The Long March
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getting there is an adventure in itself, one that begins with a
13-hour flight from Los Angeles to Shanghai, a 37-hour train ride
to Xi'ning, the capital city of Qinghai Province, and a six-hour
bus trip to Guanting, a town of a single main street and about 2,000
people. Our long march is an odyssey in reverse through the full
spectrum of economic development in China, from the ultra-modern
urban sprawl of Shanghai to the primitive backwater of Guanting.
we finally get there on an August afternoon, it is clear that our
arrival has been much anticipated. Students and local teachers have
been waiting for us for several hours. At the gate, the teachers
offer each of us, in the manner of Tibetan tradition, three small
cups of super-strong liquor and a long silver scarf known as a hada.
Kindergarten students greet us with what likely are their first
English words, "Welcome to Guanting," and other students
sing Tibetan and Mangghuer songs and dance for us.
the opening ceremony, our group is divided and sent off to six different
locations. Mine, the village of Xiela, is another hour away along
a rutted dirt road. Our students there are primarily from the middle
school and already have had one to three years of English instruction
mostly from textbooks and without the benefit of teachers
who really know the language, so their pronunciation is very strange.
Several primary-school students who don't yet know the English alphabet
but are eager to learn also join in our beginner class.
is the reason for our being here? Organized by Political Science
Professor Richard Baum '62, the director of the UCLA International
Institute's Center for Chinese Studies, we have come at the request
of a unique program that teaches English to the local minority population
and trains them to use the Internet to identify and apply for development-assistance
grants. The project has been highly successful, with more than 85
local projects ranging from construction of village classrooms,
greenhouses and latrines to the digging of water wells and the purchase
of energy-saving solar cookers funded over the past six years
in this region where annual incomes average $100-$200.