Handshake 302’s latest project is moving along. This past weekend we met with middle school students (on Saturday) and Guangdong Xin’an Polytechnic students (on Sunday) to think about how their experiences and acquired knowledge about Baishizhou might be put to the interesting work of making art.
In their explorations, both groups compared Baishizhou to childhood homes. For middle school students, Baishizhou was “crowded”, “dirty”, “noisy”, and “unexpected” because they didn’t realize people still lived like this in Shenzhen. They were also shocked to discover that people in Baishizhou save money by washing clothes at a remnant well. Also, they surprised to overhear a 4 or 5 year-old child talking to goldfish saying, “We can’t afford to take care of ourselves, how could we take care of you?”
In contrast, Guangdong Xin’an Professional Technology Academy serves high school graduates from either neidi or from guanwai. These students are trying to secure a place for themselves in mainstream Shenzhen. Of course, “mainstream” in this instance refers to the lives that the middle school students are living. it turns out the neidi students with high gaokao scores and guannei students with scores below those necessary to get into Shenzhen University attend Shenzhen Polytechnic, which is the highest ranked polytechnic school in the Province.
Indeed, several Xin’an Polytech students noted that Baishizhou either resembled the market towns they grew up in or the guanwai urban villages where they first came to Shenzhen. Another mentioned that her parents had left her in her hometown to come to Shenzhen to work, and Baishizhou reminded her of the urban village where she visited their parents during school breaks.
Clearly, these are groups of students that outside the context of a Handshake 302 project might not otherwise meet because of age and class differences. With respect to age, the polytech students are preparing to apply for jobs. In contrast, the middle school students are preparing to take the high school entrance exam. Practically speaking, they might not encounter each other for another ten years, when the middle school students have graduated from university or polytechnic school and are on a job search. With respect to class differences, for the middle school students this project is an exploration of the “other” Shenzhen, while for polytech students, exploring Baishizhou is often about taking a hard look at where they may be living after graduation.