Lost in Translation: My First Halloween in China


Thought this seemed appropriate and a bit light-hearted humor for your upcoming Halloween

This essay first appeared in the Christian Science Monitor’s Home Forum section on October 27, 1997.

My first year in China with my adult students, all English teachers from the rural countryside enrolled in a 1-year intensive methodology and language course.

Lost in Translation: American Halloween

 by Connie Wieck

As Halloween approaches, I am once again haunted by the cultural ghosts I accidentally released in China.

The school year had begun at Jiangxi Normal University, where I was teaching English to 40 Chinese English teachers from rural secondary schools. The teachers were eager to learn, knowing that the intensive one-year language study would increase their English skills and introduce them to new teaching methodology.

But soon, October arrived. The damp, autumn chill invaded our unheated classroom and everyone’s spirits plummeted. Cheerfulness was replaced by the homesickness of men and women, far from family and friends. Even I felt the tug of loneliness. I began dreaming of sunny fall days in my hometown and evenings curled up on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate.

In mid-October, a package arrived. Inside it were festive Halloween decorations. A card read, “Have fun with your students! Love, Mom.”

Her advice was not taken lightly.

After an evening of planning, I created a series of Halloween lessons bound to put the pizzazz back into our classroom community. But more important, I wanted to model an innovative English-language unit that the teachers could use with their own pupils.

The last week of October was devoted to All Hallow’s Eve in our classroom. I zealously whisked my students through language and hands-on activities centered on American Halloween traditions.

For the unit’s finale, the students came trick-or-treating to my decorated apartment Halloween night. I greeted them in an improvised black cat costume and handed out candy-filled bags with every “Trick-or-Treat!” shouted at my doorway. Everyone enjoyed the visit. After posing for pictures with a jointed cardboard skeleton, they departed with great laughter and stories to tell.

I was confident my Halloween unit had been a success, but I knew some form of evaluation was necessary. I asked my students to come to class prepared to write about a Halloween tradition they would like to teach their own Chinese pupils.

On the assigned day, the students arrived with paper and pencils. They sat at their desks, diligently composing their essays. Their pencils moved nonstop. Such intense concentration only bolstered my confidence that the Halloween lessons had been worthwhile.

When the last essay was collected, the students returned to their dormitories. I eagerly headed back to my apartment to read what they had written.

It was a teacher’s nightmare.

American Halloween “traditions” came flying off the pages of their essays and whizzed about my head like confused bats: All adults wear masks; frightened children run madly through the streets; candy becomes the staple food. Ghosts are seen and wolves are heard. Pumpkins are “craved” and houses are “hunted.”

But only when our most practiced Halloween activity crumbled before my eyes did I finally admit defeat.

“At 8:20,” one student wrote, “we knocked at the door. The door opened and out came our foreign teacher. Then we shouted the famous Halloween words: Strike-or-Streak!’ “

Here’s hoping your Halloween evening is full of safety and fun. But, please, folks, no striking or streaking. 

Here I am in 1991, with my students whose understanding of Halloween completely disintegrated under my oh-so-well-explained instruction. (Ha-ha)

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A China return delayed

My last update of a return to China concerned bans being lifted. In that post, I excitedly announced the opening up of the country on September 28 to those of us who hold, or have held, resident permit visas during the time of Covid-19.

Stipulation of a return included an invitation letter from the employer, which in my case is Luzhou Vocational and Technical College. My college would send me the letter, officially stamped et al, and I would work through my visa agent in Chicago to submit this to the Chinese Consulate in Chicago. After that, processing would occur, which I was warned might take up to a month or two.

English teacher Danli, an extremely capable young woman helping in my school’s Foreign Affairs office, was put in charge of this. Her upbeat messages were encouraging, how the school was on top of things and she was finding out the necessary documents and procedures needed.

“I’ll get back to you, Connie,” she wrote. “Don’t worry. We are so eager to have you return!”

Three weeks went by after that upbeat text message. Her next reply included the following information:

It seems an invitation letter demands a bit more than just the college’s Party Secretary’s (the head of the college) go-ahead. According to the strict policies of returning foreigners, the provincial government office of Luzhou city has to approve. After consulting with numerous official city departments, and submitting detailed plans of how the college would monitor me for the virus after my initial airport 2-week quarantine, my school was told to wait before sending my invitation letter. The virus has been so well-contained in China that allowing others coming from outside, especially from America where our cases are drastically and uncontrollably rising, is on high alert.

Disappointing for all involved, including my department, my students and myself, but I completely understand.
My school will continue to try again in November since policies are continuously changing.

A New Role in Place: Keeping Busy

While I wait, an addendum was added to my job description with the General Board of Global Ministries. I am now the Mission Advocate (MA) for the United Methodist’s North-Central Jurisdiction.  This includes the following UMC conferences:  Indiana, West Ohio, East Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, the Dakotas, Northern Illinois and Illinois Great Rivers, which encompasses Marshall First.  Details are yet to be given but from what I understand, an MA is the liaison between Global Ministries and each conference’s Conference Secretary of Global Ministries (CSGM) who passes on all mission and missionary program news to the districts.  I will attend mission meetings (held virtually via Zoom), gather information to relay to others, host my own or present at meetings, post GBGM updates, relay current information online and be available for whatever else is asked of me. 

            I’ve already mentioned in a previous post that these duties demand a bit of quiet and “spread-out room,” which the Marshall First UMC has graciously given me in what is the prayer room.  How very grateful I am to have my home church meet my needs in such a special way.  I will use this sacred space to continue my work with the church while keeping engaged in mission and serving the Lord as I feel called to do.

Watch this space for more updates! Until then, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your week.

 

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Autumn Outings

“There just isn’t anything in here I want to eat, ” my mom lamented on Friday around noontime as she peered with disappointment into the fridge.  

