Guang Zhou by Kate

Guangzhou is astonishing. We are staying in our host’s spare apartment on the 12th floor of building V in a massive apartment complex called ‘Regal Riviera’. From our window we can see the river, and the ultra modern, fast growing city. The city sparkles at night. It seems like every building is lit in rainbow colours that swirl and change constantly. Our apartment is a short walk along the river to the television tower (most spectacularly lit), with a subway station under it.

Yesterday we explored the city. The subway is super easy – airconditioned, very clean, orderly, signs and announcements in English. We feel very brave and capable cruising to our chosen destinations! We even had a go on it during peak hour today! Everyone is very patient and pleasant even when they could scratch an itch on their nose with your ear!

The city has a fascinating mix of old and new. There are bicycles, rickshaws and mopeds buzzing gently everywhere, often with teetering loads of boxes, rubbish, spare parts, families. They share the roads with many sleek and phat Mercedes, BMWs, and Jags. We are gobsmacked by the wealth surrounding us. Shopping and advertising are on overdrive -noticeably for KFC, bras, western style toilets, and beauty products. We visited a 6 story book shop yesterday, with bonus sunglasses, watches and adventure gear for sale. There is definite style and creativity defying the ‘cultural imperialism’. People dress with impressive, quirky, elegant flair. Book shops have large, intriguing shelves of political-looking journals, detailed design resource books, fabulous graphic novels/illustrated books, great art books. I would love to study contemporary Chinese art, writing, pop culture!

I am also really enjoying the relaxed, communal, public spaces, street stalls and alleyways. People use public space in an easy, open, cheerful way. Young couples, groups of teenagers and families walk along the river in the evening, holding hands, doing gentle stretches and exercises, chatting. We walked through a huge park in the centre of the city today, with every bench, path and grassy patch being used for enthusiastic card games, hacky sack, toddlers on bikes and ballroom dancing! Beside the school are older, run down apartments with busy food stalls, moped mechanics with tiny shop-fronts spilling spare parts, old men making noodles and drinking beer. I walked into the labyrinth inside this apartment block and found an exciting network of narrow lane-ways, a net of wires overhead, washing drying in every window, fresh vegetables and fruit sold from doorways.


View from our window


View of the tower from the school



And more buildings!

A stunning Taiwanese Indigenous performance by Class 10 – by Matt

This afternoon the students gave us an extraordinary gift: after we finished teaching the Class 10 students, they performed a Taiwanese aboriginal dance for us (it seems there are several people of aboriginal heritage here). Beginning with deep, harmonic, prayerful humming in a shuffling circle, the boys then stripped to the waist, their limbs interwoven as they stamped and hurled their ropy bodies around the auditorium. The line of girls surrounded them, small and strong, pounding out their own steps with increasing vigour. For ten minutes we were transfixed as the two lines chanted and wailed back and forth. Their bodies whirled so fast and close as the two cohorts intricately circling each other, while beneath our feet the floor shook. Class 10! I hope I never forget that sight.

Arrival in a foreign land by Matt

We arrived in Taiwan early Sunday morning after a sleepless overnight flight. In heavy subtropical heat and pouring rain, a coach took us from Taipei Airport to the school. Around the edge of Taipei, ranks of apartment towers compete for room with tiny emerald-green rice farms. The highway cut spectacularly through the steep, drenched lower ridges of mountains hung with thick, dark cascading vegetation. Drinking it all in, I felt myself pulled apart: held alert by between the intense excitement of our arrival and the start our overseas tour; and dragged down by my state of exhaustion, knowing (and frankly, fearing) what lay ahead. We were to grab a nap, eat lunch, have perhaps another two hours’ sleep, then rehearse and give a two-hour choral concert; all this in an unknown destination,with new hosts and billets, and with all the uncertainties of a different culture and language.

The concert went superbly in the end, despite the stress beforehand. We performed a version of our ‘1000 Years’ concert, starting with medieval plainchant and ending with a choral soundscape by Australian composer Stephen Leek. Our biggest audience so far was absorbed by the performance, and gave us a great ovation. I felt a great sense of excitement and delight coming from them. For me, it was a high point so far in the tour. Then sleep swallowed me whole.

Manuka reflects on Taiwan and China

We stayed in Taiwan for a week at a lovely school in Yilan district in the countryside. It is a nice school from Kindy to class 10 and it is double streamed. Apparently that is a small school for Taiwan. There was a beautiful landscape and very lovely people who gave us lots of food!!

Yesterday we flew from Taipei to Guangzhou in China. It took us 1 hour on the bus to drive into the city. Nearly the whole time we were driving there were high – rise buildings as far as you could see. The school was next to all these high – rise buildings which was very different to the school in Taiwan.

