Updates from China: Virus Continues Onward

Well, things from this end are not looking hopeful for my return to China as scheduled.

School announcements are (as of yesterday) listed below.

  1. The school year will begin Feb. 24, not Feb. 17 as planned
  2. Students are not allowed to return until Feb. 22 to start up classes
  3.  Teachers are required to begin on time, in the office and attending meetings, on Feb. 15.

I am guessing this will change in the next week.

Cases in Luzhou

We now have 3 cases of coronovirus in Luzhou.  The first 2 came from Wuhan by train and then bus to the city so who knows how many they infected along the way? I think all are guessing there will be more as the days progress.

N95 face masks in Need

N95 face masks are a design category mask that is to help with dust pollution and germ spread.  I have been asked by three Chinese friends so far if I can bring those back with me when I return.  I immediately went to Amazon to order in bulk and ….  So many sold out!!  Also a problem is that none I saw are listed as Prime (2-day) or will arrive in a timely manner — between 2-4 weeks.

I have already asked my local doctor, Doctor Turner, if he can supply me with enough at least for myself and he immediately shot back, “I will get them for you.”

It certainly pays to have connections, doesn’t it?

My Travel Plans Requested by the School

My WeChat (equivalent of Facebook) texts have been flying back and forth from my school, which requested (in detail) my travel arrangements from start to finish for my return.  I had already provided these before I left but with the virus, the school is now requiring a very detailed form to be filled out regarding anyone returning to the campus and where they had been. Here is what I sent them:

  • January 9:  Leave Luzhou for Chongqing, overnight in hotel
  • January 10:  Fly from Chongqing to Shanghai to Seattle to Indianapolis, Indiana; 1 1/2 hour car ride to hometown, Marshall, Illinois
  • January 11 – February 10:  Marshall, Illinois (no travel)
  • February 11:  Indianapolis, Indiana airport to Detroit to Shanghai to Chongqing;
  • February 13:  Arrival in Chongqing airport; airport bus 4 hours to Luzhou, arrival about 5 p.m.

News Reports

As many have read, the CDC has given a Level 3 for China, meaning suggested no travel to that country unless it is essential.  That might be raised to a Level 4, meaning no travel to China at all.

I am now assuming that our Peace Corp volunteers will be evacuated at some point.  That would be so sad for me because our school’s Peace Corp Volunteer (PCV), Lindsey, was such a wonderful teacher,  a very good friend and a great asset to our school.  Because the Peace Corp is discontinuing their China program as of this year, she was to be the last PCV our college would ever have.  If evacuated, I’m assuming she will not return but be offered another placement in another country to finish off her 1 1/2 years left on her service contract.

My School’s First Overseas’ Students:  From South Africa

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My college just received their first overseas’ students to study microtechnology at my college.  There are 23 of them, on full scholarships with a China-South African Friendship Exchange organization.   They have had classes on our campus since October, studying cell phone design, assembly and components.  Their classes were in Chinese but  several of my department’s teachers (The School of International Studies department)  translated for them and helped with all aspects of their daily lives.  The Africans also had Chinese language classes twice a week to help them communicate on a basic level with others.

Their course of study lasted 3 months, studying on our campus in the classroom, and then, on Feb. 3, they were to start a 1-year internship at a local cell phone factory.  They were to live in the dormitories with other workers, bond with their Chinese colleagues and learn team working strategies.  Their on-site learning experience was to be mainly in the assembly line.

When our school year ended, they continued to stay at the school until their February 3rd start-up date.  During the holidays, the campus cafeteria remained open for them as workers stayed to prepare their meals.  They were having a wonderful time until recently.  I have seen pictures of them playing ping-pong outside and walking the campus but other than that, they are to remain in their dorm rooms.  They are confined to the campus, not allowed to leave.

I am wondering if their South African colleges, which have partnered with our school for this study, will ask them to return home or even if they can return home.  I am sure our school leaders are concerned for their safety and health.  Being the first overseas’ students for us to have, it is a huge responsibility to make sure their needs are met and they are well-cared for.

They are still at the school and I’m sure they are bored stiff, wondering what will become of them, especially as their internship was to begin this coming Monday.  I am certain the factory in which they were to be will not be opening.  Factory workers are from all over Luzhou and surrounding areas.  It would not be wise to have them all congregate together, after traveling from different locations, in one place to do assembly work in such closed quarters.  Most government edicts have asked people to stay at home, keep public parks, recreational facilities, shopping malls and local businesses closed (Factories would be included in that category, I’m guessing.)

Thus the plight of the South African students at our school remains up in the air.

Other Chinese Students on our Campus

Chinese students pay tuition and housing for an entire year, including holidays.  Some of our students did not return to their hometowns but stayed on campus.  Most get jobs in Luzhou (restaurant servers, teaching at private schools, serving at McDonalds, salesperson at any one of the stores, malls or shops in the city) to help receive money to help pay for college costs.

