An encounter in China changes forever how I regard others

The following essay was published in The Christian Science Monitor’s (CSM) Home Forum section in November (I believe) of 2008. I’ve sent it to the Nanjing Amity office as a contribution to the Amity Foundation’s English Teacher program, celebrating its 35th anniversary this summer. The Amity staff asked if current and former teachers would send writings of any thoughts, reflections, or stories we’d like to share for a booklet. I’ve had over 20 articles published in CSM’s The Home Forum but I’m choosing this one because the experience shared here changed forever how I viewed and interacted with those around me. I hope, after you finish reading, you also will be encouraged to open your heart to others you might have ignored before and be blessed with many unexpected friendships, just like me. 

I Owe it all to Chairman Mao

May Day Holiday Visit 017

Several years ago, I landed in the Chinese city of Chengdu on my way back to the smaller town where I was teaching English. Laden with a heavy suitcase, a huge backpack, and a small dog, I arrived exhausted at Chengdu’s bus station. I wasn’t looking forward to the four-hour bus ride to the Yangtze River city Luzhou.

On most of my bus trips between the two cities, I had paid no attention to the ragtag group of luggage carriers huddled in the taxi zones.

They were poor farmers from the countryside trying to supplement their income by carrying luggage.

Armed with bare muscle and a thick rope for tying bags together, they jogged after approaching taxis and tried to make eye contact with passengers who might need help. One haul was 3 yuan (45 cents). For a Chinese farmer, several hauls a day was a gold mine.

I never hired carriers. But on this occasion, I was so overburdened that I decided that the first carrier to reach my taxi was going to have my business.

That was “Chairman Mao.”

He was a small, thin man with leathery skin and had beaten his heftier competitors by sprinting agilely to the taxi door.

My luggage was heavy, and I remember thinking what a struggle it would be for this tiny man to manage it. However, he easily pulled out my suitcase with one hand and threw my backpack over his shoulder with the other.

“You’re fast!” I told him in Chinese. He smiled and led me to the ticket line.

Eventually, we made our way down the escalators and through the security check. My personal hauler hustled along, waiting for me to catch up when I fell behind. He waited for me outside the restroom, waited for me to buy travel snacks, and then gently placed my things on the floor.

My departure wasn’t for another 30 minutes so he took a seat beside me. Little Flower, my dog, came out of her carrier to position herself on my lap. The other Chinese passengers eyed our curious group: the foreigner, her big-eared Chihuahua, and a weathered Chinese man in shabby clothes. His frayed jacket had holes, and the seams of his worn sneakers were unraveling, exposing a toe.

He and I sat quietly, awkwardly. Under the scrutiny of so many eyes, we both felt very uncomfortable.

“What’s your surname?” I finally asked.

He brightened. “Mao,” he replied.

“Mao? Like Chairman Mao?” I asked for clarification.

He nodded.

During the next half-hour we chatted. He was 50 years old. He and his wife were farmers on the outskirts of the city. They had three children, one grown son who was a taxi driver and a teenage son and daughter. He had a sister in Luzhou. He came to the bus station every day to carry luggage. On a good day, he could make up to 50 yuan ($6) but mostly, it was less than that. Some days, it was nothing. There were too many other haulers, and many Chinese carried their own things.

When the bus bound for Luzhou pulled into the station, Chairman Mao grabbed my things and made sure they were safely tucked away in the luggage compartment underneath the bus. I handed him a 10 yuan note, the equivalent of $1.50. He adamantly shook his head and thrust it back into my hands.

“Too much! Too much!,” he insisted.

“No,” I told him firmly. “My luggage is very heavy. You waited 30 minutes. You must take it.”

After a bit more fuss, I won.

He gratefully accepted my offering, then waved goodbye as I climbed aboard with my dog.

I have taken many weekend trips to Chengdu since that first meeting. Rain or shine, there is Chairman Mao to greet me. I can easily manage my small suitcase by myself, but my friend is too quick to grab it from my hands. And I am quite happy to have his company and to talk, even if it is a struggle to get him to accept my money.

My friendship with Chairman Mao has encouraged me to form relationships with others I once ignored. I now include among my friends the homeless lady in the city square, the beggar in front of my bank, the migrant workers on my campus, and many others. Every friendship opens new doors of cultural understanding for each of us.

And I owe it all to Chairman Mao.

Posted in From Along the Yangtze, Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown Stories, Tales from Sichuan's Yangtze Rivertown, Luzhou, Tales from The Yangtze River, Travel, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

From China: Another Translation Request

“Ping!”

There it was, another heads-up notice that my WeChat message box was in need of checking.

Glancing down, I saw it was from Bruce, yet a twelfth time in the last 3 days.

“We have another translation needs your advice,” he wrote, using the plural “we” in reference to the school.

Oh, joy. Here we go again!

Recap

From the previous post, you know that I was asked for help from Bruce Lu, one of our English teachers who has been assigned by administrators as the school’s official translation expert. The former reported translation task was for a special Wall of Honor where student and teacher accomplishments would be displayed. For our college’s overseas partner representatives, whose visits will hopefully be resuming next year, the school officials are requesting all prominent Chinese signs around campus to have corresponding English translations.

After numerous back-and-forths between myself and Bruce, headings were finally agreed upon. The following were chosen with faculty and leader approval: Wall of Distinction; Student Honors; Faculty Honors and Student Work Display.

I was pleased that Bruce had felt my small offerings were do-able and acceptable, although it took us awhile to get to that point. I will say there was a huge sigh of relief on my part when Bruce took my suggestions and agreed with them. No more “back to the drawing board” for either of us. Whew!

New Request

This next ask was a bit more challenging, not to mention daunting.