We are currently staying in a 33 storey building on the 5th floor. Surprisingly our host gave us two rooms even though the apartment was so small. It was exciting to try all these different foods. Luckily we said we were vegetarian so I didn’t have to eat stuff like dog or cat! We had things like rice, noodles and vegetables for dinner, breakfast and lunch and fruit and pineapple cake for morning tea.

We will stay in Guangzhou for a week then we will fly to Chengdu which is further north than Guangzhou. That’s good because that means it will be less and

humid. It is boiling hot here. We have to have the fan and the air conditioning on all night.

Yilan, Thursday

I have three stories about today that are worth sharing. There is always so much going on that it is often difficult to know where to start, so I have limited myself to three. All wonderful experiences, very different but also similar.

The first was during the day when teaching. Kate, Terry and I are teaching class 4b between morning tea and lunch. A wonderful class to teach. On Tuesday they made us sweet tea to share with them, then again yesterday. Today as we walked into the classroom, late again… oops, the class was sitting in a circle on the floor with their recorders and music. In the middle of the circle was a spread of food, carefully arranged on a red cloth. That moment of walking a cross the threshold into the classroom gave me the most incredible feeling of being welcomed with absolute sincerity. Of knowing that what I have to offer is valued by the those I’m teaching. So often as a teacher I have felt like what I am trying to teach, my knowledge and interests and enthusiasm, my presence in the classroom, is felt by the students to be an infringement on their lives. They’d much rather be somewhere else doing something else with someone else and this person at the front of the room keeps distracting their attention away from those more important things… well teaching here is the complete opposite of that. We are welcomed in and asked to stay. When I said “let’s learn verse three words” I got “yay!” Not “ooh.” It gives me this little bubble of joy inside that makes me so happy to be a teacher.

The second thing today was the performance given to us as a thank you by class ten who we are doing songs from The Ring Bearer with. This post seems to be full of praise but these guys are also a wonderful group to teach! Attentive, alive, interested, energetic, musical… And this was before they performed for us!

In the last half hour of the day we all settled down on the steps of the hall to watch a performance of some kind. We knew that they had performed it before, they had taken it to the goetheanum the previous year to perform there, and that is was a traditional Taiwanese something or other, but apart from that we didn’t know what to expect. Year ten performances can very easily dissolve into embarrassed laughing fits and awkward speeches…

Instead we got the most incredibly powerful performance. It was a Taiwanese aboriginal dance, the Chinese having arrived in Taiwan about 300 years ago. All of the students were singing and dancing. Call and response. Rhythmic. Focussed. Honest. Intense. The boys began, standing in a circle stepping to the right, arms interlocked. The girls joined in later. There was such a clear difference between the boys and girls. Clear masculine and feminine without any feelings of sexism or segregation. The rhythms and the chanting just kept going, and rather than getting tedious or feeling repetitive, the longer it went on, the more powerful it became. And all the while there is a part of me thinking these are year tens! how did they learn it all? How are they this mature? Wow! Could Australian year tens do this? I can’t picture it at all. There really are no words to describe the feeling of our entire group during this performance. It was WOW with so much emotion, so much gratitude, and the incredible feeling of being allowed to experience something special. Of being so lucky to be able to see something so strongly linked to the place we are in, its history and the people who surround us. Something that can’t be bought or found on a tourist map. So thank you class ten, for sharing that with us.

The third thing is a more subtle quiet experience. After school a few of us with our host families went to a large park for dinner. This park is about three minutes walk from the house I am living in and is an incredible place. Beautiful. Attention to every detail. Lakes, stairways, paths under rows of trees, a water stage, a spot on the top of a bridge where if you could hear your voice bounce back to you whenever you spoke. Beautifully placed rocks. All arranged to match ancient feng shui principles with dragons and turtles and white tigers and more all represented. I wish I could remember and write down all the things I was told about what the many things represented. Instead I took lots of photos, of which here are just a few…


view out over the lake


You can see the attention to detail in this photo, th rocks on the right beside the stream are beautifully arranged. Representing the back of a turtle.


These are the real colours! This is a long exposure after the sun had set.


The lake.


The hanging parts of this tree are roots. Which are apparently make a good swing for a two year old.


Children playing in the park


Mary Poppins, otherwise known as Genevieve trying to record the fantastic echo on the bridge.


A less than perfect photo of those of us there. It was too dark for good photos of people by then...


But not to late for long exposures that look awesome!

And so ends another day. Tomorrow will be a long one, 8am-10pm wish us luck!