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rkkwan's Live Report from Sichuan, China, Winter 2009

rkkwan's Live Report from Sichuan, China, Winter 2009

Jan 27th, 2010, 02:11 PM
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Some of the photos at Wuyi and Laguo have been posted. I haven't added any captions or titles yet, but you can get some idea what those places are look like:


December 31, 2009
Luogu 洛古

This morning we would visit three different schools, all closer to the county seat than the previous two. It was pretty chilly in the morning, down to -6C/21F, when we got to our first stop, Luogu. It was only about 22km/13mi, but there was a lot of frost over a low mountain pass. Luogu is on a plateau just south of the county seat, with plenty of flat land and good transportation, so the condition is much better than Wuyi and Laguo.

We visited the old school in Luogu 2 years ago, as well as a Yi family home there. They government found land for them to actually build the new school just outside the township (more like a village) center, and this one is also named after my aunt. The structure is very well built, and have aluminum-framed sliding windows, and the doors are also nicer. The principal and the teachers at the school are also "smarter". Most impressive is the new school grounds. They have some murals on the walls (not just slogans), and actually newly planted trees. Very nice indeed. Currently, they use the old school for dorms, but I think they'll eventually build some dorm buildings inside the school grounds. Behind the school was an area to raise a few pigs.

Bu'er 补尔
Just a few km back from Luogu is Bu'er. This school is donated mostly by a Hong Kong chapter of Rotary International. Like the one in Luogu, the government found new land for the new classroom building, perhaps a hundred yards from the old school, which is now converted to dorms. Again, well built, and seems to be well-managed. There are already a vegetable field and pigs there as well; and again lots of newly planted trees. But perhaps they have some extra money, they actually put some "style" and decorations in the construction, which is quite rare among the Sowers Action primary schools in Butuo.

For some reason, the students at this school have this day off. [I can't figure out why, as it was school day at the other schools in the same county.] So, I didn't get to see the students in class or see how the teachers were performing.
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Jan 27th, 2010, 07:28 PM
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You can find photos of three schools we visited on the 2nd day here: http://rkkwan.zenfolio.com/sichuan123109

Luogu 洛古, Bu'er 补尔; and Jiudu 九都 which I will write about next.
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Jan 29th, 2010, 03:00 PM
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Sorry for the slow update. I went over to the other threads and finished my HK dining report and AMTRAK Coast Starlight trip report.

A comment about the photos. Those are mainly the ones I used for my photo report to give to Sowers Action, which is why they mostly concentrate on the buildings and apparent issues. I have more pictures of the kids and well as other travel stuff which I will post later.

Home Visit
Before we left Bu'er, we went across the street from the school and visited the home of a student. We went to another one 2 years ago in Luogu, and this home is similar. Mud walls, and wooden structure. In the tiny courtyard were 4 pigs and 3 cows - pretty affluent family. The inside of the room was very messy like the other ones we saw, with the fire for cooking/warmth, drying tree branches, a piece of cow skin hanging (to be dried, I believe), lots of sausages, etc. But there were 2 light bulbs (vs 1 in previous home I've visited), and also a rice cooker and a TV with a satellite dish on the roof. Rice cooker was a surprise as that part of Butuo is too cold to grow regular rice - they have to be imported.

Jiudu 九都
The last school to visit is the one in Jiudu that's named after my aunt. When we visited it 2 years ago, the building was just completed but not yet used. And it was a holiday when we were there, so couldn't see the students. Jiudu is only about 5km/3mi from the county seat, and in poor and rural areas like Butuo, distance is very important. Because of the proximity to the main town, things are much more "advanced" here, and much easier for them to get better teachers as they can just live in the county seat and commute to work.

The school was very well run and the teachers and students were all much "sharper" than the other schools. While the teachers went to the conference room to meet my parents and Fang Ming, the Sowers Action rep; I went around the classrooms to take photos. In some higher classes, the class captain would be leading the study. And in Grade 2, some boys were smart enough to use the chance to play cards! But most impressive of all was the Grade 1 class, which all said "Bye Bye" to me in English.

On this trip, we realized that teacher training has become the most important need for education in places like Butuo, where Sowers Action has already helped them replace many classroom buildings. Until they can get better teachers, the quality of education can't be improved. In fact, Mr. Cai sent his own daughter to Xichang for boarding school rather than keeping her in Butuo.
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Jan 30th, 2010, 01:39 PM
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Butuo 2009 vs 2007

We went back to the same place for lunch as the previous day in Butuo, and then left for Xichang, finishing our much shorter stay compared to 2 years ago. But we were pleasantly surprised by the difference a mere 2 years made. And since we visited at exactly the same of the year, the comparison should be valid:

- Butuo (the county seat) has a lot more vehicles and more people on the street. Last time, our SUVs were more or less the only "private cars" in Butuo, but this time there were some private cars. And they have taxis now. Many more pedicabs - all nicely painted in uniform colors - for hire. The pedestrian mall is also much more lively.

