Chinese Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), Here I Come!

DSCN5913

Time to say “Goodbye” (Me and my mom in the Marshall 1st UMC office)

It’s hard to believe but the time has come to say farewell to the Midwest and head back to China.

During my time in the States, I’ve kept up on weather reports from my area of Sichuan and those have been surprisingly frigid. Luzhou is considered sub-tropical, with our lowest winter temperatures hitting around 40, but this year I read several days in a row had dipped into the 20’s at night with a high of 36 during the day. Remember reading about my less-than-frugal use of electricity in my new apartment, with me spending a Chinese family’s month- worth of electricity in only a week? Sure am glad I wasn’t paying for electricity in China a few weeks ago or I’d have really racked up a high bill.

My upcoming travel plans have me leaving from the States for Shanghai on Feb. 6 (Saturday) and arriving on Feb. 7, Sunday, which is Chinese New Year’s Eve. I have never before traveled during Spring Festival Eve, which is considered the busiest, most hectic, and the absolute craziest time of the year to travel in China. Millions upon millions are packed into train and bus stations, not to mention airports, trying desperately to return home in time to start up the Chinese holidays with family on Feb. 8, Chinese New Year Day.  Hotels are booked solid as well, especially while people spend the night before continuing onward on their journeys home.  I’ve booked a Shanghai airport hotel online, one that I often stay at, but who knows if that booking will be honored or not.  I’m arriving late at the airport and it might very well be my room will be given out to the whoever gets there first despite  me already having room reservations.

This should be a very interesting traveling experience, one which I hope I survive with minimal headache.

I will do my best to report more once back in China but I will say that after the move, I was been having difficulty logging onto my website using the new WiFi Net services the school arranged for me. If you don’t hear from me for awhile, that’s the problem.

Until next time, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your weekend!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Another Trip to Chicago!

I’ve been updating everyone about China news for the past few entries, trying to make up for the unreported happenings during the Fall semester.  Now it’s time to start with more current events.

The most recent stories take place in America, where I’ve been enjoying some Mother-Daughter time with my mom in Illinois.  Spring Festival, what we in America call Chinese New Year, is approaching and for my vacation time, I usually spend it in the States.  Last year at this time, my father was struggling through his last few weeks before finally leaving this world on Feb. 6.  It is a powerful, strong memory for all of us but one which I am so grateful to have had since I was already in my hometown for my Chinese holidays.

This year, my 1-month stay has been all about enjoying myself.

My brother, Attorney Paul Wieck, and me on my birthday.

My brother, Attorney Paul Wieck, and me on my birthday.

 

I celebrated my birthday with my brother and mom on January 12, re-united with our Chinese earthquake & street rescue canine, Xiao Lao-lao (Little Old-old), enjoyed singing with the choir at my hometown church, finished my winter newsletter (big accomplishment, with tons of volunteer help from office manager Kelley and congregation member Bev), managed 3 nostalgic swims at my alma mater’s Eastern Illinois University’s Ray Padovan Pool (my 4-year hang-out while on the university swimming team), published a few China articles in my hometown paper and, the ultimate biggie, a 6-day trip to Chicago.

Bargain Rates in The Windy City

Last summer, you’ll see posted on my website the adventures of me and my mom in the big city.  It had been many, many years since we’d been there together, which made it all the more interesting to see all the changes.  At the height of tourist season,  affordable hotel options were a limited to settling for merely adequate accommodations.  We stayed 3 nights only at The Congress (not all that great) for $450 total.

This time around, with off-season prices low enough for us to upgrade several levels, we had so many choices it was hard to make a decision.  After checking city locations and figuring out what we’d like to do, we settled upon a boutique hotel (those are the smaller, upscale, refurbished hotels) which we’d never considered before.

Chicago Monaco was formerly a hat factory in 1912 and converted into the  Oxford House Hotel in 1958.  It was completely renovated in 1998 by the Kimpton group and was advertised as having coveted window seated rooms that overlooked the river. For me, it received a huge plus when I read that it’s pet friendly, with no extra cost added to the bill for bringing along your furry friend.

And get this! In a 2013 Chicago Travel article, reporter Megy Karydes adds this bit to her very favorable hotel review:    “Or, ask for some Guppy Love. The Guppy Love Program offers travelers in need of a little extra comfort on the road a live goldfish to stay overnight in their room. Hotel staff will deliver the fishy friend to the guest’s room and handle daily feedings and care, allowing travelers to enjoy stress-free bonding.”

What a cool place to stay!

Plus at $90 a night (down from $130-250), the Monaco seemed a super bargain, with  the theater district 10- minutes’ walk away, the Chicago Art Institute 15-minutes’ walk, and our absolute favorite Marshall Fields Department Store (now Macy’s) and Filene’s Bargain Basement (now TJ Max) only 5- minutes from our hotel’s front door.