Bruce was wanting the new school motto to be translated.

“We have different versions,” Bruce wrote. “Which do you like?”

He included the motto in Chinese ( 崇 德, 博学, 尚 俭, 笃行 ) and the English counterparts. His 3 choices were:

a). Morality, Erudition, Frugality and Action

b). Advocating morality and frugality , and Pursue erudition and action

c). Be moral, be erudite, be frugal, and be scrupulous

“Which do I like” he asked me? Hmmm. Well, none of them.

Numerous Hours Later

I am by no means a Chinese language scholar. Despite all my years in China, my language skills are limited to your average daily transactional use, not so much to academia. After several hours of consulting with Bruce, using various Internet translation tools, plugging into synonym mechanisms for better vocabulary choices, and re-arranging, re-thinking English structures to reach a better couplet format to match the Chinese, this is what I came up with:

  1. Championing Morality and Prudence; Pursuing Knowledge and Diligence
  2. Upholding Morality and Frugality; Pursuing Knowledge and Effort
  3. Upholding High Principles through Prudence; Pursuing Knowledge through Effort
  4. Achieving High Morals through Prudence; Pursuing Knowledge through Active Effort

Requesting Assistance

As of yesterday morning, I was still waiting to hear from several of my Chinese friends who are fluent in both English and Chinese, with the hope that they could add their 2-cents worth. After all, we’re talking about a world-wide audience here, not merely something contained to the campus.

This motto will be placed on letterheads and seen throughout the college’s website. It will hold a place of honor in campus buildings or be lettered on announcement boards. It will be printed on diplomas, embossed on faculty and student awards, and be featured on powerpoint presentations. It will be seen by English speaking scholars from other educational institutions who have a relationship with our school, and I can guarantee, despite others’ cultural tolerance, our college will be judged by what that motto says. Misspellings, odd word choices, grammatical errors . . .. The Chinese administrators want to present an impressive image, not just through the visual improvements of the campus but through a high standard of intellectual presence being portrayed as well.

Correct English translations are imperative to reach that holistic stately image goal.

The Finalized Head-nod

While I’d like to take credit for the final translation, which both Bruce and I are raving over, I must turn over that honor to Rev. Franklin Wu and his wife, Jean. Both worked many, many years in the China Program through the Presbyterian Church and were my orientation leaders and supervisors during my early years with Amity, 1991 – 94. Their dedication to their denomination, and to the China Amity Program, were a monumental blessing to all of us who went through their loving, tolerant and wise expertise when it came to us newbies living, working and engaging in our Chinese communities. I, and others, are eternally grateful for their guidance and advice given those many years ago.

While now retired, in their 90s, both are still very active in US church circles as Chinese-American scholars. Who better than Jean and Frank to add their two-cents worth to what Bruce and I were struggling with for several days?

Here is the note from Jean Wu, sent to me and forwarded on to Bruce:

Dear Connie,
Sorry for the delay in answering your emails!  These mottos are Confucian values and need much pondering!  The following are Frank’s translation:


崇德 – Embracing Virtue

博學 – Broadening Knowledge

尚儉 – Honoring Frugality

篤行 – Practicing Diligence 


If you do not like Frugality, how about Simplicity?
Frank likes the idea of adding “ing” to the verbs to make them more dynamic.  It is in the spirit of Confucius “The Great Learning” that said “止於至善,ending at the utmost goodness.”  In other words, it is a process that we keep working on, never stopping.
Take care! Jean

Bruce’s Pitch to the Administrators

Bruce and I both agreed “Simplicity” best met the needs of a foreigner’s understanding. Thus the Luzhou Vocational and Technical School’s motto will read as:

Embracing Virtue; Broadening Knowledge; Honoring Simplicity; Practicing Diligence

Below find my college’s website. Although in Chinese, there are so many pictures of our fairly new 5-year-old campus, including new additions since I was there over a year ago. Be looking for that motto to spring up in the next month or so. And know that Bruce and I had a hand in it all.

http://www.lzy.edu.cn

Here’s wishing you Peace ( 平安, Ping-An) for your day, everyone!


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My Favorite WeChat Messages: “Connie, can you help me?”

Being stuck in America for so long is hard, especially for me, a teacher who spent 27 years in China and now finds herself no longer in the classroom or in China due to Covid. (Yes, I’m still waiting for the ban to lift!)

At Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, as the only foreign teacher on the campus, I was always busy: creating fun, interactive lessons for my students, monitoring our English Language Resource Center, hosting English Corner activities, organizing holiday events with the English Association members, arranging extra lessons for those who were struggling in my classes, working with students for language competitions, judging our yearly school contests (English speech, drama and singing contest), participating in faculty events and adding my expertise concerning language questions my colleagues had.

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While I’m not physically present, I still have the ability to connect and give advice through WeChat, China’s equivalent of Facebook. Every day, my phone is constantly dinging with messages from Luzhou, either from the church choir members, or my students, colleagues and friends. My favorite phrase is: “Connie, can you help me?”

Yeah!! I can once again be useful!

A Message from “Bruce” Lu

“Bruce” Lu is one of our English department’s better vocabulary experts.  While his teaching skills need some adjusting, his language ability is quite impressive.  He graduated with an English translation degree, which spurred the administrators to put him in charge of translating all campus Chinese signs into English.  Three years ago, when we moved to the new campus, Bruce and I worked together to make sure the Chinese had appropriate English counterpart translations.  Such placards on doors (such as President’s Office, Vice-President’s Office, Office of Finances) or important signage (Handicapped Facilities, Cafeteria, Sports Field), made our campus look quite impressive for our overseas partner school reps who came to tour the college.

