It’s early June, and the Chinese school year is nearing it’s end. Senior students at SBS [Shandan Bailie School] have already sat their college-entry exams. They now have two months’ holiday while waiting for results.
I will give my classes their final oral English exams before the end of the month. I’m keeping lessons entertaining, assisted by visitors from Australia, who attended a class, giving, among other things, a rendition of ‘Waltzing Matilda’. Like most western visitors to Shandan, their reason for visiting was close ties with Rewi Alley: they had met him in Beijing in the 1970s and had been captivated by his tales of achievement in China’s remote north-west.
I also had visitors of a different kind – two mice, and a baby rabbit – living in the desks of my students. They were easy to include in a lesson plan! The animals had been used by vet students, who, on finishing school, gifted them to the remaining students.
So my time here is coming to an end. It may also be the end of Shandan Bailie School!
Yes, there are big changes afoot here! There is a proposal by the Zhangye City Government to “upgrade Shandan Bailie School to Alley Vocational Technical College”. This is one of the government work plans, and it could happen as soon as this year, although in true Chinese style more detail is not known. The efficiency of making changes in China is such that long periods of advance notice are never necessary.
Another rapid change concerns the museum: Rewi Alley’s collection of artefacts, donated to the city of Shandan and housed in the museum in the centre of town, is on the move. Construction of the new building started in March, directly opposite the Aili International Hotel [Rewi’s name in Chinese is 路易•艾黎, Lùyì Àilí].
The present museum (located in Shandan town), only has room to display a quarter of Rewi’s treasures. The new museum (located on the outskirts of Shandan) will have more space, and be able to present more information about this very valuable and significant collection.
This photo shows the museum progressing, with what is known as “China’s national bird” – cranes – on site.