With so many restrictions about what  remains open and closed, I am certain these students are not able to work in Luzhou. I have been told that coming and going from the campus is restricted to just grocery shopping, which would be mostly aimed at our teachers and their families, living in my 11-story housing building on the campus.

For the Chinese students who opted to remain for the holidays, I imagine they are not allowed to leave the grounds.  The cafeteria is still open, giving them 3 meals a day.  We have a supermarket on our campus as well the sells all the basics dormitory-living things and more, such as fruit, refrigerated yoghurt, household items, goodies and snacks, roasted hotdogs and so on.

Our school supermarket has everything needed to stay on campus.

Snacks, instant noodles, household supplies … You name it, our campus supermarket has all the necessities a college student needs to survive.

How frustrating for them because, as with SARS, if they leave to return home, they might not be able to return if the school decides to delay  classes even longer than currently announced.

Praise and Good Wishes for my Leaders at Luzhou Vocational and Technical College

I will include a note of praise to my college’s school leaders.  I know them well and they have always put the students first.  Their care and concern for both Lindsey and myself, their foreign teachers, has constantly been utmost on their lists. The same goes for our overseas’ students, the South Africans. I am sure they are getting very little sleep, are in the office daily and late into the night, checking government updates, reviewing new updates concerning public education and when schools can resume, and frantically evaluating plans how to get students in and out safely to continue their education.

Please keep them in your thoughts as you go about your day today. It is all such a huge burden to bear.

My Parting Thoughts 

Before leaving Luzhou, I had my faithful printing shop copy, bind, package and deliver all my sophomores’ Lesson Design textbooks for the new school year.  I use my own books for this course as there are none available in China on this particular subject.  I have those printed, along with my freshmen Oral English textbook which I likewise create on my own.  All 235 Lesson Design books are sitting in my home, ready for distribution, along with another extra 35 first year textbooks for those freshmen who change majors.  We always have about 30 who apply to switch majors to English Education that second semester after they feel their initial choice didn’t suit them.  I always look forward to seeing those new, eager faces sprinkled throughout the old, familiar ones.

My “ready-to-go” prep work, of which I am always so proud, seems for naught.

It is such a mess. I’m so sad to see all this happen to the country and people I have loved, admired and respected over the past 24 years I have been on the mainland as an Amity Foundation teacher. (See amityfoundation.org, if interested)

During my time in China, seems I’ve been through it all: Earthquakes, flooding, SARS, economic worries….

Like all the above, I know that this, too, shall pass but it will take time.

Closing Off: “The best laid schemes of mice and men,..” 

I leave you with my favorite Robert Burns poem, “To a Mouse”, in both original and translated verse.  So fitting, appropriate and true in this escalating epidemic happening in China, just entering The Year of the Rat.

To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough,  November, 1785

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a pannic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!

Below:  Translated into readable verse for those of you who are not English majors!

To a Mouse

Little, cunning, cowering, timorous beast,
Oh, what a panic is in your breast!
You need not start away so hasty
With bickering prattle!
I would be loath to run and chase you,
With murdering paddle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
And justifies that ill opinion
Which makes you startle
At me, your poor, earth-born companion
And fellow mortal!

From Illinois, here’s wishing you Peace, Safety and Health  for your day.

Connie

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Part 2: Celebrating Christmas as a College English Teacher in China

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         I teach at Luzhou (loo-joe)  Vocational and Technical College in the city of Luzhou, which is located along the Yangtze river in Sichuan province. A majority of my college’s 10,000 students will graduate as teachers at the pre-school, elementary and junior high levels. (High school teachers are required to receive a 4-year BA degree, which my school does not offer.)

My courses are for English Education majors, those who will be teaching English in Chinese school systems.

At present, it is mandatory for all students to have daily English classes at the junior high and high school level. Because English is considered a world language used for business, international conferences, computer programming plus science and medical fields, the Chinese educational bureau is hoping to give China’s students a boost up in the world by engaging them in early English study. Even pre-schools and some public elementary schools are adding English to their curriculum as well, thus the need for well-trained English language teachers.

Aside from the language focus, for my freshmen classes, I include American culture units. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day are a few. But Christmas is the big one, due to all the holiday hoopla that surrounds my students at this time of year. Despite all the Christmas paraphernalia that engulfs them outside of campus, a majority of my students (and the public in general) have not a clue what this day is about or understand the meaning of the things that surround them.

Why is there a star or angel at the top of a fir tree?

Why is it a custom to give presents at Christmas?

Who is Father Christmas? Why is he dressed that way? Why do people wear reindeer antlers?

