Getting out of the Chinese taxi, and looking at the front façade of Dajing High School, Sailor Boy had never seen anything like it. ‘Pip I’m nervous’ he said.
Sailor Boy was standing on tippy toes trying to see over the gate. It was a very big gate with a strange mechanical section on wheels that automatically rolled across the entrance. Behind the gate were two uniformed guards in a security box, one patrolling the front, one looking at a row of security monitors. Gee, he thought, you wouldn’t want to be late for school.
The boys walked up to the gate. ‘Hello, I’m Pip from Australia. I’m here to visit the school, and Mrs Yao Jing. And this is my friend, Sailor Boy.’
‘No photos’ said the guard, looking at Sailor Boy’s camera.
‘Oh sure, no problem,’ Pip replied, thinking, please don’t throw me in a Chinese prison. I’ve only just got here.
‘Yao Jing Yao Jing’ the guard said, ‘You sit, sit, she come.’
Suddenly on high alert, the boys sat down. On the security monitors they could see pictures of students moving about the school, halls and classrooms appeared and disappeared. The two guards watched them closely.
‘Australia’ one said. Pip and Sailor Boy nodded. Just then Mrs Yao Jing arrived. ‘Hello you made it. Welcome to Dajing High School.’ She said in perfect English. Her warm smile filled the little guard room and the boys breathed a sigh of relief. ‘We’ll go up now’ she said.
They followed her smart white coat across the school courtyard and sounds of the Chinese National Anthem were broadcast from loudspeakers. The boys looked at each other realising the anthem must be a daily event, signalling the start of the school day. How different from home it was! Up a flight of stairs and along a corridor they went, past a large poster of a female revolutionary hero in military costume, to a classroom full of waiting students.
Pointing to two empty chairs at the back of the room Mrs Yao Jing indicated the boys were to sit there, and she took her place at the front of the class. She pressed a button on the wall and solemn anthem music filled the air. Together with the image of the Chinese flag above the black board, the few bars of music played set an official and patriotic tone. Mrs Jing’s lesson was on the famous physicist, Albert Einstein. As the students were learning English they had to read the text aloud. The lesson varied with individual and collective readings interspersed with answering questions in a traditional manner. In a strange way, Pip thought, it felt like he was going back in time.
Despite himself, Pip was impressed with the focus and discipline of the class. When named by Ms Jing each student was obliged to stand up to read the text or answer a question in front of the class. They could not sit down until given permission by the teacher. Looking around the classroom, Pip noticed the only decoration was that red flag above the blackboard. It was all rather intimidating.
‘Now, to our guests, Pip, it’s your turn to talk to the class,’ said Mrs Jing. Pip swallowed down his nerves and went to the front of the class.
‘Hello everyone, and good morning. Thank you for inviting us to your school. We’re here to learn about your country and this is a special opportunity for us to meet young people in China,’ Pip stated importantly.
‘I would like to say that, so far, everyone has been very considerate towards us, which is really good because we find your city rather overwhelming. In fact, Australia, from the perspective of your country, seems very small. Do you know,’ Pip asked looking around the class,’ that theoretically all of the people in Australia would fit into Shanghai? That is to say, there are 25,000,000 people in Australia, and the same, approximately in Shanghai.’
Yes, Ms Jing nodded in agreement.
‘Your city is spectacular, we love it, and especially at night, and especially the Bund area. And it’s very big, we nearly got lost getting here.’ Pip said as the students watched curiously.
‘Secondly, as I’m sure you know, your country is very good at making things. So good in fact, that I’m here to tell you that nearly everything we buy in Australia is made in your country. Yes. We have a long history of trade, and China is Australia’s main trading partner. We sell you raw materials and you sell us things. As a result we are very dependent on you. Everyday in our news media, we hear stories about this. They used to say, “If the US sneezes, Australia catches cold.” Now for us it’s if China sneezes. So please, stay healthy.’ Pip smiled, ‘I’m speaking symbolically’.
The students blinked and watched. Did they understand? No one said anything, but yes the students nodded. ‘It’s important that we’re friends’ said Pip.
Thirdly, I’m here to congratulate you all. I don’t know if anyone’s told you that Shanghai students lead the world in reading among 15 year olds. It’s an OECD survey result from 2009. And because I can’t tell all Shanghai students, I’m telling you. What does that mean you might ask? Well going by the records of the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) and their Program of International Student Assessment (PISA), the reading scores of Chinese students here are the highest in the world…Let’s have a round of applause,’ Shyly the students followed Pip’s demonstration of clapping.
‘Sadly’ Pip stated, ‘I didn’t learn Chinese at school, I learnt French. But now I’m hoping more Australian students learn your language because it’s so important for us. It’s a musical language and lovely to listen to.’
Next, just in case anyone came to Australia, Pip gave the class a lesson on Australian expressions and figures of speech. He talked about how Australians loved to shorten words and what if meant if it was raining cats and dogs, if you were sold a pup, if you were flat out like a lizard drinking. What happened if you were given a cold shoulder, or heard something on the grapevine. What had happened if someone had been run over by a lawn mower or were like a stunned mullet. Soon the students were smiling.
The rest of the lesson involved Pip showing the website of Macarthur Girls High School his favourite school in Sydney and a short video. He gave them welcome messages and exchanges of good will. After the lesson many students wanted to speak to Pip, and Ms Jing selected some students to practice English conversation. Each student was allowed to ask a question of Pip or Sailor Boy and a lively discussion followed. One student asked whether kangaroos hopped around the main streets in Sydney. They were curious about the differences between schools in the two countries. Mrs Jing who had been to Australia said there were many, especially the fact that Chinese students didn’t do cooking at school. The boys wanted to know if Australian students had as much homework as they did…which was every day. ‘No’ Pip said, ‘not that much, and that’s probably why we fall behind.’ At the end each student received a small koala bear mascot.
After the lesson, Pip and Sailor Boy were invited to stay for lunch at the school canteen. It was delicious; they had had a real taste of school life in China. Finally Mrs Jing walked them to the school gate to say farewell.
Everyone shook hands. ‘Congratulations on your 50th anniversary of your school. It’s an outstanding school’ said Pip. ‘It was wonderful meeting your students. Thank you for the visit, and please visit us one day. ‘No photos’ said the Chinese guard as they left.