A Month of Silence: Catching up with Our College Job Fair

Welcome to our college job fair!

Welcome to our college job fair!

On Friday morning, in the nasty drizzling rain, I was quickly heading off to my 3rd year (senior students) class. It was nearing 10 a.m. and I was thinking, “Will anyone even be in class? Today is our job fair!”

As it turned out, all the classrooms were vacant and empty of desks and chairs that had been dragged out to the basketball courts where our school’s annual job fair was taking place. No one bothered to tell me that my classes had been canceled. After years of teaching in China, I really should know better than to expect someone to tell me. The foreign teacher really needs to be more proactive and ask.

Since I was already up and dressed, and quite curious about the fair, I headed over to the basketball courts where over 200 booths, set under tents, were crowded together along with hundreds of our students cruising by each one.

Small Colleges Working Hard to Give Students Employment Opportunities

When I was teaching here 12 years ago, we never had such an event on our campus. Students were to go out into the world and search for their own jobs. Departments didn’t help with resumes or instructions on how to go about finding a job. The Internet was not used very often to job search, mostly because many Chinese didn’t have computers or know how to use them. Students truly struggled.

But many 3-year colleges such as ours are now into full swing of making sure their students have every opportunity possible to get employed. When it comes to these small schools, which are not prestigious universities, high student enrollment depends a lot on how much help departments are willing to give these young people to find jobs. Students will choose colleges many times on the fact that they will be employed after they finish. Just like in the States, colleges need to make money so the more students enrolled, the more money they make. Giving students assistance and immediate opportunities to be hired is becoming a number one priority for training schools and teacher’s colleges such as this one. Thus the big job fair on Friday.

“Looking for a Great Job? Visit Our booth!”

An Impressive sight as students gather around the booths  for our job fair.

An Impressive sight as students gather around the booths for our job fair.

I was quite impressed by our job fair set-up.

When I popped over to take a look at the event, I found it crowded with students. Many were congregating around the display of companies, factories, schools and businesses looking for prospective employees. Chengdu, Yibin, Luzhou, Chongqing, Neijiang – Sichuan cities big and small were represented on the list of 212 visiting employers promising starting salaries of 2,000 to 4,000 yuan a month ($330 – $660).   Very enticing for young people whose parents often make less than $100 a month as farmers or work as migrants in big-city factories, 12 hour a day shifts, for a more substantial $400 a month.

The over 200 employers listed at our fair.

The over 200 employers listed at our fair.

Scanning the aisles, I saw lines of eager young people with their resumes in hand, signing up for on-the-spot interviews or hearing from job scouts about what’s expected of them.

Resumes in hand, my students excitedly walk the rows in the hopes of getting a position.

Resumes in hand, my students excitedly walk the rows in the hopes of getting a position.

Hopeful and excited: My senior English education majors on the look out for teaching positions

Hopeful and excited: My senior English education majors on the look out for teaching positions

Teaching job offers brought out eager students.

Teaching job offers brought out eager students.

The Private English Language Training Schools Snatching Up Handfuls of Hopefuls

Chengdu Halloween, Qi Ping 041

My own students, the English teaching majors, were crowded around private training school and public school booths looking for new teachers to fill vacancies.

The private training schools are always looking for teachers and are the most willing to hire newbies. That’s because they pay hardly anything at all the first year. I found that out after one of my students went through the interview and was chosen. He signed the contract already, being offered a measly 1,000 yuan ($166) a month. He’ll be overworked with a lot of office duties, many teaching hours (including the weekends), no perks and be under pressure to recruit students for the classes. If he fails to get the students required, he will be reprimanded or terminated.

In my mind, it would be better to hold out for a public school teaching position which will offer stability, a tad better salary, payment into health care within the system and look good on a resume after putting in 3 or 5 years. Training schools are known to hire just about anybody, even if their English is so-so, because they want the bodies. Public schools have stricter requirements for their teachers, but those jobs are also more competitve to get.

Many of our young people are just too eager to get any job they can, thus they quickly settle for such private schools without really looking at more options.

Quite a few in my senior classes have accepted these jobs already and many are regretting it. To break the contract, however, they must pay $166 to get out of it. Since they don’t have that kind of money, they are passing up better offers that their classmates are now looking at, and all the while regretting their hasty decision.

Xichang County Looking for Teachers: No Takers

Scanning the rows of teaching jobs offered, I was rooting for the Xichang County public school position: starting salary for 3,500 yuan a month ($583), new school facility, free campus housing provided for all teachers and free meals at the student cafeteria. Great deal!

