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 | 1 Comment

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 | 2 Comments

Finishing up my “To Do” list: A Historical Relic Homesick for Home

This afternoon, I headed off to Plainfield, Indiana (near the airport), for my hotel overnight before flying out from Indianapolis to begin my journey tomorrow, back to China.  My brother chauffeured me the 1 1/2 hours on I-70 to the hotel, after which I treated him to dinner.  Off he went, leaving me to have this evening free.

Getting Things Done

Sorry to say, my mom and I didn’t get the 500-piece puzzle finished we’d been working on.  I had to leave that for her to continue on her own.

But other things managed to get taken care of.

The “To-do” List

As you can imagine, these past few days I’ve been marking things off my “to do” list: setting up my mom’s new android phone, along with a tutorial on how to use it, changing all the burned-out lightbulbs in the upstairs’, high-ceilinged bedrooms (a hazzardous task as a bulky stepladder is needed), last-minute strolls through the Walmart to pick up soup mixes and gifts for my Chinese friends, stop-offs at my favorite Marshall homes to say goodbye, mailing a box of new clothes to myself and packing my suitcases.

One of these “to do” list scribbles involves something I’ve often thought about doing over the years and never got around to it.  It involves returning a unique item to a rightful owner. Read the story below

A Gift from My Grandmother’s Friend

Growing up, I had a passion for antiques.  My mom and I would spend weekends scouring local flea markets and antique shops, looking for something that caught our eyes.  My mom collected goblets and pretty plates; I was into antique clothing, hatpins and jewelry.

When I was around 17, my mom and I took a summer trip to see her mom, who lived in  Rockford, Illinois.  Connie Maris, my grandmother, invited us to give a singing program for her senior citizen’s group in the elderly high-rise building she’d advocated for as the city’s first female councilwoman.  She was a strong, representative voice for the elderly and was extremely involved in city politics at that time.

For our program, we needed an accomplished accompanist and that person was Esther.  Esther was my grandmother’s good friend who’d been in the USO during World War 2.  She’d traveled all over Europe, entertaining the troops during that time period, and had made many friends overseas who gave her presents to take back with her.

I remember going to Esther’s home to practice and while there, my grandmother mentioned my interest in antiques.  Esther, whose home was stuffed full of fascinating things, began rooting around in her piles and pulled out two objects to give to me.

The first was a black-and-white checkered headscarf her mother had worn over from Europe as an immigrant to America.  She told me that her mom wrapped this around her hair as she entered Ellis Island and viewed the Statue of Liberty from the deck of the ship that carried her overseas.

Such a precious treasure!  I felt so honored that Esther deemed me worth of appreciating such a gift, which I absolutely did.

The second item was quite unusual.  It was an old, dented pewter beer stein with an etched, yellow-tinted, sunburst glass bottom.  I’m not sure how Esther attained it, most likely on her USO journeys, but there it was being placed into my hands.

I was too enamored with the stein to pay too much attention to what was written on it.  I just grabbed it up in awe,  quite excited that she was presenting it to me.  I thanked her profusely, then off my mom and I went to meet up with her the next day for the program.

It wasn’t until the 7-hour drive downstate, back to my hometown of Marshall, that I truly inspected what Esther had bestowed upon me.

This wasn’t a mere drinking stein at all but an engraved trophy for the National Rifle Contest, held on July 1st, 1862, between two rival rifle clubs:   Middlesex and Lancashire.

Names of participants on both sides were listed, along with their scores, placement in the shootings and the tally for both clubs with Lancashire coming out as the winner by 8 points.

Sergeant Thornbury, Corporal Smart, Private Lathbury, Ensign Sprott, Captain Field….  All these names of long-ago riflemen who joined together in the British sport of shooting. It was fascinating!

Following Through

Over the years, my mom and I often thought of this stein and how we could contact someone for its return.  But without Internet some 35-years ago, we just placed it on a shelf and forgot about it.  During my visits back and forth from China, we’d often come across this antique and say, “You know, we should do some research on this!  Surely someone wants it back.”

And every visit to Marshall, I’d forget to put it on my “to do” list.  Thus such actions on our part to send it back home across the waters remained pending until my next visit, when I would once again wait until it was too late to follow through.

This has been going on for nearly 25 years, a ridiculous amount of time, especially in this day and age when the Internet is now at our fingertips.  We are able to look up anything and everything, connecting so easily with the world and having instant communication via emailing or even international calling on cell phones.

Remedying the Situation

This time, I made sure to put “Trophy Beer Stein” on my to-do list, including a little Internet digging.

