Parties and Choir and Baking, Oh, My!

From Thanksgiving to the current date, it’s been non-stop so not a lot of time to get in stories and pictures but let me remedy that today!

I hope this post give you an idea about what holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) entail for me here in China.  So many newcomers from America never bother with these celebrations.  They mope about the lack of holiday spirit, call or Skype home often and lament to friends and family, “There is no Thanksgiving or Christmas in China. I feel so lonely.  I miss my special foods.  I feel so depressed!”

Well, not this foreigner in China!  Read on and you’ll see just how great it is to be overseas’ during this time of year.

Thanksgiving Lessons

Despite the late date, I will enclose pictures from Thanksgiving as my lessons were so much fun.   After there history of Thanksgiving Day was introduced, students learned how  to set a beautiful table.

They also participated in my  “thankful hands” activity, which was a craft idea that my elementary art teacher , Fred Hayes, used to do.

He posted a huge turkey in the hallway and students would cut out their hands, write what they were thankful for on all the fingers and place on the turkey.  The hands, made from a multitude of colorful construction paper, filled in to make the turkey feathers and was left for everyone to read as they walked by to their classes.

In my class, before placing your thankful hand on the turkey, students must say out loud before the class what they wrote.  It is wonderful practice for future teachers, training them to develop their “teacher voice” (say loudly!) which English Education majors are in so need of practicing.

So how do we decide who gets the big turkey when we finish posting our hands and taking photos of the bird with us in front of it?  Via a drawing, of course!  That is pretty much the highlight of the lesson, with the student winner jumping up and down in glee to be able to put this up in his or her dorm room.

A great memory for the lucky winner, to have all your classmates’ thankful hands to read and savor every day in your room.

It’s Christmas Around China

Just like in America, Christmas decorations start to appear right after our U.S.  Thanksgiving.

Chinese are  familiar with Christmas now because the secular, commercialism explosion of this holiday has been here for the past 10 years.  Decorated trees, Santa Clauses, windows with snowflakes and “Merry Christmas!” stencils in English and Chinese, Christmas sales (building up to Chinese New Year in January) are everywhere.   Christmas carols are played throughout grocery stores and malls.  That includes Silent Night, in both Chinese and English, as well as Jingle Bells, We Wish you A Merry Christmas, American Christmas songs by famous artists (“All I want for Christmas is You”, for example) and Chinese pop songs that now sing about the Christmas holiday.  (Surprise!)

Even elementary schools, colleges and high schools hold Christmas parties for all to enjoy.  (Another “surprise!” for many overseas’ teachers who come to China.)

Of course, no one really has a clue what Christmas is about.  Most just think it’s the Westerners’ New Years and a fun holiday.

We have one small alleyway in Luzhou that has lots of decorations. I visit there every year to load up on more lights, ornaments, wall decs, tinsel roping and all those cheapie, holiday items sold in the Dollar Store in America that are stamped, “Made in China.”

Christmas in My Classroom

As always, I do culture lessons for Christmas which include the religious story of this day (the true meaning for Christians), and then I cover the secular part the next week.

For the freshmen, this is all new, exciting, different and very educational.

For my seniors, graduating soon, we have a refresher course which includes different holiday activities they can  do with their future students.  Two years for them is a long time to remember all that Christmas entails, thus the 2-week review.  Many of my former students told me how they were asked by their principal to have a Christmas party for students.  In other words, it’s vital for them to keep all our lessons in mind so they can perhaps use some of the activities we did with their own students.

The Religious Lesson:  Meaning of Christmas via Christmas Story Re-enactment

I make sure every one of my students knows the story of Jesus’s birth, which is the foundation of this special Christian event.  Without this information, how ignorant they appear to others when they say, “Oh, I know about Christmas.  It’s the Westerner’s New Year.”

We have a wonderful Christmas story script which I wrote and have used for years.  There are 16 parts, including the star (non-speaking — just hold the star and smile).  Homework is to read this outside of class and do the question page.  In class, a power point shows the story as we read together and see the visuals on the big screen.

Then comes the fun part the second class period.

We have a drawing to see who gets what part.  I love that part of the lesson, pulling   names of students out of a basket, because many are chosen who are shy and would never have volunteered on their own to participate.  With the name-draw, there are no objections or balks to take your place in the performance.  Everyone is equal in a drawing so if your name is drawn, up you go! I never have anyone who refuses.

This year, I had Chinese English  teachers in our department observe my class.  I made sure to invite them to this particular lesson.  Not only is it a great technique used in teaching  methodology (role-play is our key here), but a must for cultural understanding of Christmas.

