Last Notes from Illinois Before Taking Off

The Big Snow of Last Weekend

The Wieck House, covered in last week's March 1st snowfall

The Wieck House, covered in last week’s March 1st snowfall

With the prediction of snow last weekend, Saturday had our local Walmart teaming with people loading up on supplies.  Then it was a matter of waiting for the flakes to fall, which started at around 8 p.m. that evening.

By 9 p.m., the inches were accumulating to the point where I pulled out the shovel to make a pathway over the deck, down to the yard stepping stones and out to the dog’s favorite tree. Lao-lao gingerly hopped down the back steps and swaggered along his cleared-off trail, a happy camper,  until 11:30 p.m. when one last toilet run was needed before bed.  Yet another shovel clearing by me proceeded with the packed banks on either side being higher than the dog.

Sunday Morning: A March 1st Surprise

By 7 a.m., the snow had stopped and left our entire town with about 6-8 inches on the ground.

Sure, it was a great morning to sleep in but my mom and I have been attending choir practice at our church.  We knew that Paula, our director, would be in need of voices for our introit and anthem.  And since we live in town, about a 10-minute walk from our church, we didn’t even bother digging the car out from under all the snow.  Donning high boots, we trudged along the snow-plowed streets to get to church.

Walking along our snowy Marshall streets was a wintry  fairyland experience.

Walking to church along our town roads was a fairyland experience.



My mom, approaching the Marshall UMC on the left.

My mom, approaching the Marshall UMC on the left.

Our church men, out early to plow out car-parking for those who dared drive to worship.

Our church men, out early to plow out car-parking for those who dared drive to worship.

Our choir had 8 of us present, about half the usual number, with around 40 in attendance in the pews.  Many of the country churches in our area closed because no one could get to worship.  Everyone was snowed in.

15 minutes before service, this was our congregation.  A total of 42, including the choir, came in time for our 9 a.m. service.

15 minutes before service, this was our congregation. A total of 42, including the choir, came in time for our 9 a.m. service.

Despite the slim numbers, our choir’s anthem sounded quite good.  Everyone stepped up to cover the parts that stronger singers (not present) usually take over.

The early birds has a practice in the choir room before church.  My mom, Priscilla, is on the right and I'm next to her.

The early birds had a practice in the choir room before church. My mom, Priscilla, is on the right and I’m next to her.

Thank the Lord our organist made it!  We're very proud of our 1911 organ, and in awe of anyone who can play it.

Thank the Lord our organist made it! We’re very proud of our 1911 organ, and in awe of anyone who can play it.

Melting Down; Heading Off

It was nice to have a bit of snow toward the end of to my time in Illinois. Now the Midwest is sliding higher into what my temperatures are in China, 50s – 60s. Slush has overtaken our Marshall sidewalks and roads, causing Lao-lao to sidestep muddy puddles on our afternoon walks. Looks like all my new spring outfits I recently purchased will be making their debute next week when I’m back in the classroom again.  Can’t wait!

If you’re interested in my upcoming flight plan:

Monday, I’ll be flying out of Indianapolis to Detroit, changing planes to continue  onward to Shanghai.  An overnight in Shanghai at my favorite airport hotel will next have me on a morning flight bound directly to Luzhou and our small airport there.

After disembarking into a hazy 60-something predicted forecast, a 20-minute, $10 taxi ride will have me whizzing along dusty country roads that skirt the Yangtze before crossing the river bridge that leads into the city.  From there, it’s a 5-minute steep climb up Wa Yao Ba Road, through the entrance of my school and a drop-off in front of my apartment building.

I imagine being gleefully greeted by SP (Stairwell Puppy), who is an abandoned stray still with the community after the holiday break.  I’ve already been told via emails from Peace Corp folk Angela and Geoff that she is now the neighborhood pet, being fed leftovers by concerned individuals worried she’s hungry and too thin. (Don’t think that will ever be a problem.)

I have been emailed my schedule already so I know which classes I’ll be teaching on Monday, March 16, when I finally return to the classroom.  I’ll  be arranging make-up classes during the weekends and evenings for the 2 weeks I’ve missed.  This is normal in China for teachers who haven’t been in the classroom due to sickness, work-related or personal family absences.  No substitutes.  You just put in the hours needed by coordinating with the students what’s a good time to do so.

As you can see, I’m eager to get back to work and catch up on the latest gossip from colleagues and friends. Be checking out stories and news of my Spring semester in a few weeks.

In closing, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your day and a very Happy Spring!

Farewell, Illinois!  (None of this weather in sight where I'm goin', thank goodness!)

Farewell, Illinois! (None of this weather in sight where I’m goin’, thank goodness!)

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Out-of-Town Treks Before the Snow: Theater and a Goodwill Drop-off


Anyone following America’s Midwest news will know that our weather on this end, at least for the past week, has been something!   Snow, sleet, rain and then flooding due to the melting snow.  Seems we’re having 3 seasons (Fall, Winter, Spring) packed all-in-one into the opening days of March.