I found the event itself recorded in London newspapers dating July 1st and 2nd, 1862, including descriptions of the weather conditions and the clubs participating.  I learned the National Rifle Association, founded in 1859, held the competition.

According to the organization’s history, a commentator wrote:  “These annual gatherings are attended by the élite of fashion, and always include a large number of ladies, who generally evince the greatest interest in the target practice of the various competitors.”

Armed with a little background, I found the website for the National Rifle Association of the UK and sent the following email:

Dear National Rifle Association of the UK:

My name is Connie Wieck, an American who currently teaches and works in China.

An elderly friend of mine, who was in Europe as a pianist with the USO during World War 2, acquired a trophy beer stein which she passed along to me.  This is an award presented to the winners of  the Middlesex vs Lancashire National Rifle Contest held on July 1st, 1862.  I did a little research and it seems this is, indeed, the original trophy from that era, the event having been described in several London newspapers during that time period.

I am enclosing a few pictures as visuals.

I truly believe this little fellow deserves to be in his UK home, among those who would appreciate, value and treasure his contribution to your association’s history.

If you would like this trophy returned, please email me and let me know.  I am very happy to send it your way.  Just give me instructions on who to address it to and where to send it.

Yours Sincerely,

Connie Wieck

Waiting for a Response

It’s only been 4 days but I do hope someone will take notice of the email and write back.  My mom and I are anxious to see if anyone claims it or wants it.  Such an item should receive a place of honor in a prestigious trophy case where it can be admired and prized for it’s historical significance.  At present, it is positioned in one of our upstairs’ bedrooms, gathering dust in a dark corner of on a bookshelf in our family library.

Not at all a very triumphant or worthy throne for such a magnificent artifact.

I’ll be sure to let you know if I get a response.  Until the next entry, most likely from China, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your week.

Posted in A Visit Home to America, From Along the Yangtze, Illinois, Return to China, Smalltown American Life, Travel, Visit To The States | 1 Comment

Luzhou Applies to be A National Civilized City (全国文明城市)  

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Luzhou, a city of 5 million, sets sights on becoming a National Civilized City

       During the past few years, Luzhou has been working toward becoming a National Civilized City. This prestigious honor ranks a city as being economically, environmentally, politically and socially excellent.

The movement itself began in 2003, with  10 cities chosen to hold this title: Xiamen, Qingdao, Dalian, Ningbo, Shenzhen, Baotou, Zhongshan, Yantai, Langfang and Zhangjiagang. This formal recognition means that the named city or district can hold the title while continuing to ‘civilize’ itself over the following three- to four-year period, when they will be re-evaluated and can possibly lose their status if they do poorly.   

Cities wishing to win this name must apply to participate (not all cities want to bother) and pass 126 various assessments, including inspection visits by outside invigilators.

       What sort of criteria is needed?  Here are a few:  good sanitation, pollution control, pleasing appearance, friendly, helpful residents, and a strict following of national and city laws.  

About the Evaluation:  Strict and Serious!!

Civilized City contests take place every 3 years.  The Spiritual Civilization Commission sets standards and selection procedures for National Civilized Cities at all levels of government administration.

Evaluation of all city candidates is the responsibility of the City Investigation Team of the National Bureau of Statistics . Team members sign non-disclosure agreements and are assigned to cities where they have no conflicts of interest. Their task is to evaluate the goals and achievements of urban civilization policies. Evaluators learn of their assignments when they are en route to the airport. They then open a confidential envelope specifying their destination and field sites.

Like restaurant critics, they carry out their work incognito, posing as ordinary tourists.  They stay in three-star hotels and travel by taxi to observe conditions in major commercial streets and at traffic junctions, in hospitals and markets, as well as some fifty randomly selected sites. They try public telephones, and ride public buses to tabulate how many people do, and do not, give up their seats for the elderly, pregnant women, the disabled and children. All visits are unannounced, including neighbourhood visits during which they interview residents about their participation rates in local activities.

Luzhou:  Getting Ready for the Big Inspection

       Luzhou’s first inspection took place in April of 2018.  I have no idea about the secretive nature described above for that first assessment because it was far from secretive.  

The Luzhou government officials knew several weeks before the inspectors’ arrival and made sure we all knew as well.  The entire city went into overdrive beautifying public places by planting more trees, creating pristine mini-parks and cleaning up eye-sore neighborhoods.  TV channels and newspapers chastised citizens, car drivers and public government officials alike who didn’t follow proper procedures.