“Too bad we can’t go out for our usual broccoli-cheese soup and salad bar at Crossroads,” I sighed.

Since the pandemic, eating out has been put on hold for both of us during the past 7 months.  Those fun spur-of-the-moment sit-downs at our local restaurants are no longer an option. We’ll do take-out to eat at home but other than that, we usually fix our own meals, mostly the same-o, same-o every week.

“Now here’s a thought,” my mom suddenly brightened.  “Lincoln Trail State Park’s restaurant has created outside dining along the lake.  I heard it’s very safe and nice.  Let’s look it up on the Internet and see what the menu is.”

We perused the online menu, called for what virus-precautions were in place, approved of what we heard so off we went.  We grabbed our masks and  loaded up Bridget, our Chinese immigrant, into the car for the 3-mile drive to the park.  

Thus began our new dining-out routine after a 7-month hiatus, and what a beginning it was!

Autumn Lunchtime Ambiance at the Lincoln Trail State Park Restaurant

Rather than write about our visit, let me give you the visuals of our experience.

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Enjoying the Park Trails

After our meal, we decided to walk a few trails, relishing all the splendor Mother Nature has to offer at this time of year.  This is the first Midwestern Fall I’ve been surrounded by in 27 years.  I went a bit overboard in pictures but that’s because I’m already planning on classroom lessons next year to show my students.  

As you watch our woodsy trek, perhaps you can imagine how my Chinese students will react to such a  different environment than what they are used to.  This includes camping vehicles, unknown in China, which were coming in for weekend overnights during the nation’s Columbus Day 3-day holiday.  

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Sharing an Illinois Fall with My Students

Another surprise for my students will be the many unusual trees we have, indigenous to America, and their vibrant colors that come with October.  Sichuan Province, where I live, has very few cold-weather Nature changes. Most tree leaves in Luzhou city and elsewhere just turn a brittle brown and drop off when November and December come around.  Nothing very exciting.   But in Marshall, the trees’ cascading locks of leafy hair have exploded in oranges, reds, golds and yellows.  I have already put together my power point picture display and expect to add even more these next few weeks.  Just look at what Marshall has to offer!  I’m sure your hometowns are very much the same.

 

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My Mom’s Mulberry Street addition

My mom’s new house is now fully completed with the landscapers who came 3 days ago.  Notice her autumn display, adding even more to our residence on 710 Mulberry Street.  Of course, I am eager to return to my apartment home in China but I must say, it is exciting to have watched, and been a part of,  this house growing from a dilapidated, sad-looking, unkempt building into a truly lovely home.   

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

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Catch me and my mom on Marshall First UMC’s Facebook Page

As our Marshall First UMC continues with in-sanctuary worship (masks, social distancing, temperature checks and sanitation), my mom and I continue to take over special music for the first Sunday of every month. October 4 had us singing 3 duets and also announcing the Mission of the Month, which for October is the PASBF – Preachers Aid Society and Benefit Fund. It is also Pastor’s Appreciation Month, which gave me the opportunity to share with the congregation the following:

“The word for “Pastor” in Chinese is ‘mushi’ (牧师, moo-shuh), ‘mu’ meaning ‘sheep’ and ‘shi’ meaning Master – So a pastor is the Master of the Sheep. Let me now say, Pastor Bob, we, your sheep, feel cared for, loved and protected under your guidance, leadership and faithful spirit in the Lord. Speaking for myself and for our congregation, thank you, thank you, thank you.”

“And I will add that pastor’s wife also has an appropriate title and that is ‘shimu’ (师牧, shuh-moo), the meaning of which follows as Master of the Master of the sheep.  So we also wish to thank Barb for her constant support, behind the scenes, so to speak, of Bob and for partnering with him through his call to serving the church well as a UMC ‘mushi’. We are so very, very fortunate and blessed to have you both in our Marshall First UMC family.  Please join with me in showing our “thank you” with both applause and a hearty ‘Amen!’ “

Hope you enjoy our music (below link), Pastor Bob’s moving message and the selections of our amazing organist, Jo Sanders. We are so very blessed to have such leadership and talents within my home church, Marshall First UMC.

Connie and Priscilla: 1) “Come and See” 2). Mission Moment 3) “Oh, Lord, How majestic is thy name” 4) (after sermon) “Carry the Light”.

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Life amid the rats and insects: My grandfather’s WW 2 New Guinea

My grandfather’s journals were full of illustrations of his jungle life. Here are some of the creepy crawlies that filled his letters to my mom and uncle (ages 11 and 6) as well as his diary pages.

My grandfather, Army Chaplain Captain Marvin E. Maris, had numerous tales of creepy-crawly critters, large and small, which he encountered in the World War 2 jungles of  New Guinea. His journal Volumes 3 and 4, which I’ve been earnestly pouring over, are full of them.  In his neatly ink-penned cursive, he endlessly detailed with humor, hatred, disgust, fascination and surprise what the native life had to offer.   Let me take the time to include some excerpts of these encounters.  As you read in the divine comfort of your lovely homes, your deep-set armchairs, your fluffy couches or your well-appointed living rooms, think on these things and be eternally grateful.

The Circle of Life: Survival of the fittest

Inscription, with the in-real-time report in quotes below :

“This is the only book, outside of the Bible and technical manuals, that I took with me to New Guinea, 6 March, 1944.  Marvin E. Maris (Capt.) Ch C 0-461567. 101st AAA AW Bn. Hq Nazbaf N.G.

“On the night of 3-4 November a rat sat on top of this closed book chewing a stick of my chewing gum.The evidence of this angered me and I killed him the following night with a trap. The big black ants had devoured his eyes and most of his face when I awakened in the morning.”

