhouses and buildings in the townships. China is a mixture of wealth and poverty set within the backdrop of nature's vast expanse.
|Scenes from Wuhan to Hong Hu. Wonderful Scenery including broken down farm houses and tall modern buildings|
Hong Hu is to the south of Wuhan and backs onto the Chang Jiang (Yangtze River). Despite it's position it is not a 'port of call' for tourist ships of any description, since it lacks a definitive landing.
| A view of the Yangtze river (Chang Jiang) taken from the top/back end of town. This is a southern view, and the land on the other side is not the far bank but an Island in the middle of the River. A levee on both sides of the river protects the people from catastrophic flooding as has been experienced in the past. About 20 kilometres to the left is located the village of Chibi, the site of the Ancient Three Kingdoms Battle.|
It's location is such that it does not receive any 'through traffic', being as it were, the end of the line. It is the end of the line for buses from Wuhan, and has no railway station. It has a population of approximately 136,000 people spread across several townships or villages.
Strictly speaking, 'Hong Hu' is the name given to the entire collection of townships (we would use the term suburb but in fact they are little towns), and No. 1 School is actually located in 'Xin Di', the seat of Hong Hu's government.
The first thing that shocked us about the school was its sheer size. Although the number has now been increased by about 1000, the school accommodated over 3000 students, of which about 1500 are boarders. At that time there were about 47 'home' classrooms, apart from the 30 classrooms in the technical building, the library, printing room, dormitories, meal rooms and staff offices. The residential premises are located over the road, and primarily consists of six buildings each containing 14 self contained apartments.
We were not taken immediately to the school but shown to our quarters. Since the Second apartment was not quite finished, my brother and I shared 'my' apartment for a few weeks.
The teachers were quite surprised that we did not wish to live together. (Foreigners are funny like that!) The area within the Residential compound is about one third the size of that within the school boundary. Like the school, it is reasonably new and it was not until after our arrival that the grounds were finally finished. It now even includes a basketball court, and there is still plenty of room for additional buildings. The school and the residential compound are accessible only through security gates.
While 'China is a friendly and safe place', security is everywhere present. Even our apartment windows have security grills. It is totally claustrophobic.
The night we arrived we were invited to a special dinner with the school's CEO, but he didn't come. He was busy. I call him the CEO because whereas you would understand headmaster to mean the CEO, in Chinese schools, there are so many headmasters and principals that it is impossible to find out who the CEO is unless you use that expression. You know, he was at the school right up until September, and I still had no idea as to who he was or what he looked like.
Dinner that evening and for the following week was taken in a special VIP room in the Supper/Meal room. One sits at a really big round table with a glass 'Lazy Susan' (as we call it in Australia) in the middle.
|This is a lengthways shot of the front of No.1 Senior Middle School.|
The food is placed onto the glass section, and when you want something, you just turn the table. Caution is always advised in doing this, for not only are there numerous people all trying to do the same thing at the same time, but as bowls get moved around on it there is always the chance that if it sits too close to the edge it will knock over someone's beer or tea if it is sitting too close.
While I had the misfortune of being invited to a Chinese Breakfast in Beijing, and to lunch on the way from Wuhan to Hong Hu, this was to be my first Chinese Evening Meal.
|The Residential compound is opposite the school and is closed tight between midnight and 6 am.|
As a westerner, the first cultural cringe one experiences at a traditional Chinese meal, is watching chopsticks go back and forth between a dozen mouths and the 'Communal' bowl of food sitting on the table. The Next cringe is watching everyone spit unwanted food on the table.
Then of course there is the 'hocking' (a word I learned from the movie Titanic). Even if you are enjoying the food, this really puts you off. But notice I said 'if'.
|This is the security police office. They are responsible for everything but only appear to be involved with issuing identity cards.|
Chinese people like most of their meat 'on the bone'. This does not of course mean that they love a good 'lamb's shank' or 'leg of chicken'. No No! Nothing that simple.
They like to chop the bone into a million pieces and then cook it with whatever meat is still left attached. It's rather like eating glass, and as for using chopsticks to take the little slivers of bone from your mouth, forget it! You just have to spit it out, because if you put your fingers to your mouth, everyone has fits.
Finally, there is the matter of the 'chillies'. There is nothing safe from these satanic organics. Everything is smothered in them, and as one who can cook the most delicious curry and chili prawns (shrimp) but has never tasted it, I DO NOT EAT 'HOT SPICY' FOOD!!
|A direct front on shot of the school entrance with the Security Guard post on the left. At meal times the large gate is opened to cope with the sheer volume of exiting students.|
While I will admit to having a penchant for bacon, and the occasional ham sandwich, I do not eat pork. It is the most revolting thing than one can eat besides mushrooms. But in these here parts, pork is the staple meat.
Then of course there is the beer. No meal is ever without it, and the obligatory 'tea' and the oft times offered 'hot coca-cola'.