These are questions my students will face as future teachers. How ignorant they will appear if I fail them as their college teacher to explain every point necessary for them to answer accurately, in detail and with confidence.

My Christmas units, therefore, include both the religious story of Christmas and the customs I have as a small-town American mid-Westerner. By the time we are finished, I can guarantee all of my 240 freshmen know the dual nature of this holiday for their teaching purposes:  What this day is about for world Christians and Chinese Christians and what the traditions and customs are that follow along with it. (Using old Christmas cards for symbol recognition, and later playing my own creation, a review “Merry Christmas!” bingo game, enhances a full remembrance of the unit.  You can see this below.)

During Christmas Activity Night, a campus-wide event the English Association Club and I organize, they have their pictures taken with Santa Claus, decorate trees, and make snowflakes and Christmas tree ornaments.

Open Houses in my Home

But the highlight of it all is an evening invitation to my overly decorated Christmas home, which is the ultimate show-stopper to my holiday unit. My ninth-floor apartment in the single teachers’ housing facility on campus is easy to find. Just follow my window and balcony Christmas lights, which are hard to miss.

It takes me an entire week of blocked-off evening Open Houses to see everyone through my doors but it is well worth it.

Once inside my home, it’s quite a spectacular sight. Students arrive in designated groups where they gaze in awe at all my Christmas decorations, enjoy baskets overflowing with candy, play with electronic toys, look over my family photo albums and take hundreds of pictures with their cell phones. I also include a special Christmas gathering for my department’s teachers, the college administrators, and their family members. For their visit, my homemade cut-out Christmas sugar cookies are always served and greatly appreciated.

No Christmas in China, you say?  Not on my watch!

(To Be Continued:  Part 3)

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A Foreigner’s Christmas in China: Part 1

Since I’m on a roll with my blog postings, I’m posting the following 3-part series which appeared in my local newspaper in December, 2019.  This will answer many of your questions concerning my time in China.

Part 1:  “There is no Christmas in China.”

Note:  Connie Wieck is a Marshall, Illinois native, has been teaching English in China at the college level for 23 years.  Her sponsoring agency in China is the Amity Foundation, a Chinese Christian-founded social-service organization whose headquarters are located in the city of Nanjing. Amity promotes projects in China, and also abroad, which focus on social development and public welfare for those in need.  Amity also helps with outreach projects initiated by Chinese Christians and Chinese churches within the country. To learn more, go to: amityfoundation.org.

“There is no Christmas in China.”

This is what many believe who don’t live here.

That statement was somewhat true in 1991, which was my first year as a college English teacher in this Asian country. Only the Chinese Christians remembered this religious day and celebrated it in their church services.  Even today, with less than 1% of the population being Christians, one would think the same holds true.

But over the years, with more access to the outside world through the Internet and social media, Christmas has now become a popular foreigners’ tradition which the Chinese enjoy taking part in.

Taobao (China’s equivalent of Amazon.com) has Christmas decorations of all sorts for sale at rock-bottom prices. Shopping malls across the country explode with Christmas trees and tinsel roping.  Check-out sales personnel don Santa hats or reindeer antlers. Familiar carols (Jingle Bells, Silent Night, Santa Claus is Coming to Town) play in both English and Chinese over shopping center loud speakers. Holiday greetings in Chinese and English are stenciled on business district windows. Grocery stores set aside special areas with Christmas items for sale. (Walmart, which just recently arrived in my city, has really gone to town on that one!) Mom-and-pop alleyway shops haul out ornaments, Christmas trees, holiday posters, and Claus costumes for dress-up.

Yes, Christmas commercialism has hit big time in China.

Alleyway mom-and-pop stores offer all sorts of cool decorations to buy at affordable prices.

Even Christmas Eve has taken on an odd, commercialized phenomenon.

December 24th is known in China as Peace Night (平安夜, Ping-ahn Ye). Along main shopping streets or even in the stores themselves, you will see numerous people selling individually boxed or wrapped apples. Most of the Chinese think this is a Western custom: to give apples on Christmas Eve. I am often inundated by these from my Chinese students and friends who present their  apples to me as soon as they see me on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Many Chinese have no idea this is not a custom in my country but originated in China, most likely by some very clever fruit seller who had a brilliant idea: The word for apple in Chinese is “ping guo”. The word for peace in Chinese is “ping ahn.” Both share the same “ping” sound so why not sell the apple on Peace Night as a symbol of peace?

Viola! That one caught on like wildfire.

It has now become the gift to give to all your Chinese besties: classmates, boyfriends, girlfriends, relatives, co-workers, and even bosses, government leaders, favorite teachers or school administrators. That definitely includes me, the foreign language teacher.