Notes:  Capt. = captain; Ch C = Chaplain Code      AAA AW= Anti-Aircraft Artillery, Automatic Weapons    Bn= Battalion  Hq = headquarters  Nazbaf NG

Upon arrival in New Guinea– Flying Fish and Boat Drills

(Note:  The drills took place on transport and battleships,  in practice to clear the decks of soldiers when Japanese planes flew overhead. ‘ = minutes.  ” = seconds.  The below account is right after arrival to New Guinea.)

March 10, 1944

Rumor that flying fish are seen.  Boat drill cleared the decks in 5 min. 30 seconds.  Record on another voyage, same number of troops, is 4′ 20 “. “A thousand a minute” meaning a lost minute may mean 1,000 lives. ( ‘ = minutes.  ” = seconds)

March 11, 1944

“Boat drill took 5′ 2″ today.  Schools of flying fish looking at first like flocks of little birds – with white bellies arise and fly short distances & then drop back into the waves.  They actually flutter their wings very rapidly at some times.  At others, they just glide.  Sometimes they flip into and out of the waves.  They average about 4 or 5 inches:  now you see them and now you don’t.”

More on Rats

“Connie’s rat traps killed Rosemary, Rudolph and Riccardo rat last night.  I baited with bread and the snap and shuffle of the traps awakened me during the night.”

One evening later

“I killed a 4th rat.”

On Mosquitoes

“Stealthy, winged hypodermic needle.”  Carlos Findley, Readers’ Digest, Sept. 1943, page 52.

Marvin had a habit of jotting down in his journal materials to be later used in sermons.  I’m guessing the above was documented for that purpose.

The Insect Population

“The weather here is humid, torrid, horrid, terrifically high temperature tropical.  

It is also hot.

Last night, someone in the tent lit a candle and collected enuf insect species to start a biologist on his life’s career.”

Centipedes

“Pfc. Frank Burke, the mess sergeant mail orderly, put on his shoe the other morning without shaking it.  There was a centipede in it with his foot.   He had on a thick sock so he didn’t feel it and laced up his shoe.  The centipede didn’t like it in there with the foot and got madder and madder.  Finally, after an hour and a half, he expressed himself by going to work on the foot.  Before Pfc. Burke could get his shoe off, he was stung many times.  It swelled up the foot so big he couldn’t get it into a shoe.  The ache was terrific for about 5 hours after which it ceased to hurt but the swelling remained 3 or 4 days.”

Pfc = Private First Class

Mascots

“Zero, the Btry mascot, looks like a  (__?__) dog, big white with black spots — short hair (There was his brother, Tojo, but Tojo died.) He sleeps on a canvas cot in a tent with the soldiers.  He even has a mosquito bar over him.  He knows the sound of Jap motors and is first in the fox hole.”

“Col. Griffin’s chickens:  That chicken couldn’t get along with the other chickens so as a last resort, he came to live with the officers.  Lt. _____ woke up in the morning and said, ‘He rapped at my mosquito net so they fixed him a place to rest under the eves and kept him for a mascot.’ “

Btry= Battery    Jap = Japanese  Col. = Colonel   Lt. = Lietenant  

After breakfast, the KP’s started yowling like dogs and got all the dogs within hearing to howl, too.  What a howling!

The Snakes

The EM of Hq Btry 101st captured a little animal that looked to them something like a bandyou gopher.  They put him in a specially constructed pen made of chicken wire.  After a few days, they came to feed him in the morning and instead of the bandyou, they had a 15 foot python stuck halfway in and halfway out of the pen.  The python had a big bump in his middle which was the bandyou.  He got in there, swallowed the bandyou, then couldn’t get out again.  After knocking him off with a club, the boys have a big snake skin now to deocorate their mess hall with if they want.  This is the type of snake that made the renowned and legendary Colonel Frazer of 101st history say: “Oh, my God.”

EM = Enlisted Men  Hq = headquarters.  Btry=battery

A Fascination with the Jungle …. and Ants (Sunday, May 14) 

“In cleaning out the hen yard, I was impressed with new respect for the jungle. The long matted undergrowth, the intertwining vines with their long pointed leaves and thorny, hooked stems are impassible humans. With machete, I was able to chop a path thru this growth after 2 hours of slashing.  The toll on me, besides sweat and temper, was one torn ear lobe, sundry punctures of hands and shins from the thorns, and marks left on clothing and equipment.  The 2 1/2 foot jungle knife (as drawn) is the best possible weapon.  

The hook on the handle serves to keep it from flying out of hand when an unexpected obstruction is encountered.  The battle was terminated in favor of the jungle when angry, light-colored red ants this size …..

… dropped on me from the vines and bored into any exposed skin surface head first.  The gloves I wore to protect my hands were a hinderance to a quick plucking of burrowing ants attacking middle of back, shins and neck simultaneously.  I’ll dance with ants in my pants.”

————–

And on that last bit of jungle wildlife, I’ll close.  Be looking for more journal entries from Marvin as I continue to relive, through my grandfather’s notes, his life as an Army chaplain during World War II .

 

 
Posted in My Grandfather's WW 2 Journals: Chaplain Captain Marvin E. Maris, The Jungles of New Guinea in 1944-45, Travel | 1 Comment

China is now allowing all foreign national entries!! But problems for me

On the 23rd, China-briefing.com, my go-to site for current China information, flashed before me.

“From 0 a.m., September 28, 2020, foreigners with valid residence permits for work, personal matters, and reunion, are allowed enter the country without needing to re-apply for new visas.

If the above residence permits have expired – after March 28, 2020 – the holders may re-apply for relevant visas by presenting the expired residence permits and relevant materials to the Chinese embassies or consulates. The re-application must be on the condition that the purpose of the holders’ visit to China is unchanged.”

My heart rejoiced: “That’s me!!!”

But then after-thoughts of a more downcast nature had me at,  “Oh.  sort of.”