Thus this year, several of our college Chinese teachers in my department and all of my frehmen got a good dose of what this celebration truly means for Christians.

See if you can guess which parts of our story is shown in the photos below.  (Different classes are represented. )

The Secular Christmas Lesson

The next week, we went over the non-religious symbols and the meanings of these for Christmastime.  Christmas tree, Christmas stocking, snowman, Santa Claus, reindeer, poinsettia, bow . . . After the power point visuals and displaying my extra Christmas items, which I brought to class, it was time for Christmas Bingo!

This is my absolute favorite game.

I created a bingo game with 30 bingo cards many years ago and have used this in every class for years. Instead of numbers, the spaces have pictures of  all the symbols (religious and non) which are in our  Christmas culture unit.   The students have such a blast playing this game.

If a pair has 4 in a row, both  must stand up and shout “Merry Christmas!”  This certainly keeps everyone on their toes because if there is no standing up and no “Merry Christmas!” shouted, you lose your place if someone else is faster than you are.

Candy is the prize, and the winners (always paired) come to the front to become the teachers themselves.  They then take turns drawing and announcing the symbols to their classmates, including checking to make sure answers are correct.  It’s a great way to review the words and work on pronunciation, plus introduce a new teaching activity to those who will be teachers in the future.

The best part is that I get to play, too!  When students become the teachers and call out the symbols, it’s time for me to step aside and enjoy the game as well.

 

My Christmas Home

It took me 10 days to get all my decorations out and up as I have so many things but I finally finished a week ago.

I must say I overdid the lights  this year.

Last year, I had no outside lights on the balcony or in my windows.  This year, it’s an explosion of sparkles and colors.  Hard to miss my floor from outside of the building.  I’m the only one with lights up.

The only disappointing part is that my apartment faces the countryside area, not the school campus. The construction workers who are building the bridge behind my place at least have a great view of my place.  Everyone else has  to walk around to the back of the building and look up to see most of the windows.

I do have one  window that does face the distant campus side gate where people walk through constantly.  I made sure it had extra lights and, yes, you can see it from quite a ways away.

Church Choir

I also am in the church choir.

We are having 2 practices a week for our Christmas program.  We practice 2 hours each session and since the campus moved to the outskirts of town, I taxi it the 30 minutes into the city center during rush-hour.  My Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6 – 10 p.m., are pretty much booked solid getting to practice,  singing with the other choir members under the direction of our choir leader, Ms. Zhao, and then finally getting back home.  Our director is quite enthusiastic to get us up to her standards so we often aren’t  dismissed until 9:30.

On Thursdays, we have a short 15-minute devotional led by one of the choir members.  And we always open and close with a prayer at every practice, no matter how late we might be.  This also includes the Lord’s Prayer which we say at the end of every practice.

One new addition to this year’s many vocal numbers we are doing is that we have props!  Sunflowers for one peppy number and then fans for others.

Oh, dear!  I am so bad at remembering motions of any kind while struggling to spit out the Chinese words which we have to memorize.  I have enough trouble recalling what I’m supposed to sing next.  Now I have to remember when we open fans, close fans, lift them up, wave them to the right, wave them to the left, hold them steady or fan them.

I was put on the back row with the men because I’m taller than the women.  (I’m only 5’5″ but I am taller than some of the guys even).  It’s rather funny because the men and I are always in the dark, moving at the wrong time or just guessing what we’re supposed to do next.

And wouldn’t you know it, I’m on the end and was also put in charge of passing out the fans at the appropriate moment.  Pressure!!

But it really is so much fun.  We have such a good time.  Lots of joking going on amidst our back row but we take our role seriously.  We watch out for one another and remind each other what’s coming up next in the motions.  I am sure everything will come together in the end for our Christmas worship services.  December 23rd, 7:30 – 9:30 pm, is for the Christian community and December 24th (Christmas Eve) is for the public.

We give two performances because the church is too small to accommodate everyone just for one worship.  The crowds are huge!!

Sharing Christmas with the Campus

Christmas Activity Night finished last night, which was an open invite to the campus to come and participate in Christmas activities.  This was the first time I’ve ever tried this sort of thing and I was quite nervous about it coming off well.

I put this together with the help of the English Association, our English Club of 250.  We had  5 rooms with different activities for students to do. It was open for the entire school, plus teachers and their kids or others who want to attend.

We had Santa Claus picture room with props, tree decorating room, say “Merry Christmas” and get candy room, make decorations (crafts) room and gift-wrapping room.