Of course, there were always a few that escaped my eye when Bruce felt he had it translated correctly and didn’t consult with me.  We still have a couple questionable ones spread throughout our classroom buildings, such as  “Teacher Resting Room” (a direct translation of 教师休息室).   A better fit would be “Faculty Work Room.”   My all-time favorite, however, is the one door that is announced as  “The Secret Room.”   I’ve forgotten what the Chinese was but I do remember that door was always locked, which I guess would definitely make it a “secret room” since none of us were privy to what was inside.

Moving on, Bruce’s message this morning began as follows:

“Connie, I need your help. How to translate ‘荣誉墙, 学生风采, 老师风采, 学生作品欣赏.’ The first phrase is  a wall to display the awards our teachers and students got.  We mean to display the excellent students and teachers, put their photos on the wall.  The photos are mainly about their participation in all kinds of contests and activities. The original translation are as follows:  Wall of Honor, Student Charm, Teachers Presence and Students Work Display. How do you think?”

He next included his computer skills at work, the below which will be posted on the school’s website with a printed version displayed on a campus billboard along our walkways or inside one of the buildings. (Notice my photo in there as well, when I received Sichuan Province’s highest honor for foreigners, The Jin Ding Award, in 2008.)

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A Cooperative Effort

All morning, my mom and I have been discussing how to convey the meaning of the Chinese without using the direct translation, which sounds a little off. This is what happens when you directly plug Chinese characters into translation Apps or websites. You often get something that makes little or no sense, plus doesn’t convey the meaning of what’s needed.

So here’s what my mom and I came up with:

  1. Celebration of Excellence; Wall of Distinction
  2. Faculty Honors
  3. Student Honors
  4. Student Extracurricular Activities; Student Activities

Next Step

It’s 2 a.m. in China so Bruce won’t be checking his messages until China’s Sunday morning. My guess is that he’ll most likely “but” me on several of these, insisting that the translation doesn’t fit the meaning of what he wants. Bruce does have a tendency to get his back up when it comes to advice: He asks for it sincerely but when it comes down to it, he sometimes goes rogue and ignores my sound suggestions.

We’ll see what he comes up with. When I return, I might very well be walking by my “Wall of Distinction” only to find it touting something else, right alongside that mysterious, enigmatic Secret Room.

When it comes to Bruce, one never knows.

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Easter Services: 1944 and 2021

It seems appropriate, as Easter is upon us, that I add this entry from my grandfather’s WW 2 diaries, written in the jungles of New Guinea during the height of the war. The date was April 9, 1944. There were numerous Protestant chaplains, rabbis and Catholic priests within the religious ranks of the service . My grandfather worked with those assigned to his battalion, which could at times cause some confusion as to who was doing what and when.

April 9, 1944 (From the diaries of Chaplain Marvin E. Maris

Easter: 1. A.M. worship service; 83rd QM at Base A – 40 present. 2. P.M. worship service at 4th Depot Chapel with Chaplain Walters McCracken – attended 30.

The Base chaplain and the Depot chaplains had the Easter services in an awful muddle between them. On instant notice, I was called to take the service with the 83rd Quarter Master and last night, I didn’t know whether the Depot chaplain would be there or not, (I) prepared the whole service only to find him there with one which he had planned. It was embarrassing to him as he had not made it clear to me as to just what I was to do. But he didn’t need to speak of the mix-up in the service and tell all the soldiers about it! The chaplain should have its little secrets when administration is concerned.

My Personal Easter Additions from Illinois: April 4, 2021

Today’s Easter services at Marshall First UMC were definitely nothing like that of Marvin’s 75 years ago, or of last year’s where we had no open worship at all. With our bishop announcing higher numbers accepted in the sanctuary, our Easter saw quite a few in the pews for both services.

We did have a connect with my grandfather who was definitely remembered in today’s services. My mother added an “in memory of/ in honor of” potted lily for her parents, Marvin and Connie, as well as my dad, Bill. Our two were among the other 60 plants, including daffodils, tulips and hyacinths, which added so much to the beauty of the church.

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Our Choir Returns

After a full year of no choir, we choir members finally were able to add our voices to the service for both Palm Sunday and today, Easter Sunday. If you are interested in hearing us on Facebook, I add it here. My mom and I are in the front, with me on the right and my mom on the left. If you want to fast-forward to the choir numbers, be looking for four anthems for each.

Palm Sunday

https://fb.watch/4FPlYyQCDB/

Easter Sunday

https://fb.watch/4FO89RhZVe/

Before Closing:  A bit of Worship Anxiety

I will share that the above Easter live-stream recording had me in a panic due to my cell phone.  I have the habit of bringing my phone with me everywhere I go to take pictures and immediately post for my Chinese friends to enjoy.  This includes the Luzhou choir members. These entries I place in my WeChat moments.  “Moments” are short blogs, which include pictures and short write-ups of what is happening.  My Moments are known to get many hits since I have so many Chinese followers.

This morning, I couldn’t help myself but immediately post my church photos and my write-up in between our services.  I left my phone tucked under the pulpit, in front of me, and forgot to turn it off for that second service.  Since the time difference was 14 hours ahead of Illinois time, I figured no one would be up so late at midnight or 1 a.m. to even bother looking at my Easter news offerings.

Wrong!

As Pastor Bob began his message at 10:45 a.m., my phone continued to buzz over and over and over again as choir members, friends and my students began commenting on what I had posted.  It was too conspicuous for me to reach for the phone, two feet  away, to turn it off so I had to just pray that it couldn’t be heard over Pastor Bob’s sermon.

How many remarks and comments was I getting? A lot!

