My Meeting with Jimmy Carter

This article, “Tongue-tied before my hero,” by Marshall, Illinois native Connie Wieck, was published in the October 11, 2012 issue of The Christian Science Monitor’s Home Forum section. As Jimmy Carter is now in hospice, I share it with you here.

I recently received an email from my mother concerning an interview she’d heard with Jimmy Carter

“I’m sure you can catch it online,” she wrote, then added, “Remember when you met Jimmy Carter?”

Leave it to a mother to start rattling skeletons in her daughter’s closet. Although there are plenty to rattle, my face-to-face meeting with Mr. Carter has always been a particularly embarrassing experience to recall.

In 1997, I was staying near the campus of  Emory University in Atlanta, attending a three-month orientation program for overseas work. Our small group of participants was fairly representative of the global village: Some were first-time visitors to America. Others were residents or US citizens. But we all knew about Jimmy Carter. I took great pride in my former US president, a man whom I greatly admired for his humanitarian work both in my country and around the world.

The final days of our program had been hectic. I’d had no time to return several books to the university library, so I found myself heading out on a chilly December evening to do so.

I arrived on a campus that was oddly quiet. With final exams beginning the next day, students were absorbed in their studies.

While taking a shortcut through the student union, I came across a posted announcement: “Today from 4 to 6 p.m., Jimmy Carter book signing. Join us!”

My heart sank. Of all the worthwhile campus events I had carefully scheduled in my calendar, this one had slipped my notice. It was well past six o’clock. I’d missed this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet a legend.

In irritation, I made my way down the corridor leading outside. As I passed a meeting room, I glimpsed a white-haired man at a long table.

I stopped.

Was that who I thought it was?

I stealthily peered through the open doorway.

Carter was methodically signing a pile of books. A formidable bodyguard in a neatly pressed suit stood nearby. No one else was in sight.

I dashed to the adjacent student union bookstore, snatched Carter’s book from the shelf, paid the cashier, and sprinted back to the conference room. As I ran, I rehearsed what I’d say: I’d ooze words of admiration, spout intelligent remarks, pose profound questions. This meeting was to be a highlight of my life. I wanted it to be perfect.

I stepped inside the room. With feigned calm, I approached the man who had so inspired me. He looked up with that famous wide smile of his. I opened my mouth and out came … nothing.

“Mr. Carter,” I finally squeaked, “I admire you so much!”

“Why, thank you,” he said kindly, prying the book from my nervous grip.

He slowly opened to the front cover.

“And are you a student here?” he asked politely.

“Uh, no.”

He waited for further explanation. I frantically searched for something to say and miraculously managed a complete sentence.

“I’m attending an orientation.”

He nodded.

“Overseas work.”

He looked interested.


He smiled encouragingly.

“In Taiwan, ” I added.

“And do you speak Chinese?” he asked while signing my book with a quick stroke of his pen.

“A little.”

There was a pause, meant for me to display some of my language expertise. But for the life of me, I couldn’t think of a single word to say in my own language, much less another.

“Well, that’s good,” he continued. “I wish you the best of luck.”

“Uh, thank you. Thank you very much.”

I took back my book, wanting desperately to say more. Instead, I watched Carter turn back to signing the pile of books as I made a speedy getaway.

I’ve relived that meeting many times. In those encounters, I don’t try to impress with brilliant statements and intellectual chatter. Carter and I simply talk about sensitizing others to the world’s cultural differences and establishing understanding among nations. In that meeting, I discover what it takes to be a Nobel Piece Prize winner and, years later, can reflect upon a remarkable conversation with a man who has brought the world’s people a little closer to unity and peace.

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A Rare Sighting at Lincoln Trail State Park

My mother, along with Bridget the dog, and I often go walking at our nearby Lincoln Trail State Park. Our exercise routine has been made even more enjoyable with all the winter wildlife that has been recently found calling the park home.

Last week, we enjoyed the flocks of duck, Canadian geese and swan that were hanging out on their journeys. There were thousands! Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my cell phone to get a picture. Today, I thought to remedy that but, alas, when we arrived, all had disappeared. Only a measly few stragglers (5 swan, 1 goose and 2 ducks) were left swimming their way on the water’s surface.

How disappointing.

We regretted losing the moment last week but rather than waste our trip, we turned to the winter campground road (now empty of visitors) to march our way close to the woods before heading down the walkway trail we so much enjoy.

It was on our brisk walk that we saw thi white speck in the distance.

At first, we thought it was a dog. But as we crept slowly toward it, closer and closer and closer, we realized it was . . . . a deer.

Yes, a pure white albino deer. The lack of pigmentation showed a white hide, pink nose and white hooves. I didn’t make it close enough to check the eyes before he darted away but I’m guessing the eyes were pink, as is customary for this kind of unusual, rare genetic condition.

I did some research later and discovered one in 30,000 deer is an albino. Considering how infrequently such an animal comes into being, I would say my mom and I are so very fortunate to be seeing one in person. My mom is 89 and this is the first time she’s ever seen one.

What a remarkable, amazing surprise for our day!

I also found there are several superstitions surrounding an albino deer. One states that if a hunter kills an albino deer, the hunter will experience bad luck in hunting for the rest of his life.

