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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stateside Visit Underway!

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

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

garden 003Mom's garden 004

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

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

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

Lao-Lao Soon to be Kenneled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Along the Yangtze, We Also Remembered Charleston, SC

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

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

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

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

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

My South Carolina Church Family at St. Mark UMC

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

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

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

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

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

Ping An (Peace) to all.

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

Finishing Out the Year: The English Language Play Contest

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

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

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

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

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

Last weeks of Classes

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

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

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

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

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

English Corner on Our Campus: Food Night!

 All across China, university and college campuses, city parks and small cafes host what has been termed as English Corner (EC). These are well-known gathering places where those interested in practicing their English skills can show up and join with others of the same interest at set times during the week. English Corners have been around for a long time in this country, and our campus is no exception.

Every Wednesday evening’ from 7 – 8 p.m. in Classroom 3203, we three foreign teachers gather to see who shows up for our EC activity night. Every month, we choose a different theme and build upon that to create an atmosphere for learning English. Sports, Family Relationships, and University Life have been a few of our topics from the past.

Those who attend are of all majors and English levels. We have those who can put together sentences fairly easily and others who can’t say more than a few words or even none at all. We have a mixture of guys and gals, with 20 participating one week and then 7 the next depending on their schedules and available free time.

Our topic for May has been food, and this past Wednesday night we planned for something special: making the all-American snack, peanut butter and jelly (or other additions) sandwiches.

The spread was one of great interest for our small group of 7: sliced bread, homemade and storebought peanut butter, marmalade and strawberry jam, sliced bananas, honey, potato chips, soda crackers and European biscuits (plain cookies)/After learning the vocabulary for the food items, and practicing to the point of perfection, the eager students watched as we three demonstrated making our favorite sandwiches. Angela made hers with homemade peanut butter, honey and banana. Geoff followed with the classic P&J, peanut butter and strawberry jam. I followed adding potato chips to mine and also creating a soda cracker peanut butter snack as well.

After that, plates were passed out and the students were released to make their own creations.   Drinks were added and then our intimate group sat together, sharing our thoughts about the tastiness of our newly-made ventures, which condiments were the favorites and which could be done without.

Because peanut butter can be bought in China, albeit not cheap ($4.00 for a 6 oz jar), as well as jams and jellies, it might be some of our participants might make this on their own some day. I suggested a P&J sandwich party in their dorm rooms where everyone could pitch in to purchase snacks. The 5 boys in attendance seemed particularly keen on this plan. The girls a tad hesitant, more concerned about their figures than their stomachs.

Next week’s EC will be a movie. We are contemplating what story centered around food would be a good choice. The romance Chocolat is one; the Disney animation Ratatouille another.  Chinese subtitles are a must since most of those attending can’t follow the English. In this way, everyone can enjoy no matter what their English language level is.

Until next post, hoping you are having good Memorial Day Weekend.

Students are busy creating their own P&J creations.

Students are busy creating their own P&J creations.

What to choose for additions?  Potato chips?  Bananas?  Honey?  Jelly?

What to choose for additions? Potato chips? Bananas? Honey? Jelly?

Whatever we chose, the result was the same.  Delicious!

Whatever we chose, the result was the same. Delicious!

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

An Old Building; Innovative Additions

The single teacher’s apartment building I live in, along with the Peace Corp folk, is one of the oldest on campus.  Plumbing is a mess.  Mold is a constant.  Electrical wiring is iffy.
You’ll also remember that during the summer, new gas lines for our burners were installed.  The plastic and rubber lines run every which way on the outside and inside of the building but it’s done and safer than before.

As mentioned before, the foreigner’s apartments have been re-done to look spiffy and up to a decent standard for living but when it came, 13 years ago, to update for Internet use, there was a dilemma.  How to get phone line connections for each apartment when many didn’t use phone lines?  Most just had cellphones.

This was the job of the China’s Telecom workers.  A daunting task to figure out modern communication for so many old buildings in Luzhou but they did it.  I was up and running efficiently when I first arrived and had the city’s ADSL Net installation acquired for my home.