- As mentioned before, the main county road from the county seat south about 20km to Tuojiao 拖觉 (one of the larger townships) is now paved. But not only that, but a lot of the footpaths have become unpaved road. So, there's improvement all over.

- Yi female in Butuo wear a blue cap. [Different headdress in other counties.] Last time, they were all very dark blue, but this time I saw the color being a lot lighter. It's not that they change their colors - their local costumes remain the same - but many more women can afford to buy a new cap for themselves. They just turn darker over time.

Overall, we are all quite impressed in the advancement in this remote county in Southwest China.

Back in Xichang
Our overnight train didn't leave until late in the evening, so we had a few hours back in Xichang. First, we went up the Lushan (泸山) Mountain on the edge of the Qionghai (邛海) Lake. We toured the lake 2 years ago, so this time we went up the mountain a bit to visit a monastery (newly rebuilt) for views and to see the wild monkeys there. Then for dinner, we ate at a theme restaurant next to the hotel we stayed 2 nights ago. It was a "garden" restaurant, so while the whole place is indoors, there are plants and little stream running through it with bridges to cross, and we ate in our private "cabin". Their most famous dish is a wood-roast duck, like those in Beijing. It was not cheap - 5 of us costing 550RMB.

Finally, before going to the train station, we went to the old city center of Xichang. There is still the South Gate of the old city, Datongmen 大通门 with a large 2-story building on top of it, rebuilt in 1998. At night, it was beautifully lit up.
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Jan 31st, 2010, 05:55 AM
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O/N Hard Sleeper Xichang-Chengdu
After our visit to Butuo, we want to spend a few days in Chengdu as I have never visited it before. Instead of flying back to Chengdu, we decided to take an overnight train instead. Not really to save money, but mostly to save half a day, and to try something "different".

I guess we didn't make that point too clear to those planning our travel, and they assumed we were like most Sowers Action volunteers and were just trying to travel as cheaply as possible. As a result, they got us hard-sleeper (硬卧) rather than soft sleeper. And because we were traveling on a busy day just before the New Year holiday, they couldn't get us lower berths or berths together. My mom and dad got berths nearby, but I was two coaches away while Fang Ming was at the other end of the train.

Since it was a fairly short trip - 9:25 on the K9482 - it wasn't really a problem being separated. The main issue was for my parents - especially my mom - to climb up to the upper beath. For those who're not familiar with the hard-sleeper in China, the berths were arranged in triple-deck. The middle and upper berths have pretty low clearance and one cannot sit up in them, unless you're a kid. In the end, some guy swapped his middle berth for my mom's upper, so that helped a bit.

I hadn't traveled in a Chinese overnight train for 21 years, and not in hard-sleeper for several more. The layout remains the same, but the bedding is a lot "softer" than before with real mattress and good pillows and blankets. More importantly, the passengers are a lot neater than 20+ years ago, with no smoking allowed except at the ends of each coach. Bathrooms remained fairly clean.

I was pretty tired from the day's journey and basically slept through the whole trip. K9482 left Xichang at 9:05p, made only 3 more stops before midnight, and then ran non-stop through the night and arrived Chengdu 6:30a in the morning. I would like to travel on this route again during the day as the Chengdu-Kunming Railway (成昆铁路) is one of the world's famous mountain trunk railway, with many tunnels, bridges and several spiral tunnels through very difficult but scenic terrain.
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Jan 31st, 2010, 06:51 AM
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Your initial description of the hard sleeper sounded just like the ones we took decades ago. But I'm glad to hear they have improved somewhat. However, of course our bodies have also "aged" 20+ years too...
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Jan 31st, 2010, 12:09 PM
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You can find a few pictures of the hard-sleeper here:


Just want to add a couple of things. One is that my parents are very well traveled. In fact, they took a sleeper train from Munich to Paris just 2 summers ago.

Second is that I really felt refreshed after arriving in Chengdu. If you ask me to choose between 9.5 hours overnight on a hard-sleeper or coach on the best airline, I'll take the hard-sleeper anytime. No question.
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Feb 1st, 2010, 10:22 AM
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Your parents look very nimble! Totally agree on the choice between air coach or sleeper train, we took a triple deck sleeper from Paris to Rome, slept well except my DH complained the women below us snored loud ...
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Aug 13th, 2010, 06:12 AM
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All photos posted. FIrst 4 albums are from the schools. Remaining for our sightseeing in and around Chengdu:

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Aug 14th, 2010, 08:34 PM
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Here's the Google Map of the places we visited: http://goo.gl/maps/fOOs
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