20 Summer Days In China by Betty Blunden (1974)

Silk Factory Kindergarten — August 18

As I had seen tea served by girls only, I asked if men ever served the tea. I was reassured. ‘Yes, if they are not busy and the women are, the men pour the tea’.

The whole factory compound covered a very large area. As we climbed back into our bus I noticed an out door area set aside for smoke-oh. It was an ‘orchard’ of stools constructed of small brick columns about 15” high, a couple of hundred of them and the entire area covered with shade trees. The bus then took us to visit the factory kindergarten. A welcoming committee of three or four teachers and fifteen children were waiting outside. Each child took a hand of one of us and led us inside. They were stunningly beautiful, all highly made up in the traditional way in preparation for a concert they were to give us. The little girls were wearing bright printed cotton dresses and the boys were in shorts and skirts. They had socks and sandals and were holding big paper flowers. The girls wore their hair in two short pigtails or just tied each side, the boys’ hair — short back and sides. We sat inside the kindergarten on little chairs while the children performed for us. A teacher played a small organ for the music. As far as I can remember the kindergartens we visited all had small organs. The entertainment was compered by a small five-year old girl who chirruped in the same way as the compere we had seen at the theatre the night before. Even the stance, legs together, right foot a little in front, arms straight and hands at the side, was the ‘real thing’ in miniature. There were songs that were also mimed. We didn’t have much idea of the content of each item, but the joy the children showed during their performances was tremendously infectious. One item was particularly significant to me. Just before I left for China I had seen a team of Chinese boys and girls play basketball against some Melbourne teams. Our nephew, Tony Barnett was scheduled to play with St. Kilda in a match against the Chinese boys. But as the Chinese had won only one match to date, St. Kilda was withdrawn and an under-20 team took its place. Even so the Chinese team was beaten. But their play contained a different element that was conspicuous. If a Chinese boy or girl collided with an Australian they stopped and helped to pick up their opponent. Not so the Australians. They concentrated exclusively on the ball. Well, one item in the kindergarten was a mimed Relay Race. I think boys against girls. The children pretended it was a run of 100 yards by taking a couple of minutes to cover the 20 feet across their room. With tremendous energy, head down they ‘ran’ by running-on-the-spot, moving forward an inch at a time. First a boy was a little bit ahead, then a girl, then a boy fell. The girl ran back and helped the boy to his feet. The race proceeded and the boys got ahead. Then a girl dropped the stick but the boy running against her stopped to pick it up for her, then on with the race. I forget who won the race but the lesson was well illustrated. And the lesson was for life as shown at the matches here. How different for the

Australian kids growing up. They are taught by parents and teachers in kindergartens to be kind and generous. To love their neighbour etc. But they soon realise that it is more important to WIN.

It was a wonderful morning. Our whole group was utterly enchanted. I started to take photos of the children and ended up taking a picture of each of them. I simply couldn’t leave one out. They escorted us to the bus and waved us off. Other small children who had not been involved in the concert hung out of windows and waved too. At that stage they were being prepared for their afternoon naps.

For lunch my diary says ‘usual four dishes AND delicious fresh lychees’. From my diary. ‘PM — Ceramic Museum. This was originally a pleasure building for the ruling classes and then headquarters of the local Kuomintang Army. It is an enormous garden, rich tropical growth rising up a steep hill. We passed a swimming pool, and from the top could see a football stadium which holds 4.000 people. There is an obelisk there in honour of Sun Yat Sen as well as this beautiful five storey pavilion which is now the Museum. The building was built 600 years ago and was all of wood. 2 years ago when Marje was here on her previous trip the building was considered unsafe and they were unable to go inside. It has now been rebuilt in concrete. Each floor has a balcony with wonderful panoramas of the city. We walked straight to the fifth floor and were taken out on the balcony. Cool cane chairs, fans and tea. We were introduced to the young woman curator who welcomed us. She explained the set-up of the museum. The top floor had the Archaeological collection, the fourth floor collection was not quite so old, and as one walked down, the exhibits became ‘younger’ until on the two lowest floors we saw an exhibition of Chinese contemporary ceramics. The older pieces were much to my liking. Superb stoneware, the traditional celadon ware and beautiful pieces in the blue and white. The contemporary collection contained very skilfully made Revolutionary figures but I did not find them as pleasing. Marje made a practise of asking different members of the group to act as cadre and make a ‘Thank you’ speech when we were on a visit. She asked me to say ‘thank you’ to the museum director and staff as we left. All our communications had to be translated by our interpreter which made it easier for those of us who were not used to making little speeches. A pause between each sentence while it was being translated gave me a chance to organize my next thought. But my speech was very short, probably the shortest of the whole trip.

We drove straight to the airport for our flight to Peking. The luggage which we had left at the hotel had been looked after by the Travel Service. Supper was served in the dining room at the airport. It was still very hot but big fans kept the modern, spacious building comfortable enough. We had cold meat

for the first time, and by now I had become quite addicted to the Chinese beer. I found it palatable and thirst quenching, and a 1% alcohol content was no risk to my sobriety. Mr. Li and the delectable Miss Wong stayed in Kwangchow and we boarded an enormous Russian jet with Miss Chi. We, were told that photos from the plane were forbidden. The light was good as we flew north & the landscape below was a beautiful patchwork of fields and clustered villages. Then we flew into cloud, with a brief break when we saw the Yangtse, a sprawling, meandering river, dividing into two or three channels then joining again. Then it was dark. The atmosphere in the plane was of a cheerful kids’ party. The hostesses were charming and efficient, flying up and down the corridor. They had never heard of Australia. We were kept amused with little gifts. Sweets for us to suck as we took off and landed, soft drinks, ice-cream, bananas -they begged us to stuff our bags, and a fan each. Our party was at ease now and people moved around, talking and getting to know each other better. The visibility was better as we flew over Peking but only a scattering of lights marked the city. Another huge and airy airport, electric fans and white covered lounge suites. We were joined by Mr. Piao, 28 years old but an experienced interpreter who was also to look after us for the next two weeks.

It was a long dark bus drive of 50 km to our hotel, but the road was tree lined all the way. There ware little groups of youths gathered on the side of the road under each street lamp. Playing cards, we were told I saw my first horse drawn carts on that road and realised that I had seen none in Kwangchow. My animal count for Kwangchow had been many water buffalo, geese and ducks, five birds including two incredibly trained pigeons that were part of an act at the acrobatics, three goats one dog but no cats.

Our hotel was the HUGE Friendship Hotel. It had been built for the Russian technicians about 1960. The suite of rooms that Charlotte and 1 shared had originally been a flat. A small entrance hall, a study, a living room, bedroom and bathroom. Very well furnished. We had the big electric fan going all night and my diary records that I SLEPT. As usual, beautiful views from all our windows. Though the architecture was international in character the iron railing around the balcony off the living room was of Chinese design. Prom there I saw a lone early riser doing his exercises and shadow boxing in a Wet corner of the garden.