Hello there! Alex here. You can find the last post here.
It’s the third full week that I’ve spent here in Zhejiang University, and I’ve have new experiences one after another. This week’s been a bit quieter, so this post might be shorter too.
As part of the Temasek Foundation International Leadership Enrichment and Regional Networking (TFI-LEaRN) programme, on top of the standard Asian Leadership Programme activities, we’re also required to do some community service with one of their partners. For this trip, our partner is 杭州市湖墅学校 (Hangzhou City Hu Shu School）. For reasons unknown to me, I had been chosen at random (I still strongly doubt this) to lead and plan the activities for this community service.
While there were a pre-requisite number of hours we had to clock to fulfil our TFI-LeARN requirements, what ultimately weighed on our minds was how well our activities we received – and no good plan came from having no information. What we really needed was context and understanding, and that came from – to misuse a phrase – walking the ground. Our prime source of information then was our liaison, Teacher Wu (吴老师 ). We had spoken to him several times over Wechat, but had never met him in person. (Wechat’s a messenger app made by Tencent, and it’s widespread in China) Arranging for a short meeting, we met him at the school, where he brought us around to understand the history and facilities of the school, and thereafter had a quick discussion to hammer out a few dates, a few target groups and what kind of activities he felt were appropriate for our collaboration.
Warning: the following paragraph contains Alex trying to sound intellectual and reflective. Read at your own risk.
As Teacher Wu brought us around the campus, the first thing we noted was that the campus was surprisingly compact, and yet very well equipped – given that the school catered to students from pre-school all the way to 9th grade, they had somehow fit everything they needed to this relatively small plot of land. Sure, it helped that they had a small cohort, with one classroom per grade, but nonetheless, it’s quite the feat. The campus was evidently quite new – it was built 6 years ago in 2012 – and before then, the older campus was absolutely spartan. Teacher Wu shared with us how this was only possible because of China’s economic boom – now that there was enough wealth to be shared, the country could afford to turn its eye towards welfare (and in this case, it was to special needs education). He – I couldn’t quite tell if it was jest – remarked how it must be better in Singapore, given that we’ve had a decent economy going for a couple of decades. It struck me how little I knew about this – special needs education in Singapore – even though I’ve lived here my whole life, and it was kind of embarrassing for me to not be able to answer. Of course, out of politeness, we all replied that it wasn’t that great in Singapore, but still the question lingered – was it? I suppose it’s not something most people would notice, even if it’s part of civil society, although I’m quite sure it’s a field that’s given a reasonable amount of attention and support, being Singapore. It’s not like how we neglected the arts and culture field right? (Ruthless pragmatism intensifies)
Anyway, the school has a strong vocational bent – at it’s heart it tries to guide the students to live as normal a life as possible. The older students train in on-campus replicas of kitchens, bakeries, supermarkets and bubble tea stores (how Chinese), equipping them with skills to be economically active. It’s a pretty standard, and effective, approach, and it’s quite cool to see how the school, small as it is, has somehow squeezed out the space to make this all happen (the architect must be a master at Tetris).
With the proper work done, Teacher Wu arranged for us to get a cup of hot milk tea from the replica cafe. That was pretty cool, and a pleasant surprise.
Personally, would have preferred less milk though. It’s not great for an upset stomach.
Afterwards, we were all due for lunch, so we decided to walk (!) a solid 3 kilometres to a nearby (?) mall named Incity (印泰称). For many of us, it’s not the first time we’ve been there – after all, it’s home to Walmart, which is a pretty big plus for most of us. After some typical Singaporean indecision, we swarmed to this noodle place at Wesson’s recommendation – apparently, they looked upon Singaporeans pretty kindly, given that previous batches had also visited it (and that some crazy rich Singaporean gifted them a solid gold coin sometime back). The noodles were pretty good, but the kicker for me was essentially a braised meat bun (扣肉包). It was ridiculously good – the meat was your standard 五花肉 (that fatty pork belly bit where there are thick, alternating layers of meat and fat) braised till tended, and the sauce was mind-blowing. As if not to waste the sauce, the bun soaked up all that sweet goodness. Oh boy, I’m hungry right now. Suffice to say, I plan to go there again.
Also, cue the food pictures.
We’ve also received a few recommendations on courses relevant to our theme, and we had attended one of them last week. Finding it to be less applicable to our project (the theme is on data visualization, but the course was on wireless networks), we’ve also attended other courses, like this one on secure programming. As with these recommended courses, they are presented in a bilingual format – insofar that the lecturer speaks Chinese, but the slides are in English. Suffice to say, the English component was incredibly helpful given my non-existent command of Chinese, and much less so in the face of technical terms.
Having fed back to our theme TAs that some of the recommended courses were not quite useful for the theme, nor were they very useful to us, they gave us what was essentially a blank cheque – that we would suggest the courses we would like to attend, and they would arrange for us to listen in on the classes. Most generous, I thought. They also recommended a website for MOOCs where a handful of Zhejiang University professors would frequently upload recordings of their lectures. Pretty cool stuff.
We’re also heading over to Beijing early next week to meet up with people from the Bank of Beijing (the project is for their Nanjing branch) to better understand their needs and the project requirements – most exciting, really, and a great opportunity for us tourists exchange students. A train ride had been arranged for us – a 5-hour long journey on the 高铁, the top-of-the-line high-speed trains that ply the routes between major cities, and we found ourselves heading to this service kiosk to collect our train tickets early. That way, we’d get to skip the queue to collect on the day itself.
But of course, nothing goes according to plan, does it? Some walking later, we tried to collect the tickets – which came at a 5 yuan service charge – only to find that most of our tickets could not be collected just yet (for reasons unknown), and that I, the only oddball with a long English name, had received my ticket. I guess we’d have to go early to collect our tickets again.
Anyway, that’s it for this week. Next week I should have some spiffy pictures from Beijing, so I’m looking forward to that. See you in the next post!