The day that everyone had been eagerly anticipating rolled around overcast and the colder than expected. For once, it wasn’t a struggle to get the boys out and ready in time, and at 7:40am, a throng of nervous boys awaited the bus outside the hotel, ready to jump into a new immersion experience.
The ride to Malong Middle School took us out of Wuhan and into the countryside. Here, as high density residential areas slowly gave way to farmland and smaller housing, one couldn’t help but admire the natural beauty of the region. Lush and green with a deep red soil, every spare bit of land is meticulously shaped and planted in a wide range of fruits and vegetables. Turning off the main road, we quickly found ourselves driving up a narrow dirt path that meandered through newly developed residential areas and suddenly, we were at the gates of Malong Middle School. Once, having emerged from the bus, the boys were confronted with hundreds of school children yelling with excitement at the sight of two bus loads of pale skinned Kiwi kids.
After working our way through the throngs of children, we were ushered into the school hall where the school’s hierarchy received us in a formal ceremony. We sat through speeches from both the Chinese officials and responses from our boys. We were also treated to song and dance from the intermediate aged students who performed in beautiful traditional clothing and who were all outstanding. Our cultural group reciprocated in kind with the national anthem and from there the students were divided into small groups to go and teach a class of Chinese students.
The Chinese classrooms are extremely small by New Zealand standards, often with up to sixty students crammed into the room. Once again, there are no electronic devices, and the students have a strong curriculum focus on mathematics, Chinese, and English. Each New Zealand group consisted of three or four students who entered the Chinese classrooms and launched straight into crosswords, tongue twisters, art and song.
The New Zealand kids were put well outside their comfort zones, but the amicable Chinese students definitely made life easier for the students. Laughs, confusion, solidarity and awkwardness prevailed and after just over an hour, it was time to leave the classroom for lunch.
Without going into detail, lunch was a boarding house experience on metallic prison trays, but the food was good, and the boys – who had all received gifts from their classes – were able to show off their new treasures to each other.
Following lunch, it was out into the playground to participate in impromptu games of basketball, table tennis, futsal and calligraphy. The Kiwi contingent got fully into the spirit of things and everyone was involved in many of the activities on offer. During this time, the Chinese students took the opportunity to demand autographs from our students and each boy and staff member signed hundreds of pieces of paper, autograph books, arms, and the backs of student’s shirts.
Following the lunch hour, a proper game of basketball was organised which was slightly unfair. The height of Mitchell, Luke and Jack ensured that the Chinese students never stood a chance and the STCC boys won the game comfortably. To seek revenge, the Chinese ordered a game of tug-o-war and positioned their meanest and strongest on the rope. However, with a rallying cry and consistent team work, our Kiwi warriors – both male and female – decimated the opposition and brought pride back to New Zealand, especially as the tour in 2015 had lost their tug-o-war title.
From there, a performing troop of acrobats of the highest calibre performed for us, their unbelievable feats left many speechless and amazed.
After a long day, with many uplifting experiences, we finally boarded the bus and headed home, weary heads and closed eyes being the ultimate testament of the day’s festivities.