But most of my students passed that booth by. Xichang County is one of the poorer counties in the province, in the Yi ethnic minority people’s homeland. To help these struggling areas, the government has been building schools where students can live and study but the distance to populated towns is great. Out in the boonies, these schools don’t have access to great Internet, are located in remote places far from convenient transportation or shopping and the students are not the best or brightest China has to offer. They are minority tribal peoples, come from poverty-striken backgrounds, parents with little education themselves, and a lot of hard work is needed to bring the children up to the expected standards of most Chinese schools.

Also, the contract was for 3 years, making our young, future teachers balk at the idea of giving up 3 years of their lives for a challenging teaching situation in countryside areas.

I heard that several went for the interviews, which were quite extensive: tests in grammar, writing and conversation/pronunciation. Seems the Chinese government is looking for the best teachers they can get for the disenfranchised but I didn’t hear of any takers, at least not from among my students, anyway.

Thanksgiving Day Weekend Upon Us

T-day lesson prep 003

Today is Saturday, bringing with it shopping all over the States and China as well. For some reason, the Chinese have adopted our Black Friday as a means to gear up for our Christmas celebrations, which in turn means the coming of their Chinese Spring Festival, this year falling on February 19.

Tomorrow after church, I will be heading down Christmas Alley. This is a small, ancient alleyway sandwiched in between the downtown district’s shopping malls.  It explodes with Christmas decorations at this time of year. I am buying more lights for the balcony display, which is sparkling away at present but just not enough to satisfy my enthusiastic Christmas spirit.

This is also the weekend to put up Christmas decorations in my home. Shelves have been cleared, windows washed, table tops and counters dusted, all in preparation for hauling down the 5 Christmas boxes of things which will soon be displayed throughout my tiny apartment. I missed doing in 2013 since I wasn’t living here so time to make up for 2 years’ worth of waiting.

Here’s wishing you a belated Happy Thanksgiving and Ping An for the upcoming Advent season.

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The U.S. Consulate’s Halloween Event for the Chinese Public: A Smashing Success!

It’s been 3 days since returning to Luzhou after last week’s Halloween frolic at the U.S. Consulate. And what a frolic it was!

Due to the excellent advertising of the Consulate staff, the usual 40 turn-out ended up being more than 200!

When I arrived early at 1:15, the line was close to 30 waiting to pass through security at the appointed entry time, 1:30. The process is to send everyone to the Consulate library, open daily for the public, where the audience members congregate until escorted to the lecture site. For our purposes, the lecture site was our Halloween assembly tent in the courtyard.

At 1:45, our eager participants were allowed to come to the tent. It was then that Tom Hoaglund, the director of all these amazing events, scurried over my direction to announce that the line was clear around the block. He had already been outside to inform those waiting that we were full. The Consulate has only 200 visitor security tags. Once those are gone, that’s it. No more entries.

Despite his apologies and pleas for everyone outside to go home, no one would. They continued to wait hopefully, even more arriving in the distance to que up.

Tom reported of one small group of college students, pleading to him in dismay, “How can we not go in? We have traveled over 3 hours to get here! What can we do?”

Obviously, they should have come earlier.

My guess is that we most likely had another 200 outside waiting, maybe even more. Bet those walking by were wondering what in the world was going on inside the US Consulate in Chengdu .

The Event Itself

There were only 100 chairs available under our tent with no more to spare so many had to stand. It didn’t dampen their enthusiastic spirit, however. In fact, the ones standing had better ability to hightail it to the snack table (pretzel bags, orange drinks and cookies), which disappeared in a matter of seconds, after we finally announced everyone could enjoy the activities.

The Trick-or-Treat corner likewise had everyone scrambling to snatch up their festive Halloween bags for their “Trick-or-Treat!” experience. Only 120 had been ordered from the Internet, with the staff thinking that would be enough. You can imagine how that went over with our visitors. Such a limited number made for quite the panicked snatch-and-grab with many coming up empty handed.

Tom and Li Tao (another on the Consulate staff) were in charge of placing handfuls of candy into each person’s outstretched bag. The one mistake these two made was to place a heap of American candy varieties on the table. These were Snickers, Nestle bars, tootsie rolls and Halloween decorated foiled chocolates. The two assumed every Chinese would sparingly take one or two and leave the rest for others behind.

I could have told them that was a bad idea. Self-serve refreshments are not something the Chinese are used to. And when it comes to novelty items, rarely to be found in China, watch out!

“You should have seen them!” an astonished Tom told me later. “Two adults just took their arms and scooped the entire load of Halloween chocolates directly from the table into their bags. No one else had a chance to have any.”

