After having welcomed our guests and PRC students to BBSS back in July 2016, it was our turn to visit Chongqing, China! It was an unforgettable and eye-opening experience for all participants of the SINO-SIN Student Exchange Programme—21 of our Secondary Three students visited Chongqing Nankai Secondary School. A bustling metropolis of over 30 million people, Chongqing is one of the most populous cities in the world, and Nankai is one of its top secondary schools. Founded in 1936, Nankai Secondary School is based on a sprawling, picturesque campus that consists of over 29 hectares of land. Our students had the opportunity to experience life on campus with their buddies, participating in a wide array of lessons and cultural activities. In addition, they explored the stunning kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, and scents that the city of Chongqing had to offer.
On the evenings of the first two days, we were received with sumptuous welcome banquets, attended by Nankai school leaders. It was the first instance of culture shock for some of our students, as we were served traditional local cuisine of not only spicy ‘mala’ dishes but also meats like rabbit, bullfrog, and even turtle! The cold weather (ranging between 8 to 14 degrees Celsius) was also a challenge for some, especially when chilly winds suddenly assailed us while walking outdoors. But the generosity and graciousness of our Chongqing hosts were more than enough to warm our hearts!
The school programmes were a true joy to experience. Upon arrival at the school, our students were awed by the sheer magnificence of the campus, which featured administration and teaching buildings, a science centre, an arts centre, a sports hub and student hostels, amongst other facilities. The verdant greenery also contributed to a pleasant, scholarly atmosphere that was highly conducive for learning. The many students’ artworks on display also attested to the richness of the cultural heritage that the school could be justifiably proud of. Even their architecture is based on feng shui principles. For instance, all the main doors of their school buildings face east, because of the Chinese idiom 紫气东来 (zi qi dong lai), which can be loosely translated as “a purple breeze comes from the East” (denoting a good omen).
Our visit was the perfect occasion for a vibrant exchange of ideas as part of professional sharing. The three teachers amongst us had the opportunity to share about the secondary school system in Singapore, especially in terms of pedagogy and assessment in English. (It was a challenge trying to translate terms from Paul’s Wheel of Reasoning into Chinese!) We further observed lessons in English, Chinese, Mathematics, and Science (Chemistry). Despite large class sizes (almost 60 students per class), classes were extraordinarily orderly and disciplined. While some lessons involved extensive ICT use (all their classrooms have Smart Boards), other classes revealed how teacher-talk can sometimes be remarkably engaging (in one particular lesson, a teacher captivated his class with jokes and anecdotes even while going through a mundane test paper on Chinese linguistics).
Our students were obliged to learn beyond their comfort zone as well, considering that all lessons (except English Language) were conducted in Mandarin! They also attended courses on traditional Chinese culture, such as tea appreciation, wushu (Chinese martial arts), and Chinese stringed musical instruments. At Wuyun Shanzhai (a rural village focused on outdoor education), our students even tried their hands at wrapping dumplings, dyeing handkerchiefs, and even digging for sweet potatoes! During dinner at the village, it was a novel experience for our students—accustomed to city life—when they were able to enjoy the fruits of their labour by sampling the rich bounty that they had harvested.
Furthermore, our students broadened their horizons by visiting cultural and historical sites that showcased the long and profound history of Chongqing, and by extension, of Chinese civilisation in general. We visited sites such as the ancient town of Ciqikou, the Hongya Caves, the Three Gorges Museum, as well as the Chongqing People's Liberation Monument, built in 1945 to commemorate the victory over the Japanese after World War II. Also in our itinerary were the Dazu Rock Carvings, a series of Chinese religious sculptures dating as far back as the 7th century C.E., and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Finally, our SINO-SIN experience featured a family interaction segment over the weekend, during which our students engaged in various activities with their buddies’ families. Such activities ranged from pottery classes to visiting high-tech areas; others went to the botanical gardens and the local amusement park, besides taking cable car rides. Our visit concluded with a grand farewell dinner, after which students bade a teary farewell to their buddies. As SINO-SIN is a Government-to-Government (G2G) programme, our visit was also featured by state media, via the online portal of the Xinhua news agency (see links here and here). We were touched by the generous hospitality of our Chongqing hosts at Nankai—their passionate enthusiasm was as intense as the fiery ‘mala’ cuisine that we sampled!