A giggle for your Thanksgiving Day

(Taken from: A Monk in the Inner City: The ABCs of a Spiritual Journey by Mary Lou Kownacki)

Two farmers were walking through a field when they saw an angry bull.

Instantly, they made for the nearest fence, with the bull in hot pursuit. It soon became evident to them that they were not going to make it, so one man shouted to the other.

“We’ve had it! Nothing can save us. Say a prayer. Quick!”

The other shouted back, “I’ve never prayed in my life, and I don’t have a prayer for this occasion.”

“Never mind,” his friend panted. “The bull is catching up with us. Any prayer will do.”

His friend, huffing and puffing, managed to verbalize, “Well, I’ll say the one I remember that my mother used to say before meals. That’s the best I can do.”

“Say it! Say it!” the desperate companion urged.

“All right. Here goes: For what we are about to receive, O God, make us truly grateful.”

Happy Thanksgiving, Folks! And be truly grateful you are NOT those two farmers.

Connie for T-day

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Another Result of My Halloween Posts for the Chinese

In a previous post, I shared one of my former student’s pictures of students in her classroom enjoying my carving-a-pumpkin video clips. They tried their hands at carving pumpkins themselves and did a very impressive job of doing so.

A few days ago, another former student (Hero) sent me pictures of his classroom of 3rd graders enjoying the trick-or-treat video clips.

Our WeChat conversation went as such:

Hero: I shared your Halloween videos with the kids. They are so excited! They love it! Children liked the candies a lot. They all want to join in.

Connie: Thank you, Hero, for sharing my special tradition with them. Next year, I will come to your classroom and we will do it together, you and I, in person. What do you think

Hero: Yes, that would be great! They must be very happy.

I definitely know that I would certainly be very happy, joining my former student in the classroom as a co-teacher and a colleague.

A year from now, check this space for pictures of me, Hero and his students enjoying some Halloween fun.

It’s a date, Hero!

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Welcome to Trick-or-Treating in My Hometown

The final installment of my Halloween video clips for next year’s lessons will be the following:

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For my Students in China: Choosing the Right Costume

Planning my China Halloween lessons for a year from now took some thought.

I have numerous costumes from my childhood, many of which my mom sewed herself, but few still fit. Her best creation, the Zorro costume with silky satiny black pants and blouse, plus bandana and glittery cape, won me a 1st place $25 prize in junior high. That actually does fit but at present, it is packed and sealed in a box which I had planned to mail back to China 2 years ago.

It is still waiting in a closet for that to happen.

The Story of My Swiss Miss Outfit

For my selected costume, I turned instead to my dirndl (a traditional German dress), here in America where I’d kept it for years. I bought it in 1981 in Germany, where I spent the summer as an exchange student. My host mother had a fit when we went to the mall and I chose this for $75. It was the cheapest one offered and the only one I could afford. Her greatest concern was that my mother would criticize her for allowing me to buy such an expensive item, which seemed to her a frivolous purchase. At that time in Germany, such “costumes” were not at all popular or wanted. But I was determined, despite her efforts to dissuade me, so back to America it came.

Interestingly enough, a few years later, my host sister Ulrike told me that the dirndl was becoming quite fashionable among the young people. In fact, she and her sister both talked their mom into buying one for each of them and they sent me a picture of all three women in the family, Mom and daughters, posing proudly in their native dress.

The Dutch Bonnet Added

The Dutch cap or bonnet I am wearing here is called the Volendam hat because it came from the village of Volendam, located in North Holland in th Netherlands. It’s made of white cotton or lace, and is characterized by triangular flaps or wings that turn up on either side. 

This particular Dutch hat belonged to an elderly Dutch immigrant who gave it to my mother when she lived in Holland, Michigan during WW 2. An area of Michigan was settled by those from Holland, thus the name of the town, Holland. My mother’s paternal grandparents lived there and while her father was overseas in the Pacific, her mother brought the family to Holland to live until the war’s end. Holland was famous for the Tulip Festival and having the only working authentic windmill, brought from Holland and assembled in the town’s park. During the festival’s week, the children dressed in Dutch clothes and joined parades or just walked the streets for the tourists to enjoy an authentic feel of the Netherlands.

My mom and her brother not only wore Dutch costumes but had wooden shoes, along with all their classmates, which they clogged around in throughout not only the week but on a daily basis. She said they were the most comfortable shoes she’s ever worn.

