When I first arrived at Moody Middle School in 2005, I couldn’t seem to tear my eyes away from the spots on the linoleum that were worn right through to the cement underneath. The current building on St. John’s street in Port Moody was built in 1972 or 73, I believe, and it was well used. After a few months, I stopped seeing the lino, the lockers that were in dire need of replacement, the heaters in the cafeteria that were barely hanging on to the wall, and saw instead the positives: a phenomenal staff, kids and community.
I’m having a similar experience here in Jiaxing. The school is much newer, built in 1997 or 98 but it hasn’t been properly maintained. There are tiles that have fallen off the exterior walls, floors that are peeling away, tables in the caf that lean dramatically when you sit down on the attached chairs. Because of the hot and humid climate, paint peels, mold grows and dust sticks. It would take an army to keep up with a school this size but there just isn’t that much staff. In the first few days, a caretaker arrived to clean my office, take out my garbage and see to the other rooms in our wing. I haven’t seen her for some time. Things work differently in China.
Kids are expected to contribute to their school periodically, so it is the kids who wash the floors in the morning and dung out the washrooms–sort of. They are kids and not particularly pushed about standards of cleanliness. Things are okay but not super clean. Classrooms don’t get much a wipe at all so consequently, there’s a fair bit of chalk dust and outside grime that wafts in the open windows during the day.
The school has obviously gone to considerable expense to renovate some of the rooms in our area. I have a palatial office as does my co-worker David, and there is a beautiful reading room and a meeting room for all of us to use. The teachers have a nice office as well and all of us have really nice, new furniture. I admit to being a bit fussy but it drives me crazy that there seems to be no real concern when things go awry. Case in point, on the first day, I noticed and pointed out that the ceiling in the reading room was dripping water, causing not only a large, mold-growing stain on the ceiling but also ruining the brand new laminate floor. A week later, someone came to have a look and seems to have stopped the drip from above but the floor was already damaged. I really value the expense and effort gone into improving our area so it drives me a bit crazy to see this happen.
Teachers back home might consider themselves well off if they realized that here, teachers are responsible for bringing their own toilet paper, paper towels and soap. None of these are provided in our washrooms. Earlier this week, I killed a cockroach which had been hiding behind my office door. I guess that’s a similarity: at Moody, all we had were rats. That was before their access points were sealed!
In due course, I am sure that I will no longer notice the short-comings of the buildings. Jiaxing High School has a great faculty and kids and is hugely supportive our BC Off-Shore School within their facility. Just like home, it is the people, not the things, that make a place wonderful. It’s starting to feel like home already.