When worship finally did end, I was able to check and see that 21 messages (meaning 21 “Zzz!”s) were waiting for me, including a large number from my Chinese choir members who exclaimed, “Christ is Risen!”, “Hallelujah!”, “Happy Easter!” and my all-time favorite, which was:  “Hurry home, Sister Connie.  We miss you.”

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What a lovely feeling, to know even if I’m physically absent, I’m  still in everyone’s thoughts.  Let’s hope that next year at this time, I’ll be back in China, leading Easter egg hunts and egg coloring sessions  with my students, and singing joyfully along with my Chinese church choir.  

Hurry home, indeed.

On Easter Sunday, here’s wishing you 平安 (ping an, peace) for your day.

哈利路亚!(Hallelujah!)

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China Updates

Luzhou Vocational and Technical College Begins a New Semester


The semester has begun in China without me.  

The new president of the English Association (our campus-wide English Club) has been in contact with me already about most recent club members who signed up for the Spring 2021 term.  Her name is Anna and she asked me to create a video for her to show at their “Welcome” meeting, which introduces newcomers to what the club does .  My mom participated by helping me record an upbeat message of warmth and fun. We ended with a song, me holding rescue Bridget in my arms, and wishing everyone good luck in their studies.

Anna also asked for past photos of English Association activities during the last few years. I had to dig a bit on my computer but I found about 40 visuals of different events held throughout the years: Mooncake Festival, Halloween, Christmas, Easter, English Corner and English Center gatherings and the Drama Contest.  

She will put together a slideshow of these to present during that opening meeting so others will see what the Association has done in the past and, hopefully, will arrange for the next few months. 


During our WeChat texts, I shared with Anna my worries concerning the English Language Resource Center being closed all this time. I think the last to use it on a regular basis was me, over a year ago, when several of the Association members and I tidied up the room before leaving for the holidays.

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Anna assured me she planned to gather a group together to clean the room and make sure it is open 3 times a week so students could use it.  If I were there, I would have already arranged the volunteers to help with that. Anna seemed very keen to get that started up again so we will be working together to see it’s taken care of, even though I am halfway around the world.

One does have to praise technology on these occasions. How very grateful I am that we can keep in touch so quickly and easily through our cell phones.


Updates of Foreigners Returning

On March 15, new policies went into effect in China regarding those of us stuck overseas, hoping to return.  

Chinese nationals and their families, plus other special interest individuals, can now re-enter the country with the Chinese vaccine having been given. Either certified proof of the full 2 doses is required or a single dose shot is needed, taken 14 days prior to applying for the authorized visa.

Further notice was given that China’s foreign minister Wang Yi has announced that “the country plans to issue international electronic health certificates and implement mutual recognition of other countries’ nucleic acid testing and inoculation, to allow “a healthy, safe, and regulated new order for cross-border exchanges of people.” 

There was no date on when that will be instigated but I am hoping it will be this summer so that I can return in August to get ready for my college’s Fall semester.


My school checks often with the local city government officials so when the above goes into effect, my invitation letter can then be authorized, sent to me and I can begin the visa process from this end at the China consulate.  It’s a step forward, not backward, so that’s always good news.


My Global Ministries’ Position

As a Mission Advocate for the North Central Jurisdiction, I’ve been very busy these past months meeting many wonderful mission groups and church individuals from across the country, all through the wonders of Zoom.

The best hours spent have been attending virtual mission trips. Since Covid has grounded so many volunteers in mission (VIM), we are meeting in a virtual environment.

These are quite wonderful. If you’re interested, go to umvim.org (United Methodist Volunteers in Mission) and sign up. You don’t have to belong to the Methodist church to attend. We’ve had several who are from other denominations yet heard that the Methodists had these trips offered so they joined us.  I signed up for the Congo in April.  

If you’re wondering, these “trips” are taken over a period of a few hours or several days, depending on what kind of format is used. You get to Zoom with others across the States and those in the country where the journey takes place. You’ll learn about the the mission project highlighted, meet the people involved, plus be able to interact with others by asking questions, sharing opinions and learning something new. You’ll feel as if you really have gone somewhere, even though you’re sitting right in the comfort of your own living room.

 And it’s all for free!! Why not try it and join in? Look for me!!

And on that last note, as always, here’s wishing you 平安 (Ping An, Peace) for your weekend.

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A Vaccination Journey

Every time the phone rings on my mom’s landline, my eyes have been immediately searching out the digital read-out of the caller: First United Methodist (church secretary wanting to relay something), BSW Law (my brother’s law practice, probably brother Paul calling about my taxes), Ashmore Furniture (my mom’s book shelves delivery).

Daytime calls are never a concern but when they come late at night, there’s always a worry that a relative has some dire news to report.

So when the phone rang at 8:10 p.m. last Monday, my mom and I thought the worst. That is, until I saw where it came from: “Clark County Health Dep.”

Finally!! At the age of 56, it was now going to be my turn for the Covid vaccine.

“I’m calling for Cornelia Wieck,” my caller said. “Can you come in for your vaccine tomorrow at 11:15?”

Absolutely yes, yes and, yet again, yes!

Being vaccinated meant several things, but among the most important for me was to bring me one step closer to that China return. Although my city, Luzhou, still is not authorizing invitation letters for returning foreigners, I am fairly certain that once that ban lifts, vaccination will be a must. Having mine started in March and finishing in April will certainly speed up my visa processing once all the papers are in order.

A Well-Oiled Vaccination Machine in Clark County

I had already experienced the process of vaccination for our area after driving my mom for her first vaccination on March 18. It was a family affair: Me behind the wheel, mom in the passenger seat and little Bridget, our China rescue, perched on the armrest.

