Published: 12:20, April 17, 2024
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Late night learning for new skills
By Liu Kun in Wuhan and Li Xinran

In Wuhan, night schools provide varied classes, encouraging relaxation, friendship, and a love for learning outside of work.

Students attend an African drumming class.(PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Organized and initiated by the Wuhan Youth League Committee, a variety of classes, including latte art, makeup, African drumming, and calligraphy, have been offered in district cultural centers and community hubs since last November. This initiative follows extensive research into the needs and interests of young people.

Wang Chengcheng, 26, is a student attending the latte art class at the Night School for Youths at a community hub in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei province. She heavily relies on coffee to get through the day, explaining that her coffee intake varies depending on her workload: once or twice a week when things are light, but increases to one cup a day when she's busy.

"I've tried frothing milk myself, but I've never attempted latte art before. Our instructor could craft intricate designs like lions, pandas, and monkeys. It's truly an art," she said.

After a few classes, she can now draw a heart on her latte. "I've discovered there's so much more to coffee than just a beverage," she said.

Zhang Cheng, a 38-year-old middle school art teacher, joined the calligraphy class. "When I was a child, I studied to improve myself. But now I'm studying for pleasure and relaxation," she said.

Zhang had minimal practice in calligraphy, mostly with her amateur father during her childhood.

"I'm basically a beginner, but there's no pressure in these classes. We're not forced to study here or have any requirements to fulfill; the whole environment is lighthearted and relaxing," she said.

Students attend a dancing class. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Zhang also mentioned that her instructor, Cheng Weihong, was very patient and provided individual guidance to each student.

Cheng is a member of the Hubei Provincial Calligraphers Association with over 20 years of teaching experience.

"A friend introduced me to teach here, and I was told that a lot of young people are eager to learn more about traditional Chinese culture and calligraphy," he said.

According to Cheng, the majority of his students are eager and focused young women in their 20s and 30s, most of whom were beginners in this subject.

"I believe that practicing Chinese calligraphy not only allows them to explore Chinese culture and aesthetics but also offers a meditative experience," he said.

Yuli (pseudonym), 35, instructs the makeup class and brings 11 years of industry experience to her role.

She pointed out that makeup isn't just for celebrities on stage but is important for everyday individuals as well. Her student, Cheng Huan, a 24-year-old kindergarten teacher, agrees.

"I can pick up quite a bit about makeup from lifestyle platforms like Xiaohongshu, but there's no one there to tell me where I might have gone wrong with my eyeliner," said Cheng Huan, emphasizing her desire to learn more about skincare techniques targeting specific problems.

Yuli (left) demonstrates makeup techniques to her students. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

All the students who attend night school have day jobs before these "extra hours", and the same goes for the instructors. Zhang, for example, spends over 10 hours teaching at school before coming here as a student in the evening. She finds the change of environment and her role in the classroom to be refreshing.

"The classes offered here help alleviate my stress and lift my spirits. They are not tiring at all," she said. "In addition to calligraphy, I've also tried out courses like African drumming, balloon art, and weaving."

Gong Benyi, a 28-year-old who works as an instructor at a coffee academy during the day and as a latte art teacher at the night school, expressed his passion for coffee.

"As soon as I start talking about coffee, I perk up instantly, even when I'm feeling tired. Sharing about coffee culture and giving demonstrations always get me excited."

Both students and teachers appreciate the relaxed yet passionate atmosphere at the night school.

Gong recalled a time when the power went out during class. "We couldn't operate the machines without electricity, so the students improvised by turning on the flashlights on their phones as I talked about the more theoretical stuff," he said. "I was really touched by their dedication to learning."

Gong Benyi demonstrates latte art to his students at the night school. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Yuli mentioned that on one occasion, her class went over the scheduled time because students kept asking questions.

"I was more than happy to answer them," she said. "I've been invited to teach makeup techniques at large companies before, and those classes were often more formal and tense. Here, the students are more outgoing and relaxed, with a diverse range of makeup styles to explore."

Wang said that coming to the Night School for Youths has helped expand her social circle and allowed her to make new friends.

For Zhang, it has brought her closer to her co-workers. "In the past, we only talked about work. But since we started taking night school classes together, we've found more shared topics and have gotten to know each other better," she said.

Not only have these students formed friendships among each other, but many of them have also become friends with their instructors.

"It has been rejuvenating to interact with these youngsters," said Cheng Weihong. "We would talk about their lives and exchange views on traditional culture, which has been quite interesting. I'm impressed by the depth of their thinking and their passion for Chinese culture and calligraphy."

Yuli also said that she has gained a lot from her teaching experience.

"More and more people are devoting increased attention and time to their appearance, and I'm glad that night schools serve as a platform of exchange for both students and makeup teachers like me," she said. "As they improve in their makeup skills, I also learn about their needs beyond makeup, such as hair and overall styling."

By understanding this, Yuli believes that she can provide more useful guidance to her students and fellow makeup artists down the line.

"I hope that in the future, more practical classes can be added to the curriculum, and the class sizes can expand to accommodate more people."