While my mom’s outfit was not authentic to Holland, her cap was. When it was given to her, it was already a vintage piece. At present, we are guessing it’s well over 100 years old.

It certainly made for a fitting top-off to my costume: An authentic dirndl with an authentic Dutch cap.

Voila!!

Now all that was needed to complete my Halloween evening were the trick-or-treaters. (Coming next!)

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For my Students in China: Halloween Lesson Planning from Home

Once again, Halloween Activity Night did not take place this year at my school in China. My absence made it a bit difficult to organize the event. I’m the one to fully get our English Association members signed up for all the different rooms, work closely with the club president to supervise volunteers, make the list of supplies, loan out my costume wardrobe and pull together all the permission that’s needed to do this on the campus. For 5 years, Halloween Activity Night was a hit among students, teachers and their families . . . .

. . . . until Covid stranded me here in January, 2020.

Last year, Covid restrictions in China didn’t allow such large gatherings and this year, I haven’t been present to get the ball rolling.

Also a shame is that my freshmen will not be getting those first lessons of introduction to the many traditions found in my American small-town culture surrounding October 31st. Nor will the second and third years be receiving more instruction about activities, vocabulary games and history points to share with their future students. October was always Halloween month in my classroom, with my graduated students often sending me pictures of what they were doing as novice teachers in their own schools to introduce Halloween culture to their pupils. Seeing them use some of my lesson ideas, then creatively add their own, was such a rewarding feeling.

So what’s a teacher stuck in America to do?

Lesson plan and prepare for next year!

Yes, I took full advantage of our Trick-or-Treat traditions here in my small town, which went into full swing on October 30th after last year’s community night was canceled due to Covid spreading concerns.

Getting Ready for Halloween:  Carving a Pumpkin

Let me share with you all my Youtube postings and WeChat send-offs to my Chinese friends, colleagues and students. There are several topics so let’s start with the first one: Carving a pumpkin, or Making the Jack-o-Lantern.

The Results?  A former Student Shares

One of my former students, Angel, made full use of the above videos by showing them to her class.   After that, they tried their skill at making Jack-o-Lanterns on their own.   The results are fantastic, as you can see. 

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The highlight of the night, of course, is Trick-or-Treating. Watch this space for what video offerings I posted this year and will be showing my students in Luzhou next year. There are a lot of them, so be ready to enjoy what’s coming next!

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My College Celebrates its 120th Year Anniversary

During this wait to return to China, I’ve done fairly well not to wallow in a depressive state at still not being at my school.

I was doing fairly well, that is, until recently, when my students and colleagues began sending pictures of the 120th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the college.

First, I was sent the link from the newly created write-up on a website for hiring new teachers.

At present, I am the only foreign teacher and it most likely will stay that way for some time, even though we are now at about 15,000 students. LVTC (Luzhou Vocational and Technical College) pays a very low salary, only 4,200 yuan (roughly $660 a month) whereas private elementary schools, public junior high and high schools pay anywhere from 12,000-15,000 ($1,900 – $2,380 per month), with free housing included. Granted, the work load is quite challenging compared to teaching college courses but it’s a great way for foreigners to either pay off student debts or save for that future return to his/her own country.

As an Amity Foundation Teacher, money to me is not important. My students are, and being able to help China’s English Education majors become the best they can in their future classroom is my goal, not making a lot of money.

This commitment over the years has paid off in numerous ways.

One is that my school nominated me for the highest honor of foreigners in the province, the Jin Ding Award. This was in 2008. The paperwork involved to do this was quite extensive and time-consuming. Most colleges wouldn’t have bothered but my school did. How very humbled I was to receive this in the education division. There were 5 others chosen, all males who were experts in various other fields (medicine, factory technology, science). We had a wonderful weekend together where we were wined and dined, then had the ceremony where top officials presented us with our prestigious awards.

This photo was taken at the presentation and now is displayed on the campus on the newly erected Distinguished Faculty Honor board.

The Jin Ding Award


The translation of the text reads something like this: “Connie Wieck, An American English teacher. She has been engaged in teaching at the school for more than 20 years, making the school her home and having a love of teaching. She has won the honor of Sichuan’s Excellent Foreign Teacher, the top Jin Din award.”

And I know exactly where my plaque is located, too, in my China apartment. It’s a treasured item, one which I definitely want to carry with me when it’s time to retire from my China home and return to the States for good.

