Twenty-three college students received substantial scholarships, and over 80 high school students got partial awards in a very successful scholarship ceremony in Yangjuan on August 25.
This year’s trip to Yangjuan School
I have just returned from a very successful and heartening trip to Yangjuan, where I spent five days from August 21 to 26 meeting with former Yangjuan Primary School students, their teachers, and parents, consulting with dear colleagues Li Xingxing and Jacques Duraud and, as a climax, awarding increased scholarships to 23 current college students and over 70 high school students, as well as giving token congratulatory awards to this year’s sixth-grade graduates who are proceeding to middle school this week.
I arrived in Chengdu a little after midnight on the night of August 20th-21st, and didn’t get to bed until almost three, yielding a less-than-comfortable prospect for a long drive to Yangjuan the next day. I met Li Xingxing outside the Sichuan University gate at a little before 11, and we set out to try to get to Yangjuan the same day. This would have been impossible just a few months ago, before the opening of the final link in the freeway between Chengdu and Xichang completed the trans-continental superhighway from Beijing to Kunming, but now it seemed possible.
Those of you who have had the privilege of riding in Li Xingxing’s car know that he doesn’t dally at the wheel, and so it was no surprise that, just four hours and ten minutes after we got on the freeway on the outskirts of Chengdu, we were at the Xining exit outside Xichang, for a brief pit-stop including a snack of hard-boiled eggs and salty crackers. The freeway itself is worth commentary, for which see my following post. We left Xichang a little before 4:00, and were at Ma Fagen’s house, where we stay in Yangjuan, at exactly 7:00. Counting the time on the surface streets before we mounted the freeway, it was less than eight and a half hours door-to-door, compared with the previous 10 hours on the train and up to six hours in the car, or two days if one drove the whole way.
It was cloudy and drizzly the whole time we were in Yangjuan, with the exception of one lovely moonlit evening, which dissolved back to rain before dawn. This made for a lot of mud on the village roads and lanes, and very limited opportunity for the hiking I usually like to do when I’m there. But the real business of the trip was scholarships, and I’m happy to report that this important part was highly successful.
This year’s scholarship recipients
Since our funds, generous as our donors have been, were not sufficient to give quite as much aid to both high-school and college students as we would have liked, we made an on-the-spot decision to concentrate on college students, and to give 3000 yuan (a little over $500) to each of the three students who are now enrolled in four-year, bachelor’s degree programs, and 2200 yuan (a little less than $400) to each of the who are either in three-year, vocational and technical programs, or in the special college-preparatory classes offered to ethnic minority students after high school. This left only token awards for the 82 high-school level students, including four in 5-year, post-middle school nursing programs, 10 in three-year, high-school level nursing and vocational programs, and 68 in regular high schools. We gave 600 yuan ($95)–a little extra congratulation and incentive–for students starting high-school this year, and 400 ($65) for those continuing in high school level programs. Finally, we were encouraged by local leaders, including Yangjuan Primary School Founder Prof. Ma Lunzy, Baiwu Administrative Village Head Ma Guohua, and the Yangjuan teachers, to give small congratulatory prizes of 200 yuan each to the 38 students who graduated from Yangjuan this year and are starting middle-school this week.
We want to give special thanks to Yangjuan Primary School founder Benoit Vermander and his co-worker at the Taipei Ricci Institute, Jacques Duraud, for their generous help in finding funds to meet the ever increasing needs of our scholarship program; this year they raised over a third of the money that we were able to distribute to our scholarship students. We also want to thank those who have committed to sponsoring particular students with full college scholarships: Beverly Bossler and James Tsui; Rachel Meyer, in memory of Liu Vuli (Lili); Alicia Robbins and Nina Robbins; Margaret B. Swain and Walter Swain; and Cheung Siu-woo. More about these generous donors and their beneficiaries in the next post.
Making and printing the list–three round-trips by motorcycle
Every year, it takes a lot of effort on the part of local people, including Principal Sha Kaiyuan and the teachers of the Yangjuan School, village officials and parents, CMEF board members–particularly Prof. Li Xingxing and me–and the indefatigable Ma Fagen, to determine exactly who is eligible for scholarships. We always require new recipients to show their acceptance notices from their college or high school in order to receive our funds, and we go over the list of continuing recipients with local people to try to eliminate the rare case of someone not attending the school he or she originally intended to attend. Then, of course, we need a careful record of the proceedings.
This is more difficult than you might think. There is no functioning computer or printer at Yangjuan school, so we need to go to the nearby town of Baiwu to print the list so we will have a hard-copy record and a place for students or their parents to sign for the receipt of their scholarship money. This year, we were scheduled to present the scholarships at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, and didn’t finish the list until about 11:00 in the morning. Ma Yifei, one of our second-year vocational college students, was around and had his family’s motorcycle available, so we asked him to go to Baiwu with a USB-drive to print the list and make a couple of photocopies.
30 minutes or so later, he returned with the news that the print shop couldn’t open the .docx file, and asked me to convert it to .doc. I did that, and off he bounced on the muddy road again. Another half-hour plus, and he was back with the news that they still couldn’t open it, and the best thing would be for me to give him my laptop to take and connect to the printer there. That I was unwilling to do, but I did pop the laptop into my backpack and hop on the back of his motorcycle to see what I could to in person. The ride was bumpy, but he went slowly enough that we didn’t crash, though I did have to get off a time or two in particularly muddy stretches. When we got to the print shop, we tried several things, but it turned out that my laptop lacked the software for their Lenovo printer, so still no luck. Fortunately, another shop up the street had a more modern setup, and we printed and copied the list with no problem, and got back to Baiwu in time for Ma Lunzy’s arrival, a quick bowl of noodles, and the scholarship ceremony.
This story is best told in pictures, all courtesy of Li Xingxing:
The final event was a celebratory feast, for which families each contributed a little money. This reduced their scholarships by about 10%, but it’s something we have discussed with them many times before. In Nuosu culture, the obligation to reciprocate for a favor or present is not only socially enforced, but felt very heavily emotionally. My friend Ma Jyjy explained it to me: if you give us something major, like a scholarship, and we don’t reciprocate for the gift, “hxiemat jie ap jjip,” “our hearts will not settle,” in other words we feel anxious, unfulfilled, apprehensive. So there was an ox, a sheep, and four chickens that night for all to enjoy. The ox ran away, but they caught it a little short of the village of Gangou, and it was duly brought back, slaughtered, butchered, and served. A good time was had by all. We’re still hoping that next time we can persuade them to forget the ox and just have a nice meal of mutton and chicken. We think it will be plenty to show their gratitude.