We drove the 20 minutes required along Route 40, across a wintry, prairie-flat landscape dusted with snow. We whizzed by huge hawks clutching to woodsy bare trees with bluejays and cardinals flitting about among the tall grasses lining the highway. After a 20-minute drive, we turned into Bolin Enterprises, a construction company who graciously allowed their warehouse garage area to be used as a vaccination center.

My mom’s appointment was for 11:30. We were in a line of 4 cars ahead of us, with checkpoint stations along the way for checking names and IDs, handing out forms to complete, directing us to move forward, and eventually entering into the nursing station for her shot. She received her vaccination card with instructional sheets on what to expect for the next few hours and days. No one exited the vehicle and we were told to wait 15 minutes in the parking lot area in case of side effects.

“Honk your horn if you feel anything strange and we’ll be right out to take care of you,” the nurse told my mom.

As it turned out, our parking lot wait was uneventful. Even Bridget was bored. She lay down full length on the armrest, her head resting on her crossed paws, and went to sleep.

My Turn

And now, here it was my turn!  

Knowing my Chinese students, friends and colleagues would have great interest in the vaccination procedure in my small-town area, I took my phone along to record the entire process.  I later posted in my WeChat moments for everyone to share in my joy and marvel at the well-oiled vaccination machine of the Clark County Health Department.  

Here it is below, for your viewing pleasure.  Wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your weekend!  

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Covid Halted Much of Chinese New Year Travels

The Lantern Festival is a Chinese festival celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month in the Chinese lunar calendar. Usually falling in February or early March on the Gregorian calendar, it marks the final day of the traditional Chinese New Year celebrations.

The 2021 Lantern Festival was February 26. After 15 days of holiday time, Chinese were ready to get back to work. Millions of migrant workers finally returned to their work places, some arriving at the latest last weekend. Schools opened March 1. Luzhou Vocational and Technical College was no exception. I’ve already heard the first weeks of school are going very well, with no quarantine necessary but a Covid test was required for everyone coming back from their holiday travels. Virus cases are virtually nil in China. To make sure the no-Covid climate remained throughout the Chinese New Year, the government put strict rules in place to dissuade citizens from traveling. It certainly worked. A majority stayed at home, not even visiting relatives in nearby cities. Tourist travel to scenic spots was lower than usual and overseas travel was basically completely restricted.

Touring in China

When I first taught in China in 1991, more and more middle class adults, with fairly steady incomes, were participating in the newly created tourism industry for the Chinese. Before then, it had mostly been foreigners and the very wealthy Chinese who traveled extensively on such tours. They often endured what were considered primitive conditions: hotels with minimal heat or air-conditioning, ratty rooms, squat toilets or no toilets at all at tourist destinations, unsanitary meals which caused stomach problems, no facilities for physically challenged individuals and uncomfortable travel conditions.

But in today’s China, for both locals and foreigners, 5 Star service by touring companies is expected and (for the most part) never an issue. Tourists are treated like kings and queens, with tour guides bending over backwards to make everyone’s experience special and unique.

Spring Festival (i.e., Chinese New Year), with millions on vacation, has become China’s tourism industry’s greatest money-maker. At least, it has in the past. Yet for the past 2 Spring Festivals, Covid has dampened people’s desire, ability, and carefree spirit to spend their money traveling.

A Tourguide’s Lament

Jason, shown here near his family’s home, in his beginning years as a tour guide

My former student, Jason, who is a tour guide for both foreigners and the Chinese, has lost his job.

His speciality trips were taking large groups of Chinese to Sri Lanka and Bali. He also led private 2 to 3-day tours for Americans, Brits and others to the Chengdu’s outer-lying world- renowned sites. (Chengdu, where Jason lives, is the capital city of Sichuan.) Due to his excellent English skills and ability to adapt to, organize and coddle his diverse clientele, Jason was a highly popular tour guide among numerous touring agencies. He’d be called at the last minute and farmed out to lead different tour groups which needed a fairly fluent English speaker.

That was Jason.

He even toured me to Dujiangyan, a city famous for the first ancient irrigation system built in the world. Here we are on that visit, in 2008.

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But a text message from Jason, received last week, revealed his current frustration. Like me, he is stuck in a situation where Covid has turned his world upside down. Without the trips to Sri Lanka and Bali, and without the foreigner tourists in country, he’s been out of a job. His tourism company has scaled back to only a few called in for in-country tours. Being the main breadwinner for his family (farming parents, unemployed sister and her husband plus the couple’s daughter), there has been a desperate need for an income.

Jason, the main breadwinner of the family, is shown here with his mom, sister, sister’s friend and father.

Jason’s Tourguide Wisdom Makes Him a Marketable Employee

From Jason’s past stories, I could tell he was an excellent tour guide. His ability to deal with various situations, and numerous personalities, surely would serve him well in any employment, especially one dealing with the public.

How do I know this? Because of all Jason’s tourguide stories which he’d shared with me over the years.

Here are a few.

Dealing with the Culturally Insensitive

Jason’s early experiences as a tour guide were quite challenging, one being the Sri Lankan tour he led for the first time. One of the older women, traveling with her daughter, had nothing but complaints: The food was terrible. (At every meal: “I want Sichuan laojiao (spicy pepper) sauce. How can they not have that?!”). The items were too expensive (She would bargain with great disdain, trying to get rock-bottom prices from the poorest Sri Lankan roadside seller and would often accuse the person of cheating her when actually, it was a reasonable ask. She’d haughtily walk away after a long altercation, not purchasing anything at all. ) The hotel rooms always had something amiss: the floor wasn’t clean, the bedding was sparse, the toilet was a Western style (she wanted the Asian squat toilet), service was slow. (These were top-notch, 5-star hotels that catered to tour groups and whose rooms were quite impressive and nothing to sneer at.) She’d argue with Jason about what was next on the featured daily agenda, saying she was tired and wanted to go back to the hotel. (Impossible to do without everyone else having to go along as well.)