The volunteers and I worked very hard to make sure everything went smoothly.  We planned for 3 weeks and spent the entire Saturday getting the rooms decorated and in proper order for students.  And  now that we have Taobao, the Chinese online Amazon, you can order anything and everything for Christmas on the Internet.  Cheap prices and sometimes no shipping. Lights, trees, stuffed animals, Santa and elf suits, Santa hats, banners . . . . Lucky us!  We had it all!

Was it successful?  You bet!  Just look at the photos below.  It was really a wonderful evening and gave everyone a taste of the festive spirit of Christmas.

Open Houses for the Freshmen

I have just completed all my open houses with the freshmen students last week before they begin their final tests.  All four classes, between 40 -50 students, were divided into two groups and invited to my home in the evenings.

Preparations were made ready every night before students arrived. Candy baskets were overflowing.  My family photo albums and high school year books were ready to be flipped through.  All Christmas lights turned on and sparkling.  Christmas music filled the room.  Santa and reindeer antler hats waited to be donned.  Lots of little things displayed to enjoy and the toy table ready to go with animated stuffed animals, barrel of monkeys, Simon (hand-held musical game) and the miniature stackable chair game.

What a great time we had!

Friday’s Teacher and Faculty Open House

This Friday will have leaders, teachers and others from the campus coming to my home.  Family and children are always welcome, of course.  From 2 – 6 p.m., Zuri (Peace Corp volunteer) and I will await our guests.

For this group, the specialty items are Christmas cut-out sugar cookies (Domino brand sugar cookie recipe, the absolute best!) and chocolate truffle cookies (made by yours truly with her hoarded butter from Chengdu), hot drinks, tangerines (in season now and sold on every corner of the town) and the usual candy baskets.

I have just finished my holiday baking yesterday of sugar cookies.  It took 4 hours in my tiny oven and I have a total count of 168 edible stars, reindeer, Santa Clauses, scotty dogs, lions, camels, bells, Christmas trees, snowmen and mini-gingerbread girls and boys.  I only do this once a year and I enjoyed listening to Christmas music while baking away.

This year, I only over-browned 2 batches so I was quite pleased with the turn-out of 168.  One year, I only made it to 120.  Too many distractions and a new oven made for a lot of burned cookies.

Closing Off

As you can see, this is a busy time of year for me.  Testing for students begins this week and next.

Grading and scoring is next for me, along with our closure classes with the students.  Everyone gathers for our last time together to receive grades, a Christmas photo of me and pick through all the beautiful Christmas pencils with so many devoted Methodist UMW groups and others have collected and mailed to me.

This will take place the week after Christmas to close off our school year by January 1st.

I will do my best to post pictures of my church Christmas after that.  As I am not sure when I will post next, here is wishing you a wonderful Christmas, a season full of joy and a very Happy New Year!  Ping An (Peace) to all!

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The English Association Moves into High Gear with Halloween Activity Night

In a previous post, I mentioned the number of student clubs and associations we have at this college.  Booths were lining the walkways to entice new members to sign up, paying a fee of 20 yuan (roughly $4.50) per person.  These fees allow the clubs to hold  parties, contests and other activities for the members.

The more members, the more money and the bigger and grander club-hosted events can be.

When I left off a month ago, the English Association numbers were a sad 25.  The year before had been 300.   The new club president, Anna, was worried and had voiced her concern during the entire week, asking Zuri and me to hang out at their booth in the hopes of drawing more new students.

As it turned out, the final count ended up being 260.  Down 40 from last year but not at all anything to be ashamed of.  With 260 newcomers, Anna reported around $1,250 for their club funds.  This would be used for the full year and, hopefully, would be enough for some excellent activities.

Below, you see all the new members, coming together for the welcome party.

First Major Event:  Halloween Activity Night

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Saturday, October 28, from 7 – 9 p.m., marked the first big event for the English Association — Halloween Activity Night.

With organizational help from me, over 25 volunteers manned our 4 rooms:  costume wearing, mask-making, carving Jack-o-lanterns combined with bobbing for apples and our Trick-or-Treat room.

I gathered the crowds for 10 minutes in the larger lecture hall for an opening introduction via power-point to room activities.  We had a countdown before all were released (probably around 200) to scurry off and freely visit the rooms.

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I had arranged the volunteers to announce this in Chinese on our faculty housing’s whiteboard to invite children and their parents.

Through WeChat (like our American Facebook), I also made sure our teachers and others on the campus knew to bring their kids, or just themselves, to have a nice evening.

What a huge success!