My mother and I listened carefully to the weather reports all week, slipping in our out-of-town treks at just the right time.

We managed to take in the Taming of the Shrew at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, 20 minutes on the outskirts of West Terre Haute, IN.  The production was not well attended with only 35 in the audience of the college’s 1911, 750-seat theater.  Guess everyone else was anticipating a bad weather evening, although the snow didn’t arrive until the next day.

We were also able to take two entire carloads of my dad’s clothes and our own closet clean-outs to the Goodwill in Terre Haute on Thursday.

What’s  Goodwill?

For those who are not familiar with Goodwill, this is a charity organization where people can drop off used or new things they no longer want or need.  Clothes, electronic equipment, furniture, household appliances, toys and games are just a few items that Goodwill accepts.  These are then gone over by volunteer staff or paid workers who stock the Goodwill store with the things donated.  The contributions are then sold in the adjacent store building for a very cheap price to those who come, usually families at the poverty level or others in need.

There are over 2,900 Goodwill stores in America, with the one nearest us in Terre Haute.

Anyone is welcome to shop at Goodwill, not just the poor. I do know a few people who tromp through stores looking for treasures (antiques, gently used or new items) which they then sell on their own, sometimes on e-Bay or to consignment stores, but to be honest, a majority of patrons who shop at Goodwill are struggling to get by.

The Goodwill website,, has even more information about all the services provided but here are the basics:

“Goodwill was founded in 1902 in Boston by Rev. Edgar J. Helms, a Methodist minister and early social innovator. Helms collected used household goods and clothing in wealthier areas of the city, then trained and hired those who were poor to mend and repair the used goods. The goods were then resold or were given to the people who repaired them. The system worked, and the Goodwill philosophy of “a hand up, not a hand out” was born.”

“Dr. Rev. Helms’ vision set an early course for what today has become a $4 billion nonprofit organization. Helms described Goodwill Industries as an “industrial program as well as a social service enterprise…a provider of employment, training and rehabilitation for people of limited employability, and a source of temporary assistance for individuals whose resources were depleted.”

Regarding that last point, when dropping off items, I’ve often noticed that those helping to unload and stack the things from our car into the warehouse are, indeed, people who might not be so employable in other work situations. Some are mentally or physically challenged; others of a lower educational background or obviously struggling in our U.S. economy to make ends meet.  Here, they find respect, good work and an environment in which they can thrive despite their unfortunate situations.

Faith-based Giving Connections

When I think of the Christian-founded Amity Foundation, of which I am a part, I see that same giving spirit of helping the disenfranchised, not in America but in China. So many Amity projects give the Chinese poor or handicapped the ability to rise above their conditions and live a quality, productive and happy life.

As Rev. Helms, Goodwill founder, stated: “We have courage and are unafraid . . . We will press on till the curse of poverty and exploitation is banished from mankind.”

I consider that “we” to incorporate all non-governmental and charity organizations around the world, Amity definitely included.

With just a few more days before my return to China,  here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your day.

Posted in A Visit Home to America, Smalltown American Life, Travel, Visit To The States | 2 Comments

All for the Love of Birds: A Rural King Shopping Venture

Our record subzero temperatures in the Midwest had my mom and me staying indoors as much as possible during the past few days.

The way mom and I spend our indoor winters -- jigsaw puzzles

The way mom and I spend our indoor winters — jigsaw puzzles!

Even Lao-lao (Old-old), our China Chi rescue, hunkered down in his doggie bed, hoping we’d forget about him and not throw him out into the cold to do his business.

Lao-lao hides in his bed in hopes he'll go un-noticed

Lao-lao hides in his bed in hopes he’ll go un-noticed

But yesterday, my mom and I braved the polar vortex chill for the love of birds.

Yes, on Friday, the last of the birdseed stored in the garage was dumped into the feeder on the back deck. The squirrels, sparrows, blue jays, cardinals, woodpeckers, doves and even the grackles (which we despise) tugged on our heartstrings as they clustered in overhanging tree branches, waiting anxiously for their daily meal.

A delay in relieving their hunger was not an option.

The impending snow and ice storm, predicted for Friday night, had me and my mom taking Route 1 for a road trip to Paris, IL, 20 minutes away, where our favorite wildlife food center is located:  Rural King.

Rural King: A Rural Mid-westerner’s Dreamhouse

For my Chinese readers, Rural King is a supply store that mostly caters to rural folk, i.e. farmers.  It actually began quite near Marshall in Mattoon, IL (45 minutes away) in 1960.  In fact, the corporate office, distribution and flagship store are still located there.  Now it has 70 stores in a nine state area that includes Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Florida.

The website touts “an outstanding product mix” of agricultural parts, farm equipment, workwear, housewares, pet supplies, automative items, clothing, outdoor living gear and tools.   That includes a huge supply of wildlife food for woodsy critters. Rural King also offers free freshly-made popcorn and coffee for patrons wandering the various sections.

Free anything is always a big sell for me and my mom.

Not only that, but the store is pet friendly.  On trips to Rural King, it’s not unusual to see someone’s leashed hound following along behind his owner or a smaller breed riding contentedly along in a shopping cart.