Several other affordable boutique hotels were offered on the Net but we eventually chose The Monaco.  And what a good choice we made! Excellent service, comfy rooms, good location . . . . Just a real treat to stay at for 4 nights.

DSCN5931

Welcome to Chicago Monaco!

 

DSCN5930

The lobby of the Chicago Monaco

 

DSCN5920

Our hotel room at The Chicago Monaco

DSCN5922

My mom enjoys the view, commenting, “Great location!”

 

DSCN5921

Relaxing in the room’s window seat.

DSCN5925

Day 1:  My mom in the hotel lobby, ready to hit the city sidewalks

 

DSCN5929

Every morning, after reading the newspaper headlines, we had free coffee in the hotel lobby to rev up our energy for sightseeing.

 

A Visit to the Chicago Art Institute

Our first full-day stop had us at the Art Institute of Chicago. Prices for entry, which doesn’t include special exhibitions, were listed as follows: General Admission ($25), Senior Citizens ($19), Chicago Residents ($20), Illinois Residents ($22) and Students ($19, $14 and $16). Young people 14 and under are free, which allows plenty of elementary school and junior high classes to enter for field trips, bringing their lunches to eat in the cafeteria on the ground floor. (My mother did this when she was in junior high, she later told me, which would have been in the 1940’s.)  Free passes are also given to educators.  This includes teachers K-12, teaching artists working in schools and parents who homeschool their kids. (Such educator free vouchers must be applied for online for approval, however, and can’t just be picked up at the door without going through the online process.) The museum’s Fast Pass is a bit pricier at $35 but that includes quick entry and an entire viewing of all visiting exhibits.

My mom and I were ready to pay for our General Admission pass when the ticket cashier told us that, from Jan. 4 – Feb. 11, Illinois residents were free! After showing our driver’s licenses, off we went without paying a cent.

For $2.00, we checked our coats so we didn’t have to drag them all over the museum, picked up a brochure and followed the floor plan map for hitting the master artists we most admired:  Seurat, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cassat, Sergent, Picasso, the Chagall Windows, Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” and the Thorne Miniature rooms.

We have our favorites in this museum, which we hadn’t visited in perhaps 20 years, so making good use of our time we deemed absolutely necessary. There is just too much to see in one day so best to prioritize what to see first, we figured.

In between our artistic meanderings, we did stop briefly for lunch. We scouted out the museum’s 3 differently priced offerings for food (cafeteria self-serve, café and nice sit-down) and wound up in the cafeteria for a scrumptious meal. We had rich, creamy tomato soup and shared a variety of salads mixture. Best $30 we’ve spent on a meal for a long time.

The photos below show you what the museum has to offer.  Recognize any  famous masters?  The Chicago Art Institute is known for having more premier painters, sculptors and world-renowned works of art  than any other museum in the world.

The Field’s Museum of Natural History: Malvina Hoffman’s “Races of Mankind”

The Field Musuem's Main Hall

The Field Museum’s Main Hall

Day 2 had us at the Field Museum of Natural History. The Basic Pass was $22 for me, $19 for my mom (Senior). Unfortunately, no discount for Illinois residents and no free day but we didn’t mind due to the reason we were there.

DSCN6033

DSCN6035

Our main purpose was to see Malvina Hoffman’s “Races of Mankind,” a truly spectacular bronze sculpture exhibit which was commissioned in 1929 by Marshall Field himself. Hoffman was a New York sculptor who had studied with Rodin and was quite adept at taking on the job bestowed upon her.

This next bit I took from a New York Times article concerning the exhibits return:

“For this particular undertaking, Hoffman traveled the world looking for models with her husband, Samuel Grimson, who took thousands of photographs and made film clips of potential subjects.”

“The ‘Races’ exhibit, which opened in 1933, included both simple busts and elaborate life-size pieces showing people shooting arrows, climbing trees or posing with spears. In the center stood “Unity of Man,” showing noble figures representing what were believed to be the world’s three main racial groups shouldering the globe equally. But its overall thrust — driven home by diagrams showing different nose types and the like — was unmistakable: The world’s peoples could be arranged in a hierarchy, from the primitive to the most civilized.”

While an acceptable concept in the 1930s, this idea of “hierarchy” didn’t sit well coming into the 1960s and was considered flagrantly racist, as well as  degrading to those of other cultures and nationalities. Hoffman’s bronzes were taken off exhibit in 1969 and stored away until just recently, when 50 of the original 104 were resurrected and restored to their former glory.

Now considered more as art than for portraying races accurately, they are being appreciated for their “incredible beauty of diversity” of the world’s people as seen through the eye of a very talented artist.