 

 

Over 300 college kids came and went during the evening. We had some visitors from the Medical College campus next door.  These were the international students, studying at the Medical College were there are over 600 from different countries:  Nepal, India, Pakistan, and numerous African countries.  They also added to the fun.

Aside from the college students, about 16 children came with parents or grandparents.  Our costume room was their favorite as well as the pumpkin carving. (Parents used the knives with the kids giving directions.). Pumpkins that were finished and lit were displayed in the room for picture-taking and were not to be taken until the end of the evening.  However, exceptions for made for kids.  If the children were leaving early, I told the volunteers to make sure they could choose a jack-o-lantern to take with them.

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After all, Halloween is really for kids.

When it came to bobbing for apples, the volunteers ran out of apples in the first 30 minutes so had to send more outside our front gate to purchase several more pounds.

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A Fantastic Night Closes Off

It was one of our best Halloween events we’ve held for several years.  Many thanks to the volunteers for all their help.  Hope you all enjoy a few more pictures below.  Now it’ll be on to planning for Christmas!

Here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) from Luzhou

 

 

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Mother Nature vs China

The egrets are upset.

From my balcony, I watch the two white birds circle, soar and glide their way over their destroyed home. They float gracefully to the far end of a tiny clump of heavy vegetation which has been left untouched, for the moment.  There they gently alight on top of leafy, weeping bamboo stalks before being startled onward by the chaos around them.

I am surprised they want to be anywhere near this area.

The hammering, chiseling, clunking and bulldozing invading our quiet is distracting for all of us.

Mother Nature vs. China, and China is Winning

 

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What once was . . .

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is no more.

 

My previous balcony view of well-tended farmland and heavy tropical forest is now a distant memory as an expressway bridge continues its journey onward behind my building.

It was 1/4 completed 3 years ago, when I first saw it before moving to the new campus.  For a year, the workers put on the last finishing touches on what had already gone up.  There was a relieving halt which allowed me to continue to enjoy my countryside view.

I embraced every moment of seeing the egrets nestle into their beautiful habitat, knowing full well the end was fast approaching.

And so it came 2 weeks ago.

The bridge’s pathway led directly through the bamboo and banana tree groves (now gone) and a small, snaking wide creek which currently I would downgrade as a mere trickle of a stream.

Our Present Environment

The vibrations of destruction can be felt on the air currents. It rattles my apartment building and sends wave after wave of noise throughout my sitting room.  Closing balcony sliding doors doesn’t help, either.  I’ve already tried.

This began October 7, on my return to Luzhou after a week of National Day holidays had finished.

In less than a day, our egrets entire habitat was  destroyed.  In the past 2 weeks, the foresty expanse behind my building has been crowded with heavy equipment plowing through Mother Nature’s wilderness garden.  Workers have been busy putting up housing units for themselves under the finished bridge sections and will soon be moving in so the bridge’s construction can continue onward.

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The Invasion of Modern China

I am reminded that our campus at one point was most likely a precious haven for wildlife as well.  Filled with China’s native plants and indigenous trees, it spread outside of city limits where we now live.  Farmers most likely were here, living in their sod houses and tending their plots of land.  These were taken away to make room for our school’s new site, begun 5 years ago, and now moving into the final stages of fruition, with landscaping yet to go and more buildings yet to be constructed when the funds are available.

University City

I have also been told that the land surrounding our school has been purchased by other small colleges in the area.

This is something new that has been going around other cities in the country.  Colleges and high schools, whose campuses are located in city centers, have been given incentives to move to the outskirts of cosmopolitan areas. This gives land developers more opportunity to put up shopping malls and high-rise buildings in city centers, bringing in more revenue to city governments and putting more people to work building such structures.

Substantial gift funds by city and provincial governments and wide expanses of land are being promised for campuses to move into what are now being called “university cities”.  These are clusters of colleges and schools, one after another,  located in one location, usually right at the outskirts of a city.

So far, 3 Luzhou educational institutions have taken advantage of these incentives: the Medical College University next to us (moved 7 years ago), our vocational school  (moved here last year) and a nearby trade school for high school students (moved 4 years ago).

There is still quite a lot of farmland in between all of us and I’m guessing there will be more schools moving out our way in the next 10 years or so.  Already, there is a major 6-lane expressway nearby my campus which has not been opened yet.  It is entirely finished, complete with beautiful landscaping and even signs that announce the exits for our school.

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The 6-lane highway next to my school campus, a ghost-road still until a future grand opening, whenever that might be.  Here you can see the wide sidewalks and grassy slopes that line the 6 lanes, pictured to the left.