Problems with Visa Expiration and last-minute flights

Because my visa expires September 30, with no time to renew it once I’m in the country and quarantined, my return to China can’t fall under this category for an immediate hop-on-the-airplane entry.  Even if I had a few more weeks attached, there is the problem of booking a flight from the States, mostly as there are none available at such short notice.  I noticed there are a few for October but the prices are nothing less than $4,000 one way and who knows if those would be canceled, like so many of my previous flights were?

The Covid-19 Certificate of Negativity

And the second difficulty is the Covid-19 test required before departure, which would take precise planning on my end.

I have the details of that one.  a) It must be done 3 days prior to departure.  b). It must be a nucleic acid test with certificate of negativity.  c). It must be approved of by the Chinese embassy and stamped for authenticity, carried with the  passenger  to the airline counter, kept continuously throughout the journey to China and presented upon departure of the plane.

Part c entails, from the USA end, scanning the test, sending via email to the Chinese embassy or consulate, waiting 24 hours for it to be sent back, then printing out for use.

All of this must be done within 3 days prior to the flight.  Any missing parts mean if you have no China- approved certificate, you can’t get on the plane so there goes your booked ticket, and your money.

The College Letter and the PU Letter of Invitation

So what exactly does this lifted ban mean for me?

I have already contacted my visa agency in Chicago, a service I will be going through for all my China entry permits.  Shawn, who is my contact, has been working with numerous teachers such as myself who are going back to China now that the ban has lifted.  Expired Resident Permits, such as mine will be on the 30th, can be renewed for entry but require 2 letters (not one as before) of invitation.

The easy letter is the one from my college, personally inviting me to work for the school.  This is a standard for any foreign teacher.

The second letter has been newly added due to the virus.  That is the stickler as it is very difficult to get.  It is called a PU letter (no one seems to know what that acronym stands for) and is issued by your local city’s Foreign Affairs Office (FAO).  In the larger, Tier 1 cities (provincial capitals and special economic zones), this is a well-known fact and everyone seems to be familiar with the letter and the term, plus how to go about getting it.

In a Tier 3 city, which is Luzhou, I have found no one knows what a PU letter is, how to get it, where to go to get it or who to contact about it.

Being the pro-active person that I am, I already found a listing of the Foreign Affairs Office personnel in Sichuan Province (their names and phone numbers) for my school to call, ask questions and find out what a PU letter entails.

One of my college’s departmental staff English teachers, Danli, has been put in charge of my return and now has all the information I sent her to follow through with. While a bit new to the process, Danli is a very capable young woman who went to school in Great Britain for 3 years for her BA degree in English before joining our staff at the School for International Studies.  Not only is her English excellent but her ability to “get things done” and stubbornly pursue problems is commendable.

If she doesn’t have the clout needed and is given the run-around by Luzhou’s government officials, she’ll find the right person at my college to forge ahead into the red-tape fray which, hopefully, will result in what is necessary for me to teach once again at Luzhou Vocational and Technical College.

The Next Steps

Once the PU letter and the school invitation letter are secured, those are sent to me, I can then fill out all the forms and, in turn, mail to my visa agency in Chicago.  My agent, Shawn, will then make an appointment at the Chinese consulate (usually takes a month as the consulate appointments are limited), my paperwork should be approved, my passport visa given and I can continue to the next phase:  booking a ticket, more Covid-19 papers to fill out, Nucleic acid requirement, arrival for my 2-week quarantine (hoping I don’t get the virus along the way — Yikes!) and eventually onward to my college in Luzhou.

Oh, Happy Day!

It seems like a long ways away but this opening up has me full of hope that my students will see me once again in our classroom, with my enthusiastic flair, humorous quips, flashy outfits (how I do love my outlandish color schemes, big necklaces and cool earrings!) and an unmistakably apparent love of teaching.

In Closing

Let me say here I have appreciated those of you who have sent uplifting thoughts my way and words of encouragement.  Keep them coming! There can never be enough.

From Illinois, here’s wishing you, as always, 平安 (ping ahn), Peace for your day and your week. 

 

Posted in A Visit Home to America, China, China ban lifting, coronavirus, Illinois, Return to China, Smalltown American Life, Travel | 1 Comment

A generous offer from my home church: Office Space!

As previously reported, my mom has moved.

Looking at these two pictures, you’ll see it was quite the downsize.

My mom refers to her new purchase, built in the 1970’s, as her Granny House.

5 blocks away stands the 1917, wrap-around porch, corner lot “grand lady”. This is my childhood home, where my parents lived for 50 years.

Yes, the new house is very nice but one of the biggest draw-backs for 2 people is space.

My mom expected me to have short visits from time to time but this is turning into a bit of the long-haul.

I have a back room we have labeled The She-shack.  It holds my mom’s WOW computer, her desk chair and my pull-out bed but that’s about it.  When you squeeze me, my mom and our China rescue, Bridget, into the She-shack for our separate computer-ing, it gets a bit crowded.

Plus the house noise seems to be amplified quite a bit from different areas of this completely uncarpeted dwelling.  From every room, you can hear the TV, NPR radio broadcasts, kitchen cabinet and door bangings, the washing machine and dryer whirring, the dog barking at folks walking by, footsteps (even in socked feet) …. All these add even more of a distraction when I’m trying to concentrate on doing Amity work, writing and editing articles, formulating new lesson plan videos for China, holding a virtual meeting or just when I need a bit of meditative “down” time to refresh and re-energize.

And there is just no way to spread out and feel somewhat organized.

A stroke of genius

As my mom and I discussed this dilemma, she suddenly came up with a brilliant idea.

“Why not ask  the church council if it’s possible for you to have a small area in the building (a Sunday school room, perhaps?) for your personal office space?  You know, the pastor’s former study, which is now the prayer room, would be perfect. ”

I followed through with this suggestion.