DSCN6029

DSCN6030

DSCN6031

After seeing the bronzes, we made our way through the many other exhibits but certainly weren’t able to see everything. The new Egyptian wing might have been our favorite. It included a real Egyptian tomb, hieroglyphics and all, which had been brought from Egypt in 1911 and assembled to allow visitors a fascinating walk-through of an authentic tomb. The lower level included numerous mummies and explanations of embalming for the afterlife.

DSCN6025

“Traveling the Pacific” was yet another astounding view of life among the  natives of New Guinea during the turn of the centuray and other Pacific Island nations. An authentic Maori Meeting Hall, of the Maori tribal people in New Zealand, had been reassembled and placed at the end of this exhibit. It was probably my favorite because visitors were invited to remove their shoes, step inside, sit on the wooden benches and learn about the many purposes such a Meeting Hall was used for by the Maori people.

The Maori Meeting Hall: Visitors were asked to remove their shoes as a sign of respect before entering.

The Maori Meeting Hall: Visitors were asked to remove their shoes as a sign of respect before entering.

Other Activities We Enjoyed: The Theater

Aside from the two museums, we slipped in two theatrical performances in the evenings. Same day tickets at The Ford Oriental Theater for $25 orchestra seats had us enjoying the Broadway  hit “Beautiful:  The Carole King Musical.”

The Oriental Theater, which was originally a movie theater.

The Ford Oriental Theater, which was originally a movie theater built in 1926.

DSCN6018

Inside the Oriental

Inside the Oriental

Quite palatial, don't you think?

Quite palatial, don’t you think?

Half price tickets at The Goodman (a bit more avant- garde in performance productions) gave us a somber, sometimes humorous, look at South American women prisoners in “Another Word for Beauty” by playwright Jose Rivera. The story was inspired by a true event, a beauty pageant which takes place every year in an all-women’s prison, El Buen Pastor Bogota, located in Colombia. The inmates select women from each cell block to participate in the pageant, which includes categories of evening gown, Q & A, and talent before the visiting judges choose a winner.

What I  appreciated most from seeing this particular performance was being enlightened to the plight of women in South America. These poor women of all ages, baring their struggles and hardships in a male-dominated society where women are often abused and marginalized, deeply impacted all of us as audience members.  This was not your typical “feel good” musical. There was a lot to think about and mull over  after that performance.

Shopping on the Magnificent Mile

On our way to walking The Magnificent Mile

On our way to walking The Magnificent Mile

 

Naturally, shopping topped the list for at least one day. I hit 80% off sales in Macy’s (formerly Marshall Fields), TJ Max and Burlington in both downtown locations, and later we hit Watertower Place,  the more upscale area along what is known as Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, a mile-long avenue of shop after shop.

Water Tower, built in 1869, is the oldest water tower in the States. A lone survivor of the Chicago First of 1871

Along the Magnificent Mile:  Chicago’s Water Tower, built in 1869, is the oldest water tower in the States. A lone survivor of the Chicago Fire of 1871

The other half of the historic water tower is still used today. The inside has been modernized and updated to meet all of Chicago's water needs.

The other half of the historic water tower is still used today. The inside has been modernized and updated to meet all of Chicago’s water pumping needs.

Water Tower Place (built in 1975) was the first skyscraper to hold high-end designer brands in one building. Now it's become a tourist spot for 7 floors of shopping.

Water Tower Place (built in 1975) was the first skyscraper to hold high-end designer brands in one building along with condos of the rich on the upper floors. Now it’s become a tourist spot for 7 floors of shopping.

And a Splurge at Marshall Field’s Walnut Room

Good food was in abundance. Although we mostly hit the delis and department store basement eateries, we did have one lovely sit-down meal in The Walnut Room, which was a nostalgic trip back in time for both my mom and me.  My mom and her mother dined there during their special Chicago trips, and so it is for me and my mom, whenever we land in Chicago as well.  (No photos available because my camera’s batteries went dead on me.)

The Walnut Room, in the former Marshall Field’s Department store, is located on the 7th floor and first opened in 1907. This is a restaurant completely enclosed in beautiful walnut paneling, including a flowing fountain in the outer room. At the turn of the century, it catered to shoppers of all classes and, on certain days, had specials for those whose budgets demanded more careful attention.

The restaurant’s claim to fame is the hearty chicken pot pie, with huge hunks of chicken and vegies floundering in a creamy gravy, all enclosed in a flakey crust. There is also the half-a-head of lettuce salad, layered with sliced turkey, rye bread at the base and then the entire thing completely doused in thousand island dressing. (That was my grandmother’s favorite when she visited Chicago.)

For our splurge, my mom and I chose the grilled chicken breast with seasoned green beans and lovely roasted potatoes. It was served very hot, something that doesn’t happen often now-a-days at restaurants.