On our trip to Rural King yesterday, we debated bringing Lao-lao along to accompany our cruising of the warehouse but decided against it.  While the store itself is heated, the wind chill was at -10.  Not exactly pleasant for a short-haired Chihuahua to be carried through the parking lot in that kind of weather, nor suffer in the freezing temps while waiting for the car’s heater to kick in.

Lao-lao was left behind, a desertion that honestly suited him just fine.

Our Rural King Adventure

A visit to Rural King for us “city” folk is always a rather exotic undertaking.  That initial blast of warehouse smells, whiffs of new vehicle tires, leather items and recently unpacked overalls and jeans, is one that we never experience in the Walmart.  Viewing the wide expanse of products we don’t deal with on a daily basis is another.  Hardy work clothes, farm animal gear and feed, curious-looking tools, hefty big-men furniture, unique gardening figurines and countryside food staples keep us in a constant state of interest.  Every turn down an aisle presents a new surprise, making this trip to Rural King a little more than just a quick shop-and-grab for birdseed.

No, it’s an event!

Creating a Spectacle

Before meandering, we set our minds to completing the task at hand– our bird mission.

Planting herself in the fowl wildlife section, my mom pointed to what she wanted and it was my job to lift the loads into the cart:  two 40-pounders of all-purpose birdseed, 40 pounds of black oil sunflower seeds (a cardinal favorite), a 12-count box of suet (grackles and woodpeckers), 5 pounds of loose peanuts (blue jays), container of cracked corn (doves) and 12 pounds of classic dried ear corn treats (squirrels).

The higher our stack grew, the more attention we drew from those passing by.

“Looks like you’re feeding the entire Illinois bird population,” one of the male employees joked.

Another spectator, a gruff-looking farmer looking down at his one measly 20-pound bag of birdseed, remarked, “Guess I’m not quite as generous as I thought.”

We parked our overburdened cart near the cashier before beginning our strolling tour of the store.  No sense in pushing 200 pounds around if we didn’t have to.  After another hour of leisurely shopping, we called it quits, paid for our items at check-out and came home, my mom being $89 poorer than when she arrived.

Our 200 pounds worth of bird nourishment from Rural King sits in  the garage and awaits to be doled out in the weeks to come.

Our 200 pounds worth of bird nourishment from Rural King sits in
the garage and awaits to be doled out in the weeks to come.

The Big Snow: No Starving Birds Here!

Last evening, my mom and I watched the growing excitement of our local TV weathermen as they followed by radar the swath of snow soon to hit us.

Watching the storm blow in on the computer's weather map

Watching the storm blow in on the computer’s weather map

Snow greets us on Saturday morning.

Snow greets us on Saturday morning.

Snow plows were out all night.

The Marshall City workers spent a busy night and morning clearing the streets.

The Marshall City workers spent a busy night and morning clearing the streets.

And this morning, we had to shovel a pathway for the dog so he could get to his favorite pee tree.

Lao-lao gets his path cleared to his favorite pee tree.

Lao-lao gets a snowy path cleared to his favorite tree.

Finished!  Let me back in.

“Finished! Now let me back in.  It’s cold out here!”

As for the birds, they’ve had the time of their lives.

We’ve filled up the feeder twice already, including putting extra corn ears out for our 3 sassy squirrels.

New ear corn awaits our squirrels' arrival.

New ear corn awaits our squirrels’ arrival.

The suet has attracted a ladder-back woodpecker and the sunflower seeds given our cardinals something to cheer about.  The sweet, puffed-up doves are enjoying the cracked corn.

Bird feeder full, it's time for feasting!

Bird feeder full, it’s time for feasting!

For our winged woodland creatures, this Saturday’s been a feast fit for a king, or rather, I guess we could say, a feast fit for Rural King.

From snowy Illinois, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your weekend!


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Honoring My Dad: A Worthy Send-off

Today is President’s Day, quite an appropriate time to address last week’s send-off for my father, a politically-minded individual and strong advocate of the American right to vote.

As the only Civics teacher in our  high school, who taught a class that was mandatory for graduation, he made sure that every student who was turning 18 was signed up for the next election.  He would bring the County Clerk to the school, have those eligible line up, fill out the forms and register to vote.  Didn’t matter what political party you belonged to, your viewpoints on government or even if you touted you didn’t care: My dad nailed home that the vote was an honor and privilege of our country. Everyone needed to have that privilege, thus the in-school voting registration.

Getting to Know My Dad: A Story Worth Retelling

Group photo,  immediate and extended family members after the service.  Most of us were present for the visitation to hear Mr. Wieck stories.

Group photo, immediate and extended family members after the service. Most of us were present for the visitation to hear Mr. Wieck stories.

During the funeral visitation last week, my family greeted 150 neighbors and friends from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

At the funeral home, my niece (brother’s daughter, Meredith) and I had put together a display of both photos and then a memorial table for my dad.  (He was cremated.  No body or urn was present.) We included his Marine veteran baseball cap, his stuffed animal Marine bulldog mascot, retired teacher’s apple award and a Democratic donkey from his collection.