With the generous, unanimous support of my hometown church’s Marshall First UMC council members, permission was given.  I now have a small space of my own in what was originally built as the pastor’s study (in use from 1909 — 1982), later changed into a prayer room, then somewhat moved into a storage area, and now it has become my sweet little office.

Although our church is not yet open to the public, aside from worship on Sunday, the go-ahead was announced for me to use the room without the worries (due to Covid) of coming in contact with staff on a regular basis.  I have a key to the back door which leads me directly to my office door.

I wear my mask upon entering the building (mandatory).

But after that, I am free to remove it.

Since  I am pretty much isolated on the other side of the church, there is no need to mask-don 100% of the time.

I have already set myself up.  As you can see below, it makes for a cozy setting and a great work environment.  I love it!

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Thank you’s Abound

How very grateful and blessed I am to have this little niche of my own.  Thank you, my home church, for this treasured room.  I will use it with the same Christian love you have bestowed upon me to pass on to others during my service to missions here, in this place.

Here’s wishing you, as always, 平安 (ping ahn, peace) for your day.  

Posted in A Visit Home to America, A Visit Home to Marshall, coronavirus, Illinois, My New Office Space, Smalltown American Life, Waiting it out during Covid | 2 Comments

September updates from me!

 

I promised in the last post for more recent updates from my end.  Here is the latest about what’s happening in my extended stay in America.

There have been so many ups and downs:  moments of excitement, sadness, determination, apprehension, excitement, concern, reflection . . . .  the list goes on. In this entry, I give you the highlights

Return to China . . . Still on hold

From the beginning of this wait, starting in February, I had great confidence of a return to China for  at least the beginning of the college school year in September.  I daily logged onto websites announcing openings of China to different countries as governments and experts tamed the virus in their regions, giving China the confidence needed to allow overseas’ visitors to return.  The timeline is as follows:

April:  New visas for students, teachers and company employees issued for those in South Korea.

May:  “Fast Track” business lanes for business executives and special experts from Germany, Britain and Singapore opened up.

July: Educators teaching at International Schools allowed to return on their current visas (Unfortunately, I work for a Chinese college, not an international school, so I was not included in that category)

August:  New and current visas for 36 European countries, including Britain, are being processed with a letter of invitation from educational institutions or companies.

September:  Direct flights to and from Beijing are now being opened to 8 more countries.

That has been the last as of today, with more country bans lifted as the months progress.

Mandatory 2-week quarantines are still in place at designated hotels, with people being herded directly off the airplane into the facilities assigned. Costs fall on the individual, housing and food delivery.  After those 14 days, three negative Covid-19 tests are required before any visitors to China are released into the public.  After that, those taking on-going flights will require a person to quarantine another 2 weeks in their residences at their final destination.

All new virus cases have been from abroad, with no new reports of pop-up cases in the country itself being found.  I am still crossing my fingers for my school to receive permission from local government authorities to send my invitation letter for the Spring semester.  Much of this depends on how the virus continues to spread, both in America and around the world.

News from Luzhou Vocational and Technical College

My Chinese colleagues living on campus, and those traveling from their distant home towns after their summer holidays, were required to return 2 weeks early (by mid-August) and quarantine at home.  On campus, meals were delivered 3 times a day to my apartment building and left outside people’s doors for pick-up.  I received many messages from my colleagues saying how much they enjoyed having a rest in their homes for 2 weeks (although a bit bored) where they were able to sleep, watch TV, clean house and prepare remotely for the new school year to get their lesson plans in place and do numerous office duties (including virtual all-school staff meetings) from the comfort of their homes.

Then came the postings of students returning to the campus, by classes, with the seniors arriving first, then the sophomores and lastly, the freshmen.  Everyone was required to quarantine in their dorms for 2 weeks, after a Covid test was administered with a negative result, but they could go to the cafeteria to eat.   We have a holiday coming  up, National Day from Oct. 1 – 7 (celebrating the founding of the People’s Republic of China) but students are not allowed to travel home.  They must remain on the campus to make sure they don’t bring the virus back with them, although in China itself, Covid 19 is pretty much gone.

Even campus building projects are going strong.

The indoor pool is finally open!

Last October, after a hasty push to get it done for China’s 75 anniversary of the founding of the PRC, many structural issues kept it from opening:  burst pipes (constant 4-foot water flooding in the electronic pump room), chlorination imbalances (water was over-chlorinated,  under-chlorinated, or not chlorinated due to technical issues), qualified lifeguards and a knowledgable manager not yet hired and unfinished locker rooms with numerous  installations needed.

Needless to say, those have all been solved and the pool is fully being utilized.

Next bit of news concerns the  bridge linking the extended campus with the new dormitories, located across a busy main freeway, is to be opened late October.  This will allow students trekking from farther away to be safe, rather than cross an expressway with heavy traffic that separates the two areas of the school.

The Luzhou Protestant Church: Now open for worship and activities

My Luzhou church family has already begun worship services, with the sanctuary full and the choir having practices twice a week, plus belting out anthems with no fear of virus spread.  I continue to post the daily prayer and receive our scripture readings for the day as well as notices of church happenings.

All the choir members, and Pastor Liao, send me uplifting messages of hope:  to take care of my mom, to stay healthy, that God is watching over me, that they look forward to my return, that I am prayed for, that all will be well and not to lose faith.  Those little notes of encouragement mean the world to me.  How very blessed I am to have such love and support coming my way all the way from China.

My Students:  “Teacher, where are you?”

Last year: My Methodology class, our lesson on how to use puppets in the classroom, was one of my favorites.

I have received countless text messages and voicemails from students and friends, asking me when I will return.  Most do not know that I’ve been blocked from entry and am waiting for the Chinese government  to change that stance.

On my WeChat blog moments (WeChat is similar to Facebook), I post several times a week about what I’m up to with pictures of me, my mom, my hometown, things I’ve been doing and my community’s news.  Comments abound, with likes,  sympathetic emojis or words of cheer or surprise.