Some of my college’s business majors take this money-making opportunity to heart by setting up booths strategically at the college’s school gate. They prepare their wares carefully by intricately wrapping apples in colorful paper. These are sold to their classmates for 5 yuan (roughly 75 cents) each. They make a killing, especially as my college has a population of 10,000 students, all of whom enjoy giving their wishes of peace to one another through such “ping guo” (apple) offerings.

A seller on the streets of Luzhou, December 24th, with her wrapped apples awaits passersby to purchase her wares.

Children at our English Association’s Christmas Activity Night (open to our college students, teachers and their families) show their wrapped apples which they will give as gifts to friends or relatives.

Nor is Christmas Eve limited to apples.

Peace Night has now become somewhat of an American Black Friday, with Christmas Day signaling the countdown to Chinese New Year (what is known here as Spring Festival), this year celebrated on January 25. Major Internet shopping networks offer special Peace Night and Christmas Day low prices. Stores everywhere begin to mark down items on the 24th and 25th, giving huge discounts and staying open later than usual to attract customers. Restaurants in my city of Luzhou cash in as well, giving Peace Night and Christmas Day bargain lunch and dinner sets for shoppers.

Although Christmas Eve and Christmas Day may not be quite as overly hectic as it is in America, I will say the arrival of these two does make this city of 5 million bustle a bit more than usual.

Even my campus’ student supermarket put up a lone Christmas tree for 3 days to celebrate December 25th.

(To be Continued)

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Finally Able to Report: A hectic semester ends

A busy semester!

平安 (ping ahn), Peace!   

I begin this first entry for 2020 with, of all things, excuses.

The silence to this blog space has mainly been due to a very hectic semester:  more teaching hours than ever before, the usual activities during the school year to organize and carry out (English Center hours, Halloween Activity Night and Mooncake Festival English Day),  3 animal rescues (2 tiny kittens and a 6-week-old puppy found their way into my care), my regular swimming schedule at the indoor pool across town, Christmas decorating and Christmas parties in my home and the many joyful hours put into the church as a choir member.  We have weekly practices that last 3 hours (2 times a week) and then Sunday worship, but rehearsals for Christmas celebrations had us often at the church until 11 p.m. on several weekdays to prepare for the 24th.  Since Chinese don’t have holidays at Christmastime, this meant continuing with my teaching schedule as usual.  We had a wonderful Christmas Eve program but I will say, after it was finished, I was glad not to attend rehearsals anymore. (Can you find me in the below choir picture?  Hint:  I’m in the first row!)

 

 

A Demanding Teaching Schedule

This year also saw me teaching more students, all the freshmen (214 for Oral English) and the added seniors (140 for my Activities in the Classroom course).  I mentioned grading final exams, which took up virtually 2 weeks of my time to finish all my  exam requirements I gave my seniors.  It was a thorough exam, demanding a lot of work from these  future English language teachers, and certainly proved all they had learned, BUT it took me hours and hours to grade.  It took me 9 days straight, with not many breaks, to eventually finish them all. I often didn’t make it to bed until 1- 2 a.m. working on my seniors’ tests, then was up at 6 a.m. to make it in time for my 8 a.m. classes with the freshmen who were not yet finished with their school year.  Exhausting, to say the least.

 

 

A few of my seniors during our Activities in the Classroom course.

New Peace Corp Volunteer Arrives

New Peace Corp Volunteer, Lindsey Calhoun, and I have had a great first semester together.

An added element to the above was a new Peace Corp (PC) volunteer at our school, Lindsey from South Carolina, who joined our teaching staff for her 2-year PC commitment.  Showing Lindsey and in’s and out’s of China, as well as helping her navigate the many teaching requirements of the school, was  exciting and fun.  Probably too much fun as we often spent our precious spare time not doing lesson planning, but chit-chatting while sharing student stories, our personal teacher laments and all about our families and experiences in student teaching.(Yes, I could actually remember back that far!)

Due to all of the above, my website remained inactive for the entire Fall Semester.  However, let’s see if I can change that a bit now, especially as I’m sure many are wondering my plight at the moment due to the current situation in China regarding the coronovirus.

My Holiday:  Not in China

My Chinese New Year vacation began January 5, with January 25th marking the Year of the Rat. Several reasons had me leaving China to return to the States, but the biggest one was my mother. She is downsizing and has bought a smaller house, a few blocks from the 1917 2-story, wrap-around 4-square which has been my childhood home for 50 years.  It has also been my storage unit for half a century as well, since all my stuff has been scattered around in different boxes (including the attic) all this time.  Scrapbooks, clothes, journals, my antique collection, diaries, nick-knacks, photographs, childhood games …. You name it, it’s all here.  And it all must go, or be packed up and moved somewhere else.

My childhood home for 50 years will be no longer. My mom is moving!

This is my mom’s new purchase, a 1970s nifty fixer-upper.

