Catching Up: Busy, busy, busy!

What a hectic, incredibly busy semester! I have never in China had this many weekdays, evenings and weekends packed so full that I haven’t been able to squeeze in an update on my blog. This is certainly a first for me and I’m not sure if it’ll be any better soon but I do feel I owed you all a reason.

Let me now report why.

It’s not the teaching hours that have done me in but rather a few never-before-had  extras added into my China routine.

Getting To Know One Another

I’ll start with the new Peace Corp volunteers, Jackie and Garett. We have been getting to know one another, which means spending more time talking about China, lessons and the school. These a few times have gone late into the night, on weekends or even on week days.

New Swimming Pool Found

Those who know me from past blogs know that I am an avid swimmer. Wherever I am in the world, I will always find a pool. Putting in my daily lap time is my way of staying healthy, relieving stress, lesson planning in my head and meditating. In the past, I’ve been forced to swim at the Number 6 Middle School’s 50 meter pool. While an indoor pool, it’s unheated which is not unusual in China. Winter Swimming Clubs are quite popular here, where people enjoy diving into  chilly, refreshing water and flapping away to stay warm. Thus unheated pools abound in this country to serve those who are zealous enough to partake in that particular exercise regime.

Freezing water, anywhere from 50 degrees to 65 degrees, is not my idea of refreshing but that’s all I had in Luzhou. My wetsuit kept me fairly warm until mid-November when I called it quits. Just too cold for me, even in a wetsuit.  All that pool time lost gave me more hours in the day to do whatever I liked.

But with Luzhou’s booming economy, fancy fitness centers are starting to crop up all over this city. Feili Sports, a fitness center chain, just happened to open not more than 3 bus stops up the road from our school. And it has a heated pool!

I joined for the year, getting a discounted price of $450 for new members.

It’s quite the spiffy place, with attendants greeting you as soon as you walk off the elevator. The marble floors are spotless and the locker rooms are amazing, especially the wonderful hot showers. (Sure beats my itty-bitty campus apartment with my lukewarm shower that is located on the balcony in a freezing, closet-sized room.)

There are 3 levels of equipment to use, as well as experienced trainers who are available for fitness classes or individual one-on-one help. (Not for free, I might add).

Feili Sports has now become  my in-between classes hang-out, 2 hours every day, after which one would think I’d be able to return to the school with nothing else to keep me busy.

Not so!

Volunteering at the Xin Wang Veterinarian Clinic

It’s a long story how I began volunteering at the clinic and I’ll save it for another day.  In short, I walk the abandoned dogs who have been dumped or are housed in the clinic because no one wants them.

Ms. Deng, a 56-year-old animal lover, is the one who deals with these canine unwanteds.  She has made arrangements with the staff  to keep strays and hurt animals in the back room in cages.  She brings them in off the streets as she finds them, then comes every evening at 9 p.m. to see to their needs.  That includes feeding, walking, cleaning cages, petting and giving medications if necessary.
Before I entered the scene, they were only taken out once a day, when Ms. Deng arrived, and received no other attention besides what she bestowed upon them.

After I visited the clinic in late August, I learned of her efforts and the plight of her charges.  The poor, pitiful things in their small cages made me so sad that I am now helping Ms. Deng walk the dogs and clean cages but I do so in the afternoon, after my pool time.

For 1 1/2 hours, I make sure Black Fattie (overweight poodle), Brownie (crippled Brown poodle), The General (a bulldog mix with an underbite, recovering from a back leg injury), Tiny Tim (a 3-legged little guy with a constant rasp and heart problems) and SP (Stairwell Puppy, a healthy, large hound-mix 1-year-old gal) get their 30-minute leash outings and special attention.

Being with these lost critters always brightens my day, and theirs, but it does take more hours out of my already full day.

Make-Up Classes and English Corner

Thrown into the above comes evening make-up classes for numerous times students’ classes have been canceled.  One week of missed courses was for teacher observations, where 2nd and 3rd year students observed experienced teachers in local elementary schools.  Other times missed included all national holidays, which the administration demands that we reteach and schedule in on our own.  I usually squeeze make-ups into weekends or evenings.

There is of course English Corner.  This is an extracurricular  class which Jackie, Garett and I do together on Tuesday evenings.  We plan activities for anyone who is interested in learning English and then wait to see who shows up.  We have anywhere between 40 and 80 students, depending on how busy they are.

Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Upcoming Christmas

Of course, there are the holiday lessons which have taken up extra time.

I had a huge Halloween Activity Night which took a lot of time to prepare and get ready for.  Costume wearing, mask making, carving pumpkins, trick-or-treating and bobbing for apples were enjoyed by students, teachers and their children.  Thanksgiving classroom fun included learning how to set an American-style table for this special day.

Christmas now has me about ready to decorate my home and get ready for Christmas open houses all next month.

Speaking of Christmas celebrations, the Luzhou Prostestant Church community is likewise gearing up for two fantastic performance evenings and worships for  the public (Dec. 24) and for their own church members (Dec. 22).  I’ll be participating in at least one on Christmas Eve, although I’d really like to slip in on a couple of choir practices to join in even more.  We’ll see if I can manage to fit those in on Thursday evenings, 7 – 9 p.m., during the next month.

Whew!  Sounds like a lot yet to come but I get great joy out of sharing with everyone.  Keeping busy is certainly better than hanging around, being bored

Surprise!!  Article Published in the Christian Science Monitor

And in the midst of all that, I actually have found time to write!

This has just been published in the Christian Science Monitor for the week of Thanksgiving.  If you’re interested in reading about a wishbone tradition gone to the dog, be my guest.  The site is below:

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

From China, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your upcoming holiday.





Posted in Luzhou, Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown, Tales from Sichuan's Yangtze Rivertown, Tales from The Yangtze River, Tales of China, Travel | 1 Comment

The Return to China! The School Year Begins

Where has the month gone?!

After arriving in China, the weeks just whizzed by in preparation of the school year.  Here’s a look at how those weeks sped onward , beginning with becoming legal in China by getting my resident permit, the 1-year visa that allows me to work in this country.

Visa Worries Once Again

This visa business is always an anxious affair for me, mostly due to two years ago when I was told I couldn’t renew my work permit without a 1-year break.
That sent me spinning headlong into frustration and then plotting various schemes on how to deal with the situation.  I ended up spending the year in Ch­­­­engdu, studying Chinese (again) in order to stay in the country as a student, not an overseas worker.  This allowed me another 5 years to teach in the country, but I still need to re-apply for the visa every year.

This is always a tricky affair.

There are applications, school approvals, official documents, specialized stamps and other prep-work involved in getting a work visa, but since this was a renewal (not a start-from-scratch), all thought it would go fairly smoothly.


Well, it seems the provincial government of Sichuan, just this year, has turned over one small duty to the local city government for visa application.  This was the foreign experts card, which I already had and just need a signature and stamp for 2015-2016.  In the provincial capital city, it takes a very short time (perhaps 1 hour) to wait in line and get the signature needed after paperwork is handed in.  But in Luzhou, the process being new, the city worker in charge was not at all knowledgeable about the procedure, nor did he seem too interested in finding out what was needed to approve a foreign experts card.

When my school representative, “Bruce” Liu, went to the city office on Monday, he was told the person in charge wouldn’t be back until Tuesday. Tuesday morning, Bruce went again (armed with my card and accompanying paperwork) to find the distraught, overwhelmed worker surrounded by people at his desk, all wanting something done.  He was very upset and not at all helpful when Bruce pushed his way forward to hand in my things.

He glanced at them quickly, muttered that something else was needed, and sent Bruce away.

Bruce went back to the school, proceeded to get another school document stamped and signed which he was told he needed, and returned Wed. morning.

Once again, the worker was inundated in unhappy people shoving papers at him.  Bruce joined the fray and the person glanced at his documents, then snapped that all the papers had to be printed in color, professionally done, and placed in a tidy booklet with a heading of what they were.  Ridiculous!

This was never needed at the provincial level.

It was obvious this person didn’t want to deal with a new procedure which he hadn’t read up on like he was supposed to.  This request for specific, fancy-paper copying was most likely a stall tactic until he really could go over what was required.

At this point, my current visa was about to expire. The school and I were concerned I’d have to leave the country or be considered an illegal, which would place me on the black list.

Being on the black list in China, I can guarantee, is nothing good.

