Sitting in the office Wednesday afternoon, I was watching Los Super Campeones. Matthew approached me and asked if I wanted to truck up to Erdos on Thursday to deliver some books to a school with him and some other Aston staff. I thought it sounded fun and agreed. He then informed me we’d be leaving that evening as soon as I was done with class. I anticipated I was now obligated to something quite complex, but interesting. This was going to be a long day. 26 hours after leaving Hohhot, we arrived back home and I went immediately into trying to cut film and filter through the photos.
We took a traveling bus out to Erdos (know also as Dongsheng, 东胜) were we arrived at about 12 AM on the 7th. We slept hard and woke up to cold showers and a meager breakfast, but still we were quite excited. We made a a quick stop and a tour of the Erdos Aston school and then the bus out to the school pulled up. A slick looking mini bus, with plenty of seating for all of us. Everyone sat down and we got the wheels rolling. Stopping a couple of times to pick up various members of media, TV, Radio, and Paper. An interesting and convoluted 4 hours later we arrived at the Ma Chang Hao primary school in the Erdos Da Qi district. The site was dusty, dry, and reminded me of the United States South West and Northern Mexico. I really wanted to surf, telling the Erdos staff that where I was from looked exactly like this, except on the other side of that little hill there is the beautiful blue ocean. I kind of got a little dizzy.
With our first looks the school seemed desolate and barren. A large empty court yard bisected with a small building and a couple of trees poking through the bricks. but then it occurred to me that campuses are designed to fit people, not empty space, so I suspended my judgements until a more appropriate time. After a bit of generic wandering we were ushered into a small cafeteria where we enjoyed a full, delicious, and hearty meal with the staff of the school. And quickly there after began work preparing for the ‘presentation.’
With a bus load of folks, things are done quickly, but sometimes a bit hastily. I think we moved chars in and out of the library 4 times. Thankfully they were light chairs and we needed the exercise. A bit of cleaning, some decorations, the temporary removal of a coal-burning central heating unit and some table cloths put the room right into order. Now the sun was beating down and I visions of a quick session in the imaginary swell frequently fogged my mind. I sat down and drank some water.
Once we were ready, someone said the word and someone else acted on it and magically all the kids appeared, dutifully filling the vacuum of the courtyard and satisfying my need for judgement. This place was alright.
The kids then all lined up, a short speech was made, mostly for the press, and then we passed books out like it was candy, and the kids took them like it was money! They grabbed at the offerings and shouted with excitement, big smiles abounded. I was astonished. Probably because I couldn’t read the Chinese texts they had received and didn’t know about the awesome characters which built this culture. Clearly there was something I was missing. But, yeah, I mean, books are cool.
After the ceremony, and when all the books were gone, we all filled the small library and passed books back and forth and around and around. I think this library thing was going to work. After a bit of time we pulled out a flat and bald basket ball and enticed a good chunk of kids out to the dirt basketball court for some good wholesome football. About an hour later, it was time to take some photos and then get on the road.
While our first impressions were of timid foreign children, our last impressions were of enthusiastic, friendly, neighbors capable of being anyone or anyplace in the world. I relished in the fact that once again after only a short time all impressions of difference melts away and all I’m left with is pieces of individual characters associated with great moments in time and interesting places that look remarkably like home.
In short… watch the video.