Native American lore suggests that white animals are a sign of prophecy, a message from the Great Spirit to be discussed among the tribal elders: “The role of the white deer is to remind us of our spirituality. ‘This white one represents the sacredness of all living things and they should be left alone, never hunted or bothered. When we see them, we should take notice of our own spirituality and think about where we are with it.’ “

As for me and my mom, we just felt very honored that Mother Nature gave us this moment to see the beauty and astounding diversity of the many creatures on the earth. And I was grateful to have my i-phone with me to get the pictures!

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The Year of the Rabbit is Here!

Yes, the Year of the Rabbit is nearly upon us!

Today, January 21 (Saturday), is Spring Festival Eve (Chinese New Year Eve), celebrated by Chinese all around the world, with January 22nd beginning the Year of the Rabbit.

At present, it’s just after midnight in China, a time when everyone stays up late to watch TV gala performances of celebrities and well-known talk show hosts usher in the new year. In other words, people are up and diligently engaged in celebrating.

My former students, friends and Chinese church choir members are rapidly exploding my WeChat text messages with greetings.

兔年快乐!Happy Year of the Rabbit!
愿好运和好运伴随着你来年。May good luck and fortune be with you in the coming year.
新年快乐!Happy New Year!

I, in return, have already sent out my own greeting via video which my mom helped me prepare. I have numerous remarks already, of how great my mom looks (89) and how much I am missed. Here is our video below:

For a rescue from China, Bridget doesn’t seem all too enthusiastic about the upcoming holiday, which will last 15 days until the Lantern Festival ends the celebrations and all go back to work.

Updates about my Return

At present, my college will not be in session again until February 6 when students return to start up a new semester.  At that time, my Chinese organization’s (The Amity Foundation) Education Division Director, “Olivia” Chen,  will once again be discussing with college leaders when they can send my invitation letter to once again return to teach.  This has been ongoing since November and I’m not sure why it is taking so long.  I believe the college wants to re-negotiate the strict contract which all Amity teachers follow:  16 teaching hours a week, only English Education Majors (not business or tourism) and participation in the 3-self church if we wish.

A different China than when I left

During these past 3 years, China has greatly changed and become more inwardly focused.  The English language, while a mandatory subject in elementary, junior and senior high school, is now not considered as vital as before.  This means less students who will major in teaching English and more students going into the tourism and business fields. 

While this has always been somewhat of a struggle between Amity’s criteria and colleges applying for an Amity teacher, the colleges mostly are happy to follow such guidelines because they will receive qualified, experienced teachers and our salary follows that of the Chinese teachers:  We receive 4,200 yuan (roughly $700 US) a month whereas most native-speaking foreign teachers with NO experience or background in English education receive $2,000 – 4,000 a month, plus free housing and bonuses. These are from private children’s language schools who have very wealthy parents, not public government colleges which Amity only associates with. Of course, for that high amount, schools often take advantage and give teachers work schedules of teaching every day (6-7 days a week), 8 a.m. to 8 or 9 p.m., evening hours being assigned for parents willing to pay that extra for private lessons. Children at such private institutions usually range in age from 2 years old (!!) to 12.

Personally speaking, I think we become more of a babysitter than a teacher under such circumstances but that’s my own opinion.

It really just depends on the contract and what was agreed upon how the school wishes to use the foreign teacher.  Many times, though, the contract is not honored and the foreign teacher is stuck at the school.  He or she can’t leave because the visa is tied to the school.  Leaving one school and going to another requires a lot of paperwork, uprooting and new certifications or documents needed which the teacher has to pay for.

In Closing: Happy Year of the Rabbit!

Having said all of that, I am hoping that my college will agree to Amity’s mission, which is to educate the future teachers of China, and allow me to continue as their only foreign language teacher.  If not, there are other schools in China which are wanting an Amity teacher and since I’m the LAST one left, I guess I’ll have my pick!

If you have time, folks, go to your local Chinese restaurant and wish those there a Happy New Year.  They’ll be so pleased you remembered them on their special day.

From Illinois, here’s wishing you 平安 (ping-ahn, Peace) for your weekend.

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Catching Up: My WeChat Holiday Postings to Students, Colleagues and Friends in China

For the past 3 years, while in the States, I’ve made sure to keep in constant contact with my Chinese friends, former students, teaching colleagues, school leaders and my Chinese church community at the Luzhou Protestant Church. We communicate daily on China’s WeChat, a network I describe as a combination of Facebook and What’s App.

WeChat posts for me include voice mails, videos, mini-blogs and lots of pictures. What received the most notice for December were all the activities my mom and I did for the holidays: Christmas tree buying, house decorating, church worship services, choir practices, baking cookies and delivering these to neighbors, shoveling snow (Sichuan, where I teach, rarely has freezing temperatures or snow), my town’s tour of Christmas lights, and Christmas Day happenings, including coming to the free community turkey dinner which had 100 attending.

What gained the most comments, however, was my yearly Christmas and New Year’s video featuring myself, my mom and my older brother.

Our first one in 2021 was an arm-twisting venture on my part.

I was expecting that I’d be back in China the next year so I somewhat blackmailed my mom and brother into doing a holiday greeting to my Chinese students as: “This will never, ever happen again as I doubt I’ll be in America for another Christmas anytime soon. Please, please do this for me?”

Despite their complaints and heavy sighs of “Oh, all right! Let’s get it over with,” both were eager to watch it over and over again after I sent out to over 40 in China, including numerous chat groups I belong to. For a week after, I had so many comments made about our video, from how young my mom looked to what a great singer my brother was to how cute the dog acted.