Our only disappointment was not being served Marshall Field’s famous Frango Mints after our meal ended. For years, this infamous chocolate mint was always bestowed for free upon each restaurant patron before the bill was paid. Each piece came on a pretty little doily, as I remember it, and was a complimentary completion to a lovely meal.

Not so anymore. You want your Frango Mint, you have to buy it yourself from one of the many chocolate kiosks that can be found throughout the store. 1 box of 4 small mints for $4.00, making that $1.00 a mint.

We were craving our mint so our splurge went a little deeper than just lunch in the Walnut Room. We hightailed it down to basement kiosk where my mom purchased a Frango raspberry chocolate mint  box-of-four. After slowly savoring two mints each, that completed not only our trip down memory lane, but our trip to Chicago as well.

In the basement, we found our Frango mint kiosk, where a buck a mint was purchased and well worth the money. Yum!

In the basement, we found our Frango mint kiosk, where a buck a mint was purchased and well worth the money. Yum!

We hopped on the Amtrak an hour later and off we went, traveling 3 hours down south to return to smalltown living once again.

All in all, great trip, great company and a great adventure in the Windy City.  Can’t wait for the next one!

Our last stop before leaving was the Picasso in Daley Plaza. "Goodbye, Chicago! Until next visit."

Our last stop before leaving was the Picasso in Daley Plaza. “Goodbye, Chicago! Until next time.”

 

Posted in A Visit Home to America, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown, Smalltown American Life, Travel, Visit To The States | Leave a comment

In China, College Graduates Need to Beware of Employment Scams

 Note: This article will appear in my hometown newspaper in a few weeks.  For those who receive my newsletter, this story will look familiar but take another read below because this is a longer version with a bit more information.   

Angel and me in my new apartment

Angel and me, a few weeks ago when she shared with  me her unhappy story

 

            As an English language teacher at a Chinese college, it’s not unusual for my former students (English education and business majors) to call me from time to time to update me about their lives. It might be wanting advice concerning employment opportunities, announcing an upcoming marriage or birth, voicing concerns about teaching English as novice teachers, or even describing­­ family woes and personal struggles. For some reason, telling a foreigner about their lives is more desirable than turning to their Chinese friends, relatives or mentors.

So when Angel (whose Chinese name is Zhang Yingmei), from the Class of 2013, called out-of-the-blue with exciting news, I wasn’t surprised.

“Connie, I have a job!” she burst forth. “I passed the English language interview to work in the spa department on a British cruise ship. In February, I will be in London for 3 weeks of training. It pays very high, a thousand dollars a month, and is a 1-year contract. I can travel all over Europe for free. I’m so happy!”

That was three months ago.

As of today, Angel no longer has the promised overseas’ job she was expecting. Instead, she has been swindled out of 20,000 yuan ($3,030) which she borrowed from her parents. This was the fee required by the job placement company that agreed to secure her the cruise ship position.

Needless to say, Angel was scammed after discovering the placement company lied to her. While the position was indeed on a cruise ship, it was a Chinese line which had her working 7 days a week in China for much less money than expected and under very poor conditions.  She also learned that there would be no coveted spa placement on board for her. Instead, she’d be serving Chinese passengers at mealtimes, doing kitchen prep work, cleaning cabins or assigned menial labor which required no English language skills whatsoever.

Angel informed me she was introduced to this “amazing” opportunity by her former boss, the director of a private adult training school where she worked as a secretary. He enthusiastically encouraged her to go for the interview, which she passed, and urged her to pay the 20,000 yuan to hold the position. He also lined up another young woman, a graduating senior at the Luzhou Medical College, to do the same.

It was the medical college student who informed Angel of the truth after she contacted two individuals who had taken the bait a year ago. The two talked of their horrific experiences on the Chinese cruise ship and how they held out for 6 months before finally quitting. They also had been told by someone they trusted that the job placement company was honest and what great employment this would be. Not only did they lose their placement money and end up in a bad working situation, but they discovered their supposedly sincere go-between was getting a kick-back for every individual he brought in for an interview.

It seems Angel’s boss, whom she once touted as kind and generous, was in on the deceit from the get-go.

While Angel’s loss was quite steep at $3,000, it could have been much worse. If she had signed the contract before discovering the truth, she would have handed over another $3,000 to seal the deal. In all, her total loss would have been over $6,000, a total which the other two marks lamented had been their fate.

Job placement companies are becoming very popular in China but finding legitimate ones can be tricky. The college I work for actually has a relationship with one such service that places English speaking graduates in Dubai, Singapore and Malaysia. They work in the airport and hotel service industries, have what’s considered good pay ($600 per month), decent hours, and comfortable housing facilities. If candidates pass the English language interview test, they pay the placement service a one-time fee of 10,000 yuan ($1,500) to secure the position. This fee includes the cost of their flight to the assigned country, a one-week orientation training course, and payment for the required uniforms. Those chosen can easily earn back the amount they paid after several months of employment. These are 1-year contracts, or 2 years in some cases, and can be renewed if the employer and employee agree.

