Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Road to Linxia 

Took the bus from Langmusi to Xiahe yesterday. Took me a little while, but I finally found a cheap room near the Labrang Monastery. Labrang Si is the largest Tibetan monastery outside of Lhasa. It is the main reason people come to this town. I have been through the place before, so I really didn't want to do the tour. I started nosing around in a residential area where tourists weren't really supposed to be, and met a monk who invited me to his quarters. His "flat mate" was an old, old monk who spent the entire time we were there fingering Buddhist prayer beads. I don't think the poor old man does anything else all day.

I was struck both by the friendliness and loneliness of the monk who invited me to visit with him. The Labrang Monastery is the largest monastery outside of Lhasa. There are lots and lots of monks there. And it isn't as if they don't do things together. In fact, in contrast to the mountain hermits, it appears that they do everything together. But in fact, the don't seem to have real companions. This guy had a roommate, but his roommate was a very, very old man who spent literally every waking moment mumbling and fingering his prayer beads, working his way into Heaven.

This morning, I got to the bus stop just as the bus was heading out of the bus station toward Linxia. I took the bus as far as the village of Shuangcheng, and got off. Jessica came to meet me with some of her school children. This is the third summer that I have worked with Jessica and her kids.

Jessica is a local school teacher who conducts a private school during the summer vacation, teaching English and math to local children. The first summer I worked with her, she had many more students than she does now, but she also had other teachers working with her. This summer, she didn't have any other teachers working with her, so she raised the tuition a bit, so that she would have fewer students.

Life in a village in western China is quite different from life in the big city. This village is near Linxia, so the Hui Muslim influence is quite noticeable. Also, since this village is not a tourist stop, the life is much more typical of village life in China than it would be in Langmusi, where there are a number of businesses (such as the horse trekking) that rely on tourists for their income.

I spent a good bit of time teaching the children a song. The are learning English, and their progress is quite impressive, but it is largely rote, because they recite their lessons together, repeating after the teacher. I spent a lot of time having them recite one by one, in order to enforce independent learning. It really is a unique opportunity that these children have, because, if they follow through with this, they have the potential to become very proficient in English. Most of these kids are pretty young. All of them are certainly below the age of native language acquisition.

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