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Buddy time for Xavier’s boys in China

Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai — the words couldn’t be truer for 10 boys from St. Xavier’s Collegiate School who spent 10 days in Kunming, attending a Chinese school and living with a local family.

The China trip was a return visit; a batch of eight Chinese students had come calling to the city in November and put up with families of the Xavier’s boys selected for the exchange programme.

Farino Torcato, the teacher-in-charge of the exchange programme who accompanied the Xaverians to China, said the boys were picked on the basis of their academic performance, social service and co-curricular activities.

Eager to reunite with their Chinese “brothers” and adapt to their way of life, Sourodeep Sinha, Anish Kanoria, Archisman Mondal, Rohan Basu, Debajyoti Banerjee, Vedant Kedia, Mohammad Obaid Khan, Akshat Vikram Singh, Akshay Mehra and Nehal Surin — all Class XII students — took a crash course in Mandarin, practised how to eat with chopsticks and even learnt a couple of Chinese songs before heading for the capital of Yunnan province last month.

“We had been looking forward to the trip ever since our exams got over in March. We left for China with a lot of pre-conceived notions. We returned with a changed outlook and a heavy heart,” Sourodeep said.

Sourodeep’s Chinese buddy, Wu Zheng, has fond memories of his Indian experience. “I enjoyed myself a lot. I loved Indian food too, except the very sweet deserts,” he said via QQ, a Chinese chat site.

While in Kunming, the boys from Calcutta attended classes at Shida Fuzhong High School, played football and table tennis and explored the city. “Shida Fuzhong is a huge school. We were awestruck at first sight. But what really won us over was the overwhelming hospitality,” Sourodeep said.

The focus and discipline of Chinese students was a big lesson for the Indian boys. “Theirs is a very school-centric life. School starts at 7.30am and continues till 6 in the evening. Every class is for 40 minutes with a 10-minute recess post each lecture. The lunch break is a long one from noon to 2.30pm. We are not used to such extended school hours. Attending lectures for 40 minutes, especially in Mandarin was a little tedious,” said Sourodeep with a laugh. One of the Xavier’s teachers also took a class there.

Archisman found the method of evaluating homework novel. “There’s no teacher to check the homework. A class monitor calls out the right answers and students check their papers themselves. Even during an exam, a teacher distributes question papers and leaves the room. The students are disciplined enough to take the test without help from their friends. They hardly make any noise when a class is on,” he said.

Efforts to conserve energy and the sense of discipline on roads also left the Calcuttans impressed. “As for the Chinese, they were curious about our democracy. They kept asking us about India and its laws,” Anish said. “They feel left out at times as they cannot access Facebook and other popular social networking sites,” added Akshay.

Being vegetarians, Anish and Vedant had gone armed with pickles, thepla and khakhra. “My host family ended up enjoying them as much,” smiled Vedant. Anish’s hosts even learnt how to cook Indian curries to give him a taste of home.

Having treated their Chinese guests to chicken curry and palak paneer, most of the boys were eager to try out the cuisine there and they loved the tofu, rice noodles and dumplings. “The food was very different from our Indian Chinese. My family made sweet dumplings for breakfast when they learnt about the Bengali sweet tooth,” Debajyoti said.