All this semester, everyone has been talking about the celebrations for the school’s 70th anniversary.
A three-week build-up to December 17th (the official day) has been taking place almost the entire month. Singing and dancing contests, student art displays, and ping-pong and basketball matches have filled all our weekends. Even last week, I was squeezing in my open house Christmas evenings in between practices for even more anniversary activities.
The big question in our English office, however, was where exactly would the big ceremony take place: On our old campus here in Longzhou or at the spanking brand new campus near Chongzuo, 1 ½ hours away?
As you can imagine, since all the administrators are in Chongzuo, and since showing off the new campus to dignitaries and important guests was a must on the agenda, the big to-do was to take place there.
If you remember from previous entries, I did visit this new campus in August. It was a quick drive-by when I went to Chongzuo to get my work visa at the government offices there. It was located in the middle of nowhere, 15 minutes outside of the city limits with not a single tree, blade of grass, or bush in site. Just a lot of unfinished buildings still under construction, piles of rubble everywhere, not even any walkways or roads and miles of open space in all directions.
When students began to arrive for classes on October 7th, I heard the rumors that things were a mess. No Internet access at all yet, power outages, water cuts, no landscaping and buildings still in the process of being completed or equipped. Students were complaining, teachers who had moved to Chongzuo from here were upset and the leaders were scrambling day and night to set up an entire university system.
Needless to say, I was happy Amity didn’t place me on that campus and I been on this one, fully operational, well-established and beautiful.
The December 17th ceremonies to take place in Chongzuo had me curious. A number of the deans and about 100 student leaders from our campus were invited to attend the 70th anniversary at the new campus. A bus leaving at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday morning would be waiting to take the chosen few there. As for the rest of the students here, all classes had been canceled and a few fun games would take place in honor of the big day.
Being the only foreign teacher, I was invited to tag along with our selected group to enjoy the opening ceremonies at 10 a.m.
The day before, our temps soared into the sunny 80s, which had pretty much been our weather conditions since September. But Wednesday night, a huge cold front blew in and within an hour, we plummeted into the 50s.
Getting up at 5:30 a.m. (on a very, very chilly, dark, miserable morning) to make the 6:30 a.m. bus wasn’t exactly my idea of an exciting celebration. Most of the students weren’t too excited about it, either. They came with disheveled hair and rumpled clothes, most having just rolled out of bed. Many were munching on hard-boiled eggs or bread buns to hold them over for the 1 ½ hour ride ahead of us.
My co-teacher (Kate, or Yan Chunjing) pretty much stuck together the entire day, including the ride over. It was nice to have good company and someone to talk to in English to get the low-down on what would be taking place that day.
I was expecting quite a magnificent new face to the campus I’d seen 4 months before. Surely things would be better now that more time had taken place and students had gotten settled into their university studies.
Our 3 buses pulled through the opening gates, lined with huge helium balloons that floated over our heads announcing greetings and best wishes for the school’s 70th birthday. Hundreds of student helpers were milling about at the administration building and along the main route. A red carpet and archway led the VIPs to sign in and receive their gift bags.
Students who were to entertain the crowds were dressed in the minority clothes of the Zhuang ethnic group, who comprise 80% of this province. They were getting ready to greet guests and perform at the sports field.
Our buses drove along now-completed campus concrete roads and walkways. Then we were deposited into the frigid winds of the early morning cold snap. There we stood, by ourselves, far from any other buildings and not really knowing exactly what to do or where to go.
It seems in the rush and bustle of getting ready for the VIPs, no one much thought about us lowly Longzhou crowd. We were left to fend for ourselves.
Most of us made our way to the dining hall for some shelter as that was about the only place for shelter. Still not a single tree or blade of grass in sight on the campus. Just piles of rubble in between vast spaces where the new buildings (library, dormitories, sports stadium, classrooms) were spread.
In other words, it was still a pretty dismal place, made even more dismal by the weather.
Opening ceremonies were to start at 10 a.m. so we had quite a long wait. Kate and I toured the campus, noticing that while the buildings were new, they were pretty much empty. The library was magnificent but wasn’t yet stocked with books, nor any computers (such as a computer lab) for student use. The telecommunications department was having their equipment installed as was the mechanics’ department. The offices were pretty bare as well and even the elevators weren’t yet completed.
When the 80-some VIPs began arriving, they were led to the sports stadium and onto the stage where they sat in rows, waiting to give their congratulation proclamations or just impress others by their presence. All the student body (5,000 +) had brought their chairs to line up along the sports field in sections so they could listen to the dignitaries. I was placed in the front row with the students behind me. Next to me sat Kate and our school’s partnership representatives from Thailand.
We have a Thai-Chinese student language exchange which is in the process of organizing. Dr. Staporn Tavornativat, in charge of the Thai program, and his president came all the way from Thailand to attend the anniversary ceremonies and show their support. Neither spoke any Chinese so we enjoyed chatting together through the endless speeches from the dignitaries.
After over an hour of speeches, we finally had the unveiling of the official name of the university. Then we were all dismissed. Those of us from Longzhou were left to fend for ourselves for lunch, meaning fighting through thousands of starving students cramming into the dining hall for a meal. Kate and I skipped that and headed into town for a decent meal at a small restaurant. It was a wise move on our part as we later heard from the teachers who stayed that it took them over 1 hour to get their food.
With the nasty cold weather, and the thought of hanging around another 7 hours for outside performances, I decided to head back to Longzhou on my own. Kate stayed as she wanted to catch up on all the latest from her Chongzuo colleagues.
While one could say the day was a bust, I came back full of gratitude and thankfulness. Grateful that I could slip away on my own without anyone caring and very, very thankful that I had a lovely campus and apartment to return to in our little Li River town, Longzhou.
Christmas Is Here!
Next entries will be of these next 2 days, full of Christmas party evenings and all the holiday activities the students and I have been planning to entertain our campus crowds for Christmas!
Many best wishes for your Christmas Day.
Until later, Ping An (peace) from China
Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities
125 Dushan Road
Longzhou County, Chongzuo City
Guangxi Province, 532400
P.R. of CHINA