The same went for the other beautifully displayed snack area , where instead of taking one bag of pretzels, each person hoarded as many as they could for their own use. And instead of pouring drinks into paper cups for everyone to share, those who reached the table first grabbed and stuffed the entire bottles into their coat pockets and bags.

In other words, it didn’t take long to clear out the goodie sections.

Mask Making and Costume Wearing a Hit

Once the food had completely disappeared, people began concentrating on the more tactile Halloween activities. Mask making and costume wearing became the next focal point. These kept everyone busy, using their creativity to draw colorful faces of monsters, cats and ghosts or mixing and matching wigs with costume clothes available to try on.

Mostly, our crowd contained college students and interested adults. Some didn’t speak any English but had come due to curiosity. We did have 5 children: 2 in primary school and 3 toddlers. Their parents made sure they were right up there in the front lines for everything, including the candy give-away.

By 4 p.m., everyone had pretty much cleared out and gone home. The Consulate staff and I cleaned up, with me making sure I had all my Halloween things accounted for. I almost lost my costumes to the Chinese who thought that they were for free and could be taken home. Yikes! I cleared up that misunderstanding in a hurry.

Despite aching muscles from dragging an overweight, stuffed-with-Halloween suitcase around, not to mention almost losing my stellar Halloween costumes to our guests, it was a great afternoon. Definitely well worth the trip, mostly due to all our US Consulate’s help in making the event so spectacular.

My Power Point Presentation On-line

If you’re interested in seeing the power point presentation, which includes a few pictures of my Luzhou 3rd years Halloween activity night for the freshmen, these are posted on my Microsoft OneDrive. Click on the heading below Connie’s Space that says “Past Pictures Posted.” Go to that site. Scroll down through all the photo albums until you see the Halloween power point presentation. The hand-out has also been uploaded that was given to the participants for take-home.

In Closing

Back in Luzhou, it’s time to begin my Thanksgiving Day lessons. We’ll be doing those for the next two weeks before Christmas enters the classroom scene.

For Christmas, aside from freshmen visits to my overly decorated home, I’m thinking that the 3rd years should prepare a couple of classroom activity rooms for another night time holiday gathering. Christmas tree decorating and card making are at the top of my list, as well as pictures with Santa Claus. Should be another fun sharing time for all of us.

Until next time, here’s wishing you Ping An for your first week in November.


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October Happenings

Where has the month gone?!

After the country’s National Day holidays from Oct. 1-8, I returned from Chengdu to find myself into the full swing of teaching, as well as my daily activities of noontime campus walks with students, afternoon pool swims, evening English corners on Wednesday night, Sunday services at the Luzhou Protestant Church and whatever else needing squeezed in.

So let me squeeze in an update!

Freshmen Settling In

The freshmen are slowly getting used to me and my teaching methods. I have 3 classes of first year English education majors, a total of 96 with only 4 boys, and all are at different levels of English skills. Some are good at writing, others at listening or speaking with a few who can’t speak or understand a stitch of what I’m saying. These tend to be the students whose parents have told them that teaching is a good profession and English teaching will guarantee them a job somewhere. Never mind that they truly have no aptitude in the language or great interest in it. It’s what Mom and Dad want so they obey.

Originally, I was only given the seniors but I requested the freshmen as well. It’s a nice balance between those who are beginning their college studies and those who are finishing them. It also provides a great eye-opener for a foreign teacher to see the progress of her students after 2 years of language study, and then witness their hectic, worrisome move from college student to working adult.

Interesting News Concerning My Seniors

The following news I find fascinating.

10 years ago, we had no such programs mentioned below for our seniors. Now it seems such 3-year colleges as ours are working hard to give students more options in the working world. More and more graduates from junior colleges such as mine are finding it difficult to get jobs, even in the teaching field, because their education is too low. Even at the elementary school level, China is requiring its teachers to have more schooling than before. This is forcing institutions such as the one I work at to rethink how to better equip their graduates for the working world. Thus the new steps to do that. Read on!

My Seniors: Working toward Their Futures (Not in Education)

My seniors today were my freshmen 2 years ago. I now have them again, 2 years later, as they finish up their course work to graduate. (We are a 3-year school, as a reminder, so 3rd year students are seniors, soon to become English teachers themselves.) I am teaching them Activities in the Classroom and have noticed that those 2 years ago who cared little for English, and were pretty bad at it, are still as disinterested in their major now as they were then. Several are skipping classes to do part-time jobs in the city, take driving lessons (3,800 yuan, around $630, for a 2-month course), or return home to look for jobs.

