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Published: October 21st 2007
Ellen and Renyen
Renyen is a friend for the past two years and is a professor in the Sociology Department here; she joined us for dinner in our apartment last week, she is a peach!
October 21, 2007 blog
We had a two day experience at the Children’s Palace here in Guangzhou, an ultra-modern, 8 story children’s center, serving youth between the ages of 5 and 12. There are a variety of after-school and holiday activities there, including art, music, dance, physical activities and rehabilitation oriented services. We were there to attend a two day session with Hong Kong social workers from the Boys and Girls Club Association of Hong Kong.
Day 1 was an exchange of ideas between the workers from Hong Kong and the staff of the Children’s Palace on the treatment of autism. The scene was a large conference table around which were arrayed the staff and a few outsiders, including two physicians from the SYS #3 Hospital, the site of the Behavioral Assessment Center for Youth.
The table was filled with water bottles, piles of peanuts and fruit, which all went untouched for the first two hours. Suddenly, as if by some secret signal, the food began to be devoured and we were left with a pile of skins and shells, strewn all over the place. There is one Chinese custom that was not followed in this instance; usually
when there is food product that is not edible (skins, bones, seeds, fur) they are deposited on the table directly. It makes for quite a picture when you walk by tables in restaurants strewn with the leavings. In this instance there were small plastic baskets that were utilized.
Lunch was in a restaurant, in a small private room for the 25 or so of us. One of the program directors from the local program was interested in my vegetarianism, asking if I were Christian. In China, there are some Buddhists who are vegetarians (at least on the 1st and 15th of the month, those are traditional days to avoid eating meat) and Christian was as close as she thought a Westerner could come to Buddhism. We had an interesting talk about the influence of Buddhism in the China and the West.
On my other side was a pediatrician who worked at the aforementioned Center. He was well versed in the assessment of autism and was using instruments and research developed in the West. I am afraid I was not surprised to hear that Chinese doctors also are making extensive use of anti-psychotic medicines in the treatment of behaviors
associated with autism. He stated that the (US) FDA had approved risperidone and that approval was good enough for the Chinese. We had an interesting conversation about some of the cultural components of earning disabilities and how the use of characters in China makes reading dyslexia almost unheard of; there is no sequencing of letters to form a word ad the characters represent entire syllables.
On Saturday we returned (Ellen joined in for this day) and activities focused parent education. Ellen did a rousing 30 minute appeal that parents make demands upon their public schools, avoiding the temptation to develop private institutions. She went on giving hints on how to organize themselves, drawing on some of the US experience in this regard. She (we?) have a better understanding of where the boundaries lie, and find that there is much more that can be talked about than one might imagine from reading the US press about the nature of authoritarianism in China. After lunch we were both asked to conduct informal seminars on our topics, Ellen continuing on organizing and my giving some ideas of treatment approaches. We both heard some moving and fascinating stories of great anguish about parental
determination to see that their youngsters could be helped to develop capacities. I heard three or for stories about very talented children with Aspberger’s diagnosis, doing multiplication tables up to 20 X 20 by a three year old, for example. In all it was a wonderful day and one that indicated a growing willingness on the part of Chinese (there were very middle class parents) to make focused requests of the governing authorities. This also marks a cultural shift as traditionally autistic children are kept hidden away, they are though to be bring “shame” upon the family. We plan to follow up with our efforts in this area
We had specifically invited the parents that we had met the previous week (see previous blog) but they did not attend the Saturday session. Our intention was to make contact to pass along relevant information helping them to find some more services for their delightful, but autistic 7-year old son. Little did we know the tragedy that was about to unfold.
We had just returned to our apartment Monday afternoon (we had a brief but dynamic visit with Rick Weston, from Central VT, in town to do some of his
At home with esteemed colleagues
We hosted a dinner here with three of the staff at the social work department and Agnes Law, the professor who lent us her apartment for the semester
“foreign expert” consulting with the power companies here). Ellen’s mobile rang and we were greeted with the news that the 7 year old boy, whom we had enjoyed so much just ten days earlier, had drowned near his home when he escaped the attention of his mother for a moment and entered the nearby river. He always liked playing with water, the sensation of it on his skin apparently soothed him, and now he was a fatal victim of his neurological condition.
At the time we received the call we had a visitor, our dear Chinese tutor from last year (Roy) who helped us understand the Chinese death rituals and helped organize our thoughts on what we might do. Still haven’t got this all digested.
We were quite willing to be distracted by the arrival of our young friend, Becky Goldfinger-Fein. She is here to experience China for the next ten weeks and she has already immersed herself in the life here. On Friday she spent the day with Ellen for a full day including two classes, a meeting of the ad hoc Labor Group Ellen has convened (in addition to one just started on this campus last
Suart and Becky on pedal boat
We took a day off on Saturday and went to Yuexiu Park along with our expat friend Jane. The park is not all that crowded on this day and we enjoyed many experiences.
evening) and finally attendance at the English Debating Club; that women is some busy.
In many ways the lives we have created here mirror those we have at home. Ellen is very active, gets lots of phone calls, and rarely says no to a request. I am at home more; I am doing a fair amount of studying in preparation for my course work, and am turning some attention to next steps once we get back home. Went so far as to reserve our seats on our return flight today, just 90 days out. China is a happening place, and it is a wonderful environment for us as we are able to bring a variety of skills and experiences to bear in our student interactions. Students are very serious and quite mindful that they are making history.
An example from last night’s class on Feminism (this is part of my social policy course). I had some ads from Chinese press and posters showing the degradation of women that has come to China along with the avalanche of consumer goods. I asked, after showing the ads, questions about “What would your Grandmother think?” about the ads, about the status
Ellen organizing the parents at the Children's Palace
Along with her very able translator, Ellen was giving sound Alinsky type advice to these parents. The fellow with his arms crossed in the front row is a physician and was anxiously more open to ideas that his body language indicates
of women in China, etc. Some of them had Grandmothers who could recall the era of bound feet and for them China of 2007 was much better and much worse, than the world of 70 years ago. Better for the opportunities for women (there are 15 of them in my Master’s class, an unheard of opportunity in Grandma’s day) and worse for the social disruption that has accompanied the “opening” of China to the world.
This morning, Becky and I got up early and joined two social work staff to look at a new community center that was being established. This will be a wonderful opportunity to provide a new site for social work in the community and show the important value t can make to modern China. We were asked for advice I setting up counseling rooms, what kid of activities we thought would be useful and what we were willing to do there! Becky is definitely being “impressed” into duty, likely doing some arts work as well as teaching English.
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