15 November 2018

Rotary Pumpkinning in BaGuaZhou 八卦洲

Studying Xiangqi (象棋) moves
On October 26th I was asked to participate in a Rotary event by visiting a migrant school in the outskirts of Nanjing in order to demonstrate frisbee to primary students on the following Monday, the 29th. I was up for the opportunity and readily agreed. The following day I was reminded that I was in China. I received a message that the event was postponed until Friday, November the 2nd. It's often a feature of events in China that commitments are elicited before basic details are confirmed. On the 1st I was informed that the sport has been switched to Tball.
Simon Laing explaining the subtleties of Tball
On the Friday of the event, I shared a ride with a group of other Rotarians at the MaiGaoQiao subway station, the end of the #1line. I learned later that we would be travelling to a school in BaGuaZhou where I had never spent much time. It's north of the river in a mixed industrial / residential area that characterizes much of the Nanjing urban suburbs.

Well rehearsed greeters
Some time between the subway and the school parking lot, I heard about the other activities planned for the day. Would I prefer to be involved in making masks or carving pumpkins? More of the Chinese style of event planning: I had not planned on doing either until I was in a vehicle on my way to an unknown facility. I was leaning towards mask making since it would likely involve fewer bloodletting tools. Christel, whom I has just met that day, holding out her smartphone to me in a reassuring gesture explained that she had some videos of pumpkin carving. She either knew in advance that we would only have no more than three students to contend with or had never been in front of a loud classroom before.
Serving the role of a foreigner

Last minute negotiations with the principal
 I was struck by how new the school appeared. It couldn't have been built more than two years prior and during a quick tour of the facilities, the array of new equipment confirmed this. But even before the tasks were formally assigned and finalized, we all were led outdoors to witness the welcoming ceremony.
Perfunctory welcoming speech
I am posting here photos of the longer than expected welcoming ceremony.  I should be more accustomed to this degree of staging.
Tea ceremony and musicians

Willow dancers
Tea service

Two Xiangsheng ( 相声) performers get a pep talk
 After the various performances concluded, seemingly to bring the ritual hospitality to completion, there was still the mass kungfu display after which there was still more to behold. Because what's a welcoming ceremony without a choreographed game of living chess players.
North Korea MTV video tryout

And then it was acknowledged that we had, in fact, arrived to do some activities with the students at which time I found myself responsible for the pumpkin carving session.
Young Pioneers dutifully ignoring the instructor
The main challenge was the lack of proper tools for the task. Simon had brought along two butter knives, which were more useful than the segmented utility blades and double ended chisels offered by the school staff. I did a very quick lesson that ignored the fact that we were two days past Halloween, but as I quickly found out, the students weren't much familiar with the holiday and their Chinese teachers had done nothing to prime them for this activity.
The laowai consulting with vegetable butchers 
In the end, my Swiss army knife was the only blade that could safely cut the necessary depth to complete the Jack o'Lanterns. I worked the room cutting the lid after the subgroups had been taught to draw the top opening and advising them to not make details too small.  At the last minute, a Rotarian showed up with a bag of oily votive candles to complete the effect. After the photos, the students scurried to play outdoors.
Testfitting a pumpkin shell

Mask masking session with Rotarian Nick

Ready for Hallowe'en 2019!

Masks and Jacks

Christel, my adaptable assistant, displays a lantern

Young Pioneers
 The evening sun began to set. And once last pose was taken for the newsletter. As we were packing up, I learned that the reason that the Monday event had to be postponed was due to a surprise inspection of the school.
Anhui students and Rotarian volunteers

Happy All Saints Day!


Robert Demers said...

Great account of a worthwhile endeavors.

Even better reading this as a fellow Rotarian myself

Thanks for sharing

Bob, of the Middleton NS Rotary club

Potomacker said...

I thank you for the acknowledgement of this essay. Rotary doesn't have a long history in Nanjing and it must not draw too much attention to itself but playing games for students is clearly a safe activity in that it doesn't attract much official attention. I'll keep you updated via this weblog if I do any more work with the Rotarians.