It came down to one feisty young woman at our school, Foreign Affairs Director Yin Ying (Catherine).  Bruce’s frustrated reports of all the hassles he’d been getting had Catherine on the phone. She called the big boss in the city government office and really chewed on him concerning the management of that one particular office which was giving us a hard time.  She said she was coming in on Friday morning and expected all to be ready to go, no fancy booklet requested, because their foreign teacher needed to get her visa and it was the duty, the obligation, the sole purpose, of that disgruntled, unreasonable city worker to get it done.

Friday morning, in a matter of 5 minutes, Catherine and Bruce had the foreign expert card signed and dated (Took about 3 seconds for the stroke of the pen).

At 10:30 a.m., Bruce and I then high-tailed it to the visa office to submit all the documents for my 1-year stay in China.  Everything was carefully inspected, I handed over my passport, received my 1-week pick-up date for the visa renewal and now I am officially safe (at least until Aug. 13, 2016) to continue my teaching in China.

Phew! What a fiasco.

An Empty Campus Ignites with Students


During this time of visa renewal, I was free to roam the school in complete quiet and solitude for almost 2 weeks. Peacefulness prevailed until the students finally arrived Aug. 28 – 30, with upperclassmen beginning classes on Aug. 31.

The newly arrived 1st years, in the meantime, are having 2 weeks of military training to complete before their classes begin on Sept. 14., this coming Monday.

Military training, if you’ve read past blogs, is a requirement of all freshmen in China for high school and college level study.  Students wear special uniforms (usually khaki T-shirts, olive green sneakers and army fatigue pants) and spend their days under the direction of the local soldiers in the district.  Everyone is divided into platoons according to their majors.  The soldiers march everyone around all day, give them instructions about how to live independently in a school environment, and how to build camaraderie and pride among themselves.  The “big brother” soldiers also listen to their troubles and help the newbies adjust to a life of study away from home.

It’s not so much military training as unit training, in my opinion:  how to live together as united students, as a class, as a school.

Since I teach the freshmen, as well as the upperclassmen, my schedule for these past 2 weeks has been a light one.

Upperclassmen Return to My Classroom

I have already had classes with my 3rd years, all English education majors who will be entering the teaching world after this semester.  Our class is called Activities in the Classroom. My task is to arm them with as many lessons as possible to create enjoyment among elementary and junior high students, whom they will be teaching in the future.
I make my own textbook, which takes several days to compile as I add more materials or take away those which I deem a waste of time from previous years’ inclusions.

The original pages went off to the copy shop last week and came off the presses within 2 days.  The cost is $3.00 each but I only charge the students $1.50 to save them a little money. The remainder $1.50 is paid for from numerous Christmas gift donations that UMW units have sent me over the years.  It’s such a great way for Christians within the United Methodist Church to add a little something special to our year’s study together.  I always enjoy telling my students their books are partly a gift from caring friends in America, wishing them a great year with Connie.   That’s why their cost is so low.

This goes for the freshmen as well, whose textbooks will be ready this weekend for our very first class together, starting Monday.  This is always an exciting time because many have never had a foreign teacher before.  I’ll be their first!

We are all in for so much fun this year.  I can’t wait.

Holiday Upon Us; My Chengdu Visit for Convenience

          If you’ve kept up on the news from China, aside from the economic crisis, you most likely will have heard all about our sudden 3-day holiday, grandly titled:       “The Commemoration of the Seventieth Anniversary of Victory of the Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and World Anti-Fascist War”

Quite a mouthful, even in Chinese, commemorating the end of WW 2 for the Chinese.

While all schools (elementary, high school, college) dismissed classes for Sept. 3, 4, and 5, our school decided to give everyone only 1 day. I, however, had no Friday freshmen classes because they were still continuing with their 2-weeks of training.

I had originally thought to stay in Luzhou with our new Peace Corp Volunteers, mostly to get to know them better.  Jackie (23, International Relations major and Chinese minor from Cleveland, OH) and Garett (27, lawyer from NYC, a Brooklyn native) had just landed in our little Luzhou.  They were still exploring and fitting into life in a small city.  I really wanted to show them around BUT . . . as a matter of convenience, I left.

Why do I say “convenience”?

For the past year, unbeknownst to me, my toilet and sewage pipe in my bathroom area have been dripping down upon those living below me.  The school had tried several times to fix it from my neighbor’s end so as not to inconvenience me but it was clear that this wasn’t solving the problem.