A Lot to be Done

There is still so much to be done on this new house, however, that my mom won’t be moving in anytime soon.  (See below pictures).  She estimates the summer at some point and while I plan to be in the States at that time, I’d rather concentrate on my stuff now and her things later than vice-versa. Plus  help my mom choose flooring, colors and advice about what furniture to move in, what furniture to get rid of and what furniture she’d like to buy.  To be honest, she’s done so much research on everything that mostly, I just nodded my head in perfect agreement.  She is a master decorating!  I think she missed her calling.

My mom at the flooring warehouse. She knew exactly what she wanted.

Which blue for the cabinets was our biggest decision.

New windows will be installed soon.

My mom researched for non-toxic flooring, which is the most expensive there is but she insisted she didn’t want  to live in a home that was poisoning its occupants with harmful fumes.

The cabinets will be painted, but which blue?

As you can see, a lot to yet be done.

It was this reason that had me able to enjoy my first birthday as a senior citizen (I just turned 55) in America on January 12.  I left China on January 9, which (as you know) was about 10 days shy of the coronovirus surge, reports of which have been sweeping internationally.

What’s the News from China?

While I am not in China at the moment, I am in constant contact with my friends   (both Chinese and foreigners) via WeChat, which is the equivalent of Facebook here in the States.  Let me give you a run-down of what has been shared with me.

Luzhou Itself

Although Luzhou (loo-joe, my city of 5 million in Sichuan Province) is nowhere near the epicenter Wuhan, in Hebei Province, precautions across the city have taken effect. All public gatherings for Chinese New Year celebrations have been canceled.  Parks and shopping malls which should be bustling with people enjoying their holidays were asked to close.  Church services at the Luzhou Protestant Church did not take place today and the choir members have informed me that practices have also been suspended.  All families are asked to remain at home as much as possible and not to travel outside of Luzhou.

There is 1 confirmed case of the coronovirus in Luzhou, meaning that most likely, there will be more since I am positive that person came in contact with others.

Other Reports 

As for other first-hand news, I have heard from Lindsey (traveling at the moment) that the Peace Corp head office in Chengdu has advised all the volunteers to familiarize themselves with their evacuation protocol.  She is returning to Luzhou because the places she had intended to visit with her PC colleagues are shutting down.  They had planned a 3-day hike in one of the tourist areas near Kunming but their hostel and the area is now closed to all tourists.  Museums, markets and parks are also closed in Kunming, meaning they have nothing to do except roam fairly empty streets.

Tourist agencies across China have canceled all tours to contain the virus.  Lindsey reported that she and her friends were struggling to get re-imbursed for their housing arrangements.  Also, changing tickets to return to Luzhou has been difficult.  Prices are rising and seats are filled on buses, planes and trains as people try desperately to get home and stay put.

I will update you all next time I hear from her.

My Concerns

At present, I am concerned with returning to China as planned on Feb. 11.  Delta Airlines and others have offered waivers for those wishing to change their tickets to and from China but those waivers were only for tickets with flights between certain dates and mine wasn’t one of them.

I also am uncertain if our school year will, indeed, begin on Feb. 17 as planned or be changed to later.  Already, I have heard Hong Kong schools have delayed their start-up dates after the Chinese New Year.  China’s government workers have also been given extra days, going to Feb. 3, before returning to the office.

Everything will depend on the next few weeks and how much the virus continues to spread.

In the meantime, I will just plug away as I tackle and sift through years worth of things (and memories).  It’s a daunting task.  My 10 empty bins are filling fast with what I just can’t part with while the Goodwill pile seems to be a lot smaller than I’d like.

Ah, the challenges of downsizing!  Wish me luck, folks.  I need it.

 

 

 

Posted in A Visit Home to America, China, Chinese New Year in America, Coronovirus Situation, Illinois, Luzhou, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown, Smalltown American Life, Travel, Visit To The States | 3 Comments

Still Catching Up: Easter Sunday at the Luzhou Protestant Church

I remember, awhile back, promising pictures of the Luzhou Protestant Church’s Easter services on April 21.  Let me make sure I post those here, along with a short explanation of what usually happens at Protestant churches in China.

Changes to the Easter Worship in China

I have been attending Chinese church services since 1991 in various parts of the country. It used to be worship as usual, without any special messages or decor added to the sanctuary, but in the past 15 years (I would say), that has changed.

Fresh, white lilies adorn altars and pulpits.   Passion-Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, is now taking place with dramatic liturgical dance and heartfelt renderings of Christ’s death (including movie film videos or graphic artwork displayed on power points).  Easter Sunday includes special music by adult choirs and youth, a full sermon about Christ’s resurrection, baptism of new members (in the Luzhou church, between 40 – 50 are baptized), and communion with our new brothers and sisters in Christ.  At the Luzhou Protestant Church, Easter is a 3-hour service due to all the extra happenings of the morning:  9 a.m. – 12:00 noon.