I even have one student whose family (quite well off) paid for him to take a training course to pass the civil servant test for the province. The training course was for 1 month, at a cost of around $2,000, after which he took the test to become a government worker. He was absent from school during that time but has since returned to continue studying with his classmates. Will he ever become an English teacher? Most likely not but at least he will have the hope of having a stable, steady job in the future working for the government in some capacity.

Those Wanting to Be Teachers

Others, however, are quite enthusiastic with their new move into the world of teaching.

I have quite a few who have paid an extra 10,000 yuan ($1,660 US) fee to the school to do correspondence courses which will allow them to have a BA degree. Our college, more like a junior college, only offers certificates of graduation so this is a way for our students to study here while at the same time get their BA degree. They do the extra work on their own time, sometimes having courses here on Saturday or Sunday, and then must travel to nearby cities to take the exams at qualified testing centers.      

The BA will allow them to teach at the junior high and high school levels rather than the elementary level. In other words, it will make them more desirable candidates to be hired by better schools in bigger cities and towns.

Those Wanting Options

Then we have those 3rd year students who want options aside from teaching, such as going into business.

During the past 2 weeks, our school (in cooperation with the local government) has been holding a business training course for all majors. Students interested applied through their departments to take the course on campus. After being chosen, the departments paid 800 yuan ($135) for each student they approved of to participate in this 10-day program. The participants have been excused from all their classes for the duration of the program, which ended yesterday. Their schedule has been 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., 10 days straight, with 2 hours for lunch. If anyone is absent (unless officially excused), they are dismissed without program credit. When they complete the course, they will be given a certificate that allows them to apply for business loans from the government. The loans, I’ve heard, can run as high as $10,000 or more with the understanding these will be paid back within 5 years.

Within my English Education major seniors, I had 30 participating in this program.

While I am happy this will give students more options in the working world, I do wonder about our Foreign Language Department using precious funding (over $4,000) for a selected few. I would rather the money go toward those wishing to continue in the educational field, perhaps giving them better chances at being hired in better schools, but that’s not my call. And, naturally, as an educator, I’d rather see the money go toward those in my field than those wishing to venture into the world of business.

Who knows? Perhaps some will want to start their own English training school. Such schools have become quite the money-maker in the bigger cities. Luzhou has a few of these, where students go during the weekends or after school to get extra help in any subject, mostly to improve their grades. Since English is a mandatory subject in junior high and high school, many training schools have their English classes filled.

There are also English training schools directed only at children, ages 3 to 12, with group and private lessons available for parents willing to pay the necessary fees. (Chinese parents are extremely willing to make sure their kids gets ahead in the world. Pre-school English study is just one way to do so.) Adults can also take courses to learn English at these privately-run institutions, meaning such places reach a wide range of learners.

Like I said, who knows? 5 years down the road, I might very well have some of my seniors recently absent from class having very successful English language training schools.

Halloween Activities in Luzhou and Tomorrow in Chengdu

No matter what the English Education seniors choose to do in the future, this week has everyone doing observations at elementary schools in our area. We have just finished a smashingly successful Halloween activities evening, which 3rd year student volunteers held for my freshmen classes after their Halloween unit ended. We had 3 classrooms, fully decorated and ready to go, which invited the first years to participate in wearing costumes, carving pumpkins, making masks, bobbing for apples, and trick-or-treating. The week of planning and then the actual night itself was to help hone my seniors’ skills in creating fun activities for their own students some day. Teachers and their children were invited as well so we had quite an abundant, enthusiastic crowd racing wildly about during the 2-hour evening.

In fact, with my senior classes doing their observations, I am completely free to volunteer myself for another presentation tomorrow at the US Consulate in Chengdu. I’ll be doing Halloween, the history and activities, on the day itself, October 31st, from 2 – 4 p.m. for the Chinese public.  

For those who missed last year’s entry concerning our US Consulate, weekly American culture lectures are given  in English by volunteers. All are invited and welcome to listen.  Usually, depending on the subject, there are at least 40 in attendance who are studying English, interested in English or just want to improve their language skills.   With the Halloween theme, however, I am guessing we’ll be having a lot more than 40.

My suitcase is bursting with costumes, masks and wigs plus Halloween pencils and treat bags for any children who might be present. The Consulate staff has been working very hard to make sure this event is well publicized, as well as the venue stocked full of decorations left over from their own Halloween party.  I have no doubt this event is going to be a whole lot of fun. I can hardly wait!

So until next time, here’s wishing you a Happy Halloween and Ping An for a blessed All Saints Day!






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Returning to Chaos

Unwanted surprises.

During my years of teaching along the Yangtze, I always prepared for such happenings after being absent from my school’s tiny apartment at Luzhou Vocational and Technical College. Whether a few days for a weekend in Chengdu, a week for certain national holidays or a month visit to the States during Chinese New Year, some tiny amiss would often be discovered once I stepped in the door.

