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09:23 Sep 28 2011

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English>>Tibet Online
Finding Shangri-La
09:50, May 20, 2010  

Xu Lu's students at the Nagela Primary School in Shangri-La county, Yunnan Province. (Photo:

A journey in western China last year changed the life of a tourism graduate, who after discovering the scenic landscape in Yunnan Province, decided to re-locate there and build a new career.

After graduating in tourism management from Shandong University of Finance, Xu Lu opened a photo studio in her hometown of Zibo, Shandong Province. After three years of work, she became curious about what opportunities lay on the other side of the country and set off on a trip last June. On arriving in Shangri-La county, Yunnan Province, the last stop on her journey, she was so fascinated by the scenery that she decided she would return to work there.

Back in her hometown a month later, she contacted the Union of Chinese Voluntary Teachers, a non-official online forum, which provides information on teaching in poverty-stricken areas.

She received approval within 24 hours. Her parents strongly opposed her decision, saying the life in Shangri- La would be difficult, but Xu was determined and flew out at the end of August.

The Nagela Primary School, where Xu worked, is located in Nagela village, Gezan township, about 150 kilometers from Shangri-La. The main road into the village twists along cliff edges and is notoriously dangerous according to locals. Xu relied on others using the route to buy daily necessities.

Communication problems

There are 34 students in the school, all of whom are Tibetans. Xu taught Chinese to 12 of the students between grades two and four. As she didn't understand Tibetan at all, teaching was dif-ficult.

"They only know a few simple Chinese words. It's difficult to explain the content of the Chinese textbooks. A 100 score in a mathematics test is easy for them to reach, but a 70 score in Chinese is their best, " Xu said.

To improve students' Chinese level, Xu designed drawings and gestures. She became so desperate that she resorted to punishing herself if the students failed.

Once, she gave an ancient poem of just 28 words to grade two students for them to recite. At first, none could recall it very well, and one boy couldn't repeat a single sentence.

Although she felt frustrated that they had failed to study properly, she rejected the use of corporal punishment that is commonly used in the school. Instead, she beat her own hand with a wooden stick in front of them.

"I tried to hold back my tears as the pain increased. Seeing that my left hand was swollen, two girls began crying," she said. "I told the students I would beat myself again if no one was able to recite the poem smoothly next time." The next day, all the students passed the test.

"I was so touched," she said. "I kissed their foreheads, and being shy they laughed a lot."
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