And a majority of churches throughout China has begun to adopt the custom of giving out hard-boiled Easter eggs with Christian symbols on them as well as packages of  sweet bread buns with crosses on top.  Everyone who attends church receives these as he or she leaves the sanctuary.

New Tradition:  Serving a Meal

I have received my fair share of bread buns and eggs over the years for Easter Sunday, which has always been a treat, but now an added tradition is likewise making its way into the Christian community:  Serving a full meal to everyone.

Because Easter services tend to be longer than other worship times, by noontime (when we are dismissed), people are hungry.  Sharing a meal together is a very important part of this culture, especially so when noontime comes.  Sending people home hungry, where they must then prepare a meal on their own or are obligated to eat out in a restaurant, is not a very hospital thing to do for newly-baptized church members.  Nor is it considered very celebratory for such a very special day of the year for Christians.

So for many churches, it has become a tradition to prepare a full meal for all who attend services, and even invite those in nearby shops or in the church neighborhood to come to eat with us.

Feeding the Masses

If there is one thing Chinese know how to do, and do well, it’s to wok up and serve vast numbers of people quickly and easily.

At the Luzhou Protestant Church, those in charge of the meal, which must feed about 1,000 (church members and others), have it down to an art form.  We usually have disposable paper bowls overflowing with rice, 2 different stir-fried dishes (those with meat and those with only vegetables), a hard-boiled Easter egg and a light soup.  (Soup is a standard add-on for any Chinese meal.).

I truly admire the food committee, which I’ve heard have boiled and decorated 1,000 eggs each Easter as well as manned the back kitchens where massive vats of rice are prepared along with all the stir-fried dishes.

The prep work needed to cook Chinese is a huge effort.  I imagine those involved spend their entire Easter weekend buying fresh vegetables and meat, slicing/dicing/cubing everything, and early Easter morning, continuously woking up all that is needed to give us a hearty lunch.  I do know they take a quick break for communion but other than that, they miss out on most of the worship.  They spend their energies making sure all congregation members (around 700) are served, placing individual meal bowls on trays which are distributed throughout the church as we sit in our pews and wait for our meals to arrive.

Well-oiled Machine

The assembly line to feed so many as quickly as possible is quite something to behold.  I am always in awe of how fast we all get our food, even those in the balcony and others from outside the church.  As soon as our pastors (there are 4)  give the closing prayers, food begins to be distributed.  Within 50 minutes, most of us are eating and some even going back for seconds.

In Closing

We in the choir are usually the last to get our meals, but there is always plenty to go around so no fears we’ll go home hungry.

Being a part of such celebrations (Christmas, Easter, Passion-Palm Sunday), including weekly singing practices and weekly worship, is such a joy.  I belong to so many Luzhou and Chengdu communities:  my school (students and faculty),  the swimming pool (I swim daily and even give stroke advice to those who ask),  visits to my countryside farming friends, pet rescue groups and also church. Makes for a well-rounded experience of all China has to offer, and I feel so very lucky to be a part of it all!

Ping An, (Peace) for your day,  Folks!

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Posted in From Along the Yangtze, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown Stories, Tales from Sichuan's Yangtze Rivertown, Luzhou, Tales from The Yangtze River, Tales of China, Travel | 1 Comment

The College Semester Ends; The Summer Begins

“Shame on you!”

That was the report from my mom, who has been chastising me for the lack of reports from China which used to fill this site a bit more often than has these past months.

Since the summer vacation has finally begun for me, let me remedy that a bit with updates.

An Extra Class Added

This last semester found me  busier than ever before.  The spring semester, which began in March, added another freshmen class to my schedule, giving me a few more hours of teaching a week than I had anticipated.  This particular class was a tad challenging because it was composed of new students to the School of International Studies ( the new title for the English Department).  This class was composed of those who transferred from other majors after deciding they wanted to major in English Education.  Because they’d never had a foreign teacher before, nor were familiar with me or had a foundation of the lessons I had taught the previous semester,  I had to create a separate catch-up curriculum to bring them up-to-speed with the other 150 freshmen I already had been teaching.

One thankful feature of this new class was its size:  Only 31 students verses the 50 in the other three.

Teaching a smaller class, with an eager-to-please, excited group of Chinese young people, was a truly wonderful experience. It was slow at first but by the end of the term, those 31 rose to the occasion and did a spectacular job on their final conversation exams.  I actually had 3 students in that class who scored 100 on their discussion oral test.  Wow!  Talk about hard work!  I rarely, if ever, give 100’s for final exams but I could give them nothing less as they truly deserved nothing less.

Due to their enthusiasm and energy, I chose this particular class for photo ops.  A new brochure was being created for the School of International Studies and I was asked to give some contributions, since I was the one stable foreign teacher on staff.  If you look below, you will see the ones I offered up to the department.  Can you guess which was chosen?  I’ll let you decide your favorites.