 

It is a ghost road at present, with only a car or two that comes so individuals can practice their  driving skills for upcoming  car license exams.

 

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On this expressway, individual cars can be found from time to time, with experienced drivers (standing in the picture) bringing spouses or friends (behind the wheel in the white car) to practice their driving skills for upcoming drivers’ license tests. Buildings in the background are the Medical University faculty apartments, scheduled to be finished next year. This campus is located next to my school.

 

The empty expressway is a great place to sit and enjoy the countryside surrounding Luzhou.  It’s departing fast, though.  Construction crews are popping up all over the place, getting ready for more bulldozing, more construction and more modernization to make room for more campuses in Luzhou’s University City.

A Lone Egret Cries

Last evening, at nearly 11 p.m., I heard a lone egret intermittently calling out again and again and again.

The construction crew had finished for the day, silence finally engulfing our area, which perhaps gave him (or her) the courage to return.  I could barely make out the white figure in the dark below but there he was. Our sleek feathered one had positioned himself below my high balcony, in a small clump of still-standing vegetation near the riverbank.

From there, he mournfully voiced his search for his companion, or perhaps his sorrow in losing his home, or maybe even his lament at the fate of old China.

Poor little thing.  I feel for you.

From Luzhou, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your week.  Be very thankful that you have it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Last Minute Chengdu Walmart Shopping Brings Surprise

Couldn’t resist this parting Chengdu entry as I am about ready to head off to Luzhou.

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After an early morning swim at 6:30 a.m., I hightailed it back to my area for a Walmart stop-in. Butter was needed, the last thing on my list.

Imagine my surprise to find one section, once filled with Mid-Autumn mooncakes, now completely stocked with Halloween items.

Halloween has never been a well-known celebration in China until just recently, within the past 10 years.  Hard to find such items in small Luzhou but they do appear from time to time.  The capital city, Chengdu, is s different story.

The area I stay in happens to be just a few blocks from the US Consulate, which has a huge American staff that includes lots of US families as well.  With the Walmart a mere 5-minutes’ walk from the Consulate entrance, Walmart here stocks up on all the Halloween favorites that every American child would love.

The Chinese likewise buy items for their kids who attend weekend English language schools.  These schools are popping up all over China, in every city, and charge quite a bit  to have kids attend their Sat. and Sunday programs.  The children learn English in a fun environment that includes birthday parties and other “foreigner” celebrations, such as Christmas and Halloween.

I imagine that the Walmart’s Halloween offerings will be gone close to October 31.  Of course, I couldn’t resist adding to my already plentiful Halloween culture box for my upcoming Halloween lessons.  I purchased some trick-or-treat containers and a couple new witches’ hats as well as pumpkin puppets.  These should come in handy for the English Association’s Halloween Party the end of the month.

After that, I’ll be starting  on Thanksgiving along with digging into my butter stash for holiday baking.

Hard to believe it’ll be time to deck the halls before long.

Time to load all my things into the taxi.  How did I ever manage to buy so much stuff??!!

 

 

 

 

 

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Holiday Ended: Heading Back to Luzhou

It’s time.

Hard to believe my Golden Week is about over.

Tomorrow, I head back to Luzhou to start up my teaching once again on Monday.  While it’s been nice to get away, the dreaded part of this 1-week off is that I am required to make up all the classes that I’ve missed.  This is a standard practice in China but most schools get off official National Holidays and don’t have to make up the workload.

I mean, isn’t that the definition of a holiday?

But at our school, the 5 days off is not a luxury.  I will be adding 14 extra hours into my teaching schedule at some point to make up for the courses I missed this past week.  This is really a pain to do.  I have to check with all my monitors to see when the class is free, compare it to when I am free, and then stick  in the lessons missed wherever I can.

Just adds a great burden onto both teachers and students  but nothing much to do about it.
If I were in America, I’d go on strike, probably along with  the entire school student population and my colleagues to boot.

The key phrase being “If I were in America, . . . ”

But I’m not, so I do as all the Chinese do:  “Eat bitterness” (a phrase used quite often here), hunker down, don’t cause trouble, accept my sad plight and do what I’m told.

Yes, teaching in China is not for everyone!

 “Anyone for a Buck-fifty Haircut?”

Just had to add this:  Golden Week brought out a few private groups to cash in on the hustle and bustle of those on holiday.  This included a hair dresser whose salon had a great idea of giving hair-cuts on the street.