But after being gone for a year from Luzhou, with short landings here and there during that time to check out my 3-room home, I found a lot of unwanted surprises can happen.

Interested in the stories? Read on!

Dealing with the Yangtze River Critters

Yes, being back along the Yangtze, with that infamous, nostalgic river view from my balcony, was a welcoming sight but not so for the many critters that holed up in my home during the summer.

As soon as I opened the door to my apartment, I knew I was in trouble.

During the summer holidays, I had been contacted by the school’s foreign affairs director concerning putting in new gas lines. She had asked permission for the school and city workers to do this while I was gone.

Naturally, I said yes. I certainly didn’t want my gas lines blowing up on me when, that first night back, I turned on my water heater for a shower or clicked on my gas range burners to cook dinner.

There was only a slight twinge of concern having strange guys tromp through my  place while I wasn’t around. Not because anyone would steal anything but because a majority of male workers in China (and even in other countries) leave a huge mess behind them once they’ve done their thing.  I was expecting a gigantic clean-up once I walked through that door.

Little did I know it was their carelessness that would cause me woes rather than their messiness.

Along with the expected dirty shoe prints to and from the outer room came the unexpected invitation to the outside world: the door leading to the balcony was wide open along with my sliding glass windows that enclosed it.

Within the hour, I found out just how much damage an open balcony door and windows can do in a few months.

There was a pile of spilt flour on the floor with dainty claw marks in it, dog food pellets (I keep pet food around for strays) spread throughout the sitting room, and which I later found hidden away behind furniture and in drawers, wasps whizzing in and out of a fully developed nest ingeniously secreted away inside my hollow metal window frames and, last but not least, a lovely pile of rodent excrements and hair sheddings nestled in the center of my bed sheets. (Surprise!)

After the 4-hour clean-up, it was time for a well-deserved sleep.

With soiled sheets still soaking in bleach, I sank with satisfaction into crisp, clean ones on my bed. I flipped on my air-conditioner, turned out the lights and fell into  homecoming dreamland. . . until the rustlings started.

I quickly learned my 4-legged squatters weren’t about to leave just because I’d returned. The scurrying, hairy critters kept me up all night until I managed to cordon off one in the sitting room and the other in the bedroom. For 2 days, I kept both rooms closed off while I went searching for a means to get rid of them. Mouse traps proved ineffective. Poison pellets were not to their liking. I finally turned to sticky pads that most Chinese use to capture mice and rats. These are glue sheets stuck to 2 thin wooden boards. You open up the boards, place them on the floor near some food and wait. Once the animals get on them, they stick fast.

After that, it’s up to you to deal with the pathetic things struggling to get loose.

I once asked my friend how she manages these sticky pads and if she can actually kill what’s adhered to them.

She adamantly shook her head.

“Oh, no! I can never do that.   My husband’s job. He folds the boards together and steps on them. No more rat.”

I considered myself much like my Chinese friend, not at all capable of personally carrying out such violent actions against one of God’s creatures.

But after 2 sleepless nights, not to mention cleaning up each morning after very active midnight rodent ramblings, once those little guys hit that sticky pad, I had no qualms letting the husband in me take over.

I’ve slept just fine ever since.

Website Silences Explained

Probably the most discouraging, however, has been starting up my blog.

It’s taken my Internet connection and hook-up a month to completely settle. I use the city’s services, not the school’s, because these are faster but they do take longer to deal with.

An appointment has to be made with the Telecom service staff in town to come to your home. Telephone folk arrive to check the lines. Internet connectors later appear to make sure you can access the Net. Payments are made, receipts received, passwords given – Once it’s all done, customers are ready for business.

I’ve been working on that since August 27 with my final connections finished last week.

Of course, website updates were first on my “must do” list.

But there in itself also lay a problem. My 2 old computers, both XP, which I’ve used for the past 15 years, no longer allowed me access to full emailing and blog features I once could easily access.   “Not to worry!” I smugly told myself as I unpacked my new Budget Buy Windows Hewlett Packard laptop I had purchased in the States.

“This will be a breeze to set up. Up and running in no time!”

10 days later, I was still working on Skype, downloading Microsoft Word software, contacting support staff from my paid-for VPN (that re-routes my connection through other networks so I can unblock sites in China not visible to most) and figuring out all the nuances of using a touch screen.

Such a joy to have a new computer! But a small headache as well, which I’m sure many of you can attest to.