Jason, at every disdainful remark, politely responded with patience and kindness. But it all came to a head on the tourbus when the woman went too far in one of her harping comments, aimed directly at Jason. Others on the bus came to his defense after he pointed out to the woman that her words were insensitive, he’d been doing his best to introduce her to this new culture and yet, she refused to be open to new experiences but was making her Chinese race look bad.

The daughter backed him up, chastising her mom for her behavior.

There was dead silence on the bus as the woman sat fuming. However, that did keep her somewhat in check for the rest of the tour.

Jason later told me he had several take-aways from this experience as a novice tour guide. First was to prepare Chinese beforehand for a new experience, reminding them how they might appear to those of another culture if they act rather arrogantly or without tolerance. Another was not to wait too long to call attention to bad behavior from one in his touring group. Do so in a quiet, polite, understanding way but be sure to nip it in the bud before it ruins the tour for everyone and aggravates them to the point of attacking the ill-behaved person. And, lastly, bring several jars of Sichuan laojiao sauce (or know where it can be purchased in Sri Lanka) to pass around at the dinner table. Even the most well-traveled, tolerant, adaptable Chinese have an issue with what they consider bland food. A happy stomach makes a happy tourist. Jason commented that bringing what appears to be an inconsequential item, in this case being a hot pepper condiment, actually was what could make or break a tour to a foreign country for his fellow Sichuanese.

Beware International Airports: The Call of the Sirens

Another lesson learned during his novice days of overseas tourism had to deal with the enticement of airports.

On his first guided tour to Bali, the airline routed them through Hong Kong. Instead of a direct flight from Chengdu to Bali, they were to change planes at Hong Kong’s International Airport before going onward to the island nation. Little did Jason know that walking a tour group through a prestigious airport, passing shop after shop of dazzlingly displayed international products not readily available on the China Mainland, could become a danger zone. Despite his reminder to stay together, follow his waving bright red tourism flag and don’t stray from the main thoroughfare, he began to lose members as they slipped away “just for second” to buy that special something for Granny Wu or Mother Ji or Uncle Li. By the time he confidently hustled everyone to the boarding area and began his head-count, he realized there were 4 missing. He had no idea where they’d gone off to. In a panic, after having the 4 paged on the loudspeaker, he left the others in the waiting area while he back-tracked to find the ones that had gone missing.

When he did find them, they were still standing in line to purchase their goods. He was lucky they had stayed together to support one another or he’d have really been in a bind.

Jason hurried them along, hustling them onward and getting them on the plane with just a few minutes to spare before take-off.

Since then, Jason is quick to sternly warn his tour members that if they wander from the pack while walking through any airport, he is not responsible for finding them. If they miss the flight, they’re on their own, end of story.

In my words: You follow the Call of the Siren (in this above case the irresistible Siren being the HK airport’s international merchandise), you suffer the consequences.

Jason’s Current Situation

I’m sure Jason is eager to return to his former life, much as I am. Here is our most recent WeChat messaging below:

Jason: I hope the world will be back to normal soon. It has already caused great damage. I lost my job as a guide and now I find another job. It’s kind of Internet technology. My job is the promotion of an App.

Connie: Some of my students did that for a part-time job in the summer. Not as fun as touring.

Jason: That’s true. And less income. But, well, that’s the best situation I can have now. As long as I can survive, there is always hope.

Ah, words of wisdom, Jason. Words of wisdom.

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

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Lost in translation: Chinese New Year’s Humor

Out with the Mouse!!

The Year of the Rat is almost at an end. February 11, Thursday at midnight, the mousies are out; the oxen are in.

In with the Ox

Yes, it’s the start of Spring Festival, what we westerners refer to as Chinese New Year.

February 12 begins a new year, new beginnings and new hope in China. All across the country, families will be hunkering down to watch TV gala shows, eat “good luck” dishes and get ready for 16 days of celebrations. (7 days are public holidays but schools won’t be starting up until after January 26). Many will spend hours upon hours on WeChat (China’s equivalent of Facebook) to send out festive greetings, post holiday New Year’s vimeos and bestow virtual lucky money on friends, colleagues and relatives.

I’m certain that my own students and Chinese besties will be filling up my cell phone with messages of good wishes. I’m 14 hours behind Luzhou so I expect the posting flood will begin Thursday morning and continue onward for the following 16 days.

A Foreigner’s Confusion

Among the WeChat banter will be one conundrum I can never wrap my head around: Chinese New Year’s jokes. I’m sure in China, they hit the mark but once translated into English, and applied to my personal culture, the laugh remains an enigma.

As examples of this, here are the Top 8 funnies which I found on the Internet. Do you get the humor in these? I certainly don’t!

1. Let’s celebrate Chinese New Year by comparing our adult children’s careers, income levels and marital statuses.

2. I’m opting for Chinese New Year resolutions, since my American New Year resolutions were an epic failure.

3. If you celebrated Chinese New Year in America, do you celebrate American New Year in China? (Actually, yes, Chinese do: January 1st is 元旦 , or yuandan, a 1-day holiday, so celebrating “American” New Year is somewhat accurate.)

4. Remember, the Chinese word for opportunity is the same as the Chinese word for crisis. What does this mean? It means the Chinese are lazy. Happy New Year!

5. Happy Chinese New Year to you and the Chinese government official also reading this.

6. Chinese New Year, Mardi Gras and Valentines Day are too close…I don’t know what to paint on my nails.

7. I’d like to wish you a Happy Chinese New Year, but I don’t want to interrupt you until you’ve finished assembling my I-phone.