I was contacted by Foreign Affairs Director Catherine to be informed that the school had no other alternative but to uproot my toilet, tear up tiles, re-inspect pipes, put new ones down if necessary, reseal everything and leave me in peace.

“I’m so sorry for the inconvenience,” Catherine said hesitantly.  “Perhaps it will be very dirty. You won’t be able to use the toilet for 2 days.”

Yes, I am fully aware of that situation as it happened 7 years ago.

I remember it well. The workers hauled in a new toilet, bags of dry cement, water buckets to mix it with and basically destroyed my entire balcony area, where the toilet is located, while doing their plumbing repairs.  It was a messy affair, including no ability to use the water (turned off) or cook (the kitchen area is also on the balcony).

I waited it out in my former Amity colleague’s apartment upstairs because she hadn’t arrived yet.

No such choice in this time as I have no Amity colleague to crash in on. Thus I went off to Chengdu for the 70th anniversary of the war’s end.

As it turned out, not such a bad idea.

This truly pleased Catherine to no ends, knowing that no trouble would be given the poor foreign teacher since I planned not to be around.

Pleased me so I didn’t have to deal with the plumbing/toilet nightmare a second time around. (Once in a lifetime is enough!)

Pleased the neighbors below, soon to anticipate living in sanitary conditions once again.

And pleased our Peace Corp volunteers because I could load up in the capital city on whatever they wanted, from butter to cheese to cheap necessity supplies

Thus I received a nice mini-vacation of sorts, a little down time from the visa scare. I met up with Chengdu swimming pool buddies, enjoyed the neighborhood surrounding the room I rent, and had the company of dogs on a daily basis with our canine lovers’ 3 p.m. doggie playdate at the Sichuan University Campus.

The Main Gate of Sichuan University, where I enjoyed sitting around the lotus pond during my visit.

The Main Gate of Sichuan University, where I enjoyed sitting around the lotus pond during my visit.


Plus upon returning, I found the balcony area cleaned and tidied, the toilet ready to hold its own for the entire year.

Closing Off Updates  

        And that, folks, has about caught you up on all the happenings from China. I’ll close with Ping An (Peace) for your day until next reports from Luzhou Vocational and Technical College grace these pages.

Posted in Luzhou, Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown Stories, Return to China, Tales from Sichuan's Yangtze Rivertown | 1 Comment

Finishing My “To Do” List before leaving for China

Today, my mom and I checked off the very last item on our “To Get Done” list while I was home: The setting of my dad’s USMC (United States Marine Corp) marker at his plot in our local Marshall cemetery.

Funeral Director Ed Pearce finally got ahold of us a few days ago and said the cemetery workers would have it in place Tuesday so after that, we could have a little memorial before I left. A small hole had been dug behind the stone for my dad’s ashes, which we family agreed would not be placed in an urn but just placed in the dirt ground. Pastor Richard Lewis joined us as well to say a few words.

We had already said our goodbyes in February, for the funeral itself, so this was just the final stage in my dad’s passing that needed attending to. In other words, no huge fuss and we finished within 10 minutes.

Ed was quick to point out that Frank Pearce, his father (the former mayor of Marshall), was just a couple rows in front of my dad. His tombstone was noticeably bigger, however, and was joined by numerous other Pearces.  (Big family!)

It was well-known in the community that Frank and my dad were very good friends. In fact, it was Mayor Pearce who went about selling cemetery plots around town to make more money for the city and the cemetery. This was how my dad came about, many years ago, to buy two plots, one for him and my mom.  Frank Pearce had basically talked him into it.

The two men were notorious for their sense of humor and antics about town. This morning at the cemetery, Ed made the comment, “Yeah, my dad is right over there. These two are going to have a lot of catching up to do!”

We figure they’ll be out talking all night, a brotherly reunion of lively discussions where each shares long forgotten anecdotes of their time together.  I imagine they’ll be joined by other Marshall men folk who want to enter into the banter as well, not to mention some of the women who knew the infamous, good-humored Bill Wieck as well.

Kind of nice to think of my dad in that light, his younger self, back with his old buddies once again, sharing stories and spouting clever, well-placed remarks.

Isn’t that the way we all want to remember our loved ones who have passed before us!  Makes me smile just thinking about it.