I don't mean 'not cold', I mean 'heated coke'. I had not drunk tea since I was a child, and I rarely drink beer. I am the proverbial 'two pot screamer', which means that if I drink two standard drinks of anything alcoholic in less in one hour, I will fall down drunk.
|This is the view of the new grade three building. The supper room is to the left, the technical building is to the right, and the township is behind the camera.|
All of these things were in abundance at dinner, and good manners required that I eat. Without a word of a lie, I spent the first 8 weeks eating biscuits and drinking coffee. (Thank God that Nescafe made inroads into China).
For most of the time that night we were asked incessant questions about Australia. What does any normal Aussie say when asked about Oz.
What's it like? Sun, Sand, Surf! What's left to say? but of course they really want to know about the 'ships'. The what? The ships! There are many ships in Australia.
Well of course. Australia is surrounded by Oceans. Huh? Oceans! You know, the sea where ships sail. Oh no you misunderstand me. I mean the ones with four legs. Australians like to eat them. Oh, you mean 'sheep'. Yes that is what I said. Right!.
|This photo was taken from the upper level of the Meal room. The new grade three building is to the left. The town is to the right. The residential complex is in the background. The building on the left is the main classroom building.|
You know how people love to chat over dinner? Well that is what people do at formal dinners. And they smoke while they are doing it. I like to smoke but not at dinner. But of course, once you have finished eating, it is nice to just sit there and have a smoke while you talk right? Wrong!
Are you finished? someone said. Yes thank you! I replied. And suddenly there was this massive evacuation from the table. Dinner was officially over. 'Good night!' And so we retired to our apartment. Now for you Americans, you already know that February means 'winter', unless you live in Florida. But for us, February is Summer and even our coldest was never as cold as Hong Hu in winter.
Our apartment came supplied with a hot/cold air conditioner, but as I had never used one before, I had no idea how it worked, and it was no use trying to read the buttons on it because they were all in Chinese. So we spent the night rugged up tight, under quilts made for the average sized Chinese male.
|Taken from the Technical building, this view is of the dormitory buildings. Grade 3 building is to the right and the supper room is to the left.|
Consequently we froze our buns off. Not that it mattered much because despite the fact that the beds came with western mattresses, they were as hard a wooden planks. Actually, the reason for that was that they actually sat on wooden planks. So between the cold, the hunger, and the hard beds, I don't think either of us got much sleep that night.
Over the next two weeks we began to settle in. We had someone set up the air conditioner so that we could just turn it on and off, and we got extra quilts to keep us warm.
|The scenery from my classroom back balcony. The New School building is off to the left. The Library is to the right. An industrial estate is going in on the other side of the fence.|
It did take a week however before anyone took us into town to help us buy groceries. My brother being somewhat experienced, needed only to be shown 'how' to get to town, and after that we were fine.
I owe him a huge debt for all that he taught me over the next 10 months about surviving in China. I don't know how I would have managed given the extensive efforts of the school administration in helping us acclimatise.
We did however have a lot of problems with our contracts. The school had privately hired 3 foreign teachers previously, and each had only stayed a few months. We on the other hand had come via a SAFIA (foreign affairs office) accredited organisation and our contracts were meant to be standard. Things got so bad that after many calls to Beijing the Foreign Affairs office in Wuhan stepped in, and ordered us out of the school if it (they) did not comply with the regulations for the employment of foreign teachers. In the end, everything settled down.
We finally got to go to class. And what a shock that was. 75 students cramped into little rooms with almost no room to move. No heating, no insulation, drafty, dirty, disheveled, and completely chaotic. The students demonstrated no willingness to speak or inclination to be self disciplined. But that is another story!
|The 'City Sign' as the students call it. These are the West/East views. L. School to Town. - R. Town to School. One would arrive in town from the North which is to the right in the first and the left in the second Photograph.|
|This merged photo captures both the inbound road from Wuhan (on right) and the corner of the road leading into town. I took this while walking on the road with my back to the 'City Sign'|
|This is the Road North to Wuhan. The school is down the street to the right of the first photograph. The corner allotment is a field which is farmed by several different families. These particular houses are set back from the road.|
|Two shots taken from the bridge on the main road travelling from the school into town. L. Southerly direction heading toward the Yangtze and R. heading to ? This is not the Yangtze River itself. Like all rivers around here, it is controlled by a loch.|
|The Levee as it runs east past Hong Hu and looks across to the Island. About five years ago prior to the building of the levee, the town was devasted by a flood that claimed several hundred lives. While the shoreline is currently nothing to look at, they are knocking down old buildings. It remains to be seen what they will do with it. For most of the shoreline away from the town fields of trees have been planted.|
|A farmer's house in the same street near the school.|
|Rice paddies and lotus ponds beside the school|
|A clear shot of the school from up the road toward town.|
|Scenes of life between Wuhan and Hong Hu.|
|The Beauty of the Chinese Countryside cannot be underestimated.|
- In 2010 at Magic City Morning Star News I published 19 Chapters of my book 'Finding Myself in China'. They are listed at the above link.
R.P. BenDedek is the pseudonym of an Australian who has been teaching in China since 2003. In addition to contributing to Magic City Morning Star News as a columnist, he is also currently assisting the Editor of this Newspaper.
2004 Stories from China
Additionally, BenDedek is the author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' at www.kingscalendar.com