Come along on a trip with me, will you?
Take a deep breath and imagine you no longer hear the buzz of the air conditioning. The looming skyscrapers and swarming streets suddenly melt into the clouds. The cushion of your seat is replaced by coarse rocks that scrape the skin on your palm. Even the autumn winds have stopped howling. Instead, warm air wraps around you like a blanket. You hear the gush of water, but the meandering flow looks too muddy to you, its colour is almost…
Aha! You realise that you are sitting on the shore of the Yellow River, an ancient site referred to by many as “China’s Cradle”. The smells of fish and old leather hang heavy in the air. The donkeys and camels that you and your friends rode here are grumbling impatiently behind you, but you are too entranced by the outlandish shapes of the rocks that remind you of the Journey to the West to actually pay attention to the mumbling of the animals.
One group of CityU and Lanzhou University students do not have to imagine this scenario. Last summer, the students who participated in “CityU Omnibus on the Silk Road: Serving Ethnic Minorities”, were not only lucky enough to wander the sleepy slopes of this site and many other rare and endangered ecosystems, but also to interact and bond with the local ethnic minority groups, such as the Tibetans, Mongols, Yugurs and Kazakhs. The participants also had the chance to engage in numerous programmes, many of which were not only educational, but also remarkably fun and amusing.
In one of the voluntary services the students participated in, the goal was to create a product that promotes ethnic cultures. One group decided to create Macbook stickers based on a pattern the Yugur uses for decoration. The group attempted to copy the pattern, but they weren’t able to get it right, no matter how many times they tried. Not much later, the locals revealed that the patterns weren’t random curves, but were actually depicting a goat, an animal that has considerable significance for this ethnic group.
其中一項學生參與的志願服務，目標是製作一個推廣民族文化的產品。一個小組決定根據裕固族的裝飾圖案創作Macbook貼紙。小組試圖複製圖案，但無論他們嘗試了多少次，也無法辦妥。不久，當地人透露，圖案不是隨意的曲線，而是描繪一隻山羊 ── 一種對這個族群有重要意義的動物。
Although there were many entertaining moments like this, the trip wasn’t just a blissful holiday. The students were exposed to the harsh realities of poverty and eclipsed cultures. The towns that ethnic minorities live in are crowded and tense, with a never-ending throng of cars snaking through the narrow streets. The begrimed houses are slender and soaked in the smells of soot, sweat and cabbages. People seldom have two pennies to rub together after spending money on meals and education. Even stable electricity is only a dream to the majority of these people.
However, this penury is not what surprised participants the most during their time spent with these isolated communities, rather it was the fixed gender roles and the bias against women that alienated them. Due to female illiteracy, the men of these communities tend to demean and mistreat their female counterparts. Meanwhile, the women’s duties are to take care of the household and the children, and of course be a caregiver and wife. Building a career or enjoying a carefree afternoon are not options.
Hence, when the students organised a carnival for the communities, it turned out to be a massive success. The delicious meals, fun activities and vigorous dances resulted in one of the most euphoric days of the trip. Naturally, nearing the end of the event, many tears were shed. According to Rachel Wong, one of the participating students from CityU, “Many women started crying at that point…from happiness, simply because it was the very first time in their lives that they were able to just relax, sit back and enjoy an afternoon together with their children and families…It was very moving!”
因此，當學生為社區組織了一個嘉年華會，結果非常成功。 美味的餐點、有趣的活動和充滿活力的舞蹈為旅程帶來其中一個興高采烈的日子。 到了活動的尾聲，人們自然流下了許多眼淚。 其中一位參加的城大學生王詠濤表示，「許多婦女開始流著愉快的眼淚，只因這是她們生活中首次得以坐下來與孩子和家人一起輕鬆享受下午......情景非常動人！」
Luckily, many are working towards smashing this glass ceiling that confines the possibilities for these women to traditional female gender roles. In one of the towns, a hardworking woman had launched a programme that provides tutorial classes, free of charge, to women and children, allowing them to obtain education and build a foundation of skills and knowledge. Such programmes are causing men’s perceptions to slowly change for the better. There’s still a long way to go, but the road has been paved for the curious and industrious next generation who wants to rise from poverty.
幸運的是，許多人正努力打破這些女性的性別角色限制。在其中一個城鎮，一位勤奮的婦女發起了向婦女和兒童提供免費輔導課程的計劃，使她們能夠接受教育並建立技能和知識的基礎。 這些計劃正慢慢地令男士們改變看法。 雖然要走的路還有很長，但已經為好奇而勤奮、渴望擺脫貧窮的下一代開闢了道路。
And the next generation is eager to learn. The children of these ethnic minorities are incredibly enduring and steadfast in their pursuit of education. Even though they don’t have access to modern entertainment, they find other ways to have fun and learn. For example, the Yugur children have developed a very particular learning habit. The admittance to their local museum is free, thus after school the youngsters go there and spend the afternoon learning about art by themselves. When the students asked for the Yugur children’s help to create brochures for the museum, it turned out that the children knew the museum like the backs of their hands.
而下一代渴望學習。這些少數民族的孩子在追求教育方面極為堅毅。即使他們沒有現代的娛樂，也能找到其他方式來寓學習於玩樂。例如，裕固族兒童就有一種非常特別的習慣幫助自己學習 ── 由於進入當地博物館是免費的，因此放學後，年輕人都到那裡去，利用午後的時間自己學習藝術。 所以當學生要求裕固族兒童幫忙為博物館設計小冊子時，發現兒童們對博物館的一切已經瞭如指掌。
Regrettably, it is highly unlikely that these children will cherish their cultures to the extent that their ancestors did. For the sake of economic prosperity, families are already relocating to cities. Children are being educated in Putonghua (Mandarin Chinese) and often cannot speak the languages of their own communities anymore, as the ethnic languages and cultures are considered trivial on a global scale. Therefore, every step taken to conserve their cultures makes a difference, even an educational service trip like the “Omnibus”.
“CityU Omnibus on the Silk Road: Serving Ethnic Minorities” was co-organised by CityU’s Global Services Office; Lanzhou University’s Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan Affairs Office and School of Management; and the Culkor Committee for China Youth.
Stay tuned for other exciting travel and service opportunities!