Other Pictures Sent

Also included in photos sent by students and colleagues were these, the celebration performances on the sports field. I imagine it must have taken days to get this set up and weeks of practices by students and teachers to create the best show possible. What a spectacular event!

If you want the full feeling of “being there”, see the video below, with the playing of a well-known pop song of a young man’s love for his girlfriend, “The Brightest star in the Night Sky”

The lyrics during the video clip: “I would rather leave all the pain in my heart, than forget your eyes; Give me the courage to believe again and go beyond the lies to embrace you; Whenever I can’t find the meaning of your existence, whenever I lose myself in the dark night, you are the brightest star in the night sky.”

Getting Teary-eyed, But Not Losing Hope

Like I said, I was doing very well staying positive and upbeat here in the States until this came my way.  Darn!!!  I really wanted to be there in person.  

Despite my downcast spirits during those moments of viewing the above, my college’s International Affairs Office director, Mr. Chen, recently sent me a note.  He said, “I have reported your situation to the leaders and relevant provincial and city officials.  We can’t yet authorize your invitation letter but please be patient.”

The fact that I am still wanted, that the college is willing to jump through as many Covid hoops as possible to get me back into the classroom, is very touching.  At present, I know of several foreign English teachers from overseas who have been given their invitation letters by several private schools in Shenzhen.  Another teacher has also been approved for  Shanghai employment.

Many of us are guessing that China will open up more after hosting the Beijing Winter Olympics.  That has been the rumor so I will continue to wait until May of 2022 which was set as one possible date by Chinese officials for the country to allow more people to enter.  

In the meantime, China continues to tout their  Zero-tolerance Covid stance.  As of today, only 300 cases have been reported in total (out of 1.4 billion people) with many lockdowns taking place, contact tracing and officials fired who let those few infiltrate their cities and areas.  I understand why Luzhou government authorities are very unwilling to have any overseas person come into their midst.  Despite the required 3 weeks of hotel quarantine, and then being monitored daily for another 2 weeks in an apartment home, there is still a risk.  I’m just hoping the risk factor will dissipate a bit more in May.

Until then, I continue to connect with my students and friends via WeChat, create cultural videos and  photo lessons to share with anyone who wants them, treasure this time with my mom (she turns 88 in November!) and keep that positive outlook of a China return high on my list of goals and hopes.

 

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A Former 小朋友 (Little Friend, i.e. Child): A Tale of “Never Give Up”

My teaching placement in the far south of China (2009-2011) had me teaching in a very small town called Longzhou at Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities. A majority of my students were of one of the ethnic minority groups in China, of which there are 56. Those in my area included Zhuang, Yi and Miao. This likewise composed those living in the small city itself.

Longzhou, a population of around 600,000, was just 45 minutes from the Vietnam border. This small, rural town was walkable from one end to the other in any direction, which landed you in a rustic landscape of skyrocketing tall, lush mountains with plains of sugarcane or pineapple fields.

Longzhou’s sizzling temperatures had me taking 3-4 showers a day during the most miserably hot time of year, which pretty much started in March and continued to November. Winter’s coldest was 50 degrees.

My bedroom had an air-conditioner but the other 5 rooms in my campus apartment (very large and spacious) did not. My first purchase was a fan which I kept going 24-7 in my outer sitting room, especially when guests came over for a visit.

When I first arrived, I learned how to stay as cool as possible. Like a majority of my apartment neighbors, all teachers with their families, we left our doors wide open into the stairwell to get a good breeze blowing through. Granted, it was mostly hot air but at least it was moving and not stagnant.

I was the only foreigner within 50 miles of the area, and the only foreigner on the campus.

Becky John's Visit 028

Solidifying My Reputation as the Welcoming Foreigner

With my door wide open those first few weeks, I had quite a few come up the stairs to linger outside of my doorway, trying to catch a glimpse of the foreigner in her new environment. Everyone was curious about how I’d decorate, the things I brought with me (they were shocked by the 100 boxes that arrived in the truck from Inner Mongolia, my previous Amity Foundation teaching placement) and dying to know just what kind of a person I was, if I spoke Chinese, if I had family coming, how old I was and all the usual inquisitive ponderings that come with a newcomer to your neighborhood.