On a daily basis, my mom would ask, “So what did someone have to say about our video this morning?” (See below’s 2021 Greeting)

This Year’s Greeting

Now we come to this past Christmas, with me still being here and my once-again ask of mom and elder brother for yet another recording of a holiday message for 2022.

There were moans and groans, eye-rolling and the previous year’s “Well, let’s hurry up and get it over with,” but I noticed that after it was done, they both seemed pleased not only with our performance but with the many responses it received.

See what you think of our 2022 family holiday video. It was VERY well-received in China, accompanied by “Connie, welcome you to come back soon!” from my Chinese contacts.

China News Today

Today is January 8th, the true opening of China. 10-day hotel quarantines and cell phone App Covid negative codes are no longer required for any incoming flights from overseas. The Chinese wealthy, and those itching to get out of the country to either tour or visit overseas relatives, have booked flights to Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Europe, Indonesia, America, Australia, Canada . . . and the list goes on. With the approach of Chinese New Year (January 22) and the 7-day holiday that follows, travel outside the country has really picked up and will continue to do so for the next month. Although the spread of Covid is horrendous at present due to the open-up policy, with almost all of those I know either infected with Covid or recovering from Covid, this doesn’t seem to stop anyone from leaving home, eating out, visiting friends or relatives or engaging in domestic and international travel.

The young seem to be faring well after getting Covid but the death toll is very high among the elderly, with only 40% having been fully vaccinated. This low number was due to a lax push for the older communities to get vaccinated and also suspicion of Western-style approaches (vaccinations and overseas medicine) vs. Chinese traditional methods of healing (herbal based and accupuncture).

Shocking videos have inundated the Internet on overseas websites: hospitals overwhelmed with the sick, worried relatives attending patient-filled cots lining medical center hallways, long lines outside of pharmacies for any much-needed, in-short-supply drugs, body bags piling high in freezer units or warehouses, and crematoriums working 24/7 to deal with the growing number of dead. Grieving relatives are having to book cremation and funeral space 10 days in advance (or longer). In the meantime, I have no idea where their deceased loved ones are being held while the wait for cremation and funerals commences.

There are so many heart-wrenching stories and videos. These are not being highlighted at all in the Chinese public. The government reports only 22 have so far died of Covid. We all know that is not true, the Chinese included. Most likely, the true number of infections and deaths will never be announced with accuracy, this year or in the future.

What about Connie’s Return?

Now that China is opening up, I’m anxiously waiting for announcements about when I can get back to my teaching placement at Luzhou Vocational and Technical College.

At present, my partner organization (The Amity Foundation) is working directly with my college in Luzhou for an official invite for me to return. From what I understand, the Amity director is needing to re-negotiate and re-instate my status as an Amity Foundation Teacher with the school before I can begin the process of applying for my visa and prepare to get back to my classroom and students. Rest assured, Amity is earnestly working with my school leaders and the college’s foreign affairs office to see everything is in order, documents properly prepared, so I can smoothly slide into my teaching position once again.

I have been told to be patient.

I expect with Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) approaching, and the usual 7-day holiday from January 22 – January 30, plus students not returning to school until Feb. 6 to start up the new semester, nothing much will probably be done.

Keep watching this space, and hope for that announcement within the next month of my hoped-for rejoining of my college staff in 2023. What a joyful announcement that will be!

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The Luzhou Protestant Church: Renovation Project in Full Swing, Almost Completed

(This post was created the first week of December. More information yet to come. I’ve been blocked from my Word Press account until today! Whew. Nice to be back with you all.)

New roof, plastering and repainting of walls, installing fancy light fixtures, adding office space and updating toilet facilities – The pictures I received of renovations taking place in Luzhou’s 1913 Protestant church were quite the project. 

The last time this was done was in 2003 and took 3 months to complete.  When I heard of the current changes, my greatest concern was the destruction of the original 110-year-old Christian-influenced design on the front wall of the sanctuary. But in the photos Pastor Liao sent to me, I see parishioner members are just as nostalgic as I in keeping the history of the church intact as well as the memory of the Canadian Methodist missionaries who founded it. 

Below find the sanctuary in black-and-white from 1913, and then 2020, right before I left, with the same floral design on the front-wall worship center as 109 years before.

And here below, the updating. What a mess!

I asked when completion of this project was expected and she gave me a 1-week time frame.  In the meantime, there is a larger open area on the 3rd floor of the adjacent Luzhou Gospel Hospital which might be designated as the alternative site for church activities.  In 2003, when a more extensive 3-month project took place,  people brought plastic stools and scrunched together to continue Sunday services in that space.  I remember it was a tight squeeze for over 300 but we made it.   

Since only 1 week of construction for this latest updating , it might be different plans have been made. Here below is what the new additions to the present building will look like, along with an upscaling of the Luzhou Gospel Hospital next to it.

Luzhou Plans

I did ask about the cost, if money was still needed or if donations were allowed.  I would like to help if I can.  Pastor Liao’s response was a hefty 400,000 yuan ($58,000 US) but her main concern regarded donation giving for the new church fund. 

There is a second, new church complex which has been in the works for over 5 years now in another part of town.  The Amity Foundation set up a fund for this where Chinese donors can send money via the organization’s website specifically for that project.  Pastor Liao mentioned “millions” still being needed to continue construction for the 3-building complex:  1) Church   2) Christian Education Center, with dormitories and classrooms being used for lay leader training and continuing education of pastors and church leaders  3) New and improved Luzhou Gospel Hospital.