Meredith Wieck, my niece who flew in from London for the funeral, and me put together the display for my dad

Meredith Wieck, my niece who flew in from London for the funeral, and me put together the display for my dad

At the funeral home, notice our flowers were minimal, as requested by us.  Donations were instead made to many of Bill's most favored organizations.

At the funeral home, notice our flowers were minimal, as requested by us. Donations were instead made to many of Bill’s most favored organizations.

My father's remembrance table:  teacher, Marine and Democrat

My father’s remembrance table: teacher, Marine and Democrat

Those who came sat to chat or fondly looked over the displays, as Meredith and I had hoped they would, but by far, the most meaningful contact with our visitors came with the stories they told of my dad.

His former students, Veterans of Foreign Wars members (his favorite hang-out in retirement years being the VFW), former colleagues, golf buddies and friends gave me a humorous, unique picture of my dad that I hadn’t known before.

One of my favorite stories was a bet he made with Garnet Evola, one of  the English teachers at Marshall High School.

Every year, Garnet took on the task of being sponsor for the Senior Prom, a dance organized by high school juniors for the graduating senior class.   This was Garnet’s baby, so to speak.  She would spend practically the entire year, working with the junior class student volunteers to pick prom themes, make decorations, order refreshments, prepare  programs, and help with fund-raising ventures.

Garnet’s all-consuming interest in prom became a topic of teasing by the male teachers, which included my father.

When Garnet announced that orchids were being ordered from Hawaii for one particular prom, my father was dubious.

“You’re ordering orchids from Hawaii?!” my dad asked in astonishment.  “There’s no way you’re going to get orchids from Hawaii in time for a prom in small town Marshall.”

Garnet most assuredly intoned that they would.

“You think so?” my dad continued. “O.K., Garnet.  I tell you what.  If those orchids arrive before the prom, I’ll wear a grass skirt and do the hula.”

“You’ve got a deal!” Garnet replied with a grin.

Thus the bet was on.

During the following months leading up to the prom, both teachers were fairly confident they’d win.

Every day, my dad would corner Garnet in the teachers’ lounge and ask, “So, Garnet, those flowers arrived yet?”

“Not yet, but they’ll be here soon,” Garnet answered with certainty.

Sure enough, right before the senior prom, the orchids were delivered.

And my dad, not to shirk on his betting duties, made sure that his grass-skirt hula was done in full Bill Wieck style.

He researched how to do the Hawaiian male hula, practiced his moves at home with appropriate hand motions, arrived at school for his appointed dance time and gave it his all in a serious, distinguished manner befitting any muscular, big-boned, manly guy.

Cheers and claps from faculty and students followed his dignified performance.

I also was told that he swayed his way toward a triumphant Garnet, standing to the side of the room, where he blew her several kisses of congratulations before making his exit.

Yeah, that’s my dad!

Touching Moments

The memorial service on Wednesday morning was attended by about 50 along with immediate and extended family members.

During this time, my brother spoke about our father in a remembrance piece, Pastor Richard Lewis of Marshall First UMC presented a message entitled “Thinking Outside the Box” (my dad’s approach to life) and my dad’s younger brother, Chuck, gave very moving, heartfelt words about his big brother whom he loved and looked up to for many years.

My brother, Attorney Paul Wieck (left) and Uncle Chuck (right), retired physics teacher at Lakeland College, talk after the service.

My brother, Attorney Paul Wieck (left) and Uncle Chuck (right), retired physics teacher at Lakeland College, talk after the service.

“Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”

Members of my dad's honor guard gather in the outer room before my dad's memorial service

Members of my dad’s honor guard gather in the outer room before my dad’s memorial service

My mom and I were doing fine emotion-wise until it came to the military rites portion of the memorial.  Then the tissues came out.

One by one, the American Legion Post #90 and VFW Post # 5975 honor guard members (some of whom were US Marines) slowly, majestically saluted my dad’s photo as the US Marine Hymn played.

One by one, each of the honor guard saluted my dad my dad.

One by one, each of the honor guard saluted my dad.


Later, we were ushered outside where Marshall’s American Legion commander, John Yeley, presented my seated mother with the folded American flag.  As he knelt before her, he gazed directly into her eyes.  With moving intensity, in a clear, strong voice, he thanked my mom for her husband’s service to his country.

Commander Yeley takes the flag to present to my mom.

Commander Yeley takes the flag to present to my mom.

I watched  this solemn scene unfold with growing admiration for our young Commander Yeley.  You could tell it was a struggle but he never once waivered in keeping his emotions in check.  He carried out this most reverent duty, one U.S. Marine giving tribute to another, with the poise, grace and stateliness it required.


The honor guard immediately followed with a volley of synchronized rifle shots after which taps was played.


Words can’t describe how deeply proud I was of my dad or how touched I felt for the honor fellow soldiers had given to one of their own.  Such powerful sentiment I have never experienced before, and most likely, never will again.

