This morning I was determined to fulfill one of my trip goals of visiting a magic shop in China! I went to the concierge of the hotel and explained my quest. She went online and found a magic shop not too far away. In about 20 minutes by cab I found myself in front of a hallway entrance to a building and located the magic shop on the directory. I went up to the 12th floor where I found that it was...closed! Not knowing if it might open later in the day I took a picture of a sign on the door and showed it to someone at the building entrance, who confirmed that it was closed for the day. Foiled!
I decided to walk around the neighborhood to explore a little and came upon a massive row of stalls being set up with all kinds of items. I walked several blocks and was even able to buy some last minute gifts, as I will be leaving China tomorrow. Then I went back to the hotel to change into some nicer clothes for my last school visit of the trip.
I feel so fortunate to have ended this educational journey with a visit to the Hong Kong School of Creativity and with Ada Wong, its director. This visit gave me new information about education in mainland China and a unique view into the Chinese system. The backdrop for this is the fact that the school is located in Hong Kong. Hong Kong enjoys a unique place in the political and cultural life of China. Even 15 years after the handover from the British, Hong Kong has more freedom than the mainland. One major freedom is access to information- Facebook, Twitter, and other social media tools are available here. There is also freedom of the press and speech. There are elected representatives (although there are many appointed ones as well.) Ultimately Beijing calls the shots, and everyone knows this; there is the understanding that the national government could restrict these freedoms if it chooses to do so, which does lead to some self-censorship. But the people's voices are heard here. In fact, each year on July 1, many activists and different political groups take to the streets in protest. There is a belief here that one needs to take every opportunity to speak out and act in the name of freedom or it may be slowly eroded. It is an important reminder that we in the US should never take our rights for granted.
The HKSC nurtures creativity through knowledge and theories, creative and expressive techniques, and thinking and imagining skills. Its school brochure says that it "provides young people with all-rounded creative learning experiences and opportunities for self-fulfillment:
-with less examinations and greater flexibility for effective learning
-through inter-disciplinary curricula responding to the development of a civil society and a knowledge-based economy
-by fostering positive values, cultural literacy, competency in communication, as well as creative and critical thinking
-as a cross-culture hub for the sustainable development of creative education."
The school itself has such a creative feel to it, with student art installations everywhere, even in unexpected places. Three stories above the ground level three handmade basketball backboards and rims hang in the air. One story below that, green netting is stretched in a concave manner with a hole in the middle. Running from the hole down to the ground level is a tube of green netting that ends in a receptacle. Ada explained that a student created this to encourage students to recycle bottles instead of throwing them in the trash by turning it into a basketball shooting game!
In addition to taking core classes such as Chinese, English, and math, students choose among electives such as Design and Visual Communication; Multimedia Performing Arts; and Creative Sound and Music. I was fortunate to visit during what is the "finals" equivalent of those electives- students were showing movies they made, performing, or presenting their projects during a share and critique process. One movie of street scenes focusing on different objects and people was clearly a statement about the discrepancy between the very affluent and the poor. Appropriately, the school's atmosphere was informal and vibrant, with students in chairs as well as on the floor. During my tour I was also able to see the other performance and studio spaces and many student projects, including models of indoor/outdoor spaces for buildings and the final projects of mostly visual arts students.
To apply to the school students need portfolios, an essay, testing, and an interview. The price is about 3300 US dollars per year, but about a third of the students receive financial aid- this is the first time I have heard about aid during a school visit. Most of the students go on to art and design schools. During my conversation about art schools I learned about high schools that focus on the arts in mainland China. Many of the design universities and music conservatories have high schools associated with them, so students who are accepted can focus on a visual or performing art in high school. What makes HKSC unique is that it focuses on creativity through a variety of art forms and media so that students don't need to specialize. Another important difference is that the creative process, and thus the works created by students, emanate from the freedom of expression that being in Hong Kong affords. When asked about what enables people to be creative and innovative, Ada emphatically declared that this comes only from this freedom. Artists, in particular, thrive without restrictions and limits, especially when they are making political or social statements.
When I shared some of my experiences in schools over the past two weeks, especially in the new schools with high tuitions and beautiful buildings, Ada reminded me that this is not the norm. When one sees the incredible growth and building going on in Chinese cities and the amount of money that families are willing to pay for their children to attend and board at these schools, one must remember those who are not experiencing this economic boom, which is most of the population.
I think that many trips that Westerners take to China end in Hong Kong because it is truly straddles East and West. There are more things here that are familiar- 7-11's, more English speakers, churches and religious schools, more recognizable foods and products. But much is different as well- Buddhist monks walking down the sidewalk, people waiting to meet the pharmacist at a Chinese medicine store, Buddhist temples, an extraordinary array of unfamiliar snack foods and the display of animals and animal parts that are generally disguised in US supermarkets. But, as I post this blog directly on the Blogger website for the first time, what stands out to me is the most important commonality between the US and Hong Kong- freedom.
As my group meets for dinner in a few minutes for our last night together, I know that we will discuss some of the major takeaways from our journey, and I will share them here. I also wanted to say that I have learned a lot from them and will take many ideas back to SSSAS. Xiumin, who grew up in Kunming, experienced the Cultural Revolution, became an English teacher in China, and then moved to the US where she sent her children to an independent school and serves on its board, gave us a very special and personal perspective on China past and present. Claudia, Kristen, Ken, Mike (first half), and Matt (middle of trip) were also wonderful travel companions.
I feel so fortunate that I was able to go on this incredible, enlightening, and inspiring journey. Many thanks to the APT and the school for sending me to China!