Wednesday, December 3

China, Day Ten: I Now Want Chinese Babies. Lots Of Them

The temperature dropped to a freezing -10 overnight forcing us to wrap up warmly for the day ahead. Despite the bad weather we were looking forward to this morning's activities, since we were due to visit a kindergarten catering for Chinese Muslims.

As we entered the, admittedly lush, pink building we were almost attacked by a swarm of incredibly cute 3-6 year olds - all welcoming us with salaams (Arabic greetings of peace) and "how do you dooooo?"s without much prompting. Immediately we got the impression that these kids were outgoing, confident and, most importantly, happy. Indeed the unofficial motto of the morning was "increasing education through happiness". The 150 fee paying (of a nominal amount) kids and 50 staff all lived on-site in a complex built and run by businessmen who wanted to promote Islamic education in the area. It's currently funded by the same type of people.

As the Urdu-speaking headteacher explained to us, the school not only emphasised Islamic teachings - some of the kids had learned up to six chapters of the Quran already (I'm not sure we could get enough of the class of four year olds reciting Surah Lahab in chorus, complete with Chinese translation immediately after) - but also provided a healthy level of non-Islamic and extra-curricular study like art and dance. They even had a dance room/gym that doubled up as a prayer space - however it became clear that such dual usages of school facilities wasn't advertised lest they become a focus point for the authorities. Likewise, as important as the non-Islamic facilities were, there was an impression given that the boasting about it was a form of lip-service.

I could have spent the whole day, maybe two, just hanging out with and watching the kids as they learned there (have I mentioned how ultra-cute they were?), perhaps helping out the school if and when I could. Once again I felt like I was leaving too early. I sincerely hope that I'll get the chance to return someday.

After lunch (interesting if only because we almost crashed a wedding being held at the restaurant) we headed back to Lanzhou. The road back was pretty treacherous, the well built roads irrelevant in the face of such snow and ice; we must have passed at least three different incidents on the way back.

But back safely we did get, the evening rounded up by a wandering through a pedestrianised road-cum-shopping street; although not really - we stuck to the underground "street" that ran below it - it was blummin' cold after all. Amusingly and for the first time during this trip we felt very self-conscious as we were repeatedly being stared at during our window shopping. This was no big deal as most of the women down there doing were staring were by far the hottest I had seen during this trip. Cough cough and all that.

Dinner was followed by an early night - we had an early flight to catch the next day. The backtracking of our path through China to date had finally begun.