For example, pedestrians had to walk in crosswalks, not litter or spit  in public.  All citizens had to be openly kind and helpful to one another.  Drivers had to slow down considerably and taxies were not allowed to pick up numerous passengers to take to different destinations all at one time, then charge bargained amounts without paying attention to the meter.  (This has been a standard in the past 3 years, meaning the taxi drivers can make more money.). Slogans on billboards and fancy, colorful signs popped up at every corner, touting:  “Love your Country; Take Pride in Your City; Be Kind, Cultured and Civilized.”

Also a continuous reminder, via the media, was of China’s 12 Core Socialist Values, those designated by the Communist Party which all people were to know and earnestly follow: prosperity, democracy, civility, harmony, freedom, equality, justice, rule of law, patriotism, dedication, integrity, and friendship.

Flowery and grassy landscaping was added along the main highway in front of our school. Notice the large red characters, the 12 core values, ostentatiously posted to greet the inspectors if they happened by.

In fact, these values had to be quickly spouted out, without hesitation, if any inspector stopped a Luzhou citizen to ask what they were.   Points were deducted if someone faltered, or so we were told by media outlets.

A good week before the inspection, I remember the teachers, workers, students and administrators randomly stopping to test one another with: “Can you say the 12 core values?”.  While there were light-hearted giggles and laughs then this happened, I will say that everyone took this seriously and every single person I quizzed could, indeed, rattle of their core values at the drop of a hat.

Inspection Two:  A Visit to Our Campus

Luzhou Vocational and Technical College chosen as an inspection site

A second inspection took place city-wide last Dec. 21 – 27. This was to see what improvements the city had made from the first inspection, which listed problem areas.

This time around, not only did we know when the invigilators were coming but where they’d be.  Their visit impacted my college more than others in Luzhou because the school was scheduled as a definite inspection site.  

Our school campus gets ready for the big inspection

For a week, the college leaders, teachers and students prepared and practiced for this inspection in order to receive high marks, which would be added to the city’s evaluation score. 

Student dormitories and departmental offices were thoroughly cleaned and new rules instated about the condition of the dorm rooms.  Everything had to be tidy and put in its proper place.  No messy desks or unmade beds.

Students were also not allowed to hang up their wet clothing (undies, pants, socks, shirts, shoes), after being washed,  to dry on their dormitory balconies.  If they did so, they would be in deep trouble and subject to harsh chastising and reprimands by head teachers, checking their rooms before the real inspectors came.  With no driers available, this was somewhat of a sore spot among the students who always hung out their clothes to dry.  That’s the drying-clothes standard in China, for all of us, so not being able to do so (at least until after the inspection) created a lot of grumbling and mutterings.

The school dormitories were cleaned from top to bottom by students.

No students were allowed to lazily hang out in their dorms but had to be visibly seen studying diligently in classrooms or the library.  School grounds had to be impeccable. 

Before the clean-up crews got busy preparing the campus.

After the workers finished their clean-up.

Student representatives, in orange vests, lined the college sidewalks, walkways and roads to direct student traffic (no jay-walking) and catch litterers. 

Walkways were kept clean and all trash receptacles emptied for the upcoming inspection visits

Administrative paperwork for every department had to be readied for review and all school facilities had to be in proper working order.

         The day of the inspection had everyone on edge.  Even I was called to task for putting a desk into the hallway as a sign-up table for my conversation final exams.

        “Not allowed, Connie!” I was told by a panicked teacher.  “Please, move it immediately into the classroom.  The inspectors are on their way.”

         I did so in a hurry.  I certainly didn’t want to be responsible for our school receiving demerit points! 

The Results?

I heard that the second inspection was a great success throughout Luzhou and our college, although I still have no idea if the city gained the title or not.  I believe more evolution is still in the works.  

I will say that, while it was nice to see the city’s citizens come together in a common goal, it didn’t last for long.

As soon as the inspectors left, everything went back to normal, including jaywalking, littering, speeding, pushing and shoving while in lines and other undesirable qualities which everyone had kept in check until there was no need to do so. 

Several days after the inspection, all went back to the way it was before.

Overflowing garbage cans returned, with recyclables mixed in with non-recyclables, which was a huge “no-no” during the inspection.

I guess that’s what civilized people do when not watched: misbehave!  

Closing Off

Quite an interesting event, this National Civilized City movement.  It caused quite a stir in December and I’m sure the next inspection will be just as stressful.

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

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

Luzhou Protestant Church Christmas Worship Services

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To finish off my Christmas celebrations, it’s only fitting to end with the Luzhou Protestant Church worship services.