With Profound Gratitude to All Readers

As I close off this entry for my dad, I’d like to thank those  who sent condolence emails (even clear from China) and others who showered me and my mom with food,  fifty-plus cards, donations to my dad’s favorite organizations (over $600), flowers, and sympathy hugs in the Walmart, church and local Marshall restaurants we’ve been patronizing.

Such loving support and concern for me and my family make being in America at this time all the more meaningful.

From Marshall, Illinois, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your week as Chinese New Year (Feb. 19) approaches.

April Lee, a good friend from Hawaii, sent these tropical flowers from Kailua.  The flower farm she ordered from is owned and run by a U.S. Marine and his family.

April Lee, a good friend from Hawaii, sent these tropical flowers from Kailua. The flower farm she ordered from is owned and run by a U.S. Marine and his family.

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Mr. Wieck, My Dad

Me and my Dad, Valentine's Day, 2013 while I was in Marshall for my Chinese New Year vacation

Me and my Dad, Valentine’s Day, 2013 while I was in Marshall for my Chinese New Year vacation

After my last post, there have been a few days of silence on my end.

My father died on Friday morning in the hospital as my mom, brother and I were driving over to meet with the discharge planner about options.  The day before, we had visited an end-of-life facility in our area, not exactly a perfect choice because my father was suffering.  “End-of-life” is more like intensive hospital care where all medicines continue to be given.  Hospice allows someone to be monitored and made comfortable with medication while family are around until the person passes away. That is more of what we wanted.

The dread of our final decision as we drove over was lifted when the call came on my mom’s cellphone:  My dad was no longer with us.

He had just died, 20 minutes before our arrival.  My brother, mom and I were able to spend time with him in his room without all the hook-ups and machines pumping away.

It was very quiet, peaceful and comforting in the hospital room now, something we had not experienced since my dad’s admittance 10 days before.

For about a week, he was almost continually on the by-pap (a full-face mask that pumps oxygen into the lungs) because he couldn’t breath except for about 45 minutes when it was taken off for him to eat.   The nurse told us they’d taken off the by-pap,  he’d had his breakfast, they’d given him a sponge bath, turned on the TV for him to watch and were returning for his inhaler treatment when he passed away.

It was a great blessing, for all of us.

A Beloved, Respected Teacher and Community Figure

Because my father taught at Marshall High School for 30 years as a history and civics teacher,  he was very well-known in the surrounding community.  In the hospital, we had 3 nurses who’d had him as a teacher before he retired.  Even if they weren’t assigned to my dad, they came by to see how he was doing, talk to him and tell humorous stories about his classes.

And my dad was humorous!  He was quick-witted and had the best one-liners of anyone I know.

Because he  had struggled in high school due to learning difficulties, he understood students who were not considered the best or the brightest.  Civics and U.S. History were courses that all had to pass in order to graduate from high school.  Those were the subjects my father taught and he made sure to give extra help to anyone who needed it.  He’d stay after school, coach at-risk students so they’d be able to pass his tests and patiently explain concepts that were difficult or new.  That extra help gave him the respect and admiration of everyone, including parents worried their kids wouldn’t get a high school diploma.

Within the community, he was very active and always rooted for the underdog.  One of the greatest achievements in life for both my mom and dad was organizing and leading a local activist group called Concerned Citizens of Clark County.  This group was specifically formed to voice their concerns and adamant opinions against  having a nuclear waste facility put in our county.  This was a 10-year battle against the State of Illinois, the government itself which sent down all their lawyers, researchers and experts to tell our community that this was a wonderful thing for our area.

It was not!

Concerned Citizens of Clark County, with my dad as the chairman, eventually won the battle to protect our land from becoming a nuclear waste dump.  This accomplishment was an amazing feat, one which my mom and dad were so pleased to have been a part of.

Visit the Funeral Home Website To Really Know My Dad

If you would like to know what a truly wonderful father I’ve had, please go to our local funeral home’s website to read his obituary and all the touching stories people have been sending in about Mr. Wieck.

Just click on “William Y. Wieck” under obituaries and “View all” under the daily posted condolences.

I will add a note that the date of birth and death “Feb. 7, 2015 – Feb. 6, 2015” is wrong (duh!) unless it’s been corrected by the time you log on.    Just one more thing for my dad to get a huge kick out of if he were alive.

One thing that would really please my dad is that he will have a military send-off after the memorial service on Wed. morning.  He will have his color guard, his gun salute,  taps played and the folded American flag which will be presented to my mom.

His service to his country as a US Marine was very dear to his heart.  It will be a fitting way for all of us to to say “goodbye.”

From Marshall, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your day and ours here in the Wieck family.

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Hospital Experiences: USA and China

When the ambulance appears in the front of anyone’s house in my small Mid-western town , the whole world seems to know.

Next door neighbors peer out of windows to see who is in such urgent peril.  Cars slow their speed so those inside can glimpse who’s being carried outside.  Dog walkers stop to gawk while their pooches strain at their leashes to continue onward.