Back in Business

Finally, I’m back to updating everyone with news from China.  A 1-week holiday is nearly upon us after only 3 weeks of starting up the school year. October 1st National Holidays will be from Oct. 1-7, which will have me once again in Chengdu to visit with friends and former students.  If you don’t hear from me during that time, I’ll be able to update you all upon my return.

Thanks for your faithful following!  Until next time, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your day.


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

About the Newsletter: “Where are you, Jenny Bloom?”

Note:  This was written the morning before I left for China but refused to post. Here it is!  News of my China return soon to follow, now that my Internet has finally been reinstated in my apartment.  Yeah!

A snippet from my most recent newsletter, sent 2 weeks ago, reads:

Immerse yourself in Life in China! Visit connieinchina.org. I’m aiming for 10,000 visits to my website by January 12, 2015, which is my 50th birthday. Help me reach that goal by going to connieinchina.org as often as possible. Join me in enjoying an Amity teacher’s life in China. You won’t be disappointed!  

This last day before heading off to China, I find myself checking my website to see that the newsletter mailing of last week, with the above paragraph, has certainly boosted my readership.  Thanks so much for checking in.  Your visits are currently at 4,350 with only 5,650 more to go by January 12.  Keep it up!

But there is a certain dilemma which concerns me, and that  has to do with Jenny Bloom.  Let me explain.

About the Newsletter and All It Entails

One of my immediate goals for the summer has been putting together my summer newsletter so as not to wait to the last minute before heading back to China.  Kelley Ray, my home church office secretary at Marshall First UMC, is my saintly helper in all this.  Kelley takes my bare-bones script and turns it into a glorious visual of colors, fancy do-dads, cool formats and neat fonts.  She spends hours doing this, often staying past her hours in the church office, to make it pretty and impressive.  Without her, my newsletter would be a dull, no-frills affair or may never get done at all.

Kelley Ray (seated) and me going over the last touches of my summer newsletter in the church office.

Kelley Ray (seated) and me going over the last touches of my summer newsletter in the church office.

My mom is then in charge of proofreading for errors I miss or sentences that cause confusion.  After that, Kelley makes adjustments, runs the newsletter pages off and I take over feeding envelopes through the machine to put on the  NGO postage (3 hours worth of work), folding papers and stuffing envelopes (6 hours) and sealing (3 hours) before walking them over to the post office for mailing.

The newsletter is always growing  and now comprises  780 addresses.  These are in Kelley’s hands, in a Connie Wieck newsletter list document which continues to get longer every year.

When I sent those out last week, I sighed with great relief after dropping them off in 2 big boxes at our local post office.

“Ah!” I thought.  “What a great way to end my itineration time, getting that taken care of.  Now it’s on to packing up without worrying about the newsletter anymore.”

Or so I thought.

A New Addition to the Wieck Family

Within 24 hours of mailing those out, what lands in the Wieck mailbox at 503 North Michigan Avenue but a newsletter to Jenny Bloom . . . addressed to my home.

Oh, dear!  However did that happen?!

“Who’s this?” my dad asked, looking at the envelope and puzzling over Jenny Bloom’s name.  “Is this a friend of yours?  Why is her mail coming here?”

Well, it’s coming here because the address is addressed as her being here.


Jenny is definitely on the newsletter list but for some reason, her address has been entered as my parents’ address.   Most likely, I have made a mistake of some sort and poor Jenny is stuck, residentially imprisoned not only on the Connie Wieck Newsletter list in the computer, but imprisoned in our home as well.

For the past 7 days, it has been somewhat of an on-going discussion topic about our home’s stowaway, Jenny Bloom, who has been desinated as living in the attic upstairs.   We’ve even gotten to the point of including her in household happenings.

The phone rings?
“Oh, I bet that’s for Jenny.  Let her answer it.”

Knock on the door?
“That’ll be for Jenny.  She always has lots of callers.”

Smell of burnt anything coming from the kitchen?

“Looks like Jenny’s been cooking again.  Better get the air freshener!”

While all in great fun, there is a concerned part of me that wonders where Jenny Bloom truly is.  Is she waiting anxiously  a newsletter?  Did I meet her on my most recent travels, her name and address written on a scrap of paper that wound up with me accidentally putting my home address on it?  Will she be wondering if she’s been forgotten?

Help Me Out! 

So here is my plea at present:  Jenny Bloom, where are you?

If you are reading this, or if anyone knows of “our” Jenny Bloom at any of your churches or UMW units, please send me an email note.  I’ll make sure to change that address immediately.

Poor thing is probably getting a little tired of living up there in our attic.  It’s certainly not the most comfortable part of the house, let me tell you!