8. Let’s celebrate Chinese New Year by rigidly conforming to the strictly enforced suggestions for celebrating.

OK. So . . . . where’s the comical wit?

Now That’s Funny!

While the above totally missed the mark on my funny bone, these below puns certainly gave me a hearty, roll-your-eyes, deeply embedded chuckle.

1) I went to a Chinese food buffet for the new year. It was called “All You Can Eat and Dim Sum.”

2). The Year of the Ox is bound to be bad. I went out to eat at our local Chinese restaurant and when I opened my cookie, it was empty. When I complained to the server, she replied, “Ah! That’s unfortunate”.

3). I don’t like these Chinese New Year celebrations. They tend to drag-on.

4). Want to make the Year of the Ox a success? Just think outside the Ox.

5). What do you call an Ox with a big butt? Buttocks

6). Why couldn’t the Mackaw and the Ox never produce an offspring? It would have created a parrot-ox.

Would my English-speaking Chinese students, friends and colleagues “get it”? I’ll be posting these among my WeChat groups during the next few days. Let’s see what reactions I get and I’ll let you know.

Until then, here’s wishing you 平安 Ping An (Peace) for your day, with a last parting giggle before the the plague-ridden Year of the Rodents leaves us far, far behind:

Q: What do you call an educated ox without an education?

A: An oxymoron.

Groan away, folks! Groan away.

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Me and my mom’s “gig”

The first Sunday of every month puts me and my mom in worship as the special music.

For awhile, in-person services were put on hold so we’ve been showing up for our live taping session (December and January) with only a few in the sanctuary. Last week had our area Covid case numbers low enough that it was back to our 45-people limit, with 2 services being given: 9 – 9:45, 10:30 – 11:45.

Since my mom is the former choir director, her knowledge of church music is spot-on. For our “gigs”, she hauls out what’s needed for the church calendar to fit into the pastor’s message: Advent, lent, communion, Easter . . . . she knows it all and chooses appropriately to match the liturgical theme.

Today was the first time we’ve had communion in several months. My mom had searched through all the choir communion anthems and found us ones easy enough for me (a non-music major) to manage, with high enough alto parts she could manage. She gave me the soprano melody but she, also a soprano, took the second part. She can read music a whole lot better than I, that’s for sure.

If you’re interested in hearing us, here is the link. We sang an introit, I helped with the Mission Moment (World Service blankets) and we ended with two communion pieces, “In Remembrance” and “At this Table”.

https://fb.watch/3wgy2gcDo8/

Of course, it would be 5 degrees this morning for church after we’d had a week of in the 30s and 40s. Brrrr!! Made for a very chilly outing. Two weeks ago, we were in our PJs, enjoying our morning coffee while watching the online service. I’m sure many of those who are reading this and are church-goers know that feeling as well. Sure, it’s nice to stay in the comfort of your home for Sunday morning but enough is enough! Despite the frigid temperatures, we were very grateful to be back in the sanctuary once again.

Chinese New Year is Approaching!

February 11 brings in the Chinese New Year, or what the Chinese call Spring Festival. The Year of the Rat exits, the Year of the Ox begins!! Surely it must be better. Go out and have some Chinese food! Don’t forget to greet your hosts with “Gohng-shee, Gohng-shee!” This is said to congratulate one another on the beginning of a new year.

Gohng-shee, Gohng-shee! And Ping An (Peace) for your week.

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A 20-Year Reunion in the Making

When I first went to China in 1991, computers were just starting to make their way into the hands of common folk. Cell phones and smart phones were non-existent. Telephones were only for the very wealthy, with most villages, towns or factories having only one public telephone for people to use. And using that phone required special guangxi (connections), which was knowing the person in charge or the person whose desk the telephone sat on. I remember 30 years ago, when I taught at Nanchang Normal University, having only 2 telephones available for the foreign teachers: One was located in the outer building of our guest house (where we foreigners all lived) while another was in the administration office for foreign affairs. Only 1 dialed out of the country. We had to make an appointment to use it and pay the fee upfront by how long we talked.

Needless to say, we didn’t call home often. In my 3 years teaching at that college, I called to America only once. All other correspondence was by letters which took 2-3 weeks to arrive.

In 1991, the Internet was in the beginning stages of development. I remember listening to VOA (Voice of America) radio broadcasters, along with President Bill Clinton, touting the merits of this new global tool called “The Internet” and how it would change our world in ways we could never imagine.

Ain’t that the truth!

Not only can we stay in touch more easily but locating folks is much easier. With our new technology, the ability to find acquaintances, classmates, or distant relatives who have disappeared from our lives is now at our fingertips.

That same connectional ability can now be said for China today. Personal computers and cell phones, through the Internet, now make it possible for people to stay in touch with those who, 20 or 30 or 50 years ago, would have been lost forever.

A New University Tradition Starts in China

In “old” China, there were no school-organized reunions for high school or college. This was mostly due to difficulty in finding large numbers of graduates without telephones to call on, mailing addresses to compile (many didn’t have mailing addresses the countryside) or computers to create data bases. Reunions took place when classmates made a huge effort to personally stay in touch and manage to meet up on a whim with others.

WeChat (China’s equivalent of Facebook) and smart phones have changed all that. I belong to numerous WeChat groups, one of which is a Luzhou Vocational and Technical College alumni group. It’s called 大学同学 (University Classmates) and was started several years ago by one of my students from the 2001 graduating class.

Soon, many more were joining from other graduating classes and the group now has 57 alums and 14 teachers.