13 years later?  Well, no wonder I’m having trouble!    (Thought I’d post this in a hurry before I was cut off, but I am thankful to have Internet connection at all.)

Our 5-story apartment building's Internet connection box.  Good luck finding your line!

Our 5-story apartment building’s Internet connection box. Good luck finding your line!

Posted in From Along the Yangtze, Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, Tales from The Yangtze River, Travel | Leave a comment

Mother’s Day Tales from Along the Yangtze

Note: Internet connection problems have delayed me for a week to post these. The China Telecom worker has been here to say that the telephone lines in my home are so old that they need to be replacing.  This is a huge problem. We’ve also had 3 days of no telephone usage in the administration offices until those were taken care of.  I’ll just do my best to post if I luckily get a connection, such as just now.

Ana Jarvis, the founder, advocate and later hater of America’s Mother’s Day, would have heartily approved of our church worship last Sunday. It was all about mothers: their strength, duties, love, and devotion to their children and families, as God is devoted to us.

No talk of buying Mom a present or spending money to compensate for all her hard work. The point was remember your indebtedness to your mom and make sure she hears it personally from you. The same goes for the Lord.

It was a 1-hour sermon, one of our longest yet, that had us singing the infamous Chinese mothers’ song, “Ma-ma Hao” (Mother is Good), toward the end of the message. I know very few Chinese songs by heart but that children’s song is one of the first I learned. I felt very honored that I could join in with the congregation members with just as must gusto as they in thanking moms everywhere.­­

Ana Jarvis: A Tragic Tale

I mentioned that Ana Jarvis later became a hater of Mother’s Day.

After the second Sunday in May became a holiday, one of her pet peeves was how businesses capitalized on this day. Instead of remembering and spending time with Mother, it became a day to send presents and gifts which, Ms. Jarvis felt, was a cope-out to actually appreciating your parent. The following was taken from an Internet article I found about the poor woman and her eventual demise

“It is somewhat ironic that after all her efforts, Ana Jarvis ended up growing bitter over what she perceived as the corruption of the holiday she created. She abhorred the commercialization of the holiday and grew so enraged by it that she filed a lawsuit to stop a 1923 Mother’s Day festival and was even arrested for disturbing the peace at a war mothers’ convention where women sold white carnations — Jarvis’ symbol for mothers — to raise money. Ana Jarvis’ story is not a happy one. Things went from bad to worse and she eventually lost everything and everyone that was close to her. She died alone in a sanatorium in 1948. Shortly before her death, Jarvis told a reporter she was sorry she had ever started Mother’s Day.”

Perhaps in America, the day has become more about obligated gift-giving (a bit like Christmas) but here in China, in our 102-year-old church building, we Christians truly gave heartfelt thanks and love to our moms.

Like I said: I think Ana Jarvis would have approved.

A Day of No Electricity; A Day of Trouble

Our campus Mother’s Day was spent with no electricity, which brought with it a dire day for my 1st floor neighbors. The story is as follows:

It was 7:30 a.m. Everything was up and running just fine, including the microwave for heating up my coffee. I had just finished showering, and was sending my mom her Mother’s Day email before heading off to church worship, when the electricity went off at 8 a.m.

My Net connection was lost. My message was stalled. I needed to get to church. Thus I headed toward the front gate to catch Bus 262 downtown, about a 25- minute ride.

I thought along the way that, most likely, our campus “black-out” was the city working on electrical lines in our area. This tends to be on Sunday. No regular classes which means teachers won’t be using power point or other equipment requiring it, thus Sunday becomes the day for such repair work at our school.

3 hours later, I re-entered our front gate at noon to see the campus filled with students out and about. Sundays usually have everyone inside, either sleeping, using their computers or messing about with their cell phones. But when the electricity is off, people tend to either go someplace where there is electricity (shopping downtown) or go outside to enjoy nature while waiting for it to come back on.