Peace (Ping An), Everyone!  Until my next entry from China









Posted in 2014 Summer Itineration, A Visit Home to America, Return to China, Smalltown American Life, Travel, Visit To The States | 1 Comment

The Last Hurrah: Pitstopping in Pittsfield and My Alma Mater, EIU

With my last presentations in Pittsfield, then closer to home in Charleston (home of EIU, my alma mater) and Mattoon, Illinois, I have let slide my postings and reports from the past week.  This is mostly because I’ve only had 4 days to get myself in order for my return to China.

Whew!  Where did the time go?

Before getting to the visuals of my last visits, here’s an update what’s been going on the past few days.

First and foremost, I’ve been hitting the Walmart for gifts for my Chinese friends.  Their American desires have truly added pounds to the suitcase.

“What in the world do they want?” you ask.

Garlic pills, fish oil supplements, multi-vitamin packs and glucosamine joint boosters.  Also on the must-need list were women’s moisturizing facial lotions and eye wrinkle creams.

These requests are all from my older friends from my dog-walking days last year around the campus at Sichuan University.  Quality control in China for health items is an iffy thing.  A majority of Chinese who come to the States for visits load up on these bottles as well for their relatives and friends.   Yes, it certainly weighs me down to stuff all that among my clothes and my own necessities.  But the fact that everyone felt comfortable enough to ask me, the foreigner, to do this for them makes me feel quite special and a part of the culture.  I honestly don’t mind.  Their excitement and gratitude when I place these things into their hands next week will be well worth the leg bruises and muscle aches I’ll be experiencing hauling my luggage through 3 airports and 2 overnights to get it to them. 

Hmmm.  Did that last comment sound like my grandmother, the martyr?  Oh, surely not.  (Wink-wink!)

Other happenings during these past few days before leaving have been getting my new laptop computer set up, having lunch with my dad, managing my last few outdoor pool swims, mailing out 780 copies of my newsletter, sending $300 worth of boxes back to China filled with goodies and making sure our earthquake dog, Lao-lao (Little Old-old), gets plenty of attention before I disappear once again.

Poor little Lao-lao! 

He definitely knows my scurrying about and suitcase packing mean my departure is imminent.  He follows me everywhere, anxiously watching my every move with an alarmed, ears-perked, attentive gaze.  When I walk out the door, he positions himself on the sitting room couch to wait for my re-entry, then wiggles and squeaks with glee when I come back.  I fear it will take several days for him to get back to normal after I leave.  He will definitely need some extra loving and pampering from my mom this next week when I’m gone.

Final Note:  Before leaving this post, my last one for the summer in the U.S., I just want to thank all of you for visiting my site and keeping up on all my travels.  I’ve had a wonderful, blessed time meeting with all of you and can hardly wait for the next 3 years to whiz by for another itineration to take place.

Many best wishes to all!  And here’s sending you Ping An (peace) for your day.

Pittsfield UMC had quite a turn-out for my last long-distance presentation.

Pittsfield UMC had quite a turn-out for my last long-distance presentation.

 overnight hostess, Betty Shive, was  my mom's sorority housemother when she was a student at Western Illinois University many years ago.  Lots of late-night catching up to do for us two!

overnight hostess, Betty Shive, was my mom’s sorority housemother when she was a student at Western Illinois University many years ago. Lots of late-night catching up to do for us two!

I am presented with a lovely prayer shawl from Pam, a faithful Pittsfield UMW member

I am presented with a lovely prayer shawl from Pam, a faithful Pittsfield UMW member

In Betty's home, Betty's friend Don was invited over later that evening so we could chat.

In Betty’s home, Betty’s friend Don was invited over later that evening so we could chat.

Don is quite the folk artist!  Betty's mantle displayed many of his creative wood carvings, which I was so enamored of that I took lots of pictures.

Don is quite the folk artist! Betty’s mantle displayed many of his creative wood carvings, which I was so enamored of that I took lots of pictures.

Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne's famous movie character) and a little hobo.

Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne’s famous movie character) and a little hobo.



More of Don's talents displayed

More of Don’s talents displayed

These three, with doggies, were my favorites.

These three, with doggies, were my favorites.

Others invited to Betty's home were Jerry and Jane, who remembered my VBS visit from 12 years ago when I taught the kids to say, "Nee How (hello)!"

Others invited to Betty’s home were Jerry and Jane, who remembered my VBS visit from 12 years ago when I taught the kids to say, “Nee How (hello)!”