These plans were drawn up 5 years ago, with the digging-the-foundation photo having been taken in November of 2019.  I don’t think much has been done since then, due to Covid lockdowns, and also due to a faltering fundraising drive.  The millions needed just haven’t come in.

Today’s Updates:  For the New Year, 2023

During the month of December, so many changes happened in China:  Zero-Covid policy was suddenly abolished; Covid spread like wildfire and continues to do so; Church services are now online and not in person due to the virus infection rate ripping throughout the country; January 8 opening date for China with no more quarantine required for those entering the country; Schools all going online and not in person because of so many getting sick; the Chinese New Year holidays approaching, from January 22 to Feb. 6.

I will report about my hoped-for China return in a few days.  I’ll be hearing soon from China’s Amity Foundation, my sponsoring agency, this week.  Be watching this space for exciting news, I hope!

And Happy New Year, everyone!

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Promised from Last Entry: My Conversation with “Nancy”

I left you all with the cliffhanger of the interesting conversation I had with Nancy, one of my first students in China. She is currently staff manager of the Four Seasons Hotel in Guangzhou, seen here below. (Nancy sent me the pictures of her food servers and chefs during a restaurant instructional meeting, along with a food-tasting experience, gourmet pizza)

Below are some photos Nancy sent of her trip she and her husband took to the Gobi Dessert, along with pictures of her beloved Border Collie.

The Reports from Nancy:  Number 1 — Hotels are Full

With very few foreign business folk or wealthy foreigners entering the country, you might be wondering who exactly can afford paying US $250-and-up a night for such a swanky hotel room in her  Four Seasons. (Other Four Season Hotels in other Chinese cities are $450 or more)

None other than wealthy and upper middle class Chinese.

According to Nancy, Covid restrictions on traveling around the country have kept many couples and families in their residential cities, meaning they have no place to go.  Thus they’ve been booking highclass hotels for one night to have a little respite from apartment living.  They can use all the amenities, order room service or enjoy  dinners and buffets in the hotel restaurants (usually there are 2 or 3 to meet the needs of various Western and Chinese tastebuds), sit in the ostentatiously decorated lobbies to people-watch, enjoy night views from the outside rooftop,  or go to the sports’ areas to play ping-pong, badminton, basketball (yes, some have outside basketball courts) and swimming.

Nancy also mentioned her hotel in Guangzhou is always booked solid for the lunch.  Chinese love to eat and the $35-50 per person buffet is one which is highly desirable for the 2-hour lunch break many have.

Nancy’s hotel offers “casual dining” at the 72nd floor Italian restaurant, Caffe Mondo.

Evening meals will run a person $150 – 200 per couple. Reservations are definitely required.

Mental Health Facilities at Capacity

Another of Nancy’s interesting mentions dealt with mental hospitals.  

The Zero-Covid has done a number on China’s economy, people’s freedom and way of life.  With so many lockdowns (unable to leave homes for weeks at a time), limits on travel (tourism at a stand-still in many areas),  shutting down of factories (meaning migrant workers have no means of supporting family back on the farm),  job losses (so many small businesses closed their doors, unable to bounce back from unending lockdown procedures), young people unable to find employment, and at one time stable, middle-aged couples with kids losing their jobs as well, it’s been a nightmare.

The mental health of many has reached an all-time desperation low.  Depression has set in. People now are looking for help by checking into mental hospitals.  

I remember when the 2008 earthquake hit and how unprepared China’s mental health professionals were to adequately counsel  those suffering from the after-effects of such a horrendous tragedy. Chinese are not used to “bearing all” to strangers and many psychologists did not have updated, modernized methods how to truly help those who experienced trauma.

The Amity Foundation, aside from attending to the physical needs of earthquake victims, sent well-trained psychologists from Nanjing, the organization’s headquarters,  to the hard-hit areas.  These individuals worked with local mental health professionals to lead seminars which trained how to give the best possible mental healing to those feeling utter hopelessness.   

In today’s Covid situation, I do know suicide has been on the rise with many feeling there is no end in sight.  An increase in domestic violence has been a huge issue as well due to  family members  being stuck at home together, money being scarce, the looming fear of getting Covid, changing temperaments and an inability to “get away” due to constant lockdowns. 

Luzhou has a mental hospital, very near the Number 6 Middle School swimming pool I used to exercise in every day.  I wonder if it is likewise full of patients affected by the current Covid restrictions over the past 3 years?  Be interesting to find out.

Closing Off

The bright side is that in my area of China, things are back to normal.  

My college is now open, with students having returned after the October holidays.  They are attending in-person classes.  Residents are only required to do Covid testing once a week.  My Luzhou Church has finished a major renovation of the 1913 building, which I will report on in the next post.  Worship is open to all and the church choir has been holding regular practices twice a week as always.

Foreign English teachers are being hired by private pre-schools and getting into the country.  I know of 3 who have landed this week and are in quarantine.

It might be my school leaders will be willing to invite me back in for 2023.  Send lots of good thoughts my way for that!

Until next post, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your day.

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China’s October Holidays Over: Luzhou Lockdown lifted and Former Student Nancy’s Story

My last report talked of Covid lockdowns in my area of China, including that freshmen (who were to begin the school year that first week in September) were asked to remain at home. There was hope that the National Day Holidays (Oct. 1-7) would release restrictions and allow most students to begin arriving on campuses.

Students at my college were invited to return during the week of the 8th and are now enjoying campus life as usual.