Until the next entry, this time from along the Yangtze, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your day.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Returning to Luzhou: Losing Neighbors and Friends

Of course, I’m excited to return to China.  There will be new students to prepare for, old students to welcome back, Luzhou neighbors and shop keepers to say “hi” to, stories to share with those who are interested in listening and the first Sunday back to worship at the Luzhou Protestant Church.

I’m definitely ready to jump into our Fall semester with enthusiastic vim and vigor.

But there are also a few sad things which will greet me upon landing at the school.

Peace Corp Volunteers Angela and Geoff Return Stateside

Peace Corp volunteers Geoff and Angela are on their way to a life back in the States.

Peace Corp volunteers Geoff and Angela are on their way to a life back in the States.

Our school’s Peace Corp volunteers, Angela and Geoff, have finally completed their 2-year service and are now back in the States. Angela is currently in LA, visiting with family and looking for a job, while Geoff is in Washington, D.C. where he has received a 3-month unpaid internship working in the PC offices there. He’s hoping this will lead to a permanent position of some sort working in our country’s capital.

Of course, I wish them the best of luck. I’m happy to see the two excitedly move onward in their careers but it’s always a little sad for me to say goodbye to our PC folk.   First were Brian and Amy (13 years ago), then John and Ashley (now in Chicago as teachers, with a new baby girl to keep them very busy) and now Angela and Geoff. All 6 that I have known have been wonderful to work with. They are very understanding of the culture, able to fit into the community with ease, have enough independence to do things on their own and a joy to co-teach with.

Now will come new Peace Corp volunteers who will move into the former volunteers’ apartments to take their places as foreign language teachers on our campus.

As is my custom, I have American goodie bags ready for them as a welcome. These include granola bars, instant cocoa packets and American food mixes plus stickers and a few other small school supplies. Some are things we foreigners hold dear to our hearts since they either can’t be found in our areas or are too expensive to afford. I’m sure they’ll be grateful to receive them once invited over to my home for a get-to-know-you gathering.

So, yes, a little sad not to have familiar Americans around to catch up with about our summer holidays but I’m sure the new PC will fill that catch-up space just fine.

A Beloved Chinese Couple Moves

Along with Angela and Geoff’s departure came yet another before I left.

My downstairs neighbors, the eldery Mr. Wang (83) and his wife (64), are no longer living below me.

I reported in a previous blog that Mr. Wang (whom I fondly referred to as Mr. River for his nickname) had fallen.  It had been a stroke and he spent 2 weeks in the hospital before finally returning with his wife to take his place once again in our apartment building.

A week before I left for the States, piles of boxes, bedding and furniture were being loaded onto a truck from their home.  Daughter Chen (in her 40s, a teacher at our college) was helping the two pack up their belongings for a speedy departure.

In one day, they were gone.

This is my apartment building, where mostly single teachers or teachers and families live.  It's the oldest on campus, with leaking water pipes, broken toilets, mold dripping from ceilings and electrical wires dangling. (I'm on the 3rd floor.)

This is my apartment building, where mostly single teachers or teachers and families live. It’s the oldest on campus, with leaking water pipes, broken toilets, mold dripping from ceilings and electrical wires dangling. (I’m on the 3rd floor.)

Mr. and Mrs. Wang lived here, on the first floor.

Mr. and Mrs. Wang lived here, on the first floor.

I later talked to Ms. Chen about her parents. She and her husband had purchased an apartment near theirs in the city so that her mom and dad could be better cared for.  Mr. Wang’s failing health had been a huge concern for several years but the elderly couple had hesitated to move from the campus.

Their community of friends was at our school.  The senior citizens’ activity center was  the next building over where Mrs. Wang often played mahjong with others.  The outdoor vegetable and meat market was within easy walking distance from the school’s front gate.  And the two used to make daily jaunts around the campus, collecting recyclable materials (plastics, boxes, paper, glass jars, aluminum cans) which they sold to our recycle guy for a little extra spending money.  I once blogged about their fruitful ventures, which brought in $50 or more a month.  It kept the two of them busy, healthy and happy.

The last two years, however, have been hard on Mr. Wang whose deteriorating health made it more and more difficult for him to leave his home.  Two strokes, with him falling and spending long stints in the hospital, then having Mrs. take care of him during their return home, finally took its toll.

Their daughter convinced them it was time to move, so off they went.

The Wangs apartment after moving out. (Notice the mold on the walls.)