At Charleston Wesley UMC, my brother's church next to the campus of Easter Illinois University (my alma mater), I posed with Joan Gregg, a great supporter of my time in China with the church

At Charleston Wesley UMC, my brother’s church next to the campus of Easter Illinois University (my alma mater), I posed with Joan Gregg, a great supporter of my time in China with the church

My very last presentation for 2014:  Mattoon 1st UMC for an evening dinner.

My very last presentation for 2014: Mattoon 1st UMC for an evening dinner.



Posted in 2014 Summer Itineration, A Visit Home to America, Return to China, Smalltown American Life, Travel | 1 Comment

Springing around Springfield

Last weekend had me springing around the Springfield area where on my agenda was Mission U (the UMW’s mission study weekend for 2014, with the courses of study addressing people with disabilities and the nomadic European Roma peoples), Riverton UMC for Sunday services, Woodside UMC for lunch and an ice cream and cake/pie gathering at Bushnell UMC.

Along with these visits included spending the night with two of my good friends in their homes.  The first 2 evenings were with Rosemarie Stoelting (a former Marshall resident now in Springfield) and after Bushnell’s presentation, returning to Virginia McCausland’s home in Lewistown where I stayed a month ago.  Both my hostesses always provide entertaining conversation and excellent accommodations.

Rosemarie included, in her many stories, a piece of information that her daughter had specifically told her not to pass on to overnight guests.

“What would that be?” you ask.

The fact that grand-dad had passed away in the bed I was sleeping in.   (Glad I’m not superstitious!)

In Virginia’s home, we had no dead relatives floating about to haunt me as I slumbered.  I stayed in the upstairs remodeled attic where, many years ago, her 2 daughters had their bedrooms.  These are currently nicknamed the Ivy room and the Midnight room.   As the names imply, one room’s theme of ivy has it completely decorated in ivy designs, from the curtains to the wallpaper, sheets, bathroom towels and even dresser doilies.  The other is a deep, dark blue with moon-and-star wallpaper and bedding.  Both have their individual charm but when it comes to preference, I always choose the ivy room.

“Don’t you want to try something different this visit?” Virginia asked me a month ago after my 3 years’ absence from her home.  “Maybe the Midnight room?  It’s all ready for a guest.”

I could tell Virginia was hopeful that maybe for once, the Midnight room would gain my favor and I’d try something a little different this time around.

“Nope,” I said resolutely. “I’ve been looking forward to that ivy room for 3 years.  I’m not about to wait another 3 years before I enjoy it again.”

Virginia laughed.

“Well, you know where it is.  Go upstairs and settle in.”

I knew I’d  be disappointed if I didn’t get to bask in that light and airy decore once again.  Guess I am definitely a creature of habit.

Today I’m heading out for my last long trip on the schedule, a 3 1/2 hour drive to Pittsfield.  I’ll be returning tomorrow to end my schedule with the last talks closer to my hometown.  Those pictures will follow next week.

In the meantime, let me catch you up with last week’s visuals, seen below.

Ping an (Peace!), everyone, and have a great weekend.

At Mission U, Janine and her caregiver pose for pictures with me after my presentation for those in the weekend session.  (Springfield Northfield Inn conference center)

At Mission U, Janine and her caregiver pose for pictures with me after my presentation for those in the weekend session. (Springfield Northfield Inn conference center)

Rosemarie came to hear me talk.  We're all cleaned up (unlike our schlepping around her house look of a few hours before)  so might as well take advantage of our dress-up wardrobe at Mission U.

Rosemarie came to hear me talk. We’re all cleaned up (unlike our schlepping around her house look of a few hours before) so might as well take advantage of our dress-up wardrobe at Mission U.

Riverton UMC with Rev. Dixon and members, before services

Riverton UMC with Rev. Dixon and members, before services


Afterward Sunday worship, we enjoyed fellowship with coffee, punch, and desserts

Afterward Sunday worship, we enjoyed fellowship with coffee, punch, and desserts

All visitors are welcomed to Riverton with a coffee mug.  Here I am with my gift.  Thank you so much!

All visitors are welcomed to Riverton with a coffee mug. Here I am with my gift. Thank you so much!

Luncheon at Woodside UMC, with Pastor Linda in yellow jacket.

Luncheon at Woodside UMC, with Pastor Linda in yellow jacket.

A great turn-out at Bushnell UMC.

A great turn-out at Bushnell UMC.

Me and Virginia (90) my second visit this summer.

Me and Virginia (90) during my second visit this summer.  We are giving the Asian obligatory picture-taking stance:  the peace fingers

Here I am!  The Ivy room, my favorite itineration landing spot.

Here I am! The Ivy room, my favorite itineration landing spot.

Posted in 2014 Summer Itineration, A Visit Home to America, Travel, Visit To The States | 1 Comment