Fearful School Leaders

But at the nearby Medical College, online classes have continued in full swing for several weeks now. Perhaps leaders there are more wary of Covid spread than others. I read that a university president in Hohhot, capital city of the province Inner Mongolia, was sacked when 39 students came down with the virus. He was blamed for not taking proper precautions to keep the city and the campus population safe, even though Covid cases in the city itself reached a whopping 2,000, considered a dangerous number.

Hard to keep students from getting Covid when it’s spreading around a city of 3 million. No wonder the Medical College is fearful of bringing students back. Careers are in jeopardy so best to be safe.

I have also heard that Covid, which mostly had been targeted to specific areas, is now spreading everywhere. This is due to many who went traveling during their holidays, despite the government telling folks to stay home.

Due to such a rise in cases, daily testing of all citizens in some areas is a constant. In Luzhou, it is now once a week to receive your colored codes on your phone: Green (negative), Yellow (pending results), Red (infected). A Red code means to pack a suitcase, wait for quarantine bus to arrive, be ushered out by hazmat suited chaperones, pile on with other red-code passengers, be driven to an outlying warehouse lined with bunkbeds and wait there until you test negative 3 times in a row.

Here is an example of what the App looks like on on my former student’s phone (“Nancy”) who lives in Shenzhen.

Former student “Nancy”:  Her Story

Nancy is one of my more prosperous students.  She attended the adult language English training classes I led during my first years in China, 1991-93.  The 1-year program was held at Nanchang Normal University as an  Amity Foundation education division co-partnership with the provincial government.  The program was to be for English teachers from the countryside or small-town areas who wanted to improve their language skills and teaching methodology.  Many had had little education aside from junior or senior high school with a few having attended perhaps a 1 or 2 year college.  Many had just been chosen to teach English at local schools because their English was better than their classmates or there was no one in the area who had any English skills at all.  The 1980s was a time period where many had just come out of the Cultural Revolution where nothing had been taught except Chairman Mao’s doctrines.  Party leader Deng Xiaoping forged ahead to re-educate an entire nation and bring China back into the world scene after it had been closed for so long.  At this time, there were a lot of foreigners coming to China as English teachers.  

This is also when the Amity Foundation’s 2-year English Teaching program began, the first set of Amity’s overseas teachers arriving in China in 1986.  Christian sending agencies in Sweden, Norway, Finland, America, Britain, Canada, Japan (teaching Japanese) as well as others joined with Amity to send qualified teachers to normal schools (teachers’ colleges) throughout the country.  

My 1991 – 94 stint in Nanchang, the capital city of Jiangxi Province, had me working with Canadians, Japanese, Americans, Fins and Norwegians.  Enrollment for the program was limited to 30 Chinese English teachers coming to the campus to live and study for a fully year with us, the two foreign language Amity Foundation teachers. 

“Nancy” was one of them, studying from 1992-93.  

She actually wasn’t a teacher at all but her father, an important leader in local government, had managed to snatch her a spot to study with us for a year in the hopes it would improve her job perspectives in the future.  Having good English language skills was a huge selling point for jobs in the business field.  

She came to us in her 20s, very close in age to myself.  We formed a tight bond in that year.  

Nancy proved to be a hard-working student, taking advantage of every class we offered and all out-of-classroom activities.  In that year, her skills grew from practically zero English to being able to converse at a basic level.

A Successful Rise through the Ranks of the Hotel Industry 

When she left the program, she snagged herself employment working at the switchboard of an international hotel in Guangzhou, a city nearby Hong Kong.  She used to make free phonically to my mom or me  in America, the phone ringing from 2-3 a.m. in the morning.  This time period (1994-96) was during my study in America for my MA degree at Southern Illinois University.  

My mom, dad and I always knew not to panic when the phone rang in those wee hours of the morning.  No tragedy had befallen the family.  It was just the high-pitched, sweet voice which greeted us the same every time we lifted the receiver: “Hello!  This is Nancy. . . .  in China!”

Those first few months of her calls, our  chats lasted for 5 minutes or so before her limited English ability failed her.  But over the year, her proficiency greatly improved and she was able to hold a decent conversation.  Her US boss realized her potential and sent her for managerial training for 3 months. 

With that first stepping stone, Nancy worked her way up through the ranks of the hotel industry, serving in all positions offered with promotions continuing upward and onward.  

Nancy’s Rise 

She ended up having numerous placements within the Shangrila Hotel chain, which held a 5-star rating for China.  Her first assignment was in the southern city of Shenzhen for several years, then she was moved to Shanghai and later to Guangzhou. While in Shanghai in 2011, I actually visited her where she could treat one guest to a free night.  I enjoyed the spa, the sauna, wearing soft plush robes, swimming in the 25-meter indoor pool, stuffing myself at a $50 dinner buffet, followed the next morning by a $25 breakfast buffet and thoroughly indulging in a truly lovely room with a magnificent view of the city. The $120 US hotel room was certainly a treat for me, who usually stayed in the $9 mom-and-pop hostels.  Those were often without hot water, the beds harder than rocks but at least they were clean.  

As you can see below, the Shanghai Shangrila has an abundance of amenities.  Hot water certainly was one of them!

The Single Life Until . . . .

I remember at the above meet-up in Shanghai,  we had discussed our single lifestyle.  Both of us were in our late 40s and quite happy to be single without children, just our pets.  So imagine my surprise when a year later, Nancy found someone!