They set up in front of the Walmart:  10 yuan ($1.50) a cut.  What a bargain!  As you can see, their sanitation was quite impressive.  They’ve already folded up shop but while they were here, in such a great location next to the Walmart’s entrance, they did quite well.

Someone was thinking!

Little Beanie on the Mend

IMG_2973Little Beanie (Xiao Dou-dou), is on the mend from her spay and hernia repair.  This little dog needs a happy, forever home. Her information has already been posted by friends and rescue groups so let’s hope she finds a wonderful family to adopt her.

Take care, everyone!  Until next entry, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your upcoming weekend.

 

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Golden Week in Full Swing

After only meeting with my freshmen students for 2 weeks, suddenly it’s holiday time.

We are on holiday at the moment for a full week commemorating the founding of the PRC on Oct. 1, 1949.  This is what is known in China as Golden Week.  From October 1 – 8, the whole of China is traveling, shopping, hanging out at home or gathering together with friends while enjoying their days off.

To encourage traveling, expressway tolls are waived, sending millions of private car owners out onto the highways to visit scenic spots.  National landmark sites likewise are free with no ticket payment required.  This boosts the crowds even more as excited families and Chinese tourists tromp their way to destinations that boast beautiful scenery, fascinating history and special drawing interests from food to specialty items in local areas.

An extra added bonus to this year’s Golden Week is that Mid-Autumn Festival, also an official national holiday, happens to fall directly in the pathway of this week.  In other words, festivity excitement has truly doubled up this year.

Mid-autumn Festival is a lunar calendar holiday, which means it changes every year.  Sometimes, we have this in September but this year, it is October 4th.  Families are to gather together to watch the full moon, watch Mid-Autumn Festival TV galas commemorating togetherness, eat moon cakes (traditional pastries filled with all sorts of interesting heavy ingredients, both sweet and salty varieties) and the in-season fall fruit, youzi (In English, we call these pomelos, which look and taste somewhat like gigantic grapefruit.)

Where am I?

As always, I am in Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan, for my 1-week break.  This is my hang-out every year at this time.  No traveling for me anymore.  Spending hours in traffic, standing in lines at scenic spots, fighting the crowds at airports, bus and train stations are not my idea of a holiday.

For me, staying put and relaxing are my thing and Chengdu is my place.

Here I am enjoying meeting up with friends, swimming in the magnificent Meng Zhui Wan Natatorium , sleeping in late and shopping for items still hard to find in Luzhou.  This is my time to stock up on Christmas baking items since I most likely will not be back again before Christmas.  Butter is cheaper here (only $4 a cup) but in Luzhou, the price is now $10 a cup for the same brands we can get in Chengdu.  Before, we were the same as the capital city but for some reason, that has changed.

$10 is a bit too pricey for me so looks like I’ll be taking home quite a lot of butter this time around.  I usually freeze my stash until November when it’s baking time.  (Sooner than you think, Christmas will be here, folks!)

Mooncake Mania:  Past and Present

One of my favorite buying sprees at this time of year is mooncakes.

I love buying mooncakes!  I don’t care much for eating them, but giving them away is so much fun.

Perhaps I mentioned when I first came to China in 1991, the mooncakes available were only the large, round ones and came in only about 4 different filling varieties:  coconut, mixed pine nuts/walnuts/peanuts in red bean paste, dried meat strips in read bean paste and red bean paste with one cooked egg yoke (sometimes partially cooked — yikes!) in the middle.

They were disgusting, not because of the strange-to-the-foreigners’-taste-buds fillings, but mostly because of the sanitary conditions where they were baked.  We foreigners would often buy them (very, very cheap –just a few cents or a nickel each) just to cut them open and joke about what sickness we’d get if we ate them.  Inside, we’d find long black hairs of those who’d prepared them or dead, crystalized insects that had landed in the batter.

Most were lightly covered in thin dust, grim and grit from the nearby stands where they were sold. Mooncakes were not individually wrapped at that time, or even covered for protection, but often left out in the open along roadsides where the sellers would pick them up with their dirty fingers to place into a plastic sack for customers to take home.

Those of us who’d been in China for a year or so knew better than to eat them, especially when the students bestowed upon us gifts of these in great abundance.  I remember warning the new foreign teachers to China:  “Best to watch out when eating these. They have a strong kick to them after consumption so you might want to wisely pass them up.”

“Why?” many of our do-as-the-Romans-do newcomers would haughtily reply.  “I don’t have a problem trying Chinese snack foods. I already ate the coconut ones.  They’re pretty good. And the nutty ones are also nice.   I did try the eggy one, just because I felt I should.  Didn’t care for it much but it’s edible.”