In other words, news travels fast that someone in our community is being rushed to the nearest hospital, 20 miles away in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Just days after my arrival from China, such news was making its way all around town, not about one of our family’s neighbors or friends, but about my dad.

A Serious Medical Situation

Union Hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana, 20 minutes from my hometown.

Union Hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana, 20 minutes from my hometown.

Last week, my father was taken by ambulance to Terre Haute Union Hospital’s emergency room because he literally could not breath.

After 3 days in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit), he was diagnosed with acute pneumonia.  His lungs have been quite fragile for many years now so for him, pneumonia is deadly and life-threatening. At present, he is being loaded up with antibiotics, steroids, breathing treatments and anything else his doctors can do to make him feel better.

He is currently in a regular hospital room but in no shape to leave or be transferred.  My mom and I drive over from our Illinois town, Marshall, every day to stay with him during the day before returning home in the evening to take care of Lao-lao, our Chinese earthquake rescue Chihuahua, and rest up for the next day’s visit.

Aside from our daily to-and-from hospital trips, we also deal with another challenging venture:   Since we live next to the Illinois/ Indiana state border, which happens to be a time zone, we in Illinois are one hour behind the Indiana hospital time.  Makes for a bit of confusion  when converting “our” time to “their” time, especially when some doctors begin their rounds at 7 a.m. which is 6 a.m. for us, meaning if we’d like to get first-hand information, we need get out our front door by 5:20 or we’ll miss them!

Union Hospital: The Place to Be

The front lobby area, with ground floor offices, gift shop and cafeteria; second floor hallway waiting area for updates on surgeries

The front lobby area, with ground floor offices, gift shop and cafeteria; second floor hallway waiting area for updates on surgeries

For anyone reading, especially my Chinese followers, I can tell you that the newly built Union Hospital is a good place to be.

Gorgeous, airy building with open lighting and spacious waiting areas.  The doctors are conscientious and knowledgeable.  The ICU nurses (both male and female) are utterly amazing in patient care and their colleagues on other wings are likewise excellent.  The specialty staff, such as the nutritionists and respiratory therapists, certainly know their stuff.   Everyone is caring, helpful, and answers patient and family questions thoroughly.

Ashley, one of my dad's ICU nurses, at her station outside my dad's room.  Excellent care-giver!

Ashley, one of my dad’s ICU nurses, at her station outside my dad’s room. Excellent care-giver!

There is definitely a close bond that is formed between those of us who are worried and concerned, and our healthcare professionals who are treating our loved ones.  Since this is the first time I’ve actually been involved in any long-term hospital stay for my dad, I am learning quite a lot about our medical system and how wonderful it is compared to that in China.

Things American Readers Might Not Know About China’s Healthcare System

While I am no expert in Chinese hospital care, I can only report on my own personal experiences or what other Chinese have told me.

Many Americans may not know that healthcare in China is not free.  Yes, Chinese have to pay for their medicines, doctors’ visits, operations and so on.  The cost will be substantially lower than in the States, and a percentage is covered by insurance, but a substantial amount is out-of-pocket.  If you have a serious illness or you must receive a life-saving operation yet don’t have the money upfront to cover the treatments needed, then you will not get the care needed to live.

When you read over past blog entries, you will notice this was true for Jason’s (Ji Ke’s) sister who had congenital heart disease.  The non-evasive procedure she needed to fix the hole in her heart, which had been left undetected from birth until she was 21 years old, cost around $5,000.  Her family, farmers from the countryside, could only scrape together a small percentage of this.  Without the full amount, the hospital would not admit her so I stepped in to cover what the family could not.

She received wonderful care at Chengdu’s Hua Xi Hospital, one of the best in the city.  I visited for a short time while she was in a large room with 12 others who were recuperating from their own operations and treatments.  Everyone had their own cot, lined up alongside the wall, with a chair for a guest visitor beside it and a small cabinet to place their things on.  This was in the recovery wing for high mobility patients.  They were chatting and visiting with family members who were sharing huge baskets of fresh fruit, a favorite gift to those in the hospital.  The room and medical facility was clean, the staff professional but not present often as they were extremely busy, and the conditions acceptable, in my opinion.

City Hospital Care for the Foreigner

My other hospital experiences involved those who were Amity teachers, those I was teaching with.

Years ago in Luzhou, my American colleague Beth (in her 50’s and new to China) had a respiratory illness that sent her to our Luzhou Medical College hospital.  Beth had the money for her treatment and paid for a private room at $22 a day.  It had a TV, its own bathroom (most are shared among 4 to 6 people depending on the room size) and an extra bed which Beth paid for so another person wouldn’t be in the room with her.   She was on intravenous drips for 2 weeks and not allowed to leave until she was 100% recovered. Doctors in China are never quick to discharge anyone.  Even new mothers get coddled and cared for in the hospital for 2 weeks or longer after giving birth.   America is a   very different story, where those who are able are hustled out as soon as possible.  (For my Chinese readers, a new mother in my country, one who has no complications, usually remains in the hospital for 2 days or 48 hours before going home.)