The Wangs apartment after moving out. (Notice the mold on the walls.)

This was their bedroom, dark and dank.

This was their bedroom, dark and dank.

Daughter Chen returned two days later to totally clean out the apartment. She made a final sweep before locking the door with the help of several students. Whatever was left behind, she said I could have so I took Mr. Wang’s favorite wicker chair which he sat in outside his home to enjoy the fresh air.

The Wang's daughter (center) with students came to finish cleaning everything out.

The Wang’s daughter (center) with students came to finish cleaning everything out.

It is a nice reminder of his presence and has become my guest chair for visitors.

“Don’t Leave Me!!”

My greatest concern after their departure revolved around Tomcat Kitty.

Tomcat Kitty had been the constant companion of the Wangs for many years. They were not animal lovers but the white kitty that adopted them became a steadfast come-and-go guest, even accompanying Mrs. Wang around campus when she went out to collect recyclable materials. He freely came and went through their bathroom window, which opened to the outside and was covered by a flimsy piece of cloth. He yowled for food, which he was always given in great abundance. He flopped on their beds and comfy furniture, which most Chinese frown upon. Tomcat Kitty, however, had purred his way into their hearts and they loved him dearly.

Imagine my surprise when Tomcat Kitty showed up outside their door, in the stairwell, curled up on one of the Wang’s discarded beddings. He meowed pitifully, looking hungry and miserable.   He’d entered the apartment through the window to find everything cleared out. Thus he returned to wait outside the locked door for his beloved humans to return.

Tomcat Kitty, waiting for his beloved parents to return.

Tomcat Kitty, waiting for his beloved parents to return.

I fed him some chicken, which he gobbled up immediately before curling back up to continue waiting.

“Why did you leave me?!”

I had taken the daughter’s phone number before she left and called her right away.

“This is the foreign teacher, Connie. Did you know your mom and dad’s cat is here?” I asked worriedly. “He’s very sad. Are you taking him to the new home?”

Daughter Chen was so relieved. “My parents miss him very much,” she replied, “but when we moved, he was gone. I will come right away.”

She was across town but within 30 minutes, her husband drove her over to take Tomcat to his new home.

Later in the day, I texted her to ask how Kitty was doing. She sent a reply that everyone was fine. Kitty was very grateful to be reunited with his people once again. Her parents had been quite lonely without him, even for a few days.   She reported he was already exploring the new neighborhood and finding his way around.

While I’m sad to return soon with no Geoff, Angela, Tomcat Kitty or the Wangs to greet me, I’m glad all are safe and sound, fitting into a new life nearer family and loved ones.

That’s what truly matters.

Still from the U.S., here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your day.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

One Week Left in Illinois; China Awaits!

August 14, a week from today, it’s back to China to start up the new school year along the Yangtze at Luzhou Vocational and Technical College.  Where did this month in the States go?!

Obviously, very fast.

Marked Off the List of “Things To Do”

I’m so happy to report that my newsletter was mailed out yesterday, which I’m guessing will stir many recipients to reconnect with me during the next few days.  I’m hoping to see a spike in visits during that time.  Welcome back, if you’ve been absent for awhile.

This next week is already filling up on my calendar, with several items already checked off the “to do” list.

Every morning, 6 – 8 a.m., it’s my swiming time at the Marshall outdoor pool.  That gets me up and running for the day.  Yesterday was lunch with Ann Bennet, my high school English teacher.  We try to get together whenever I land.  Later in the day, it was a Marshall historical society interview about my days in Marshall and China with Damian Macey.  He is conducting oral histories for our community and asked if I’d like to participate.

At our city's public library, Damian and I finish our interview.

At our city’s public library, Damian and I finish our interview.

Yesterday evening was our town’s last city band concert, which takes place in the summer every Friday from 8 – 9 p.m.  These concerts have been held in the bandstand for 140 years on the Clark County Courthouse lawn.  Due to the final summer “Hurrah!”, so to speak, the even was titled Night Out on the National Road.  The U.S. National Road runs right through Marshall, thus the appropriate theme.  To bring out the crowds, the city gave away 1000 free hotdogs and drinks and birthday cake for the 180th anniversary of the town’s founding.  Antique stores opened their doors for  shopping, the Gaslight Art Center was open for viewing, kids activities speckled the closed-off streets and the public pool was open from 9 p.m. to midnight.

My mom and I hustled Little Lao-lao uptown to take a look and enjoy the atmosphere of smalltown life.

Still to Complete

Other happenings this next week will include: saying goodbye to the Chinese at our Chinese restaurant (we are good friends), moving furniture out on the porch for the carpet cleaners, St. Mary-of-the-Woods Taize service on Tuesday evening, shopping with my mom for various items I’d like to take back with me, coffee with Pastor Lewis and Melly Momo, a newly assigned pastor to our area from Africa, packing a few boxes to be mailed back to China and whatever else I can fit in before dragging the suitcase out the door to pack into the car.

There was (and still is) some hope that we can have the headstone set on my father’s grave, plus a little ceremony as we spread his ashes.  Due to the amount of rain Illinois had last month, that was becoming difficult to arrange but we’ve had quite  a dry spell for awhile.  We (Mom, my older brother and I) are hoping this can take place before my departure.  We’ll see.

For the final U.S. farewell, my high school classmate, Pam, is in charge of driving me to the Indianapolis airport hotel for an overnight together before I fly out on a 7 a.m. flight to Detroit, then to Shanghai, then to Chengdu and the last leg of my trip, which is a 3 1/2 hour busride to Luzhou.  It’ll be a LONG trip, as you can imagine.

I do have a few more stories to add but I’ll save those for another day.

Until then, Ping An (Peace) for your weekend!


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

“Chicago, Here We Come!” or rather “There We Went!”

Note: The below entry is an article I thought I’d send to my hometown paper about my visit to Chicago with my mom.  An abridged version has been sent to the Chicago Tribune editor, thanking the city for a memorable 4 days.  Hope you enjoy the pictures as much as I enjoyed taking them!

My trip to Chicago began along the Yangtze River, at a small Chinese vocational college where I teach English in Luzhou, Sichuan Province. My summer holiday was fast approaching, and I wanted a refreshing stateside getaway to share with my mom, living in downstate Illinois.

In my childhood, our family visits to the Windy City had been yearly affairs, greatly looked forward to by my mom, dad and me. Good food, shows, museums, people watching and shopping were crammed into a three or four-day visit. But my many years of teaching English overseas, and later my dad’s illness, put a halt to such family excursions. We contented ourselves reading about city happenings in the Chicago Tribune or Midwest magazines and tour guides. After my dad’s passing last February, however, my mom was free to travel and this summer, I was free to take her.

So while finishing out the semester in China, I began meticulously planning online our mother-daughter Chicago outing. Amtrak tickets were secured. Discounted hotel rooms were reserved. Theater shows and restaurant reviews were studied. Numerous city tours were considered.

All was ready for our visit to northern Illinois, including a stop in Galesburg to visit friends before training it into Lake Michigan’s waterfront city.

When we landed in Chicago last week, it was a 4-day experience we will never forget.

Millennium Park was a true joy: children splashing around the towering faces-of-Chicago Crown Fountain, the Cloud Gate (“The Bean”) with its amazing reflective views of the city, Jaume Plensa’s stately portraits, a noontime rehearsal concert at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, and then a trek to the nearby Maggie Daley Park.   The Chicago Line Architectural Cruise, accompanied by an incredible docent, gave us an outstanding view and knowledge of the city. We hit Hot Tix theater offerings to fill our evenings. “Kinky Boots” had us dancing out the Cadillac Palace doors while The Goodman’s “Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike” enlisted our critical thinking skills of play themes and character portrayals. Good food at decent prices abounded, with a splurge at Miller’s Pub (famous Chicago restaurant) for lunch. An adequately appointed hotel room along Michigan Avenue at The Congress Plaza allowed us easy walking distance to well-known destinations, including The Magnificent Mile, an avenue a mile long with cafes, restaurants, hotels, boutiques and glorious shopping opportunities. Here we squeezed in shopping at Macy’s (formerly Marshall Field’s) and found great discounts at Filene’s Basement, as my mom and I still fondly call it. (Filene’s is now known by another name but we still refer to it under its previous title.)

The Chicago Cultural Center became our air-conditioned comfort zone in between outside jaunts. The beautiful building, informative hostesses and interesting exhibits gave us a pleasant respite from the outdoor heat. This building also housed one of numerous StoryCorps hubs in the country, in which we had so much wanted to participate.