She married a very nice businessman who followed her to her next employment move, working for the internationally renowned Four Season’s Hotel in Guangzhou.  She is still there to this day, overseeing the entire staff of the hotel.   She and her husband have no  children but they do have a border collie that they love immensely.   All through Covid lockdowns, they were still able to walk the dog outside, Nancy told me.  

The hotel suffered greatly during that first year of Covid and even into the second year.  At times, only 20% of the hotel was filled with a stray Chinese business person or two, even perhaps a foreigner.  The staff had very little to do and many were let go.

And Today? (An astonishing Conversation)

Needless to say, things have changed quite a bit from a year ago.  Nancy and I have just had a very fascinating conversation which I will reveal in the next entry.  

Ending in a cliffhanger to peak your interest!

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More Updates of Covid Lockdowns: Chengdu (Capital City of Sichuan, 21 million) and My City, Luzhou (6 million)

My last report gave an inside look into Chengdu from my former student, “Jason,” who escaped to the countryside just in time. He currently resides in his farming community with his parents in the areas new apartment complexes.

Countryside Living for Jason’s Village Folk

About 10 years ago, the farmers in surrounding villages were offered to leave their plots of land and homes located in village clusters. Many of the homes were made of sod or had a traditional set-up of concrete with courtyards with pig stalls and chickens wandering about, outhouses, wood-burning ovens, no showers, make-shift pipes to pull in water or using buckets to bring in pond water from local outside sources.

The government was encouraging farmers to buy into newly built high-rise (6 stories, no elevators) apartment complexes which had all the amenities of in-city apartments. For more money, people could purchase or rent space on the buildings’ first floors to open small shops and groceries for convenient buying of the basics. The cost was low for the buy-in (I believe around $3,000 US as a downpayment) but more was required for ownership. Also, the apartments were empty cement shells, meaning that $10,000 US and up would be needed to install all the pipes, electrical outlets, lights, toilets, decor and furnishings. Loans from the bank were required for most since their income was so low, or borrowing money from distant relatives, or doing steady migrant work where monthly salaries could be as high as $600-700 US a month.

Jason’s parents took up the offer as the living conditions are so much better. With Jason’s help as a China and overseas tour guide, which brought him a substantial amount of money, he was able to add to their ability to upgrade and make a very nice home for themselves.

They still farm the land, which is about a 15-minute walk up the road, but that doesn’t bring them much income. The two did work in a local factory for awhile (stuffing feathers into cheap duves) but that company has since closed. At present, they have no income with Jason’s current employment (the online overseas limousine booking service he provides) being the only financial assistance they receive.

Moving On:  News from Chengdu

Jason reported that news from Chengdu concerns the below map of the city, 21 million people.


  1. No one is yet allowed to leave the city nor allowed to enter the city, but in the green district areas, people can move about freely.
  2. Masks are required everywhere you go.
  3. The white area is where Covid cases are still being detected. Close-contact people and positive cases are required to stay in quarantine centers. No one is allowed to stay at home if positive — they must go to the makeshift quarantine center for 2 weeks, after which they must test negative at least 3 times over a period of 5 days.
  4. Stores in the green are allowed to open but the government has encouraged people not to go shopping. Driving about in cars is also not encouraged. Schools still remain closed as well as gymnasiums, theaters and malls.
  5. Stores in the white area cannot open. People can only order online for food delivery and pick those up at the barriers when contacted by the carriers.
  6. No one from the green area can cross into the white and vice-versa
  7. Barriers and volunteer “guards” in hazmat suits have been set up to make sure green and white do not mix.
  8. No one knows when the restrictions will lift.

Needless to say, Jason is VERY happy he’s where he is in the countryside. He left just before the full lockdown, anticipating Chengdu would soon close itself off to the entire country. He is currently able to enjoy freedom with his family, walk about in the fresh air and not have restrictions about where he can and can’t go.

News from Luzhou

My city still remains on lockdown with everyone required to stay at home.  The emptiness of the city is shocking!  The above were sent by a Luzhou colleague.  Shops are not allowed to open except if they are designated grocery stores.

 One family member can go out shopping every other day for only 2 hours.  Everyone must go out every other day to be tested, standing in long lines which does give at least some fresh air but with masks on, not so much so.

My friend, who has 5 very big dogs, said she is allowed to take them out to do their business only and then immediately head back upstairs to her apartment.  Her report was 4 days ago, however.  It might be that she can’t even do that now.  

In strict lockdowns, such as Chengdu’s white area, residents are only allowed to leave their homes to pick up food  at the barriers which they ordered on their phones .  Walking pets is not allowed, nor walking outside to stretch your legs.

One of my former students, feeling bored, decided to volunteer at his neighborhood’s testing site.  He wanted to be of use, rather than sit inside his home all day.  (On the left)


Teaching Situation

My above former student is at present a teacher at the elementary school level.  His principal decided to hold off on online classes as it’s too difficult for children to sit in front of a computer or cell phone all day to receive lessons.  There’s too much of a burden on parents to make sure their kids stay put.

Instead, there are numerous Apps for different required subjects which schools are encouraging parents to use to keep their kids busy.  The lessons are created by experts, professionally done, with activities, video inclusions and fun special effects to hold the children’s interest.  These are truly a Godsend for elementary teachers and parents of that age-group alike.

But for junior high and high school, many teachers are required to teach virtually, all day, Monday through Friday, and create their own lessons.  Those who are motivated and gifted teachers will spend hours doing their PPTs or researching how to help the students learn.  But others just lecture, putting in the hours required without really caring if the students learn or not.  They are just buying time until in-person will return.  