Contest Judging:  The English Language Play Contest

The English language play contest is always a huge affair in the department.  We had 11 classes who participated, each finding their scripts online for their 10-minute performance.  The line-up included:  Snow White, The Little Mermaid, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Titanic (movie version), The Gift of the Maggi (O’Henry’s short story), Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Alice in Wonderland (the movie version) and a few others.

Part of my job, being the foreign teacher, is to be on call for those who need extra help.  While some classes choose not to ask for my assistance or advice during practices, others do so this meant that for several weeks, I met with the actors in the evenings or on weekends to go over pronunciation errors and add acting tips and ideas.

Surprisingly enough, the 6 judges (Peace Corp Volunteer Zuri, myself and 4 other Chinese teachers) were all in agreement with scoring The Emperor’s New Clothes (sophomore Class 3) as our number one choice due to good acting, creativity with props and staging, and a few clever dialogue exchanges that had the audience giggling and clapping in unison.   Congrats to everyone!  Next year should be even better than before.

The English Language Center in Full Swing

This semester also found more of my time in the English Language Center, which I tried to put into more use than in the Fall.  Zuri likewise helped add to the Center’s use by choosing my “off” days to include her own gathering time with students.

My mandatory visits for every one of my 7 English Education classes (all 330 students) gave everyone a chance to see what was offered and how the room could be utilized for their own independent study purposes.  I also had several teachers from different departments bring their children to hang out during my Open Room evening hours while their parents taught night classes.  They dropped them off at 6:45  p.m. and picked them up around 9 p.m.

I love having the kids in the room, especially as my students will be elementary and junior high school teachers some day.  This gave them practice in interacting with young learners who had limited English skills but were required to speak in English due to the rules of the Center.  Only English is allowed in this room, and while that might seem a bit strict, it’s amazing how much a person can relay the meaning of English words through gestures, pictures, drawings and facial expressions.  The kids had great fun with this, with old kid visitors telling new ones as soon as they walked in the door: “English!  English!  No Chinese.”

A Special Class Lesson:  Outside We Go!

One Friday morning, the school announced all classrooms would be closed due to a government civil servant exam scheduled to take place on our campus.  We teachers were told that, on our own, we needed to make up the classes we’d be missing.  That is always a pain.  Where, in an already busy schedule, are we to squeeze them in, especially as both students and teachers had only 2 more weeks of school left before end-of-term exams?

My viewpoint? Forget that program!

So as not to disrupt my schedule, I kept my regular teaching hours and just took everyone outside for a review class before the finals week.  Most Chinese students are not used to this sort of environment, having the freedom to break into small groups on their own and study outside of the classroom.  It was pretty darn hot that morning, soaring into the 90s, which gave me some concern as to how this would go over but I needn’t have worried.

Students quickly moved into the shade of dormitories, seating themselves on curbsides and steps while working.  I spent time walking around to each group, making sure they were on task and answering questions about the final exam.

I would have to say that was one of my most productive review classes I have ever had, where everyone was on task, engaged and doing the work they were supposed to do instead of messing about on their cell phones.  Yeah, yeah, yeah!

Favorite Lessons:  Mother’s Day

I love my culture classes and the spring semester added some of my favorites.

Mother’s Day had us making Mother’s Day cards in my sophomore classes.  These the students wrote out in both Chinese and English, decorated with stickers and designs of their own, then photographed with their phones (taking selfies or group shots) which they immediately sent off to Mom on WeChat (China’s counterpart to Facebook).

A Real Winner:  Puppet Plays

Another favorite of mine is in our English Activities in the Classroom Course.

I have a great lesson how to incorporate puppet plays in a young English language learners’ class.  To demonstrate how this can be done, my college students go over a simple script  and then have to perform this using puppets and hand-made props.  Nothing like a humorous puppet play to bring smiles and laughter to a classroom.

Closure Classes

It is my custom to give exams a week early so that the last week of class, I can bring everyone back together for a final “You’re Done!” relaxing time to end our year.  We sing songs.  I thank the monitors (school leaders) for their hard work and hand out small gifts of my gratitude.  I explain how I graded the exams, give praise comments and improve comments, then hand out the graded exam papers.  I invite students to ask questions or voice concerns so we can settle upon discrepancies or discuss possible grading mistakes I might have made.  And finally, I hand out reward pencils to everyone which so many of you readers have sent to me during the year.  Pencils that say “Great job!”, “You did it!”, “Excellent student!” and so many other English phrases are picked over and passed around in baskets as students find the one that suits them the best.

What a great way to end the year!