I’ve heard from several former students who return to tell me how happy they’ve been with their exciting new work experiences overseas and how grateful they are to have this opportunity.

These graduating English majors have secured overseas' jobs in Dubai through the school's vetted employment agency

These graduating English majors have secured overseas’ jobs in Dubai through the school’s vetted employment agency

What a shame that Angel hadn’t gone through the school’s vetted agency rather than striking out on her own.

“I regret my decision,” Angel recently told me while visiting my new apartment, “but I have learned a valuable lesson. Before paying to have an overseas’ job, make sure it is really true.”

As to her former boss, she bitterly added, “And don’t trust someone too quickly. On the outside, maybe he is so nice, so smiling. But on the inside, he is full of lies.”

 

Posted in Luzhou, Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown Stories, Tales of China, Travel | Leave a comment

My Sense of Patriotic Duty Misses the Mark Among the Chinese

 

Mrs. Zhao and her poodle, Hairy Bean, on the campus of Sichuan University in Chengdu

Mrs. Zhao and her poodle, Hairy Bean, on the campus of Sichuan University in Chengdu

My many years of teaching English in China have given me numerous opportunities to share my American culture with others. It is something I do willingly, a way of actively celebrating overseas one of my favorite John F. Kennedy quotes, given at his Jan. 20 Inaugural Address in 1961: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

It is one of the reasons I recently volunteered to give a presentation at the U.S. Consulate in Sichuan’s capital city, Chengdu. Although Chengdu is a 3 ½ hour busride from my city, Luzhou, I felt it was worth the effort to do this one thing in honor of sharing America with others.

Every Wednesday afternoon, the Consulate General offers cultural lectures about America to the Chinese public.   Those who attend are looking to improve their language skills while at the same time gain a little understanding of the United States. Speakers are often the Consulate staff but there are a few, such as myself, who volunteer every so often to add a little variety to the mix.

For my talk, I chose Marshall, my American small town, as the topic. I quickly put my best teaching efforts into play. I prepared a­­ powerpoint introduction to our community which included its history along with visuals of Harlan Hall, summer band concerts, the swimming pool, historic houses, our area churches and other attractions. I included a quiz about Marshall with prizes given for correct answers. I planned discussion groups about American small town living and a Q & A closure. It would be a well-planned, interactive hour of learning for Chinese of all ages.

Naturally, I was eager to inform my Chinese Chengdu friends about my lecture in the hopes that they’d attend. If nothing else, I was expecting praise not only for my patriotic commitment to my country but my generous, giving spirit to impart for free such knowledge to the Chinese.

I arrived the day before my Consulate presentation and met up with my retired friend, Mrs. Zhao, and her poodle, Hairy Bean.

We were taking our usual dog-walking tour of the Sichuan University campus when I launched into my carefully rehearsed Chinese.

“I’m giving a lecture at the U.S. Consulate about my hometown,” I announced as we sat watching the dogs at play.

“When?” Mrs. Zhao asked with interest.

“This Wednesday. I prepared a lot. You can come if you have time,” I said invitingly.

Mrs. Zhao laughed.

“I don’t speak English,” she replied.

“Doesn’t matter. You can see my hometown photos. And it’s free!” I added as an enticement.

“It’s free?”

Mrs. Zhao pondered this, then mischievously poked me.

“How much money do you get?”

“Money?” I asked in surprise. “No money.”

Mrs. Zhao was astonished.

“They pay you no money?”

“Of course not,” I told her. “It’s my country. I should do this for no money. It’s my duty.”

Mrs. Zhao adamantly shook her head.

“No, no,” she fiercely stated. “The two are not the same. Teaching is your profession! You must be paid. Country – profession: separate.”

Mrs. Zhao appeared perturbed at my ignorance on this matter.

“The Consulate asked you to do this,” she continued indignantly.  “You must be paid.”

“You don’t understand. The Consulate didn’t ask me,” I clarified. “I volunteered.”

“You volunteered?” Mrs. Zhao repeated incredulously.

“Yes,” I confirmed. “I volunteered.”

“No money?” Mrs. Zhao persisted.

“Right. No money.”

Mrs. Zhao sat quietly, deeply contemplating my words.

In the peaceful lull that followed, her face softened. The dog frolicked. I smiled.

Finally, my friend understood!

Then came the frown.

“Why don’t you ask for money?” she suddenly snapped.

“But it’s my country,” I tried again to explain. “I volunteered. I . . .”