Well, they might be good going down but not so much coming up that evening, or out the next day, if you know what I mean.

I learned my lesson about mooncakes my first year in China.  Not to be repeated again.

But I must say, mooncakes today are a different story.

Sanitation has improved 100% over the past 25 years, not to mention packaging of these and also the variety additions.  Traditional mooncakes are favorites but more interesting fillings have been added:  strawberry, pineapple, melon, chocolate, and there are now even ice-cream mooncakes sold.  Hagaan Daz, for example, has taken the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival market by storm and created some very unique, and very, very expensive, ice cream mooncakes which are bought by big-city, upper class folk who have the money to do so.  Those are a novelty item, for sure, but I never felt $5 US worth the money for just a meagre, tiny mouthful, which is about the size of them.

Mini-Mooncakes on the Rise

Now the favorites to purchase are the mini-mooncakes.  These are smaller versions, individually wrapped for individual eating.  Big mooncakes are usually cut into pieces and shared by family members but mini-mooncakes are much more convenient and more fun to pick through.  You can eat several kinds without having to eat an entire big one before moving on to the next flavor or kind.

In the Walmart up the road from my room rental, I entered a few days ago to find the entire exit area filled with mini-mooncakes, all varieties, with a “Buy a pound; Get a pound free!” signs posted everywhere.  Piled high in bins, the temptation to purchase these at such a bargain rate was too tempting.

The place was hopping with customers, shoving mooncakes into bags and having them weighed before getting their pre-weighed, pre-packaged free pound.

Some mooncakes were more expensive than others, depending on the brand.  The cheapest sold for about $1.50 a pound and the most expensive was $8.  Mooncakes are heavy, too, so it doesn’t take much to easily get a pound, or two or three before you know it.

My Mooncake Buying Spree

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I mentioned before that I do love mooncakes but that’s as a give-away item.

It is my yearly custom to buy these up and then hand them out.  I give them to taxi drivers, bus drivers, shop owners that I know (or even don’t know but buy something from them) and anyone else I meet or have a strong relationship with.

I have already loaded up with 10 pounds of these at the Walmart.  5 pounds I paid for, 5 pounds for free.  You can see how addictive that “Buy 1, Get one Free” can be.  I certainly didn’t intend to buy 5 pounds worth and take home 10 but . . . .

I bet those of you who have been to the Walmart have had that same experience.  At the check-out, once things start to be rung up, you pass the $25 mark and comment, “You know, I just came here to buy one thing!  How did I end up with all this stuff?”

Too much temptation.

My Give-away Has Already Begun

Yesterday, I gave away my first mooncakes to taxi drivers I took to and from the swimming pool.  There was also the gateman at the apt. complex I am staying at.   I of course handed over a small bag to the woman I rent from and her family.  Also given away was to the animal hospital staff and Drs. Wang and Tong.  This close-knit group  has helped me with several Luzhou animal rescues in the past animals which I brought to Chengdu for treatment since our Luzhou vets are truly pretty awful.

Below you will find a few pictures of rescues which the staff at Wang and Tong’s Glory Animal Clinic have helped me with, including little Yorkie, Stinky, who was adopted by the vets themselves!  Wang and Tong (the veterinarian couple who own the clinic) gave Stinky the complicated surgeries he needed (pro-bono) and now he is the clinic dog. Their little girl, whose named herself Monica, adores him!  What a happy life for an abandoned special-needs little guy.

A current rescue is Little Beanie, seen here with me after her spay. Now we are looking for a home for her.

 

Of course, the pool staff will be getting a nice offering of these as well but tomorrow, Wednesday, which is Mid-Autumn Festival Day itself.

I always feel bad for those who work at the natatorium.  Lifeguards, managers, front desk attendants and cleaning workers never get a day off as the pool is open every day, even during Chinese New Year.  The pool opens at 6:30 a.m. – 1:40 p.m., then opens again later on from 7 – 10 p.m.

Not much time to enjoy with family for holidays so I like to bring a little extra treat to brighten their day.

Closing Off

This afternoon, I’ll be meeting up with two  former students.  The first is Jason (Ji Ke), who is a tour guide.  Tomorrow, he’ll be heading out with a tour group of foreigners from several different countries and this will continue until the 20th, he told me. Today is about his only free day here in Chengdu, his home base.  I haven’t seen Jason since before the summer so it’ll be nice to get the latest news from him.

The second is Stacey and her new baby boy, 7 months.  She and Jason were in the same class together.  I haven’t seen her since she graduated, 12 years ago!