The Lament

From my friends, I hear the same laments:  “We are so bored!!”, “I can’t make any money.  It is very worrying.”, “When will this end??!!”

That last is a very good question, especially when China’s 1.3 billion people last received their virus boosters almost a year ago, or rather that is what my friends have reported for themselves personally.  The entire country is extremely vulnerable to an unimaginable explosion of illness and deaths, especially as very few have been exposed to Covid due to the strict lockdowns. They have no antibodies, stimulated via vaccinations or other means, that are currently of use.  

Final Comments

In the meantime, I have continued to post on my WeChat moments of my life in America for all to see and read about:  Pictures of me and my mom, our flower garden, my swimming ventures, my brother’s birthday celebrations, Walmart grocery shopping, Rural King outings, our county fair, the Fall Festival parade, my recent trip to Detroit . . . . All have us unmasked, in close contact, laughing, hugging, walking, talking  . . . 

These posts bring a lot of conversation among those in China who follow them.  The one outstanding remark is this:  “All the world is opened up.  When will we?”

Sorry to say, I have no answer.  






Posted in coronavirus situation in China, Coronovirus Situation, From Along the Yangtze, Tales from Sichuan's Yangtze Rivertown, Luzhou | 1 Comment

From Chengdu (Capital of Sichuan): NY Times Article; A Former Student’s Opinions

A Former Student Shares Frustrations

In the previous entry, I shared a bit about Jason’s recent messages to me. His wise decision to leave the city before the lockdown took place has him enjoying relative freedom in the area about an hour in the countryside where his parents live. His current job has him up all night, working for a company that hires limousine service for those needing transportation to and from airports around the globe. The international hours demand him to be ready to answer the phone during his night time and speak with overseas partner companies needing vehicle pick-ups/drop-offs for their staff or clients. Sometimes, his number is given directly to the person who needs his services. Just this morning, he told me he’d been arranging limousine service to the hotel for someone landing in Chicago. That’s in my state!

“Do you know what we call Chicago?” I asked him in a text message.

“No,” was his reply.

“It’s the Windy City, because of the wind that comes off of Lake Michigan,” I continued in the next entry. “You can be in-the-know and impress the next Chicago client with your knowledge.”

And his next voicemail startled me:

“You know, before my friends can go out shopping for 1-2 hours during the lockdown but not now. More cases have been discovered, with daily testing of all citizens to catch those who are positive, so now everyone is on full lockdown. No one can leave their homes. Barriers are being set up around neighborhoods. Everyone must order food online for delivery. I worry about so many elderly. They are not good at using cell phones to order things online. Who will help them?”

This is so true.

When Shanghai went on the same draconian lockdown for almost 2 months in March and April, criticism arose for those unable to get adequate amounts of food. Stories emerged of those in their 70s to 90s, living alone, going without food for several days until a next-door neighbor brought over a few small items. One old man’s pleas went viral when he broke lockdown protocol, went out to the street and flagged down one of the few public buses to tearfully beg for food. The video circulated with many critical comments added about how to solve this problem.

In the end, many viewing this immediately began a search for those needing help so they could group-order food needed. Leaving an apartment was only allowed for daily testing, which presented a dilemma as to how to reach vulnerable individuals. One young couple posted signs in their complex, telling residents to call them for assistance. Others talked to those in their Covid testing line, saying they were willing to order food for them. Such compassion spread to other parts of Shanghai, where willing and able new-generation techies took it on themselves to organize teams to make sure those struggling to get food didn’t starve to death.

One hopes that Chengdu residents will take Shanghai’s example to heart and do the same.

China’s strict Zero-Covid Policy

If you are unfamiliar with why China is sticking to this policy, or what it exactly means, read below. It gives a very good explanation.

News from Luzhou: Experiencing 7th Day of Lockdown

While Chengdu’s population of 21 million is not allowed to venture out, Luzhou city (where my school is located) has been experiencing their own troubles.

From 4 positive cases last week, to another 8 and now 50 reported after daily testing, lockdown measures have taken full effect. One family member is still able to leave for 2 hours of grocery shopping every day but that might be changing soon due to rising Covid cases. Despite keeping families at home, the every-other-day testing requirements are still finding cases.

One gentleman was reported to have been arrested for jogging around his area. The police tried to catch him on 4 different instances and finally did, sending him to a detention center for violating the “stay-at-home” order. He was made a huge example of all over the city as a selfish man, one holding no regard for the safety of others.

Such behavior and blatant breaking of lockdown rules obviously will not be tolerated.

My college held off inviting students back from summer break, hoping Sept. 7 might see the doors open, but that is not the case. All schools at all levels are now all online. Malls and shops are closed. Restaurants and gyms tightly sealed. Businesses are shuttered as well. This is in an attempt to catch every single new virus case possible.

There was hope that the lockdown would only last a week but with rising numbers, my college officials are thinking perhaps after China’s National Day holidays are over, October 7, there might be better news to get students back into the classroom.

Recent Double-Celebrations from Windows and Balconies

The Mid-Autumn Festival, celebrated this year on September 10, coincided with the United Nations’ declared holiday, Teachers Day. Both are celebrated by China, with the festival giving the entire country a 3-day holiday to travel or have family time at home to enjoy watching the full moon while eating mooncakes.