Mrs. Zhao dismissed me with a terse wave of her hand.

“You must ask for money,” she dictated pointedly.

I sighed.

“At least 600 yuan ($100),” she advised.

I slumped.

Eyeing me with final authority, she reiterated, “Country-profession: separate.”

JFK would never have stood a chance.

 

Posted in Chengdu Daily Life, From Along the Yangtze, Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown Stories, Tales from The Yangtze River, Tales of China, Travel | Leave a comment

Playing Catch-up: Christmas Eve at the Luzhou Protestant Church

Christmas Eve, I was surprised by one of my former students, Justin (Ji Hao), who came to see the choir performance.

Christmas Eve, I was surprised by one of my former students, Justin (Ji Hao), who came to see the choir performance.

 

Note:  This next bit is in my most recent newsletter, which some of you probably have received by now.   However, please check out the photo gallery that’s been added because I put in a lot of pictures that are not in the newsletter.  Enjoy!

           Every year, the Christmas theme engulfs China. Starting December 1st, Christmas trees, Santa Claus posters, and holiday decorations are sold up and down the streets of every city in the country.

Christmas Eve is popularly known as “平安夜” (Ping Ahn Yeh, or Peace Night) but no one has a clue about its religious significance. At this time, educating others about Christianity becomes the sole purpose of the Chinese churches, which are crowded with curious onlookers on Christmas Eve. It is the one night when Chinese Christians have a huge audience of non-believers who are ready to hear the word of God.

On Peace Night, the opportunity for evangelism is at an all-time high. This year, under the leadership of senior pastors Liao and Zhang, our services concentrated on educating others about the Christian faith. As always, everything was in Chinese, accompanied by power point visuals so all could easily understand and follow together in singing, readings and responses.

We opened with a traditional 30-minute worship to give newcomers a taste of what Sunday is like in church. Scripture was read, the choir sang two anthems, all were invited to join in “Hark the Herald” and “Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful” and a short message was given.

After that, the full 2-hour performance program began. Biblical story re-enactments of the Garden of Eden, Jesus’ birth, and the Sermon on the Mount were given. The choir sang a moving Good Friday anthem with accompanying movie clip of Christ’s graphic crucifixion scene from Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ.” The resurrection was celebrated in Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, also sung by the choir. As a closing to the evening, a 20-minute riveting revival message was given by Associate Pastor Mao followed by an altar call. Over 50 of all ages came to the stage where our pastors prayed for everyone. Before stepping down, all those who came forth received a China Christian Council booklet introducing Christianity and what it means to be a Christian.

This is the first year where the entire Christmas Eve service concentrated 100% on Christianity, not on Christmas commercialized entertainment. We had no Santa Claus who threw candy to the excited congregation before midnight, or the showering of Santa hats from the balcony as we’ve had in previous years. Instead, the closure of our program was much more meaningful for those of us who are Christians and those who were seeking a different way of life than the one they’ve been leading. Blessings, joy and hope abounded for the upcoming new year in our 103-year-old sanctuary. I have no doubt many who came for the first time will return again.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in Christmas in China along the Yangtze, Luzhou, Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, Tales from The Yangtze River, The Luzhou Protestant Churcy, Travel | Leave a comment

Our Yangtze River Road is No More

Wa Yao Ba Road. The shop keepers in the building seen here were forced to move out to widen the road.

Wa Yao Ba Road. The shop keepers in the building seen here were forced to move out to widen the road.

During the month of December, the topic of conversation racing throughout our area was the impending doom of Wa Ya Bao Lu, our Yangtze River road.

We along the river were given notice on December 2nd that everyone must move immediately to make room for the widening of the narrow river road and the beautification of the shoreline. This evacuation included all the little mom-and-pop shops that hugged Wa Yao Ba, not to mention a strip of our campus.

Four faculty apartment buildings, the campus guesthouse, the music student’s dormitory, the school clinic, the industrial arts classroom building, the tennis courts, the front gate and the entire administration and departmental office building were in the line of fire.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And, wouldn’t you know it, my aging, dilapidated apartment building was to be the first to go.

This unexpected announcement caused headaches, scrambles, frustration and anxiety on everyone’s part. No amount of guangxi (relationships) our college leaders had in the city government office had any effect in canceling our move, which was first scheduled for December 18. The only headway our college president made was in finally convincing Luzhou officials that the administration building had to stand. Without it, there was no way to operate an entire college or finish out the semester.   College President He Jiping also managed to gain an extra week to find the teachers new housing facilities, moving our “out-of-here” date to December 25, Christmas Day.   (China’s national holidays include Chinese New Year, known as Spring Festival, not Christmas so moving on December 25th was not considered odd.)