In moments of frustration, my  mom has to listen to me lament about all the events my students and I always organize for the Fall semester, not to take place this year: Mooncake giveaway for Mid-Autumn Festival, Halloween Activity Night, Christmas Activity Night, Thanksgiving Day lessons, my holiday open houses, the English speech and singing contest I judge with other Chinese teachers, end-of-the-year “thank-you”s to monitors and words of praise to my classes for their hard studies and participation . . . . the list goes on.

I read my WeChat posts from a year ago,  go over pictures I took of all our fun times together and reflect upon the amount of work, effort and time that went into doing everything.

 I remember exhausting days full of  teaching, meeting with students,  evening planning sessions in the English Center, rushing off to choir practice for Bible study, fellowship and song,  not getting home to have dinner until close to 10 p.m., then finishing up last-minute emails and blog postings on this site or WeChat before an early morning rise the next day.

Wow!  How did I do all that?!

And despite it all, there was the uplifting and excited feeling about the next day, plus looking forward to a Saturday of rest or dinner hosting in my home, not to mention a joyful Sunday worship with my choir family and Christian community.

It is hard to let go of those joys and know they will not take place this year.

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My mom listens with patience and sympathy as I moan and groan about what I’m missing out on. As any good mom, after an adequate amount of silence, she  responds.

“I have faith you will return to China.  Don’t dwell upon the negative.  There is always a reason for this hiatus.  Think about all you have been able to do now which you never would have been able to do had you been in China.”

Her remarks always bring me back to the “count your blessings, one by one” of today.  She’s so right!!  See what all I’ve accomplished and am accomplishing, or adding to my new-found life here, during this special time I’m spending in America.

Blessings of Connecting:  Zooming the day away

In China, I am somewhat isolated using the Net in that many sites are blocked to me.  This includes Skype, Zoom and Lifestyle (the virtual meetings’ App’s), Facebook, Youtube and a few others.  With WeChat as the main venue for communication in China, I had no trouble touching bases with everyone who lived there but in America, it was hotmail that put me in touch with all of you in the States.

Now, however, Zoom and Lifestyle have given me a whole new world and community of people to meet with:  The UMC Atlanta office staff, my UMC colleagues both overseas and in the States, our UMW (United Methodist Women) and church groups, and my hometown church for Bible studies, church meetings and fellowship time. I’ve just finished 9 gatherings these past 2 weeks with more to come.

This has been truly a very special, rewarding part of my being here.  It certainly would never have happened in China, with so many blocks to use such means of communication.

Educational Videos and Photo Ops

Creating 4-5 minutes videos for my students in China has been so much fun.  Not only do I get to use my mom for some of these, but I have the ability to drive about town and choose whatever venue I want to record or photograph for future lessons.

No need to dig through archives of photos and clips and try to build around topics that don’t exactly fit the textbook chapter.  It’s been so much fun to think of a theme or topic then actually go to the place itself to film or photograph:  an American supermarket, swimming pool, tour around town, visit to a farm, my brother’s law office (he has his own firm in town), interviews, American hobbies, etc.

The more I do, the more I have for use.

Not only can I  send to my college department or post on WeChat blog moments for others to see and use, but I am collecting for my return to my Luzhou classroom .

Despite having had frustrating moments of “Will I ever get back?!”, there honestly more of “What a great video addition to use next year for my lesson on XXX.  I can’t wait!”

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We Have Moved!

It only took months of packing, sorting, boxing up, trips to the Goodwill, many carloads to the new house, trips to the furniture stores, and then the movers finally  arriving but we finally made it.

Into the new ..

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Leaving behind the old …

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A little nostalgic and sentimental?  Just a tad but the new house is, folks, very, very, VERY nice.  And even more important, I was able to do this move with my mom, not leave her the great burden and daunting task of doing it all on her own.

From Stateside, helping Chinese Rescues is still in the works

Despite being far from my Luzhou home, I  have still been able to help out with a few animal rescues. These new connections I established because of Covid 19 and would not have joined such groups beforehand had I not been stranded in America.   I recently posted this notice on a Facebook site for Beijing foreigners who have been updating me on China news since March. All use a VPN to be able to access Facebook and have been an excellent source of information concerning those of us stuck in the States during this time.  I’m hoping something comes of the below, which I sent out a few days ago:

“Hi, Beijing folk!! While still waiting to return to China, I am in touch with an animal rescue business woman, Zhou Yan, in my city, Luzhou, Sichuan Province. She has saved several larger dogs, including this poor stray in the picture below.  He would found emaciated, hairless, covered in scabs and cuts, and being attacked by attendants in a shopping mall the poor thing had wandered into. He was so gentle and frail.  Zhou Yan guesses he is about 2 years old. After months of rehabilitation, and her own out-of-pocket money, he is ready for adoption. (Still needs neutering and vaccinations but she’s working on that.) The difference is incredible!  See this gentle giant below in the video.   If you know of anyone in Chengdu who would like to adopt this big boy, or even another of her larger or smaller animals, please let me know. Zhou Yan often brings sick dogs to Chengdu (4 hours away from Luzhou) for better veterinarian care. She would be happy to bring him for a meet-up and possible adoption. Email me and I will connect with her to connect with anyone willing to help. corneliaw2000@hotmail.com”

Closing Off

I leave you here with my mom’s Fall display at her new home.  May the cool, fresh autumnal breezes blow good wishes your way, and may abundant 平安 (ping ahn), Peace, fill your weeks as it continues to fill mine.

Posted in A Visit Home to America, coronavirus, coronavirus situation in China, Illinois, Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, Return to China, Smalltown American Life | 1 Comment

My Grandfather and Mr. Brooks: Did they cross paths?

