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Report from China


Post by Gil Kerlin

[Editor’s note: Artist Gil Kerlin, co-owner of Gallery Joe, recently returned from China where he taught English and maybe learned a little Chinese. Here’s a report from his experiences there.]
Quzhou is a small city in Zhejiang Province six hours west of Shanghai. I arrived there on March 1, 2005 to take up my duties as an English teacher at Middle School Number 3. I taught 22 classes a week with 50 or more students in each class. My students had studied English for 5 years and had a good working knowledge of the language although they had had few opportunities use their English (right, Gil, second from left, poses with some students).

Most of my students came from rural villages around Quzhou. They lived in spartan dormitories at the school and took classes 6 days a week beginning at 6:30 in the morning and ending at 9:30 at night. Every other weekend they returned to their villages to see their families.

The first assignment I gave them was to write about a single event in their childhood. I received hundreds of stories–poignant stories, funny stories, harrowing stories, sad stories, . From these stories I learned that my students generally had the run of their villages and surrounding countryside when they were young. They were free to roam with their friends. Many expressed nostalgia for the freedom of that time in their lives. There were touching stories about fishing with a grandfather, raising pets, and mischief (remaining pictures taken in Gil’s classroom) .

There were also stories of the grim realities of rural poverty: accidents, harsh punishment for misdeeds and the death of loved ones. My students were coming of age at a time af dramatic change in China. They were proud of their country’s emergence as a great industrial power but also mindful of its terrible environmental cost . They had seen clear rivers where they once fished and swam become dark and lifeless with pollution. They had seen the graceful architecture of China’s past replaced buy concrete boxes. They were caught up in China’s rush to modernize but, like us, they were also dismayed by what they saw.

I would like to share a few of their stories with you.

My Childhood
by Wu Liang Xin

I was born in a remote village but it was very beautiful, I think. A small river runs through my hometown. There is a large area with many stones by one side of the river bank. On the other side there is a mountain with a lot of bamboo.

When I was a little girl I was both lovely and naughty. Now and then my little friends and I played together near the river. When we felt tired, I was really happy when I lay on the river bank for a long time just looking at the white clouds floating slowly in the sky. Then we laughed and called loudly to the mountain and watched fish swim in the river. I could swim freely in the river. I could go fishing at sunset or catch crabs with my friends.

In a word, it was a paradise for children. I love my childhood very much. I love my hometown deeply forever.

A Cat Lives in the World
by Yu Xue Ming

I had a friend, a special friend, not a person but a cat. He taught me a lesson about living in the world.

My cat was a naughty one. He liked to climb things. One day he climbed up to a chimney but he couldn’t climb down. He cried out to me but I could do nothing but worry. Suddenly, he jumped down like a leaf falling slowly from a tree. To my surprise, he was fine and hadn’t been hurt at all.

Now I know that we must be completely ready to grasp chances and do our best every time. At least we must keep ourselves from being hurt.

My Grandfather’s Fishing Skill
by Xie Zheng Min

When I was a child I liked to go fishing with my grandfather because he had special fishing skill.

chinawavingWhen we arrived at the river, my grandfather always sat on the bank of the river drinking some wine. Then he poured rice, which was mixed with wine into the river where he wanted to throw his fishing line. After a while he began fishing and stared at the bobber. Several minutes later the bobber began to sway in the water. It went up and sown and then disappeared under the water. My grandfather immediately pulled on the fishing rod. the fishing rod vent because the fish was very big. The fish struggled and my grandfather let the fish tire itself out. When the fish was tired my grandfather pulled it out of the water easily. Then he continued fishing.

By the time the sun set plastic bag was full of fish.

Fishing with my grandfather is one of the happiest memories of my childhood.

Catch Fish
by Fu Tong Ling

When I was a child I liked to catch fish in a very small stream. It was only a third of a meter deep but the size of the fish was not small. The water was very clean and cool. I could catch 30 to 50 fish at one time.

When my basket was full of fish I felt very happy and went home satisfied. The fascination of catching fish can’t be described in words.

But now there are no fish in the stream or even in the river. Why did they disappear? Where did they go? I think they died. Factories put water in the river without purifying it.

Today I have a dream. I dream that the lively fish will come back.

–Artist Gil Kerlin, with his wife Becky, runs Gallery Joe