As soon as anyone slowed down to peer in, I made it a point to invite them in to take a look. I’d chat about myself, sigh over all the stuff I had, tour them through the rooms (no matter how unorganized or messy they were), invite them to sit for a drink or, if they refused, insisted they return for my open house in a few weeks. This open transparency immediately gave me the reputation of being a kind, friendly, social person who was happy to have visitors.

Becoming Auntie Connie

I’m not quite sure how it happened but there was one girl, age 10, who lived in a shop connected to the school. I remember her standing at my doorway, perhaps coming back from visiting a friend upstairs, and looking in as so many others had done. I quickly waved her in, toured her around, filled her pockets with candy and sent her on her way after welcoming her back whenever she had time.

She appeared the next day, a Saturday, with 2 friends in tow. One of those was an older boy (14) who was keen to practice his English. He called himself Joe and announced his friend would be called Amy, since she said she wanted an English name.

Playdate 004

And so it came about that every Saturday morning, from 10 – 12, Auntie Connie’s home was open to fun and games with Amy’s entourage, all my 小朋友 (Little Friends). Joe was always present. (Amy, center, brings two friends. Joe is to her right.)

An 11-Year Friendship: Following a Young Man’s Life Struggles

Christmas open house 033

The story of Amy I will save for another day but let’s talk a bit about Joe. (Seen here in my home, to the left, here with Tom, his classmate and best friend.)

My 3 years in Longzhou had dedicated visits by Joe, sometimes with invites for his classmates to join him and sometimes just by himself. When I left Longhou in 2012 for my new placement in Luzhou (my current one), Joe and I stayed in touch via WeChat.

I’ve been following his journey through his high school and college years, with his graduation from the university having just taken place last May.

For Joe, the last 9 years have been a frustrating, seemingly unfair life struggle.

His senior year in high school had him taking the gaokao, the 2-day nationwide college entrance exam, along with all his other classmates. For two years, Chinese students prepare for this test in. Weekend classroom study hours are mandatory, as are late night and early morning in-school sessions. The scores of the gaokao determine which university a student can enter or even if a student can enter a university.

Joe failed miserably.

His score was so low, 340 out of 750, that there was no hope of him ever getting into a 4-year institution. The best he could hope for was a 2-year trade school which would not make him very marketable in the outside world.

The heartbreak was that Tom, his best friend, did extremely well and would be enrolled in a medical college to prepare for his future as a doctor.

Joe’s only other option was to try again, with a repeat of his senior year since that is the only way to take the test a second time.

There was no guarantee he would do better but with advice from his teachers and his parents, he decided to go for it.

Another year, another excruciating study regime, another chance at reaching his goal.

His second score? A tad over 400, which placed him once again in a desperately low category.

I can’t tell you how devastating this was, not only for Joe but his teachers, parents and even me. When I received his text message, sent 2 weeks after he discovered his test score due to his low spirits, I called to console him.

Rarely do students take on a repeated 3rd year of high school study that senior year to once again take the gaokao. It is almost unheard of. And Joe was now 20 years old. How embarrassing as a young adult to be living at home, no work, studying with 17-year-olds while all his former classmates were enjoying their junior year of college.

A 2016 Decision Made, With 2021 Rewards Now being Reaped

After a good amount of moping, with dubious family members and teachers wondering about his future,  Joe enrolled in his 6th year of high school.  He became a role model to those who were not great in their studies or whose test scores were low no matter how much they tried.  His teachers and school leaders often pointed to his commitment to never give up, to keep trying, to strive forward and not look back at past failures.

In 2018, Joe’s gaokao score gave him the ability to finally enter the university. He chose to study accounting, and last May, 2021, with half of his senior year being virtual due to Covid, he graduated.

Joe was recently hired as an accountant near his hometown area. Just this month, he traveled to visit his classmate in the big city of Chongqing, which is actually just 2 hours from where I live!  What a shame that I was not in Luzhou and able to join him for a day.  I would have been able to do so, too, because Oct. 1- 7 was China’s National Holiday week,  a yearly public celebration which all can enjoy.

He filled his WeChat messages to me with happy notes and pictures of city tourist sites, delicious food, his hotel accommodations and shopping items he bought. Of course, there were poses of him and his friend as they enjoyed their first holiday as working gentlemen and not poor college students. (Joe is on the right in picture 1; left in picture 2). 

 

Receiving his messages, and seeing his obvious joy after so many setbacks and disappointments, made my heart sing.

Well done, Joe!! You are an inspiration to so very, very many.

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” ―Thomas Edison

And this one from Confucius:

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” ―Confucius

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A Rare Occasion

IMG_2407

“How many rainbows have you seen in your lifetime?”
“Do you remember your first rainbow? Can you tell us the story?”

Yesterday, I placed these questions, along with two pictures, in a new WeChat group I now belong to.

A former teacher at my school, “Marty” Li, now teaches English at Northwest Medical University which is right next to my campus. I know that campus well because I often would walk there to pick up carry-out dinner items from the many mom-and-pop stalls lining what I called Food Court Alley. My college had, and still has, no such offerings. Independent homemade food sellers have been considered unsanitary by my college authorities so only cafeteria food is served on the school campus. But quite often, the students and faculty where I teach trek the 10-minute walk out our main entrance gate to nearby Food Court Alley at the neighboring college. There we can get the familiar traditional Sichuan cuisine which no bland school cafeteria in all of China can duplicate.

Food has always been my connection with Northwest Medical University, but not anymore.

Two weeks ago, Marty invited me to join with his 30 freshmen English majors in a special group chat. Just like on my campus, there is no foreign language teacher at the Medical University due to Covid restrictions still in place, blocking overseas teachers from coming back to their positions. His school leaders, like mine, are waiting for the ban to be lifted so educators such as myself can return. In the meantime, Marty thought his students’ connection with me would help improve the language skills, and interest of English, among his first years. Thus I’ve been engaging Marty’s 18-19 year olds in numerous Q & As for sharing time. The most recent one had to do with a huge storm that hit my area 3 days ago, and then the spectacular result that came afterwards.

Look at this!! Have you ever in your lifetime seen a double rainbow? What a sight! Hope you enjoy this captured-in-time moment as much as I did seeing it in person. So, so very special.

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Hopeful News of China’s Relaxing Entry of Foreigners into the Country

As always, my days are spent trolling the Internet for signs that China will start moving away from their Zero-Covid policies and enter into a resignation that opening up to us “regular” foreigners (returning overseas teachers and students, even tourists) is needed.

And today, I found it!

Read the below and join me in welcoming that tiny ray of hope and sunshine into my day. May it grow and radiate, speeding into 2022 with visa application approvals and a flight booking to send me closer to getting back into my Luzhou classroom.

https://fortune.com/2021/10/04/china-covid-measures-reopening-borders-vaccine-rate/

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An Earthquake Security Check

“Hey, Bruce!” I typed into my WeChat message to my Chinese colleague, “Bruce” Liu, yesterday. “Sorry to bother you again but have you checked on my apartment yet? I just want to make sure the recent earthquake didn’t do any damage or cut off my electricity to the refrigerator.”

The reply was almost immediate.

” I am so sorry. I forgot but I’ll do it now. Wait a minute.”

“And can you take a picture?” I added. “I really miss my home.”

“Will do!” Bruce replied.

How fortunate I am to have Bruce helping me out with apartment worries.

Bruce (one of the English Department teachers) and his family live on the 4th floor of my campus home in China while I live on the 9th. He has always been the one that I leave my key with during my vacation absences. In the past, he has kindly watered my plants and done a walk-through to make sure things were in order until I returned. To show my appreciation, I brought him goodies or small gifts back from my travels as a thank you.

But as my planned 1-month absence ballooned into 2 months, then 4, then 6 and now 1 1/2 years (!), I dismissed him from watering duties and told him not to bother entering my home unless there was something he needed to borrow. This he has done on several occasions, such as my plastic stools to use for his visiting friends or my collapsable table when he had extra dinner guests.

The last earthquake that shook the building, however, was quite severe and I was concerned about my refrigerator. While no perishable items were in it, the defrosting with electricity cut-off would pool water all over the floor. That was something I certainly didn’t want to happen.

And I was curious as to how dirty and dusty it was, plus the longing just to see my Chinese home.

Bruce didn’t disappoint.

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He reported that all was well, but the plants once again caused him great distress.

“I am so sorry. They are all dead,” he texted with a sobbing emoji afterwards. “Maybe you will have to replace them.”

You think?!

After seeing his photo of my once-lovely, green-leafed beauties, collected in the bathroom where I had placed them for Bruce’s easy watering, I couldn’t agree more. Definitely all need replacing.

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Yep. That’ll be the first thing on my ” to do” list when I return: Buy new plants!

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



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