Note:  For those following me as an Amity Foundation teacher in China, I will update about my return-to-China news and current status of that in another entry.  For now, this posting seemed timely and appropriate so I include it here.

Lawrence Brooks, the oldest living WW 2 veteran, served in New Guinea and the Philippines with the 91st battalion.

A CNN article caught my eye several days ago.

Reporter Kelsie Smith, in her September 5th article, wrote:  “The oldest living American to serve in World War II is turning 111 years old, and you can join the celebration.” She went on with the following:

“Lawrence Brooks served as a support worker in the predominantly Black American 91st Engineer Battalion stationed in New Guinea and then the Philippines and reached the rank of private first class during the war. On September 12, he celebrates his 111th birthday. The National World War II Museum in New Orleans has thrown parties for the past five years to honor Brooks. Last year, family, veterans, and current military service members celebrated the veteran’s new milestone at the museum, with cupcakes and a musical performance by the museum’s vocal trio, the Victory Belles.

But this year, due to the pandemic, the celebration will look a little different. The museum is asking Americans around the country to send birthday cards.

On the big day, a small group of museum staff will deliver the cards to Brook at his home for a private celebration. Staff plans to wear face masks and practice social distancing. The Victory Belles will still serenade him.

To join the celebration, send a card to:

The National WWII Museum    c/o: Happy 111th Mr. Brooks!    945 Magazine Street New Orleans, LA  70130.”

Photos, such as the one below,  followed of Mr. Brooks in past birthday celebrations enjoying his special day.

Did they cross paths?

After reading the article, I wondered if my grandfather’s battalion and Brook’s ever came in contact with one another.

As mentioned in previous posts, my grandfather also served in the Army in New Guinea and the Philippines at the same time as Mr. Brooks.  His role was that of chaplain, assigned to the 101st AAA  (Anti Aircraft Artillery) and had him traveling extensively to outlying foxholes and gunnery stations by peep. (A peep is slang for a WW II  jeep attached to an armored regiment.)

Or perhaps my grandfather had met the 91st’s chaplain, if not the men themselves. In his journal entries, he mentioned the “colored” troops (the term used at that time), including that he had met their chaplain.  It seems that for the African-American soldiers, one Black chaplain was assigned to their battalion with segregation of the troops still practiced to some extent, although not in all instances.

My Grandfather’s Opinions on Race Relations

Marvin’s Army trunk is seen here with his 5 journals from the war years displayed.

Throughout his journals, there were numerous references to those from different backgrounds, both in race, religion and nationality:  Blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, women, homosexuals, Australians, Brits, native New Guineans, Filippinos, the Japanese … As a chaplain in the Army, he was confronted with ministering to and/or associating with all.  His writings portray an unedited, uncensored, raw telling of his thoughts and feelings:  some progressive, some less so; some thought-provoking , some banal; some applaudable, some cringeworthy.

With today’s current situation in America, I was struck by one particular entry, which I will share here.

A  Revealing Journal Entry 

In Volume 2 of my grandfather’s WW 2  journals, I found an entry dated Feb. 1, 1944.  His orders for overseas’ deployment came and he was waiting it out in San Francisco before departure for New Guinea.  During that time period, he detailed his numerous encounters with other officers heading out.  Their many conversations he recorded.  Some left him with a feeling of disgust and indignation, others that of bemusement and still more with admiration and respect.

This one below I found of particular interest, especially due to the current situation in America regarding racism:

“Also an officer in JAGD (Judge Advocate General’s Department) stated that there were many more AWOLs among Negro soldiers than among whites.  My answer to him was that the white American has much more to fight for.  He has a bigger stake in America.  Will the colored soldier fight for the privilege of riding in Jim Crow cars, of being discriminated against in labor unions, of being denied proper educational facilities and of being denied access to the professions?  Most assuredly, he is not going to be enthusiastic about fighting for the maintenance of such insistutions.  The JAGD Lt. then asked, ‘What better country could he belong to and fight for?’  I mentioned Australia, England, Free France and South America, Mexico:  This officer changed the subject.”

My Ponderings

Such shameful treatment of American citizens, during that time period as well as today, gives me even greater admiration for those who served and are serving in our US Armed forces as racial and ethnic minorities, including women and LGBT armed forces personnel.  Despite blatant discrimination and all the wrongdoings that follow with it, here we witness, in such individuals, a commitment to hoped-for change, an optimism that things will get better, and that military service to this country is a respected calling to be carried out with honor and pride.  It takes a strong, dedicated and determined person to fight for a country that still struggles for justice, fairness and equality among its people.

To Mr. Brooks

On that final note, I would like to extend an upcoming Happy Birthday to you, Private First Class Lawrence Brooks.  Your card is in the mail, along with hundreds of others, I’m sure.   If my grandfather were alive today, he’d be right there beside you, offering a prayer of thanksgiving for your service, your life and your commitment to America.

From Illinois, here’s wishing Mr. Brooks, and all who read this 平安 (ping ahn), Peace, for your day.

Posted in A WW 2 chaplain's encounters with discrimination, World War 2 Letters, WW 2 Letters: My grandmother writes | 1 Comment

A 51-year-old church newsletter rings true today

Connie (my grandmother) and Marvin (Rev. Maris) in the parsonage, around 1970.

The yellow-tinted, aged paper caught my eye, seeming to call out for a reader.

In preparation for her upcoming house move, my mom had been going through cabinets.  She’d been pulling out dusty folders from hidden drawers and came across a mimeographed, typed, 2-page newsletter entitled The United Church of Christ (UCC),  dated March 18, 1969, Garden Prairie, Illinois.  The church was among one of the last  my grandfather, Rev. Marvin Maris, served during his over 40 years of service to the UCC.  With so many other papers, church programs, bulletins, newspaper articles, old photos and other odds-and-ends materials bursting from their filing cabinet, this one faded item seemed destined for the trash heap.  But in a moment of nostalgic weakness, I scooped it up and began reading.

