Across China: New kitchen fills seats, bellies in rural China

Source: Xinhua| 2019-08-31 19:10:37|Editor: Li Xia
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NANCHANG, Aug. 31 (Xinhua) -- An Apple Watch, a Kindle, or perhaps an X-Box? What's the most coveted back-to-school gift for children these days? For the left-behind children in one rural school, a brand new kitchen is the one item that has long sat atop their wish list.

"Finally, we don't have to cook outside in the playground anymore," said Zhang Zhanliang, the principal of Huangni Primary School in Yingtan City, east China's Jiangxi Province.

Zhang, 46, gently opened the new kitchen's doors as if unwrapping a precious gift.

There were only 25 students in the school, about 15 km away from the nearest town, when he first came here in 2018. Most of them were left-behind children.

There were 6.97 million left-behind children in rural China by the end of August 2018, a 22.7 percent drop from 9.02 million in 2016. Their parents migrated to big cities in search of higher pay, and most of the kids were looked after by their grandparents in their rural hometowns.

At lunchtime, the students' grandparents would walk several miles to deliver food to the school.

"Compared with children in cities, left-behind kids tend to be thin and weak," he said.

Coming from a mountainous area, Zhang understands how difficult life can be for left-behind kids in rural regions. He decided to make a change by cooking nice and healthy meals for the students every day at school.

However, the biggest challenge he faced was that there was no kitchen in his school. He was forced to cook his special meals in the playground.

While cooking outside in the summer was manageable, it was a different story in the winter where Zhang struggled to start the fire in the stove, and it was too cold to stay outside.

To gain inspiration for his cooking, Zhang installed many culinary apps on his phone. Every morning, he would ride his motorcycle to the farmers' market to buy ingredients for the day.

Cooking for his students has become the highlight of his day. Every child has his or her favorite tastes, and they even put forward menu suggestions of their own from time to time.

"It's like a brainstorming session. Once we were trying to develop a new recipe for tea eggs, and I received over 50 suggestions from my students. We had five trials, with different tastes each time," recalled Zhang.

Although the tea egg experiment was not very successful, everybody was happy all the same.

Apart from taking care of the students, Zhang has gone the extra mile to take videos of the cooking process and put them online, so that the parents, who normally come back only once a year during the Spring Festival, can see their kids hundreds of miles away.

"We have posted 342 videos online by the end of August, and gained more than 630,000 followers," said the "Principal Dad," a nickname given to Zhang by his followers.

"I seldom go home because of my work. But through Zhang's videos, I can see the smiles of my child, and get to know what is happening at home," said Wu Xiaogao, a student's father.

Zhang's videos have also attracted the attention of the local education authorities, which have allocated a special fund for the school to build a new kitchen. Some enterprises offered kitchen supplies to the school after hearing the story.

What more can you ask for when you already have a kitchen? A library is next on Zhang's list.

"I hope to set up a library for the students as well, so that they can get to see the outside world through books, and perhaps even change their lives," he said.