Due to the city’s strict virus-control regulations, however, Luzhou residents were required to stay at home. In an attempt to give some joy to citizens, Hazmat suited volunteers and those used to enforce the lockdown led apartment complexes in celebrations from the outside courtyards. City text messages went out in the millions, inviting citizens to wave flags from their balconies and windows at a certain time, as well as sing with favorite songs blasted over loudspeakers.

See the below, posted by my former student, an elementary education English teacher. Rather than stay at home and be bored all day, he has been volunteering to help with Covid testing and upholding the stay-at-home order. He was able to get a great view of the city’s success in making a dismal holiday outlook become a vibrant show of solidarity and joy.

Feeling Left Out

I must say, after watching that video, I really regretted being here in America. I’d much rather be in China to join with my colleagues and friends in their on-going struggles as this lockdown continues. What I can do, however, is send lots of positive hope their way through messages and voicemails.

If I can’t yet be there in person, I can at least be there in spirit.

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The school year in Sichuan first delayed due to a massive heatwave; Now delayed due to Covid

 All across China, students were gearing up  to return to classes yesterday, on September 1st, but due to the horrendous heatwave and continuous power cuts to take care of huge cities, this has been changed to September 6. This CNN news report tells of the desperation in my area of China, Luzhou (loo-joe), located quite near Chongqing.

Sichuan’s temperatures have soared as high as 40 (105 degrees F) during July and August.  Many colleges don’t have air-conditioning the dorm rooms.  At my college, dormitory air-conditioners were installed 3 years ago but to use them requires each dorm room to pay according to how much is used.  The electricity cost was to be divided among the 4 or 6 students in the room.  With a majority being from the countryside, struggling to pay even for their meals much less electricity, there was a lot of hesitancy to turn them on.  I remember we had a lot of arguments among dorm mates concerning the use of their air-conditioners:  complaints of it being too cold once on, complaints of cost, complaints of not everyone paying their fair share . . . .

A delayed 1-week starting date won’t relieve any of that, I’m guessing.   It’s expected the heatwave will continue all through September, especially for Sichuan, but at least the delay gives everyone another week of rest.  I imagine the freshmen will be soaking up all that family time while the upper classmen will be bemoaning yet another boring week hanging out at home.

Thus is the life of a student, yes?

Sichuan in the Grips of Covid-19

But just within the past 4 days, announcements now from my college, my church choir, Luzhou city government posts and Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, are all about one thing and one thing only:  Confine yourself to your home, go out only for daily Covid testing in your neighborhood area, don’t panic if your Covid code (located on the cell phone) turns yellow or red, contact local authorities for further information, allow only one member to leave for shopping every 3 days, adhere to all regulations and cooperate with your local Covid task force.  

All the announcements and urgent postings I’m reading seem to end with a positive spin of “Fight the virus!  We will prevail!” 

All this began first in Luzhou, when 2 positive cases were found through random testing.  The two individuals had recently returned from another province and were eating out at a restaurant located in my college’s city district. Once found, the district announced for mandatory testing of everyone in the city with Longmatan District being closed.

Good thing our school and others delayed that September 1st starting date as students hadn’t arrived yet to start the school year.  Otherwise, they’d have been stuck in the midst of a lockdown, on our campus with school leaders having to deal with their whereabouts and all the hassles of keeping them in their dorm rooms, delivering their food and testing them daily.

This morning, however, more messages from my Luzhou friends have noted other districts in the city are now closing down.  Those 2 positive cases are now at 19 and most likely there will be more.  My Chinese church choir will not be meeting for choir practice and worship services will be going back to online, which took place 2 years ago.

Chengdu more serious

Chengdu’s cases have suddenly soared as more and more positive cases are found, leaving that city on total lockdown.  Much like Shanghai a few months ago, Chengdu’s 21 million residents are now experiencing daily testing and stay-at-home orders with food deliveries stepping up as well.


One of my former students, “Jason” Ke, has recently been employed in Chengdu working for a company that books cars for businessmen coming and going to airports across the country as well as the world.  His position requires him to reserve private transportation for such individuals, Chinese and foreigners, which he does through phone calls and the Internet.  With overseas services, he is required to speak English, thus his language skills are put to good use.

Jason’s parents, sister and brother-in-law, live in a small countryside village an hour from the city.  When the rumors began of a possible lockdown in Chengdu, and local government officials promising “This will take place for only 3-4 days as we test everyone, beginning at midnight tonight”, Jason didn’t take any chances.  

He immediately received his negative Covid test result, hopped on a bus and headed back to the countryside to stay with his family.  

Within a few hours of his departure, the city announcements changed to total lockdown of all residents, including no one leaving the city or coming into the city,  flights immediately canceled at the domestic and international airport, and detailed instructions of what to do, where to go, how to act and when normality might resume, which was touted “in just a few days.”

“Just a few days” is another way of saying “indefinitely.”

Jason sent pictures of his family and others being able to walk around their countryside neighborhood, continue planting or harvesting crops, go fishing on the nearby lake, head off to the local market to buy food and enjoy a life of freedom.  Masks around others were to be worn and Covid testing required with Hazmat suited CDC staffers, but nothing as restrictive as those in the city.

Wise decision to get out while you can, Jason!

No one can predict if that promised “only-3-to-4-day” lockdown will hold true or not.  In the case of Shanghai, days ballooned to weeks ballooned to months.

We shall see if Chengdu or Luzhou follows the same fate as Shanghai.  Watch this space for updates!

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