An Invitation to Join from Chuck

I was invited to join when I accidentally bumped into one of my former students on the city bus. I was coming back from my pool time. I swim every day in China, at a new Olympic-sized indoor sports complex located on the opposite side of the city. I remember I’d had a discussion with myself if I wanted to taxi home (15 minutes, for $3.00) or take the bus (1 hour, for 40 cents). As I didn’t have much to do when I returned home, I opted for the bus.

After settling down in my seat, I looked out the window to watch the street scenes go by. I didn’t recognize my student as it had been 15 years since we were on the campus together but he certainly recognized me. I wondered why this strangely masked Chinese man, with his 8-year-old son sitting next to him, was staring at me. I decided to ignore him. Finally, he got up the courage to say, “Are you Connie?”

“Yes, I am,” I answered, not quite sure how this man would know my name.

“I am Chuck,” he replied with an excited grin. “Maybe you forgot me. My English was very poor when you were my teacher.”

Believe it or not, I did remember Chuck when he was a freshmen, 17 years before. Yes, his English wasn’t very good but he always held onto an optimistic spirit, with a good sense of humor in laughing at his own language inadequacies.

As we talked, the story then unfolded that he’d been in an accident after graduation and his face was seriously burned, along with his arms and legs. The mask hid a majority of his deformities, which were so horrific that people were startled. Thus the mask. Even with the mask, I could see one of his ears was missing and thickly burned scar tissue covered his neck. This poor man!

He didn’t explain what had happened. He only mentioned because of the burns, he was now considered disabled and unable to work, which allowed for some compensation from the government but not much. He was selling items on the Internet to bring in a little extra money, although his wife’s salary seemed to be enough to keep his family cared for.

Before we parted, Chuck made sure I had joined the university classmate WeChat group. It is for that reason that I now am in touch with so many of my former students. I see photos of their children, enjoy their teasing banter back and forth in their text messages, rejoice in their family celebrations (marriages, births, milestone birthdays, children’s high test scores) and send sympathy for bad news.

On WeChat, students post their gatherings with family or others. “Angela” (to the far left) recently pulled together a few of her classmates (Class of 2004) for a Chinese New Year’s dinner.

Other announcements within 大学同学 WeChat group: Graduates of Luzhou Vocational and Technical College (my former students, now teachers) and retired teachers from our school volunteered to grade 6th grade students’ English language exams.  The exam booklet had numerous subjects to check.  The English teachers were only required to check the English part of the test. These exam scores would determine if the student moved on into junior high school or not.  

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Explosion of text messages: Our College-sponsored 20-year Reunion Celebration

The most recent excitement to hit this group is the school’s request for contact information for a 20th year reunion. Never has my college arranged such an event, so there was some confusion as to what this was all about. Here is the dialogue which took place a few days ago. (Teacher Wang below)

Teacher Wang

Teacher Wang: Students, please take time to open the attached document and fill it out.

Student “Ken”: What is this for? Is the information to be made public?

Teacher Wang: Due to the previous graduation information being accidentally deleted, Luzhou Vocational and Technical College is asking all alums to give the graduation information. This is in regards to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of Luzhou Vocational and Technical College. This task has been entrusted to me. Please fill out the information by February 23. Thank you for your cooperation!

Once this announcement went out, there was a flurry of photo-posting that went on.

Some dug deep into the past, showing events with classmates, such as this outing to Fang Mountain which is located outside of the Luzhou limits.

Others included weekend meet-ups around the city with favorite teachers. Here are my English majors in 2003 with Teachers Chen and Xi at the Luzhou city amphitheater.


My favorites were those of me with the students.

Visits to my apartment, where Little Flower (my Chihuahua) entertained us with her doggie toys:

Our Christmas party in the classroom (I’m kneeling, first row, in the black Christmas sweater):

And, lastly, a 2005 graduation photo with our school leaders.  This included the foreign teachers at that time (myself and Beth, with the Amity Foundation) and a young British couple, Rosie and Alex, who were 6-month volunteer teachers.  They were traveling the world and contacted Amity to see if they could somehow connect with a Chinese college to teach English.  Amity arranged their stay at our college, after which they moved on to return home to England. 

Chuck, now a burned victim, is the last row, to the far left in the white shirt.

 

Some of the retired teachers in the WeChat group shared these.  A 2002 faculty Christmas party in my home:

Celebration Date on Hold:  Chinese New Year Covid Restrictions

The school’s 20th year reunion celebrations are currently on hold, but not the ongoing registration of alums.  With the Chinese New Year holidays approaching, beginning Feb. 11 and running to Feb. 26, there is concern the virus will spread. Migrant workers are especially worrisome to health authorities, with millions upon millions traveling home for the holidays.   China is going into measures to prevent the spread, with people urged to stay home or in their current locations and not visit relatives.  

Those who do wish to travel must have an updated negative Covid test which appears on the health App on their phones.  After arriving home, a 2-week quarantine is demanded.  Because everyone’s health codes are connected to a main monitoring system, the health department in every province, city, town and village knows where people are at any time, all the time.  Citizens are called and warned to remain in place if they leave their homes during quarantine or try to travel to areas which are deemed “at risk” (i.e., on lockdown as Covid cases were detected there). 

While this sounds drastic, so far, these procedures have allowed the Chinese to go about life as normal with no surging virus infections, deaths or hospitalizations.  Even masks are no longer required, although quite a few still choose to wear them.

I expect this upcoming 15-day holiday will be the test for the country, how well a cooperating public can contain what many countries find uncontainable.  

Cross your fingers.  The better China is able to do this, the faster I might be able to return.

Until the next report, here’s wishing you Ping Ahn (Peace) for your day. 

 

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