Should be a very happy reunion for all 3 of us.  The perfect way to spend the day before Mid-Autumn Festival, which is meant for family reunions and togetherness. Very appropriate timing, wouldn’t you say?

Until next report, many good wishes for the week.  Ping An, everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Earthquake!

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The teachers’ apartment building, with me on the 9th floor, gave us quite a fright a few days ago.

I’ve been through several earthquakes during my lifetime, each one causing my nerves to rattle a little more as the severity increased.

The first experienced was in my hometown (Marshall, IL) when I was 9.  The house shook and I raced to the back kitchen door to watch the telephone lines weaving up and down our side street, Hickory.  Our church organist (Marilyn Fitzgerald) always told her earthquake story of practicing her worship music at that time and watching the stained glass windows undulate inward and outward.  No panes cracked but the glass pieces were loosened from their adjoining attachments.

The next one was in Taiwan, the 1999 quake in the south part of the island, which killed 2,000 people.   Collapsed buildings killed many, bringing to the forefront shoddy construction due to skipped safety protocol and skimping on using better materials and designs.  That one sent my blinds rattling at 2:42 a.m.

The biggie was the Wenchuan 2008 Sichuan earthquake, 2:36 p.m., in which tens of thousands lost their lives.  Once again, a scary experience for me but I was on the first floor of an apartment building in Chengdu.  Easy to race outside quickly, as well as come and go freely every time a tremor hit that caused the building to shake too much.

Surprise Wake-up from the 9th Floor

In Luzhou, we’ve had several low-level shakings since then but this last one, 2 nights ago at close to 1 a.m., was definitely not pleasant.

Now that I live on the 9th floor, the highest I’ve ever lived in China, I now understand why people really panic when a seemingly Richter-scale low (3.6) hits.

On the top floors, it ain’t so low!

I was awakened by the entire building shaking for close to 10 seconds, with my vases falling over and my scrolls clanking against the wall.  I immediately scrambled out of bed and crouched in my sitting room archway, not that it would help me any if the building came tumbling down.

There was silence for a few seconds after it stopped until I heard my neighbors to either side of me come out.

Chinese teachers Leon and Chip (roommates) were outside in the hallway, getting ready to hop into the elevator and go down to the first floor.

“Did you feel the earthquake?!” Leon said. “Maybe it’s not safe to stay in.  We are going outside.”

Both had their cellphones in hand and were checking news reports for announcements of the epicenter and the quake size.  They were also getting ready to call relatives and friends about what they’d experienced.

I told Leon that usually, the big quake is all we’ll get.  After that, everything else is pretty tame.  And also, not a wise decision to use the elevator.

“You should go down the stairs,” I suggested. “You don’t know if the elevator is safe or not.”

Leon and Chip, however, weren’t about ready to hike down the stairs.

“Oh, yes,” Leon said as he and his roommate stepped into the elevator.  “You are right.  Maybe it’s not safe.  We will see.”

As the elevator doors closed on them, I just wondered if they’d go crashing down to the 1st floor.  I certainly wasn’t going to trust the elevator yet.  I took the stairs down.

Just Curious

I actually didn’t go outside for safety purposes but because I didn’t want to miss out on anything.

There was a huge sound of students shouting and stampeding down stairs to congregate in front of their dormitories.  The dorms reach 6 floors, no elevators but stairwells, so they all managed to get out in a hurry.

Our security folk in their flashing red-light golf cart came speeding to the dorms to calm the students.  I later heard that many of our young people, especially the freshmen, wanted to sleep outside on the sports field but they weren’t allowed. All were told to return to their rooms, which they didn’t do until 2:30 a.m., according to my seniors whom I had in class the next day.

As for my Chinese neighbors, three sets of families carried their bedding down and slept outside in their cars and SUVs the rest of the night.  Others just stood or sat on the curbside, texting friends or calling people, until they tired of that and went back to their homes.

As for me, after about 30 minutes, I got bored and returned to my apartment using the stairs, once again.  It was quite a long hike up but better safe than sorry.

Next Morning

I was happy to hear the next morning that the earthquake was slight enough that it did little damage and no deaths.   That was a relief!  And since the elevators were working fairly well, without anyone plunging to their deaths, I gave in and started using them again.

What I am not looking forward to is another one of those quakes happening again.

Luzhou usually is not on a fault line that will cause a lot of damage or fear when it comes to an earthquake but this last one, especially being on the 9th floor, wasn’t my idea of fun at all.

Hope my next entry is a little less exciting than this one. I am too old for that sort of excitement!

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

 

 

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