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Natalie’s Shandan story contd….   April, 2014

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Natalie Bowie with Mr Wong - artist, who knew Rewi Alley
Natalie Bowie with Mr Wong – artist, who knew Rewi Alley

Natalie’s next episode begins philosophically by asking herself why is she in China.  She then proceeds to explain why: because of Rewi Alley and his influence on that part of the world!   At the School, she watched a documentary on him recently, and then goes on to explain the huge influence he had on Shandan.

Soon afterwards that, coincidentally, she meets several old people who actually knew Rewi.  She especially appreciated visiting one old Chinese gentleman who knew Rewi and she viewed his many paintings, etchings and calligraphy.  He kindly presented Natalie with a book written by him, which includes sketches by him of Rewi.

Her next meeting is with Parley Reynolds, one of our three NZCFS ‘Class of 2014 Youth Friendship Ambassadors’.

Parley lives in Qingdao on the east Coast of China and he visited Shandan for 4 days as part of his Youth Friendship project.

Natalie then explains Parley’s intention to encourage the local farmers to grow hemp, the remarkable plant grown to build carbon-negative houses.  Find out more about his scholarship and Rewi’s influence on the co-operative movement (see above link).   

Some of Mr Wong's drawings of Rewi Alley
Some of Mr Wong’s drawings of Rewi Alley

One day she and her friend, Leiping, head out to Dafusi (a local small Buddhist temple).

“There we chained our bikes together and headed off into the mountains behind the Buddha temple for a walk.    As we approached the temple, Leiping saw a man watering the plants and said, “I think that’s my uncle”. Well, it turns out that not only was it her uncle but he vividly remembered both Rewi Alley and George Hogg when he was a child.  He said they used to come out to his family farm on a motorbike.  I was very excited to meet this lovely old gentleman and was once again frustrated that the language barrier prevented me from speaking directly to him.

Where the reservoir and the 300-year-old temple have been built is precisely where the traders used to come through on their long dusty trail through the Silk Road.  The fields get (irrigation) flooded three times a season there- just enough for the crops to grow.

Statue of George Hogg, Rewi Alley and a Shandan Bailie student,  Behind is the main teaching block where Natalie teaches
Statue of George Hogg, Rewi Alley and a young Shandan Bailie student. Behind is the main teaching block where Natalie teaches

Natalie also talks about her frustration that amazingly the students don’t seem to be aware of Rewi Alley, even though the school is littered with pictures, photos, memorabilia and statues of him and George Hogg!  She says that they go to tomb-sweeping days to pay homage and yet she can walk in the remote mountains and meet a man who knew both men.  She also says she attended a small local Buddha festival and was given gifts simply because of her tenuous link to Rewi.   She confesses that when things seem tough, she thinks of Rewi who did so much for Shandan as well as for greater China and “kicks herself”, knowing she is experiencing a truly life-changing part of her life.

A visit by NZCFS President Dave Bromwich gave Natalie the chance to talk in full-blown English – a welcome respite!  Dave’s visit also afforded Natalie the chance to see Rewi’s bedroom and office, still preserved, along with many memorabilia, in the Rewi Alley museum (only 15m from her residence!).

Another dust storm!

Shandan Bailie sudents planting trees on land now leased to a local farmer
Shandan Bailie sudents planting trees on land now leased to a local farmer

Then they go to the school farm, which is now leased out to farmers to grow potatoes and trees, but the students help with the tree planting twice a year.  The land is irrigated by ‘drowning’ rather than by using sprinklers as in NZ.   But Natalie finds there is less waste of water by using this method of growing potatoes (20% loss), which is much less than she imagined.  She then walks through a gap in the Great Wall, which cuts the farm in half and realises that this isn’t exactly an everyday experience!

Students don’t pick up their rubbish, something she finds truly annoying and is doing her best to train the students not to do.  Then finally she has a little moan about several negative aspects of life in Shandan.  But she realises that, really, in comparison with their hard life and what Rewi had to put up with, there is little point in moaning!!

Natalie’s style of writing is fascinating and holds the reader’s interest constantly with intriguing photos and wry comments.

Your reporter recommends that you read the entire story on her blog.  Click HERE.

                                                                                                                                           Teri France, May 2014

Mr 'Millet' Ma demonstrating his invention - a millet sowing machine, to Natalie Bowie and Parley Reynolds
‘Millet’ Ma demonstrating his invention – a millet sowing machine, to Natalie Bowie and Parley Reynolds