The Process for Displacement in China

Land in China belongs to the government but the buildings on the land belong to whomever has built and paid for them. For people to leave, reasonable compensation must be given for what has been placed on that land.

Some of the apartments on campus belonged to the school while others had been purchased by the teachers, thus making the process of leaving a bit complicated. The school had no idea who the owners were because some had changed hands numerous times over the years. And some owners were renting their apartments to outside folk who had already paid a year’s rent to stay there. That left the tenants having to figure out where they were going to live next as well as track down their landlords to get their money back.

Procedure for Displacement

I had not a clue what the procedure is for displacement in China. What I discovered was quite fascinating.

All land belongs to the government but the buildings on the land belong to whomever has built and paid for them. To force out residents, reasonable compensation must be given for what has been placed on that land.

Some of the apartments on campus belonged to the school while others had been purchased by the teachers, thus making the process of leaving a bit complicated. The school had no idea who the private apartment owners were because some had changed hands numerous times over the years. And some owners were renting their apartments to outside folk who had already paid a year’s rent to stay there. That left the tenants having to figure out where they were going to live next while tracking down their landlords to get their money back.

Within a week of the government’s announcement for our removal, each apartment was evaluated by city housing authorities to estimate an appropriate buying price. Number of square meters, condition and decorated aspects paid for by the owner were all carefully documented. The owners were involved, walking with inspectors and pointing out what they felt were important details to include in the estimates. A few days later, those involved gathered in the school’s senior citizens activity center to meet with city inspectors. A price for each apartment unit was offered and if the owner agreed, documents were signed, completing the entire procedure for moving.

I later heard money for relocation was also included in this payment or apartment owners had the option of moving into newly built city government apartments designated for such relocations. The apartment complexes are very nice, often better and much bigger than what residents lived in before. However, as all apartments in China, housing units come as empty concrete shells meaning that all ornamentation, decorating, electrical wiring and plumbing must be paid for by the new owners. The cost of such ventures ranges from the bare basics (60,000 yuan or $9,120 US) to as high as the owner wants. One of my former students, whose parents are farmers, moved into a countryside government housing unit and spent 90,000 yuan ($13,680) to make their home acceptable.  Their adult children and relatives pitched in to cover the cost. After a year, the core family members, totaling 7, ­­moved in to finally enjoy their newly completed, modernized housing environment.

According to Chinese law, citizens can’t be kicked out of their homes until agreements are met and the displaced family or person has somewhere to go. For the school-owned campus apartments, it was a fairly straightforward process. Our college leaders quickly approved of the city’s payment, including a relocation amount for each teacher, and finished all the documentation within a day.

As for the other apartments and people living there, I noticed that, lingering into January 8 (long after I’d left), there were a few of my neighbors still living in my building. Since demolition hadn’t started yet,   I guess the housing authorities and the owners were still disputing compensation amounts.

Where did we displaced teachers go?

The school office in charge of searching out alternative faculty housing truly had to hustle. In a very short time, they needed to find us places to live. This also included apartments for our campus president and several administrators who also found themselves in the same boat as the rest of us.

The hope was to keep all of us together but finding an outside place to accommodate everyone was impossible. At present, 65 of my Chinese colleagues are located far across town in quite large and spacious units. Next semester, a bus will be chartered to bring them to and from school every day so they don’t have to worry about transportation.

The 3 foreign teachers (two with the Peace Corp and myself with the Amity Foundation) are more fortunate. We are now a 20-minute walk from the campus in plush apartments, costing the school 1,800 yuan ($300) a month for each rental. Utilities are also paid for by the school, which have been designated for each of us as 100 yuan ($16) a month for electricity and 50 yuan ($8) for water and gas. If we use more than that, we are required to pay for it ourselves.

When I moved in, I was told $16 a month was more than what the average Chinese family used. In other words, the school was being very generous in giving the foreigners such a sizable monthly stipend for electricity. However, I quickly learned frugality is not one of my strong suits. In a week, I used up my $16 because of the heater, which I left on for about 8 hours a day to stay warm. The Chinese rarely, if ever, turn on their heater/air-conditioning dual units. They either layer in clothes (indoors and out) during our region’s 40-degree winter temps or just suffer in the roasting heat when summer days hit 90 degrees or above.

Nor was I the only wasteful American. The Peace Corp volunteers were likewise quickly reaching their electricity limit.  I just beat them to it.  Looks like these fancy dwellings we have come with a bit of a backlash, and that is more money out-of-pocket if we want our creature comforts.

My new home, on the 22nd floor of the Lu Cheng Mansion Apartment Complex

My new home, on the 22nd floor of the Lu Cheng Mansion Apartment Complex

 

A December of Living On Edge

       Of course, now I’m moved and greatly relieved to have done so but it was truly one of the most stressful times I’ve ever experienced in this country.

