Fangbin in France

Am halfway through working as a volunteer for our friends Paul and Jenny Roberts at their Music Summer School in France, now set in the beautiful Chateau d’Aix about 50 miles north of Toulouse. One of the participants is a Chinese girl called Fangbin, who is studying piano at The Northern Music School in Manchester. She arrived on the first day of her two-week spell developing her excellent piano skills having not brought a stitch of clothes beyond those she was wearing. She spends all meals picking at her food, on her phone, reserved and speaking to no one. It is an effort to extract anything from her, so none of us try very hard, offended by her lack of awareness and consideration for her hosts.

On the final day of her first week in France, Paul and Jenny take six of us volunteers out for dinner. Fangbin, who has taken the European name Flora, which we all refuse to use, asks Jenny if she might be able to call for a take-away. She quite clearly doesn’t understand how far the little village of Saux is from ‘civilisation’. Fangbin is labelled as rude and difficult. So I decide to embrace her, and see if we can acclimatise her, just as we should be doing for many of the Chinese students across Britain. It is not right that we should ostracise them, They bring valuable money to our economy, aiding the education of our own budding musicians.

Step One is to learn some basic Chinese to show some welcome and break some ice, just as my Mum would have done. One says “nee how” (ni-you hao-good), following Emma’s YouTube lessons in Basic Chinese Greetings and Phrases.