As for Beth’s hospital stay, I remember that two of our students took turns being with her 24/7, which is the custom in China.  Nurses are overworked and have little time to attend to the hundreds of patients they are in charge of so basic patient needs (feeding, monitoring, comforting, bathing, hygiene upkeep) comes from family members.  They stay with their loved one around the clock, making sure they are comfortable.  They are also the ones to hustle off to get the nurse if there’s a problem, such as an IV runs dry or a patient requires something beyond their help.

This was 10 years ago but I believe the same watchful care from Chinese families still continues today.

A 1994 Experience in a Rural County Hospital

Twenty years ago, another of my older Amity colleagues (56-year-old Jean from Great Britain) wound up in a county hospital when we went traveling and she became sick.  It was some sort of stomach thing which had her on constant IV fluids being pumped into her system.  The hospital had never had a foreigner before but did have a private wing for the privileged.  This wing opened out into the open-air walkway with the rooms having never been used because no one privileged enough had ever been in them.

That was, until Jean arrived and she was quickly ushered inside.

Wallpaper was peeling off in clumps from the molding cement walls. The private bathroom was filthy and had no running water.  The metal-framed bed was harder than a rock with a thin, lumpy padding placed on planks of wood.   I was in charge of cleaning the room and food runs, which mostly included noodle soups I picked up at venders lined up alongside the streets.  (In the larger public hospital rooms, crammed with 20 people, the family had set up coal braziers next to the beds and woked up meals for everyone.  I remember the food smelled pretty darn good!)

We also had someone’s sad-looking mongrel roaming about.  He was being treated for mange and had spots of purple iodine (a Chinese cure-all) over his hairless skin patches in the hopes this would cure his skin ailment.

He was a sweet little thing but Jean was always discouraging me from being too friendly with him.  In her miserable state, I don’t think she was too pleased by his presence, which became just another reminder that we certainly weren’t in Kansas anymore.

Jean spent 4 days in the hospital with the doctors trying desperately to get rid of us.  At that time, being responsible for a foreigner’s well-being was a huge commitment and one which could get the hospital into huge trouble if, heaven forbid, Jean took a turn for the worse.

Although she was in no shape to be released, the staff pulled some strings and got us both into a sleeping car for the 5-hour train ride back to our school’s city, Nanchang.   Jean was then able to get better medical care from our school and the big city doctors. However, by that time, she was pretty much over whatever it was she’d picked up.

Closing Off with Visuals

While I have many more stories to tell about Chinese hospital, I’ll close this off more for my Chinese readers who might be curious about hospitals in the States.  The following are more pictures taken at Union Hospital, where my dad continues to remain.

From Marshall, IL, here’s sending you a huge Ping An (Peace) for your day.

Note: My dad is not doing well.   I am just very grateful to be in the States and be able to spend time with him, my mom and my brother.

Posted in A Visit Home to America, Luzhou, Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, Smalltown American Life, Tales of China, Travel | 2 Comments

From Along the Yangtze: 50th Birthday Celebrations Finally End


Yesterday evening had me celebrating my Luzhou birthday dinner surrounded by Chinese friends and  Peace Corp colleagues, Angela and Geoff.  It was such a unique,  wonderful evening that I felt I should give you all the details.

As mentioned in the last post, I had a gathering in Chengdu with the young folk eating hotpot and was awaiting a more upscale, posh dinner in Luzhou the next Friday.  That took place last night and it certainly was an amazing event.

Cathy (Li Xiaolian, my former departmental dean at this college) has been my best friend for 12 years now and she was the one to arrange the gathering for my 50th.

When I turned 40, Cathy was also in charge of my birthday banquet here in Luzhou.  She booked a restaurant for me so I could share my celebrations with not only a few friends, but the entire English language department and the leaders as well.  It was a huge affair, with 4 tables of 12 people each.  I remember loyal Cathy as a constant presence next to me.  She’d poke me when it was time to toast this leader or that, encourage me to keep the conversation flowing with my pitiful  Chinese small talk, and nudge me to pay attention to the other tables so I could adequately include all in my birthday invite. My dear Cathy was the one ushering me  into the tricky world of banquet etiquette which I was ineptly stumbling along to perform.

Yes, for my 40th, it was a bit of a stressful evening on my part, one that I hadn’t expected due to my unfamiliarity with being the hostess in a  formal Chinese dining affair.

Make It Simple

10 years later, I am certainly better skilled to handle such a situation with more poise and dignity but I decided to scale down my party for a couple of reasons.

At present, everyone at our school is too busy with wrapping up the end of the year.  Students are still having final exams and teachers are scrambling to get grades finished.  Administrators are also rushing about, dealing with all that needs dealt with before holidays begin.

Yet another reason is that I’ve been gone so much from this area for the past 5 years that I am just starting up relationships that had been firmly established 10 years ago.  Leaving Sichuan, being in Guangxi for 3 years, returning to Luzhou for 1 year, and then having to leave again  last year due to the work visa business strained most of my ties formed before.  I am  now having to re-establish those, meaning the closeness I once felt to my school staff here is not quite as strong as it was in the past.