The announcement of this impending move came just as I was decorating for Christmas, planning Christmas gatherings for students, and baking, as is my holiday tradition. I managed to cram all my festivities into one week, including 8 open houses in 5 days of afternoons and evenings. This frantic dash was made along with teaching duties, preparing students for finals, extra church choir practices for Christmas Eve and the horrendous job of packing everything into over 100 boxes for the big move.

My freshmen students were kind enough to volunteer putting together over 100 boxes for my move.

My freshmen students were kind enough to volunteer putting together over 100 boxes for my move.  Jackie generously offered her sitting room (seen here) as the storage place for all my boxes since my home was full of furniture and 17 years worth of stuff.

I even squeezed in my pool times, not to mention walking the abandoned dogs at the animal clinic every day. I don’t think I’ve ever, in all my years in China, had so many “go-go-go” days in a row that there seemed to be no end in sight.

In all, I think I received about 5 hours of sleep every night for about 2 weeks, just so I could fit everything in.

The Moving Day Finally Arrived

Although the school wanted me out earlier, with all my church activities going on building up to Christmas Eve, the best I could manage was Christmas Day. So after all choir performances and duties had finished on December 24th, I gave the go-ahead for my move.

At 9 a.m. on the 25th, the school workers came to begin hauling my furniture, appliances, and over 90 large boxes down the steep stairwell and piling these onto the school’s small truck. I had more things than anyone else due to living so many years in China. Jackie and Garett took about 3 hours and my Chinese colleagues took even less than that.

But for me, it took all 9 workers available to move my belongings, with 2 truck hauls and a finishing time of 3 p.m.

The campus workers worked tirelessly trekking up and down my stairwell to move all my things.

The campus workers worked tirelessly trekking up and down my stairwell to move all my things.

 

The first haul of boxes and things, stuffed into the campus truck

The first haul of boxes and things, stuffed into the campus truck

It was a huge undertaking on everyone’s part. I wasn’t about to let those involved (receiving a measly $60-a-month salary) go unrewarded. I prepared Christmas cards, including the foreigners’ holiday photo, and goodie bags filled with candies and a couple packs of cigarettes. For our one woman worker, not a smoker, I added American chocolates which she could share with her little boy.

I imagine my U.S. readers right now are cringing at the thought of me increasing lung cancer risks among the chain-smoking Chinese but in this culture, cigarettes are the gift of choice.   A monetary tip was unacceptable and the only way to show my appreciation was to “do as the Romans do,” so cigarettes it was.

And I can honestly say that, from their total surprise and pleased acceptance of my presents, it was the right thing to do.

Sadness in Change

The Yangtze River is no longer at my doorstep

The Yangtze River is no longer at my doorstep

 

Of course, I’m sad to have left my Yangtze River home.

Since the kitchen, washing machine, sink and bathroom cubicle were located on the balcony, I spent quite a bit of time out there. Cooking, doing laundry, showering, washing dishes – a majority of my apartment life at the college had me overlooking the Chang Jiang (Long River, known to us as the Yangtze) where barges and sampans chugged by on a regular basis.

No more sampans drifting by late into the night

No more sampans drifting by late into the night

I never tired of watching this infamous waterway stretch before me in all its mirky, mysterious grandeur. From my lofty vantage point, I’d reflect upon the adventures Chinese throughout the ages must have had living either next to it, like myself, or living on it, like the boatmen or fishermen I saw drifting by.

After over a decade of sharing river stories with relatives, friends, acquaintances, and a multitude of faithful readers, I feel as if I’ve become an integral part of the river itself.

Hard to imagine it flowing onward without me, but I’m sure it will.

From the 22nd floor of Lu Cheng Mansions, on a balcony overlooking a rapidly changing China, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your day.

 

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

My Annual Blog Report

13) Christmas Open House (2)

Happy New Year! Belated Merry Christmas!

The WordPress team prepared my blog’s yearly report, which I am sharing at the end of this short message that I am finally able to post.

As you know, entries for this past semester have been extremely weak, with a very chaotic December. I found myself  suddenly forced to pack  up my entire home in about 4 days (120 boxes worth of stuff)  and move off campus on December 25th, all this in the midst of : teaching, giving and grading finals, church choir practices and extra rehearsals for the 24th Christmas Eve service, Christmas open houses for students and faculty, walking the abandoned dogs at the vet’s every day, swimming at my lovely fitness center and struggling with Internet connection difficulties almost on a daily basis.  It’s over now but what a crazy last few weeks to the school year!  I think I managed about 4 hours of sleep every night during that entire month.  Welcome back to college life! More reports on that later.

For now, thank you for  faithfully following my site, despite the limited updates.  I should be able to remedy that for 2016.  Ping An (Peace!) from China!

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,200 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments