Sharing My U.S. Election Ballot with My Chinese College Students



The move to my new college campus, at the outskirts of Luzhou (loo-joe) city in Sichuan Province, China, brought with it a lot of changes.  New area of the city, new school  buildings, excellent classroom equipment and a  modern 11-story faculty housing  complex with 66 apartment units.

                The latter has me finally settling into my 9th floor apartment overlooking a river, terraced farmland and a distant railway line that carries cargo during the midnight hours.    It’s not the Yangtze River, which was my balcony view before, but it proves to be just as pleasant.


My current view from my balcony, including the distant cargo train line, raised high above the land.




             The new apartment has a much bigger space than my previous tiny one, thus I’ve been having open house student  visits which have become quite the campus buzz.

Each class, anywhere from 40 to 50 students, has been divided into two groups to visit my home. My college freshmen, sophomores and seniors have been alighting  during the past few weeks to play  table-top games, take countless cell phone photo snapshots and write housewarming wishes to me which are then taped to my balcony’s sliding doors.


Students write housewarming wishes while sitting in my outer living area.



After finishing their wishes, these were posted on my balcony sliding doors (in the background)


So many wishes warmed my heart, and my home.

It was right before one of these open houses that my absentee ballot arrived, sent straight from our Clark County Courthouse by our very own County Clerk and Recorder, Carrie Downey.  


My voting envelope arrived with self-addressed envelope and ballot inside.

                I had tucked away the ballot envelope on a shelf, where I’d later open to vote, when one of my visiting open house students, Ajay (Mize Ke), announced, “Your election is coming very soon.”


Ajay corners me with voting questions.


      “Yes,” I replied.  “On November 8.”

                “So will you go back to America to vote?” Ajay asked me in all seriousness.

                I had to laugh at that one.

How could any American overseas teacher even consider  buying a $2,000 airplane ticket to trek back to America, vote, and then return to teach  classes within a 24-hour period? 

That’s a mighty dedicated voter! 

                Such a ludicrous question is understandable, however.   My Chinese students are quite provincial.  They think all Americans are rich.  Many have never been on an airplane before, much less know that my traveling time from Luzhou all the way to Marshall and back again would take much longer than 24 hours. Plus U.S. voting procedures are unknown to them so the question, while seemingly silly, isn’t all that odd.

                “Well, actually,” I replied, “I can vote via the Internet or even by mail. I’ve chosen mail. Do you want to see how we Americans do that if we live overseas?”

                “Yes!  I want to know!” Ajay piped up excitedly.

                “Just a minute and I’ll show you.”

                I retrieved my unopened ballot envelope and returned to an anxious Ajay.

                Those within earshot of our conversation began  gathering around as Ajay did the honors of carefully opening the outer envelope.

                “Your first U.S. Presidential election, Ajay,” I joked.

Didn’t take long for his classmates to join in on the fun.

                “Yes, Ajay.   Who will you vote for?” his roommate, Nick (Zhu Hongzhi), teased.  “Must be Trump.  He’s a rich man.   He will help you get a lot of money.”

                The other male students nodded in agreement.

                “No, not that man,” Jessica (Yan Yingqiu) retorted.  “Vote for a woman.  The woman president is best.  She will lead strongly, I think.”

                My female students murmured approval, backing up Jessica’s comments for Hilary Clinton.

                As Ajay finished opening the envelope, we pulled out the contents:  ballot, ballot information sheet and the self-addressed, return mailing also enclosed inside.

                I explained each piece of paper, including the fact that on the ballot, there were other people to choose from besides just the President.

                “After the national leaders, here are the candidates for my state and local offices.    In fact, my brother is running for a local office, County Board.”

                “Really?” Ajay asked, searching the ballot.  “Where’s his name?” 

                “He’s for another area, another county, so I can’t vote for him,” I said sadly.  “But I would if I could.”

                “In China, only Communist Party Members can choose government leaders,” Nick commented . “I’m not a Party member.  It’s too much trouble.”

                I’d already known that.

 I used to think everyone was a Communist Party Member in China but that’s not the case.  To join the Party, adults 18 or older must first have a sponsoring member to vouch for them, attend orientation meetings which introduce them to the duties and obligations of a Party member, take Party Membership classes  and  finally pass an exam.  After that, Party Members attend monthly meetings in their areas, pay monthly dues (around $30 US)  and are allowed to vote for  government office candidates vetted from among their ranks.  They can also run for government offices themselves with Party approval or group consensus from their different regions.

There is definitely a voting procedure that takes place in China but for most offices, it is among Party members only, not the grand masses.  And many city, provincial and national government offices are appointments only  by the higher ups in the Party, much like our US President who has the ability to appoint individuals to certain positions without Congressional approval.

Being a Party member can be quite a boost to one’s personal career, especially in the business world and if applying for civil servant positions.  Among educators, it’s somewhat a necessity to join the Party in order  to move  up the ladder in any school system, whether elementary, secondary or  tertiary .  Party membership allows a classroom teacher to ambitiously move upward to become a professor (no PhD required for this title), a principal, a dean or other administrative positions.

 Most of my students, who will be teaching English at the elementary or junior high school level, don’t bother with Party membership.  They are quite satisfied with being a simple school teacher without the pressures of a higher position.  But we do have Party enrollment meetings that take place on our campus every semester.  Those interested join in and finish their initiation process within a year.

“ So who will you vote for?” one of my students asked, looking at the empty ballot boxes not yet filled in.

“That’s a secret,” I hedged .  “Some people don’t like to share their opinion while others like to tell everyone.  Depends on the person.”

“How about  Little Sister?” Jessica asked with a grin, looking down at her feet where my Chihuahua  sat wagging her tail.  “Who will she vote for?”

“Good question,” I replied. “So, Sister, who will you vote for? Trump or Hillary?”

All eyes were on my dog.

Sister gazed upwardly at our expectant faces.   Her nose twitched.  Her mouth opened.  Was this canine actually about to speak?! 

It truly seemed so, until she scooped up a piece of candy from off the floor and scurried away.

We all burst into laughter.

                “Looks like her vote is a secret, too,”Jessica sighed.

                Yes, Jessica, I guess so! 

          Here’s a reminder to all that every vote counts, no matter who you’re voting for or from where.  My vote from China is already in my local ballot box in Marshall, Illinois.   Be sure to add yours for your own city or town elections.  Happy voting, everyone!


Little Beautiful Sister is still deciding. Just remember, every vote counts! Don’t forget to caste your ballot on November 8.  It’s a great honor and privilege to do so.

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The English Association’s Halloween Party: A huge success!

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Back in China: Hectic schedules, Roasting runs, Unsettled Moves

It’s been 3 weeks since I returned to China on Aug. 6 and pretty much, it’s been non-stop ever since.

Leaving the States

Saying Goodbye: My mom on our front porch with my suitcase

Saying Goodbye: My mom on our front porch with my suitcase

My allotted 50-pound suitcase is exactly that, after I had it weighed at our local vet's office using their animal scales

My allotted 50-pound suitcase is exactly that, after I had it weighed at our local vet’s office using their animal scales

After entertaining Chinese visitors in Illinois, which was a rare treat, I didn’t have much time to get myself in order for the flight back to Luzhou. There were last-minute shopping sprees for coffee and other goodies at the Walmart, stocking up on U.S. veterinarian supplies for my abandoned charges at the Xin Wang Animal Hospital (the Chinese meds are not really that great), saying goodbye to relatives and friends, getting in those final early –morning pool swims and making sure Lao-lao, our Chinese Chihuahua rescue, had plenty of pets before I disappeared until next year.

So long, Lao-lao!  See you next year.

So long, Lao-lao! See you next year.

A Busy Return

Amity staff and our Luzhou Christian church staff at a farewell luncheon (L-R:  Me, Amity Education Director Helen Zhao, new Amity teacher Denise Mountain, Pastor Zhao (behind), Pastor Liao and one of our lay leaders.

Amity staff and our Luzhou Christian church staff at a farewell luncheon (L-R: Me, Amity Education Director Helen Zhao, new Amity teacher Denise Mountain, Pastor Zhao (behind), Pastor Liao and one of our lay leaders.

Once in China, there was the new visa to deal with (I actually pick up my renewed residence permit this Monday), entertaining/advising a new Amity teacher and accompanying staff member for a week (Denise Mountain from Australia, teaching in Inner Mongolia, and “Lisa” Meng, her language trainer from the Nanjing office), putting together my textbooks for the new year (still working on that one) and waiting anxiously to hear . . . . when will I be moving?!

My move to the new school:  Still hovering over my head

Yes, I am still located on the 22nd floor of the highrise apartment which I was supposed to have been moved out of in April, then June, then July and now last week.

From my balcony, I still can enjoy the views of the city from the 22nd floor. This is the 111 degree weather day. Whew!

From my balcony, I still can enjoy the views of the city from the 22nd floor. This is the 111 degree weather day. Whew!

Peering down from my balcony on the street below.

Peering down from my balcony on the street below.

Obviously, none of those moving dates have come to fruition.

The new campus, I’ve heard, will be ready  when students are to be landing to settle back into their dorm rooms come Aug. 31st, before the school year starts on Sept. 5. The upper classmen moved in last month and dumped all their stuff  before heading off for summer break.  Lots of grumbles and protests took place due to no water, no ceiling fans yet in place, no WiFi Net access and overcrowded rooms with too many bunk beds in place.

Hopefully, those difficulties will be settled before their return or the school officials will have a student uprising on their hands.

The freshmen will be arriving mid-September, as is common in colleges and universities in China. They will have their military training (more like a bonding session) for 10 days and then begin courses in full.

I have yet to see the new campus since my visit last May but just know that we are on schedule to begin on time, so the administrators have said.

I do know the lease runs out to my rented apartment on Sept. 3 so I’m guessing that I should be out by then but without any news of an exact date, I am finding it very difficult to motivate myself to pack up my things. They are just sitting here, nicely arrayed and homey,  and I am not dealing with it yet.

Without a moving date, I am just not at all motivated to pack!  My comfy home, where my Amity visitors enjoyed a week together.

Without a moving date, I am just not at all motivated to pack! My comfy home, where my Amity visitors enjoyed a week together.

Sweltering Heat Engulfs All;  Relief Hard to Find

The Yangtze River was full of swimmers. Safety floaties for 30 yuan ($5) a day could be rented at a teahouse for swimmers.

The Yangtze River was full of swimmers due to the unbearable weather. Safety floaties for 30 yuan ($5) a day could be rented at a teahouse for swimmers.

Another big problem has been the heat. We’ve had the hottest summer in Luzhou in many years, so I was told.  This brought out loads of swimmers to the Yangtze River at various spots in the city.  Families, their doggies and the elderly found this a cheaper dip than the local swimming pools, which charged 30 yuan ($5) a day.  (The Yangtze is free, although I’m not a fan of polluted waters, which the river certainly is.)

On the 111 degree day, I enjoyed tea along the Yangtze with Denise for her goodbye to Luzhou. She headed off to Inner Mongolia, to her new school, the next day.

On the 111 degree day, I enjoyed tea along the Yangtze with Denise for her goodbye to Luzhou. She headed off to Inner Mongolia, to her new school, the next day.

My sitting room hit 96 degrees two days ago as there is no air-conditioning unit except in the bedroom. Last Wednesday had us at 111, the hottest for the month, with days before and following always over 100 degrees.

I was melting every day, sweat pouring off of me as soon as I left the air-conditioned bedroom’s comfort in the morning. The pool swims were great but even then, the fitness center cooling units struggled to keep the entire building comfortable.

My volunteer duties at the animal hospital, dog walks at the clinic and cleaning cages, had poor Stinky the Yorkie needing a cool-off in pans of water. I’d prepare his pool dip before he took off down the block for our 10-minutes outing. After he panted his way back, he jumped right in to lie down for some relief in the comfy water, after which we’d go sit in the clinic’s air-conditioned outer room and watch the Olympics on their flat-screen TV.

Stinky, the abandoned Yorkie at the clinic, has his pan of water soak after our short walks during our 100-degree weather days.

Stinky, the abandoned Yorkie at the clinic, has his pan of water soak after our short walks during our 100-degree weather days.

A visit to my old campus on a 95-degree day saw plenty of hot animals.

A visit to my old campus on a 95-degree day saw plenty of other hot animals.

The heat of Luzhou had everyone panting, including Little Sister, flopped on the pavement.

The heat of Luzhou had everyone in misery, including Little Sister, flopped on the pavement.

I’m relieved to say that yesterday, we had a big rain which cooled everything down to the 70s and 80s. It was the first day back I actually was able to go out without becoming a puddle on the sidewalk.

Church Worship Just as Hot

Worship at the Luzhou Protestant Church has likewise been quite a challenge . . . for me, anyway, if not for the Chinese who are used to the Luzhou summers.

I’m sure many remember years ago when our US churches weren’t air-conditioned. I still remember fans blowing the smothering, oppressive air all around the sanctuary at the Marshall First UMC. Our poor pastor and layleader were wiping sweat from their brows constantly in July and August, much like our Chinese church leaders have been doing here.

The temperatures haven’t stopped people from coming to church, though. We’ve kept our usual constant of around 400 and in the evenings at 7 p.m., the young people’s 2-hour worship has likewise been well-attended, so I heard.

With our cooler temps now in place since yesterday, tomorrow should be a lot more pleasant in church, that’s for sure.

Today's temps are now in the 80s, thanks to overcast skies and a nice cool-down.

Today’s temps are now in the 80s, thanks to overcast skies and a nice cool-down.

Thoughts Before Closing

The big move will probably take place sometime this week.

I have no idea what condition the new apt. will be in. Most likely, it will be very dirty from all the construction work, and the Internet may not yet be hooked up. There will be air-conditioners to install and the washing machine to hook up, plus the water heater and gas burner to attach for cooking.

My furniture will have to be re-assembled (bed and wardrobe) and hopefully, nothing will be broken this time around. The workers destroyed my bookcase in the last move. The school has promised to buy me a new one but maybe they should wait a bit. Might be something else broken on the final upcoming move that needs replacing as well.

One never knows!

From Luzhou, here’s wishing you many blessings for the upcoming week. Ping An (Peace)!




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An Unexpected Culture Shock

As a reminder: I arrived in the States on July 1st and have been enjoying time with my mom in my hometown, Marshall, IL. My return date to China will be August 6.


China rescue Lao-lao and I enjoy a sit in the sunshine on the back deck.  I found him with a broken jaw so he has no ability to hold his tongue in.  He also has lost a majority of his teeth to gum disease. He has lived with my mom since 2009.  What a wonderful life he has now, given lots of pets and care from those of us who love him.

The evening’s cool breeze was sweeping me, my mom and Chihuahua Lao-lao (Old-old, our 2008 immigrant street rescue from China) down Hickory Street toward our house on North Michigan Avenue. Our nightly walk with the dog was almost over when my mom said, “Does it ever feel strange, jumping from China and then suddenly landing in Marshall, every time you make these trips back to America?”

I’ve been doing these jumps for so many years that, in all honesty, there is no strangeness involved. When I’m in China , I feel right at home, even straight off the plane, and the same goes for Marshall where I replant myself as soon as I step out of the Indianapolis Airport before driving the 1 ½ hours into Illinois.

But I must say, the other day did give me a bit of a jolt, one that I don’t often experience.

It started with a trashcan, or rather what was in it.

An Early Morning Swim Raises An Eyebrow


The Marshall Community Pool was first built by the Lion’s Club in 1956.  It is now owned by the city.  A new pool is scheduled to be built for next year at a cost of 3 million dollars.  Fundraising by local citizens and city funding will cover the cost.


Monday morning had me at our local outdoor pool, ready for my 6 – 8 a.m. lap swim. The high school lifeguards, although bleary-eyed and wishing for a sleep-in, show up right on time to unlock the gate for us early birds to straggle in. It’s been Brandon’s turn this week and he was there a tad early on Monday, which gave me an opportunity to stroll in leisurely rather than swiftly hit the water for my daily work-out.

The crack-of-dawn opening allows our guards, usually two of them, to clean the pool while we adept adult swimmers cruise the waters. Cleaning duties include washing down the pool deck, sanitizing the bathrooms, picking up the parking lot and emptying trash cans into the dumpster out front.

When I drifted over to the patio to deposit my towel and shoes on the picnic bench, I noticed the trash cans were completely full, ready to be emptied.

The night before, a pool party had taken place from 7 – 10 p.m., which is not unusual for the weekends. Many groups from Marshall and surrounding towns rent our public pool for their summer gatherings at a reasonable $115. We are the only city within a 40-mile radius that has continued to keep its outdoor pool open for the community. It is one of the many services Marshall offers to the public and we here are extremely grateful to have it, as are those who patron our pool facility.

Overflowing trash cans after a pool party are nothing to be surprised about but what stopped me in my tracks was what was in one particular the trash can.

Perched on top of an underlying pile of plastic cups, bags and paper plates was a big box of Walmart cookies, still in the container and unopened. And next to that was an untouched sack of deep red, ripe cherries along with another bag of plump, white grapes. Further down was a squashed bag of hotdog buns, damaged from being tossed into the canister without a second thought, even though I’m pretty certain they were quite fresh before they went in.

I was truly taken back.

My mom and I had seen those same gorgeous red, ripe cherries from Washington State in our local Walmart in the same labeled zip-locked bag. They were $7.00 a pound. We had debated spending the money on them, but getting rather cheap, turned instead to the Ranier cherries which were only $4.20 a pound.

We had also kept temptation at bay concerning the many variety of cookies displayed on the bakery shelves, mostly because we prefer homemade but also because we didn’t really need all those extra unworthy calories, did we?

Yet here they were, all those store offerings from yesterday, haphazardly discarded and set before me.

No ants were marching about and those cherries (definitely over a pound) were begging to be saved. The same went for the grapes, likewise dumped without a second thought. Also needing rescuing were the store-bought cookies, Snickerdoodles and peanut butter, cuddled next to the fruit.

I didn’t hesitate, even in my shock, to shamelessly pull the lot out of the trash.

The cookie container I deposited into the basket room for the lifeguards to munch on during their on-duty hours that day. The fruit I quickly placed next to my towel on the picnic table to take home for my own consumption. As for the squashed buns, I grabbed those as well to toss out to the birds in the city park next to the pool.

My determination was to let nothing of good, edible use go to waste, even if it meant pulling things out of the trash. I didn’t really care what anyone thought of me. Such wastefulness, money and foodwise, was just not something I could ignore.

In China, people would have packaged everything up after a party and made sure it went home with someone. Nothing would have been left behind, I’m almost certain, especially the fruit.

Yes, I know Americans can be quite wasteful, even myself at times, but at that moment, the actions of my fellow countrymen just struck me as being so vastly different from my Asian home across the ocean that I was rather gobsmacked, as the Brits would say. How I wish I could have boasted how Americans do things better but in that moment, it was the Chinese way of waste awareness that I wish had gripped those partiers the night before.

Enjoying The Fruits of My Labor, Yet With A Tinge of Sadness


The discarded cherries, not going to waste in my house!

I am currently enjoying the fruits of my trash-grab. My mom and I have been gobbling down those gorgeous red cherries and juicy grapes for the past couple of days. We are thankful for the free goodies, courtesy of the pool revelers from Sunday night, and yet, with every cherry and grape I eat, there is a tinge of sadness because I found out who had hosted the party.

It wasn’t a family for a reunion, our local school district for the students, a softball team’s celebration for a season’s ending, or a local business for employees and their families.

It was, of all people, an area church group.

From Illinois, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your weekend and a little reflection time on the above story. I’ll let you formulate your own personal thoughts on the matter.



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The Ladies Who Lunch




Despite good intentions, looks like my days got away from me since the last posting.

My vacation started 2 1/2 weeks ago but has included quite a few surprises.  The biggest one concerns the new teachers coming to teach with the Amity Foundation.

“Connie, can you help us?”

A few weeks ago, I received an email from the Director of Amity’s Education Division, “Helen” Zhao, in the Nanjing Amity Foundation office. There will be two new Amity Foundation teachers in the 2-year  program joining the organization and they will need teacher training. One is a gentleman from America, sent by the United Methodists, and the other is a woman from Australia.

“Connie, we would like to fly you to Nanjing to help conduct the orientation for 2 weeks with the two new teachers. They will have language study in the morning and then you will have them in the afternoon, instructing them about Chinese learners of English and leading them to teach the guinea-pig Chinese students we will try to put together for them. This will be from August 13 – 24.”

Well, that sounded great except that I will be stuck in Luzhou, renewing my residence permit for another year. My visa expires on August 15th .  On the 10th, my school representative and I will be handing in all my official paperwork, including my passport, to the government’s visa office here in Luzhou. After 2 weeks, I will get my passport back with my 1-year residence permit stamped inside.

No passport, no traveling.

After hearing this, Helen had another suggestion: Amity will bring the two teachers to me, along with a staff person, “Lisa” Meng, to see to their needs.

Perfect solution!

Tentatively, I will lead the teacher training workshops in the morning and Lisa will teach the two basic Chinese in the afternoon. I suggested the three stay in the hotel next to my apartment building for convenience. Lisa has already booked the rooms so it looks like their  orientation in Luzhou is a definite go.

Our Guinea Pig Students: The Ladies Who Lunch

The down side in this change of venue from Nanjing to Luzhou was that there would be no guinea pig students for our new teachers to practice on unless I could somehow drum them up. Helen didn’t ask because she knew that was a huge task to place on me at the last minute but I have managed to pull together one somewhat formal setting with a very unique group of women.

I call them The Ladies Who Lunch, because that is exactly the sort of ladies they are. Well-educated, classy dressers, world travelers, and wealthy beyond belief. Some are high-up government workers while others have rich husbands who see to the family’s needs in quite a majestic manner.

In other words, they truly know how to enjoy a comfortable, happy life.

How We All Met

I met these women during one of their English lessons a few weeks ago with Teacher Snow (Teacher Xue). If you remember a previous post, Snow is the one who helped me find SP (Stairwell Puppy), the abandoned campus dog, a home in the countryside with farmers Che and Chen.

Snow was invited to lead The Ladies Who Lunch in a 10-lesson English course, held in a posh women’s club owned and run by a business woman and her partner. The club offers classes in painting, yoga, Chinese traditional dancing and music. Whatever interests and passions the patrons have, owner “Helen” Yu and her associate use their innovative techniques to organize the activities which might prove profitable for them and fun for the ladies. The activity/course fees they charge pay for the rent of the club space, the drinks and snacks provided, the teachers they hire and also bring them the income needed for their own living expenses.

Their clientele, quite the globe trotters, suggested that an English course which concentrated on useful overseas English travel vocabulary would be very helpful to them. Snow, a good friend of Helen, was then enlisted as the teacher.

A Brilliant Idea Occurs

To make the lessons more exciting, Snow rounded up her foreign friends (of which she has many) to make sure the women had plenty of incentive to say something in English.   Even though it was just to sputter a few sentences of introduction, having English speakers of many different nationalities in their midst spurred them on to put shyness aside and shine as second language learners.

For the last lesson, Snow invited me, her Australian husband Geoff and Sanjay from Nepal to attend. It was then that I got the idea of gathering together The Ladies Who Lunch  for a one-time, 2-hour lesson led by our new Amity teachers. This would be an excellent opportunity for the two to try out their newfound teaching skills with a group of willing, intelligent and fun-loving Chinese.

After conferring with Helen Yu about this possibility, she whole-heartedly agreed to allow us to use her club for this special event at no cost. She will get The Ladies Who Lunch together (including a few Chinese gentleman) and then it’s up to us to entertain them with a free English lesson.

It’s A Go!

The date has been set for August 18, 7 – 9 p.m.

I’m confident our new Amity teachers will not only impress the women with their well-planned lesson but also enjoy meeting and getting to know this diverse, fascinating group.

More stories of the past few weeks yet to come but for now, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your weekend. And for my American readers, soon to celebrate July Fourth, Happy Independence Day!


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And My Turn to Follow Up With an Essay

Today is the second day of vacation for me, although the students are still taking their final exams for their Chinese courses at this time.  Dragon Boat Festival is tomorrow and the entire nation has been given Thursday and Friday off, meaning that our college officially ends the Spring semester at the end of the day.  Many will be traveling home to spend their 4-day break with family and friends but will return on Monday for the 1-month summer session, which is a required part of the school year.

         I finally have time to myself to catch up on sleep and  emails, do some blog writing, swim every day at the local pool, and leisurely walk and give attention to the abandoned dogs at the Xin Wang Veterinarian Clinic (There are 4 now: Stinky the Yorkie, Crippled Mutt Puppy, Lame Black Lab, and Mother Hubbard, the old-lady sheep dog.)

My Turn to Follow Up

         My mom’s previous essay will appear in this week’s The Advocate and the below will follow from me.  This was published years ago in The Christian Science Monitor, Home Forum page, on Dec. 6, 1996.  Thought you’d enjoy  a nice read, after which I will return to more stories from China.  I just regret I can’t find a photo of Taizo.  It’s in one of the boxes I haven’t bothered unpacking due to my upcoming move.  When I find it, I’ll be sure to share.

My Grandfather’s Legacy of Forgiveness


Rev. Marvin Maris, My Grandfather

           Among the elderly in my home town, Pearl Harbor Day (Dec. 7) is still recalled with anger, the Japanese still disliked. So when I accepted an English teaching position in Kyoto, Japan, more than mere grumblings arose from many of my older friends. Before I left America, veterans cornered me and recounted stories of bloody South Pacific battles. I would listen politely until they inevitably shook their heads and sighed, “You’re too young to understand.”

              But my grandfather, a chaplain in the United States Army in World War II, did understand. He was in the Philippines and the jungles of New Guinea from 1943 to 1945. I read his diaries: The entries were poignant and unsettling. The war I’d seen in the movies was not the one I found in his hand-written, detailed notes and sketches.

When I was well into my sixth month of teaching in Kyoto, I received a letter from my mother with the name and address of a retired Japanese minister and theology professor, Taizo Fujishiro.

“He was your grandfather’s friend,” she informed me.

They had met in 1950 at the University of Chicago’s Theological Seminary. After Taizo returned to Japan, the two wrote for many years.

“The address is in Kyoto,” my mom continued.  “Why not look him up?”

It took me weeks to gather enough courage to track him down.

Would he remember my grandfather?  Would he remember his English, at such an advanced age?  Would he care to even talk to me?

I stood in the Kyoto YWCA office, the staff telephone in my hand.  I dialed the number, listened apprehensively as the phone rang and waited.  The receiver’s “click” was heard, followed by a soft-spoken male voice.

Hai (Yes)?”

“Hello,” I said slowly and clearly. “My name is Connie Wieck. I am the granddaughter of Marvin Maris.”

That was all the introduction I needed. Taizo’s exclamation of surprise told me that he certainly did remember.

We arranged to meet for lunch the following day at a nearby hotel restaurant. I wore a skirt rather than my usual worn-out jeans, and arrived 20 minutes early. I sat nervously with my hands clasped tightly on my lap and my eyes glued to the lobby’s front door.

A distinguished, tidy gentleman with thick, graying hair and bushy eyebrows entered.  He walked with a surprisingly quick, steady gait. He smiled warmly and approached.

“You must be Connie,” he said in perfect English as I rose to meet him.

“You surprised me,” I said, shaking his hand. “I thought you’d look much … older.”

He laughed with such amusement that my anxiety slipped away.

We ate lunch and talked for nearly three hours. My grandfather had been Taizo’s first American friend. He had typed his class notes for Taizo, who often struggled to follow the professor’s rapid lectures. Taizo had spent Christmas with Grandfather’s family; my grandfather had taught him how to drive. But what truly surprised me was that this gentle man had been a lieutenant in the Japanese Imperial Guard. Growing up in a town whose veterans were still bitter toward the Japanese, I had come to believe that forgiveness was beyond any first-hand witnesses to that history.

The lasting friendship between my grandfather and Taizo proved otherwise.

After lunch, Taizo and I resumed our conversation in Kyoto’s ancient imperial palace grounds where cloistered emperors once walked. We leisurely strolled over wide, gravel pathways.  We spoke about our families, my work at the YWCA, and Taizo’s church community that he ministered to.

The late-afternoon sun signaled the end of our time together. We exchanged many warm thank-yous and promises of future meetings, which we kept. We also continued our contact by correspondence when I finally returned to America.  Even today, long after Taizo’s passing, I consider our friendship a privileged legacy from my grandfather, one which I still hold very dear.

And when I am surrounded by others’ vivid memories of World War II, I share my memories, too. They begin with the walk Taizo and I took that day, where I felt the presence of my grandfather join us as we walked side by side, with peaceful steps.



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My Mom’s Turn for an Entry

Priscilla, 2

Priscilla Wieck’s Column:   “Walk With Me”

My mom, Priscilla Wieck, has been writing a weekly column for our local Marshall newspaper for 3 months now.  She has entitled it “Walk with Me” because of her daily walks around our small town with Lao-lao (Old-old), our Chinese Sichuan earthquake rescue Chihuahua.  Her thoughts, observations or activities of the day or week are carefully considered on these treks about Marshall.  She then chooses some of those to share with others in a column.

Her essays include all sorts of musings but I will share this one with you, to be published next week.  It was brought about by Obama’s recent visit to Hiroshima and his eloquently worded address in the Peace Park at that time.  She began thinking upon the world we live in and this is a result of her ponderings.  Hope you enjoy!  It gives us all something to truly think deeply upon.

And from China, Ping An (Peace) to all who read this.

Walk With Me  by Priscilla Wieck (Marshall Advocate Newspaper, Marshall, IL)

A couple of weeks ago, this newspaper featured an article about a Muslim family from Martinsville that is giving presentations about the Muslim faith to help people understand that not all Muslims are terrorists. I hope you took the time to read that article. The following week, this paper published a perceptive and thoughtful letter to the editor written by Bob Nelson. Reading both of these, I was reminded of a word portrait of a global village that I had seen published several years ago.

It is good to be reminded once in a while that we, as Americans, are not alone on this planet.  There are other people from other countries with other religions and other ways of life that live here, too. So the following is a version of the Global Village. It is the most updated one I could find. Statistics are always changing and do not take into account the current refugee crisis.

A Global Village–If the World Were 100 People

50 would be female, 50 would be male

26 would be children, 74 would be adults of whom 8 would be 65 or older

60 would be Asians, 15 Africans, 14 from the Americas, 11 Europeans

33 would be Christians, 22 Muslims, 14 Hindus, 7 Buddhists, 12 of other religions, 12 with no     religious affiliation

12 would speak Chinese, 5 Spanish, 5 English, 3 Arabic, 3 Hindi, 3 Bengali, 3 Portuguese, 2 Russian, 2 Japanese and 62 would speak various other languages.

83 could read and write,17 could not

7 would have a college degree, 2 would own or share a computer

77 people would have a place to shelter them from the wind and rain, but 23 would not

1 would be dying of starvation, 15 would be undernourished, 21 would be overweight

87 would have access to safe drinking water, 13 would not

The main thought that comes to me when I think about this global village is that we share this planet with millions of others and we need to start start learning to get along with and understand each other if the human race is to survive.

After the second World War, we all had visions of a peaceful world. We sang songs like “Let There Be Peace on Earth” and “One World Built on A Firm Foundation.” We truly thought the world was so tired of war that we would all live together peacefully forever. We believed that if the countries of the world would just pattern themselves after our country, all would be well. However, we forgot to take into consideration that not all the world’s countries wanted to or even can be like us.

Imagine this for a future: countries would sign peace treaties and keep them, the one percent of those who own most of the wealth would help out those who have nothing, dictators would stop killing those who disagree with their policies, war lords would stop fighting each other so that displaced people could return to their homes, wars fought in the name of religion would cease. Power driven governments would become humble. We would practice common decency to each other. What a world that would be!

Realistically we all know that will probably never happen. So what can we do to help make our corner of this world a better place? Maybe we could show a little more tolerance and understanding for others who are different from us. We could realize that it is not just about us.  It is about all of us together.

“In order to have faith in my own path, I do not need to prove that another’s path is wrong.” –Paulo Coelho

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