Cathy and I decided that a small gathering of her special friends who are now my special friends would be better.  And I must say, we were both right.  No stiff, formal leaders to impress or tons of colleagues to manage as a hostess.  It was just one table of 12, jovial, easy banter, private one-on-one toasting and a warm feeling of friendship.

Yes, there was cake which we ate first because Cathy insisted we’d have no room to stuff it in if we waited for all the dishes to arrive.

Having dessert first was not something I wanted for my 50th but I bowed to Cathy’s decision.  And, as always,  that was a wise move on my part.  We managed to down only half of the light, whipped-cream sponge cake before over 20 stir-fried dishes started to fill our table.  No way could we have dug into cake after such a full-course, meat-and-vegetable fanfare.

Thus we began with lighting the candles, the Happy Birthday song, me serving cake pieces to everyone and then my thank you toast to all before digging into the feast set before us.

好吃! 好吃!” Good Eats!  Good Eats!

I must say, that was the best dinner I’ve ever had in my 20 years in China.

Ms. Liu, Cathy’s elementary school classmate and one of our attendees, had selected  the dishes from the restaurant’s menu. This is always a challenge when ordering for foreigners because we can get pretty picky.  We are not guts-and-gore type of folk who delight in fatty meats, strange animal innards and odd flavors invading our delicate stomachs.  These are what Chinese enjoy for their palates but far from anything foreigners such as myself care for.  This difference often makes it difficult for Chinese to understand a foreigner’s tastebuds, thus we overseas folk usually find ourselves hungry after leaving a fully-loaded Chinese table.

But Ms. Liu did an outstanding job.  Everything was perfectly catered to this American’s food preferences and I left nothing  untouched.  Not only that but we 12 actually finished off everything!  That is quite unusual when so much food is set before us.

The only thing I just absolutely couldn’t bring to eat was my bowl of noodles and an egg, courtesy of  the hotel.  This was placed before me at the tail end of our dinner.

Noodles with a fried egg on top are to bring long life to the birthday individual.  It’s a tradition in China to have this on your birthday but one which I just couldn’t bring myself to eat, not because it was unwanted or unappreciated but because I just couldn’t stuff anything more in!  I just hope my disregard for this custom doesn’t cause the  Chinese gods to snap off a extra few years from my hoped-for age of 100.

Leaving for the States on Tuesday

Now that my Luzhou dinner is finished, today is all about getting ready for my visit to the States.  I leave on Monday for Shanghai, straight from our tiny Luzhou airport, and then head off to Illinois on Tuesday.  This will therefore most likely be the last post until then.

I finish off this post  with the visuals of my birthday celebrations for you to also enjoy.  Thank you again for making my 50th so very special with your website visits, cards and notes.  Ping An (Peace!)

My Happy Birthday Nikes, a gift from Gao Pei (Frank)

My Happy Birthday Nikes, a gift from Gao Pei (Frank)

My Chengdu birthday celebration with the young folk.

My Chengdu birthday celebration with the young folk.

Jason (Ji Ke) presents me with a warm scarf.

Jason (Ji Ke) presents me with a warm scarf.

Zhang Ou (Rebecca) gave me a lovely silk scarf for my dress-up wardrobe.

Zhang Ou (Rebecca) gave me a lovely silk scarf for my dress-up wardrobe.

Gao Pei, presenting me with cool pink Nikes.

Gao Pei, presenting me with cool pink Nikes.

The traditional hotpot

The traditional hotpot

In Chengdu, a pizza birthday dinner treated by Mrs. Zhao for me and Frank.

In Chengdu, a pizza birthday dinner treated by Mrs. Zhao for me and Frank.

Another birthday dinner with Little Flower's sitters (Mrs. He, center, and husband) with her friend.  Very cozy home gathering.

Another birthday dinner with Little Flower’s sitters (Mrs. He, center, and husband) with her friend. Very cozy home gathering.

On January 12, I joined my Dog walking companions on the Sichuan University campus: Madame Zhao (curlers), Ms. Yang (center) and Mrs. Zhao (red)

On January 12, I joined my Dog walking companions on the Sichuan University campus: Madame Zhao (curlers), Ms. Yang (center) and Mrs. Zhao (red)

My Luzhou Birthday gathering:  Me and Li Xiaolian (Cathy) with my birthday cake.

My Luzhou Birthday gathering: Me and Li Xiaolian (Cathy) with my birthday cake.

Ms. Liu (left), who ordered all our dishes, and Cathy, presenting me with a birthday necklace.

Ms. Liu (left), who ordered all our dishes, and Cathy, presenting me with a birthday necklace.

Here's to the birthday girl!

Here’s to the birthday girl!

Having my cake and eating it, too.  Yes, we eat with chopsticks!

Having my cake and eating it, too. Yes, we eat with chopsticks!

Toasting to friendship:  Cathy and her elementary school classmates, my new friends

Toasting to friendship: Cathy and her elementary school classmates, my new friends.

Posted in From Along the Yangtze, Luzhou, Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown Stories, Tales of China, Travel | 1 Comment