Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


Click picture for larger image.
Last night, Jessica and her sister and I walked to the meat market near their home in the village. I wanted to buy some mutton so that they could cook a dinner with meat. Folks in the villages in China do not eat meat very often, because it is just too much of a luxury. But boy do they know how to cook it when it shows up!

Jessica's sister had to stay out of school because her family could not afford to send her. But she is now going to be going to college in Hezuo. She will also go to a teacher's college. Jessica's salary as a school teacher in Linxia County would not be considered high at all by city standards, but it is a big boost to a farm family in the village, so it is understandable that her sister would want to follow the same path. When someone from the countryside wants to get a higher education, there are always two factors to consider. One is the given student's score on the National Entrance Exam. The other is the cost, which must be borne by the family. Several years ago, I visited a
village in Shanxi Province which was the home of a teacher I had met in Beijing. When she took the National Entrance Exam, her test scores were quite high, but her family did not have much money, so they decided to send her to a teacher's college, because that would be less expensive. Even at that, her father had to sell his horse in order to pay her tuition. So the a high score on the National Entrance Exam is no guarantee of a good education. But there is another factor that enters in. Kids who are educated in poor village schools often have a real disadvantage when they take the National Entrance Exam. They just don't have the background to perform up the the level of students who have gone to better funded urban schools. Years ago, when I was teaching in a rural School in North Dakota, I felt that students in the country schools actually got a better education than their urban counterparts, because class sizes were smaller, and state funding made up for the difference in local tax valuation. Not so in China. So even kids who are quite bright will not tend to do as well as they themselves would have if they had been given the opportunity to attend a good grammar school.

This afternoon, I took the local bus into Linxia to board the express bus for Lanzhou. The last time I visited Jessica in 2007, we just stood out on the road and flagged down the first bus we could find that was going to Lanzhou. I don't want to do that again. The bus that stopped was one of those private buses that stop at every little hamlet until they get enough passengers to make a profit. The three hour trip from Linxia to Lanzhou took five hours. I guess you could call it an experience, because we took the back roads through village China rather than the highway, but it was quite exasperating, and I didn't want to get to Lanzhou quite so late.

When I got to Lanzhou, I was instantly approached by a black (market) taxi driver who wanted to take me to the train station for 20 yuan. As a matter of fact, I did want to go to the train station, so I could get a local bus to my lodging, but I didn't want to take a black taxi. I started to head out toward the street, but the driver of the bus I had been on saw me and pointed me to the train station shuttle. It was a minivan with people beginning to pack into it. Three kuai per person. The black taxi driver immediately brought his price down, but it was too late. Actually, it's always too late where I am concerned. I don't take black taxis unless there is no other option.

Since 2006, I have always stayed at least a night or two at the Guest house at Northwest Normal University. I had called Holly from Langmusi and asked her to book a room for me. When I got the the Guest house this afternoon, Holly was not on duty, but her friend was working, and she had been told to expect me. The place has been remodeled a bit since I was here last, and Holly had lined me up with a very pleasant room.

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