Due to such an active campus, I surmised we were in for the long haul: a 12-hour halt rather than just a morning doing without.

My Neighbor in Need

It was upon my approach to my apartment building that I noticed our doing without had caused a tragic accident.

My elderly neighbor, Mr. Wang (84) on the first floor, was sitting outside in his wicker chair. He was moaning in pain, rocking back and forth, with a huge bloody knot on his forehead.

Our family housing building is one of the oldest on campus. My 3-room apartment was outfitted with florescent lighting, lovely white tile floors, painted walls and new wiring throughout. My neighbors, however, live with dingy cement floors, molded, unpainted walls, unsanitary plumbing, broken windows and lightbulbs dangling on cords attached to the ceiling.

When there is no electricity, their apartments are extremely dark. It’s difficult to see and I’m guessing this might have been why Mr. Wang tripped and fell. His wife managed to get him outside to sit in a chair after she called China’s emergency line, 120, for an ambulance. This had just happened and I seemed to be the first neighbor on the scene.

While I stayed outside with Mr. Wang, his wife was in her home, bustling about collecting her purse and cellphone. She grabbed her keys to come outside and sit with her husband while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. By that time, 4 concerned Chinese neighbors joined us to see if they could help.

One ran to the top of the steps that lead down to our building. There she kept watch for the medical personnel.

Another neighbor zipped inside her home to grab a wet cloth for Mr. Wang’s injury.

Our English Department bachelor, 45-year-old “William” Huang who lives upstairs, gave words of encouragement to the worried Mrs. Wang.

Ambulance Arrives

Mr. Wang being looked after by the arrival of the ambulance medical team.  The nurse is dressing Mr. Wang's head; the doctor talking to Mr. Huang about his injury.

Mr. Wang being looked after by the arrival of the ambulance medical team. The nurse is dressing Mr. Wang’s head; the doctor calling the hospital about his injury.

I truly had little faith that medical assistance would arrive very quickly.

I had just returned from downtown where the traffic was horrendous. Maneuvering through all those cars on our narrow streets would be extremely difficult. Also, in China, cars don’t stop, slow down or pull over for the ambulance, fire trucks or police cars. Drivers just continue to mind their own business, sometimes even stubbornly refusing to pay attention to flashing lights which (according to law) require them to allow passage of any emergency vehicle.

Glad to say, I was wrong.

Within 15 minutes, the ambulance arrived. 2 nurses, a doctor and driver appeared to take care of my injured neighbor. He was placed on a stretcher and carried up the steep steps. Soon, they were on their way for him to receive immediate hospital care.

The Canadian Methodist Mission and the China Inland Mission to Thank

It is now 6 days later.   I have learned that my neighbor’s fall was most likely caused by a stroke, although the darkness in the home didn’t help. He is recuperating in the hospital and should be back in a few weeks.

I always knew the city’s medical facilities were excellent, and with Mr. Wang, this proves to have been so.

We have a renowned Medical College with two campuses in our midst, one of which caters directly to students from developing countries. Then there is the affiliated Medical College Hospital in the city center, very near the church. A partnering Dental Hospital is also included. Both hospitals have an ongoing staff of visiting overseas’ doctors, medical professionals and instructors, many of whom work for Christian-sponsored agencies. And let’s not forget the Gospel Hospital of Luzhou which is run by the church in cooperation with the local government.

With the Luzhou missionary diaries in hand, as well as Internet history postings about the Canadian Methodist and China Inland Mission’s work here, I have discovered that these two organizations were the first in Luzhou to set up a Western and Chinese medical clinic and dispensary along the alleyway that leads to the church. In 1911, the dispensary opened. By 1915, the Canadian doctors were treating patients in a standard-equipped building. A nursing school was likewise opened a few years later.

This set the foundation for what we have today in the city, including excellent cooperation between the overseas’ medical professionals and the Chinese. Quite an achievement for  those foreigners who came to China those many years ago. Truly inspiring!

From Luzhou, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your weekend.



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