StoryCorps, for those who don’t know, allows single individuals or couples to enter a recording booth and choose from prompts to talk about their lives. Its mission is to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of Americans’ lives. Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 50,000 interviews with over 100,000 participants. Each conversation is recorded on a CD to share, and is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. It’s one of the largest oral history projects of its kind, and millions listen to the StoryCorps weekly broadcasts on National Public Radio’s (NPR) Morning Edition.

Hundreds of prompts are suggested to get you started, such as: “What was the happiest/saddest moment of your life?” “What’s your earliest memory?” “ Who has been kindest to you in your life?” “What’s your proudest moment?”

It’s quite a task to stir up people’s story-telling juices but those prompts do the trick.

If my mom and I had been more organized and on the ball, we’d have reserved an interview time online so we, also, could have shared our life memories with others. Guess we’ll have to schedule that into our itineration next time we visit Chicago.

It’s been 25 years since my last trip to Chicago, which had been my family’s limited-budget splurge during my college years. My mom and I found the changes since then absolutely astounding. My dad would have been so pleased to see his beloved Chicago in its newly revived form. As a retired Civics and U.S. History teacher, he’d most likely have proclaimed it a city “of the people, by the people, for the people,” (to steal a bit from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.)

What a memorable city adventure! I’m already  putting together our photographic Chicago journey in a power point presentation to share with my students in China. In the below pictures, you’ll find out just how much fun we had.  I’ve only added a few from our time in Chicago.  There are so many!

From small town Illinois, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your week.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Stateside Visit Underway!

028 027Views have certainly changed, from along the Yangtze River (above)

to my mom’s lovely flower garden in Marshall, IL.

garden 003Mom's garden 004

I returned to my American small town last Tuesday to spend a month of my summer vacation time back in the U.S. Several events are planned during this time.

My father’s Veteran’s Association marker is now in and we are planning a small ceremony at our local cemetery to honor his service to his country and his life among us.

After many years at home taking care of my dad, my mother is now free to leave the house for extended periods of time.  We have planned a road trip to Galesburg (7 hours drive for us) to visit Marilyn Greenfield, a retired teacher friend, and then train it to Chicago from there to enjoy the Windy City.  Back to Galesburg to pick up the car and then it’s a stop in  Lewistown to meet with my dearest friend, Virginia McCausland (in her 90’s), before finally landing back in Marshall.

Lao-Lao Soon to be Kenneled

Lao-lao is ready to go, instructions and all. (Overprotective mother?  Nah . . . Never!  LOL)

Lao-lao is ready to go, instructions and all. (Overprotective mother? Nah . . . Never! LOL)

At this moment, all arrangements have been made to take care of the house, including daily watering of the flowers my mother takes such pride in.  Also booked is a space at our local veterinarian’s to look after  Lao-lao, our Chinese immigrant.  His debilitating jaw injury sustained on the streets of Chengdu years ago, not to mention his lack of teeth, makes him a special needs Chihuahua.  I typed up a list of instructions how to prepare his food, clean his mouth afterwards (food gets caught and rots unless removed) and walking habits.  I’ve even given tutorials to 2 of the assistants who’ll be caring for him, much to their chagrin.

Lao-lao in the sunshine today, unaware that tomorrow, it's off to Diet Camp (What we call the vet's, since a majority of critters housed there don't eat while away from the comforts of home.)

Lao-lao in the sunshine today, unaware that tomorrow, it’s off to Diet Camp (What we call the vet’s, since a majority of critters stuck there don’t eat while away from the comforts of home.)

Hey!  It’s his first-ever kenneling!  The little guy needs as much help as he can get among strangers.

After our return next Saturday, we’ll be expecting a visit from my uncle (mother’s younger brother) and his wife, traveling from North Carolina.

Last item on the “to-do” list is my newsletter, which will be mailed out the second week in August after its completion.

Thrown in will be daily early morning swims at our local pool, shopping trips to Terre Haute, IN, spending time at our local Chinese restaurant (the owners speak only Chinese, no English), mowing the lawn for my mom and stocking up on goodies to take back with me to China.

In other words, it’ll be a busy 4 weeks but one which I’m certainly looking forward to.

After a week, I’ll update you with tales of my travels with my mom, including pictures of our journey.

Until then, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your day!

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments