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In a remote rural village, what is the most desirable to a schoolboy who has only one boy classmate in his class?

By Jennifer Peng

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Mt. Dashanbei in Hsinchu is a habitat of Rana sauteri (Sauter’s Brown Frog) endemic to Taiwan. Since a highway in the mountain was opened, many frogs have been run over by vehicles on the highway because the frogs want to cross the highway to a riverside to find their mates in every October when they are about to breed.

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Therefore, the Society of Wilderness started to organize an event of helping frogs cross the highway several years ago, so that Rana sauteri can safely travel to the riverside to mate.

Looking forward to witnessing Rana sauteri for a long time, my son JunJun had a great opportunity to make it happen last Saturday. What was even more pleasantly surprising was that he was able to make it together with Neiwan Elementary School students.

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In the afternoon on that Saturday, the volunteer team from Intel Taiwan arrived at Neiwan Elementary School to teach the students there read English picture books. I tagged along to run errands for the team while playing with kids.

Neiwan Elementary School is very special. It is adjacent to the very touristy Neiwan Old Street, where there are always crowds of tourists savoring various local specialties.  The nearby Neiwan Train Station is quaint and one of the local attractions, and even Neiwan Elementary School has become one of them because many places around the school are worth seeing and tourist also check out the school.

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Neiwan Elementary School conceals itself from the touristy Neiwan Old Street and is a beautiful and quiet fairytale world away from boisterousness. There is a tree house as a mini library and a train-shape slide along with big animal-shape artworks adding spice to the modest campus.

It was my gut feeling that children attending the school should be happy enough.

The feeling was true.  As soon as I entered the library, the room was full of smiling faces with strong anticipation. I made a count; there were sixteen children and one of them who has already graduated just returned for fun.

I turned around and made another count of adult and child volunteers; there were almost ten people. Such a “student-faculty ratio” was a luxury.

When I was thinking to myself that more students called together could have fully utilized the “student-faculty ratio,” a child said to me, “Madam, almost all the fourth, fifth, and sixth graders are here now,”:

Then I realized the school has only 7 sixth graders, 10 fifth graders, 6 forth graders because nowadays families tend to have fewer children and the school is in a remote rural village.

A lovely sixth grader boy with a pair of big eyes attracted me. When he found out JunJun is also a sixth grader, he became very excited, trying to get close to JunJun, making funny motions or telling jokes to try to draw attention from JunJun. I could tell he wanted to make friends more than attend the class.

In no time the big-eyed boy gave JunJun a nickname pronounced “po chueh” which is similar to his real name.

With his new nickname, JunJun soon became very excited, and the two little boys started to joke with each other whenever they could. The common language between them was how to fight to win — simply a boyish imagination about heroism that built up their friendship immediately – and I did not want to interfere with them.

In the evening, we went to Mt. Dashanbei for frog protection. The big-eyed boy stayed with JunJun all the time, and the two boys chatted merrily with each other. It was obvious that the big-eyed boy cherished each and every second of the short time he could spend with JunJun.

“Our class has twenty-eight students,” JunJun told the big-eyed boy. “Each grade at my school has ten classes.” The big-eyed boy’s jaw almost fell off, with an extremely envious, unbelievable look on his face.

“There used to be more than 1,000 students at Neiwan Elementary School; that’s what my dad told me,” the big-eyed boy replied after a pause. “My dad is a graduate of Neiwan Elementary School, but our school has only a few students now. There are only seven students in my class and there are only two boys including me. I am the only boy present today.”

Hearing what the big-eyed boy said, I came to an understanding why he became so excited as soon as he saw JunJun.

After the frog protection, the big-eyed boy quietly walked toward JunJun but his funny motions and loud laughter were all gone. I knowingly turned away from them, pretending I was unaware of anything but I was attentively listening.

“I am here to say goodbye to you,” the big-eyed boy sounded very reluctant to let JunJun go. “We had a real fun day.”

JunJun can always enjoy the companionship of different buddies and the big-eyed boy is perhaps only a passerby in JunJun’s life. As a schoolboy, JunJun could hardly understand the big-eyed boy’s yearning for friendship especially when sixth graders tend to seek friendship from their same genders.

The big-eyed is indeed a passerby in JunJun’s life.

This afternoon JunJun invited five boy classmates to do homework together at our home, and he may have long forgotten the big-eyed boy. However, I know such a scene of a bunch of boys happily doing homework and playing together must be the dream most desirable to the big-eyed boy.

To the big-eyed boy, such a scene must be much more valuable than English picture books, frog protection, and the hardware and software resources painstakingly provided by various groups to his school in his remote rural village.

Priceless peer interaction and friendship are perhaps the resources that children in remote rural village yearn for and cherish the most.

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