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.

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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.

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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!


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“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.

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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!

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Along the Yangtze, We Also Remembered Charleston, SC

The Luzhou Protestant Church, which I attend.  Services begin at 9 a.m. for summer hours, 9:30 for winter hours, every Sunday.

The Luzhou Protestant Church, which I attend. Services begin at 9 a.m. for summer hours, 9:30 for winter hours, every Sunday.

The shooting deaths in Charleston, SC, during a Bible study at the historic Emmanuel Methodist Church just last week, have spread like wildfire throughout the world. This also includes China and my Yangtze river home, Luzhou.

Today, from the pulpit of the Luzhou Protestant Church, Pastor Liao included the Charleston, SC, Christians and family members of victims in her pastoral prayer. If some in the congregation were not aware of this sad event, they certainly were after worship as it was poignantly brought to our attention by our church leaders.

It is the custom for us to say “amen” at the end of every prayerful sentence given by our pastor or other church members during the service or in group meetings. Our “amens” were very strongly voiced today as Liao fervently went onward about our thoughts of love being with those American brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering now, that we wish them God’s grace, that we are one in the Lord and we support anyone in pain no matter who or where they are in the world. It was a lovely prayer inclusion, one which I’m sure will follow in churches all around America today as you attend your worship services.

My South Carolina Church Family at St. Mark UMC

At St. Mark UMC in Charleston, SC, I was presented with a lovely prayer shawl  during my visit.

At St. Mark UMC in Charleston, SC, I was presented with a lovely prayer shawl during my visit.

At this time, I especially find a strong connection to my Charleston, SC church members at St. Mark UMC. We had our first visit last year during my 2014 summer itineration. After years of correspondence with the UMW there, I managed to swing by for a 3-day visit. I was toured the historic district of the town, enjoyed wonderful fellowship with everyone, was presented a prayer shawl which I have here in China and left with a feeling of warmth and love from those I met.

The tragedy of their Charleston community must be even more devastating for them as it hits so close to home.

Many, many heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to all who have been touched by this event.  Other reports of China happenings will follow soon, now that I’m able to update my entries.

Ping An (Peace) to all.

Posted in From Along the Yangtze, Luzhou, Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, Tales from The Yangtze River, Tales of China, Travel | 1 Comment

Finishing Out the Year: The English Language Play Contest

The Beast transformed, The Titanic sank, Snow White awakened and doomed lovers mourned.

Yes, it was time for the much anticipated Foreign Language Department’s 9th Annual English Language Play Contest. This took place last Wednesday evening, 7 – 9:30 p.m. In fact, students are still holding fast to their roles, calling one another by their stage names. Walking the campus has been as if living in storybook land. I’ve heard fans call out to the Wicked Queen, Mermaid Arial, Snow White, and even Cinderella while trekking to and from class.

This yearly event was held on the sports field, with a stage created from desks covered with a red felt carpet. Lighting equipment and sound system were hired from outside. Students ran the power point, where encouraging cell phone messages from classmates were constantly posted on a side screen. Costumes were dazzling, having been rented from various shops in town. Props were created with innovative imagination. I must say, from our front row seats, we 6 judges (Geoff, Angela, myself and three of our Chinese colleagues) were very impressed by the efforts, acting skills, time and energy everyone put into bringing English to life in such an entertaining way.

In all, we had 9 performances , limited to 12 minutes each, of the following stories: Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Snow White, Titanic, Cinderella, The Sound of Music and three famous Chinese tales. To encourage the audience members to stay to the bitter end, a computer-generated drawing was eventually held. Anyone who sent text messages (posted on the powerpoint screen) to cheer on the actors during their performances had their cell phone numbers go into the drawing. 10 winners were chosen, with prizes being much-needed dormitory supplies.

Yes, it was a long evening for all of us after a busy day of classes but well worth it.

Last weeks of Classes

Next week marks the last week of classes before final exams. The foreign teachers, however, are asked to give their finals earlier. Angela and Geoff (Peace Corp) still have their exams to go but mine are all finished as of today. The following week will be our closure class time. We sing songs, I express my thanks for the students’ hard work, and grades are handed out.

The final minutes of our last class together are devoted to praise. My monitors (class leaders) receive a thank you card and special gift from me. Plus everyone gets to choose a reward pencil from the many piles I have which so many of you have graciously sent. “Great Job!”, “Fantastic,” “Star Student” and“Excellent” are just some of the pencil phrases my college kids pick through with great enthusiasm before selecting the one they want. It is such a wonderful way to end the school year.

In other words, many, many thoughts of gratitude are sent your way for those whose boxes have arrived throughout the semester, packed with stickers and other classroom goodies. They are absolutely put to good use!

More news to follow at another date. From along the humid Yangtze River, Ping An (Peace) for your day

Posted in From Along the Yangtze, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown Stories, Tales from Sichuan's Yangtze Rivertown, Tales from The Yangtze River, Tales of China, Travel | 1 Comment