To utilize the Resource Center a bit more, I decided to use this room for my closure classes.  I held 7 of these throughout the week, which officially ended my teaching for the term and fully began my summer holiday after handing in grades.

Great semester, great ending and great beginning of the holidays for me.

On Summer Holiday

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I am currently enjoying some down time in America with my mom.  We have just completed a 1-week road trip to Holland, Michigan, where my mom spent time with her grandparents (Holland residents) from 1942-45, while her father was serving overseas’ during WW II as an Army chaplain. While many changes in this Lake Michigan area have taken place, my mom did find some places still in existence, including her grandparents’ home and the house her mom rented from a local school teacher while they lived there.  Lots of photo ops, walks along the shore, shopping and site-seeing.  So nice!

I will report more on our trip another day.

Before closing, let me introduce the new addition to our family, a little 3-year-old Chinese immigrant gal (a little dog, that is; a rescue out of Chengdu) who is quickly getting used to American lifestyle as well as American attention.  She has fast become the favorite of children and adults alike in my town.  We lost Lao-lao last summer at this time, my rescue from the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, so it’s only fitting another Chinese lost soul in need of love and a home should join us.

As you can see, it’s going to be a very happy summer for all of us here!

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

 

Posted in From Along the Yangtze, Tales from Sichuan's Yangtze Rivertown, Luzhou, Tales from The Yangtze River, Travel | 2 Comments

Happy Easter!!!

My home, at the moment, is filled with the scent of lilies and the remembrance of Easter past in my childhood, where coloring eggs and Easter displays on the dining room table invited us all to celebrate this special religious day and its traditions.

My Religious Easter Lesson

In my culture class, I teach both the religious significance of this day and also the customs that are attached to it.

For the religious lesson, I cover the significance of symbols such as the cross, the Lily, and the palm branch.  I explain the meaning of crucifying, the death and rebirth of Jesus (whom Christians believe is the son of God) and why Christians celebrate Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

The best part is being able to give each student an Easter seal with different colors of lilies on each sticker.  Those of you who sent all those Easter seal sheets those years ago, and I still remember there were at least 30 of them, I am still using them today.  I’m sure I have given out over 2,000 to all the students I’ve taught over the years.  In the past, they used to excitedly put them into their textbooks.  Now, they adorn their cell phones.

Wherever they put them, it is a wonderful remembrance of our religious class together.  Whether that lesson of Easter sticks or not, I know the Easter seals certainly do!

And, of course, there’s the real lily in a plastic bottle vase, with a small palm branch as well, which I bring to class as a visual aid.

“This poor lily!” I say as the lesson ends, with just a few minutes left before the bell rings.  “She doesn’t have a home.  Who will get our lovely Easter lily to take to the dorm room?”

We have a name draw at the end to see who is the lucky one.  The screams of excitement and joy from the winner as she (never did have a boy who won) comes bounding up to claim the prize makes that Easter lesson all the more precious.

The Traditions of Easter

Yes, we do it all!

There’s the jelly bean contest to start off with:  “How many jelly beans in the bottle?  Make a guess!”

  

All guesses must be different so there can be no two winners.

After everyone has written down their guess, the envelope is opened to reveal the number.  The one closest to the number without going over is the winner.

The Easter Egg Hunt

I use colored paper eggs for my Easter egg hunt, with each egg found exchanged for a prize.  The best prize of all?  The one, single gold (yellow) egg which is worth a 50 yuan note (about $9).  I model this after my hometown’s Easter egg hunt sponsored by the city.  The gold egg prize there is $50, not $8.  Still, 50 yuan in China is comparable to about $25 US so no shabby reward to get that gold egg in my classroom!

 

This year, I had 4 freshmen classes who each had their own hunt during our culture lesson.  Many, many thanks to all my friends who often send small donations my way so I can hold special events such as this.  Those four 50 yuan winners certainly appreciated that!

Coloring Eggs

And, of course, what Easter tradition can never be excluded?  Coloring eggs!
While this was not possible in the classroom, I did set up my coloring station in the English Center on Monday evening, from 7 – 9 p.m.  Sad to say, many of the students had classes that evening and couldn’t come but the small turn-out of children and their parents (teachers on our campus) made the night a fun one, anyway.

In Closing

As you can see, Easter in Connie’s classroom is always fun.

As for Connie the Christian:  The church choir has been hard at work for 2 months with our Easter anthems:  The Resurrection Song (a traditional Chinese melody with Christian words) and May Jesus Give you Peace, a new  anthem composed by a Chinese Christian.   I feel very blessed to be a part of my choir and Chinese church community and will post pictures of our Easter celebrations after our services tomorrow.

Until then, blessings to all!  Happy Easter and Happy Spring!

Posted in From Along the Yangtze, Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown Stories, Tales from Sichuan's Yangtze Rivertown, Luzhou, Tales of China, Travel | 5 Comments