What I found was so similar to today’s churches, large and small: a much-needed  commitment by the congregation to run the church well, to volunteer, to get projects off the ground, to attend services, to financially give and, above all, “HELP, HELP, HELP!”, as the newsletter so fervently begged.  I counted 6 “help”s, along with quite pointed sentences urgently calling for assistance and involvement.

My mom revealed it was most likely her mom, Connie, who wrote the newsletter, not so much Marvin.  I’m sure he was consulted but Connie had a take-charge knack for enthusiastically pulling folks together as the pastor’s wife.  Marvin’s erudite, scholarly approach to ministry was balanced by Connie’s ability to be more down-to-earth in seeing to the  fellowship aspect of church-going.  She was a good one to get projects off the ground, albeit sometimes at the last minute, and rally the troops (i.e., church members) to participate.

This is obviously apparent in the below newsletter, created and typed 51 years ago, with topics and sentiments that still hold true to those of today’s churches.  For my Christian followers, see how many are reported by Marvin and Connie that you find true today in your own church community.  My guess is that there are more than a few.

============================================================================18 March, 1969

The United Church of Christ   Garden Prairie, IL

From Marvin and Connie Maris:

SPRING IS HERE:  The birds are back, ducks are traveling!  Time to clean up and pick up!  Bring your pails, mops, rakes, clippers and other equipment Saturday, March 22, this coming Saturday and help get the place ready for Easter.  WE NEED YOUR HELP.  Teenagers, men and women, old and young!  Come early and work as long as you can.

FRIDAY MARCH 21:  Cookie bake.  Order your cookies from any church school member … or call parsonage.  Proceeds for Summer program and building fund.

RUMMAGE SALE:  FRIDAY MARCH 28.  Bring your good used things to the church by Thursday evening.  Please press and hang clothing on hangers.  It will help the workers.  Donations of baked goods for sale welcomed.  Lunch served also.  Come and help, buy, give.  All for the church treasury.  This is an all church project.  Set up Thursday, sell Friday, clean up Saturday.

THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY has been instructed by the church council to give each of you a quarterly statement of monies given to the church.  This is a private thing and no one else knows what you give. It is one way to keep your tax records straight, also.

DID YOU KNOW:  We have three choirs, a rhythm group (devotion in motion), two Youth Fellowships (age group 7th through 12th grades), two women’s circles, a women’s fellowship, church school ….. and we should have the church overflowing on Sunday mornings.  You are not doing your share when you stay at home or go other places.  We need you, you need a church in Garden Prairie.  Someone from a larger church remarked the other day that she was surprised how much activity we have here.  It gets discouraging for those who DO THINGS for the rest of you to forget to become involved also.  How about trying a little harder?

MAUNDY THURSDAY.     SERVICE OF HOLY COMMUNION. 8 p.m.

EASTER      SUNRISE SERVICE      6:30 a.m. Breakfast follows. Let Frances Snider know how you will help.  Service by youth groups

EASTER.  11 a.m. worship service, three choirs and a special Easter message.  Will you be there?

BOONE COUNTY RELIGIOUS CENSUS:  This is an effort to reach the unchurched.  Our church is responsible for Bonus Township.  We need 20 workers and several drivers.  This is for Sunday, April 20.  This is a good way to invite people to our church also.  WILL YOU HELP EVEN TO DRIVE A CAR SO THAT SOME OF OUR YOUNG PEOPLE CAN PARTICIPATE?

The church school brought in $27.00 for the One Great Hour of Sharing.  Did you do your part? You can still give.

SPRING FLING:  AN EVENING OF FUN AND ENTERTAINMENT at Educational building, April 10.  Tickets available from Circle 2 members.  There will be 100 tickets only.  Get yours and invite your friends to come.  Supper and entertainment.  Mrs. Priscilla Wieck, Mashall, Illinois, will be doing the program.  A Spring Fling is traditional in many parts of Europe where the keeping of Lent was taken very seriously. It is the celebration of the breaking out of winter and the promise of bright, sunny, warm days.

VACATION CHURCH SCHOOL:  With help, we will conduct another Vacation Church School during June.  We will need teachers and helpers.  It is not too early to plan

Our Treasurer is getting a big headache because the necessary $30.00 a day to run the church is not coming in.  Are you doing your fair share?  Lent and Easter is a good time to think about it and to get out those back envelopes and tuck in a little extra.  The fuel bills have been high because we are using the buildings more.  HELP!  HELP! HELP!

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

Misguided Prayer

O Lord, so long as the weather is reasonably fine,

so long as I have no visitors,

so long a nobody asks me to do any work,

so long as I can sit in the back pew,

so long as they don’t choose hymns I don’t know,

so long as my grandson is asked to recite at the Christmas programs,

so long as I can get out in time for the game on TV,

I will honor Thee with my presece at one of the services of Thy church

whenever I feel like it.

(From the bulletin of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Williamsville, New York.)

====================================

Some must blend the plaster, Some must carry the stone;

Neigh man nor the Master Can ever build alone.

Building a room for a shelter, Or building a house for a king,

Only by working together Can we ever accomplish a thing.

====================================

Someone said this: “The tithe, in its broadest sense, is the setting aside first a definite share of one’s income regularly for the work of the Lord.  In the stricter sense, it is the setting aside for the work of the Lord first, exactly one tenth.  Any person who takes Christ seriously will find it difficult to justify the giving of left overs!  Try it faithfully for a year and find for yourself its joys.  You will find a deeper and richer life.”

What percent of time, talent and money are you returning to God who gave all for you?

============================================================================
A Few Photos from that time period
Posted in A Small-town American Church: 51 years ago, Illinois: United Church of Christ in 1969 | Leave a comment