This past year, the Everlasting Love adult choir, of which I am a member, was asked to participate in both the contemporary worship service (Dec. 23, 7 – 9:30 p.m.) and the traditional (Dec. 24, 7 – 10 p.m.).  The contemporary was more of a “guest appearance” with us singing just one piece rather than doing numerous numbers and hiding  in the back corridor, waiting for our turn.   I personally enjoyed the former much more because we could join in the congregation, singing and clapping along with everyone else, as you can see from the write-up.

December 23rd:  What a Service!

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The contemporary worship was a new experience for me and I must say, I fell in love with it immediately.  The praise team, with electric guitar, keyboard and drum accompaniment, was full of energy like I’ve never seen before.  Wow!!  We were on our feet practically the entire time, not because we had to be but because we couldn’t keep still long enough to settle down quietly.

This service was full of dance, praise songs, skits, and a lively, vibrant congregation that clapped and waved away while loudly belting out all our praise team songs displayed on  the two power point screens above.

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The choir had only one anthem to sing, a baroque piece that our director picked out just for the service.  We sang it last year for the traditional Christmas Eve worship.  In my opinion, it was rather out-of-place with all the modern music and excitement that surrounded us but that was the director’s choice. Not sure the listeners were too taken by it but we were only one tiny piece of the service so not a big deal.

Pulling on Religious Heartstrings

What did impress the congregation members the most, and brought many to tears of agony, was the short religious play, inserted in the middle of the program.

This was story of a young Christian woman, driving with her non-Christian friend in her car. The friend shows her a text message, distracting the Christian driver,  and this causes them to have an accident. Both die.  The Christian goes to heaven and her friend goes to hell where the devil terrorizes her with brutality, chains and wicked laughter.  It is a heart-wrenching moment as the Christian reaches out to her friend but is unable to bring her to heaven as she is not a Christian.  To add even more to the tragedy, the Christian girl’s father, inconsolable because of his daughter’s death, is about to commit suicide by poison with the daughter (now an angel) looking on, sobbing uncontrollably and begging him to stop because she knows he is doomed to an eternity in hell.  He couldn’t hear her, of course, and despite her pleas, he dies in the end, sealing his fate.

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While the entire depiction of hell, as well as the storyline, does not exactly mesh with my personal Christian faith,  I will say the acting was excellent and the emotional tug quite strong.  In other words, I would say the “Be a Christian or go to hell” message probably hit home with most of those present, which I’m sure is  what the participants hoped for.

The Altar Call

For both services, an altar call at the end brought up first-time visitors to the church who were warmly embraced, prayed over and given Christian material plus church contact numbers for further follow-up.

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In the contemporary service, we had about 30 who came forward and in the traditional service, we had about 25.

Christmas Eve Worship 

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Pastor Liao, during rehearsals, helps to decorate the church

 

As with most churches in the States, Christmas Eve is considered “the biggie.”

The choir and all participants had two 6-hour rehearsals beforehand, on two Saturdays before Christmas.  During those, Pastor Liao  made fully known her wishes for how the service should progress and instructed everyone on behavior, humble attitude, proper appearance and having a warm, inviting demeanor for newcomers.  She had plenty of input from her husband, Pastor Zhang, and our associate pastor, a young woman named Pastor Zhao, as well as our choir director, Zheng.

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Director Zheng gives us instructions during our rehearsal time

With such preparation, we were all expecting everything to run like clockwork.

Well,  it did except for our dramatic processional when the sound system wouldn’t work.  The poor tech guys were trying desperately to get our opening music to play as we came in but failed.  Pastor Liao was frowning as she hustled back to us after having consulted with the guys and just said to start as it was 7 on the dot.

Our contemporary worship keyboardist, Mr. Zhang, stepped up to the plate and, by ear, chorded on the piano the music we were to come into, “Bless His Holy Name.” While not quite as impressive or musical as if we’d had the tape, it was still a worthy processional for Christmas.

As we say in church circles:  “The worship must go on!”

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Gift-Giving:  Both Service Worshipers Receive Presents 

Both services also had the church giving out gifts as people departed.

For the contemporary service, everyone upon leaving picked out a colorful winter scarf. There was a wide array of colors, sizes and materials to choose from.  Even the choir members were invited to take home a scarf.

The Custom of Giving Apples on Christmas Eve

For the traditional service, apples were handed out.  Why is that?

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Though Christmas is not a public holiday in mainland China, it’s becoming increasingly popular among the country’s young people who are not Christians due to its Western holiday draw.  Sending apples as gifts, although a recent tradition, has become a unique addition to the festivities, and a great example of how the Chinese like to play with homophones (words that sound alike).

Christmas Eve is translated as 平安夜, (ping‘an ye) which means a safe and peaceful night. And the word for apple is very similar (苹果, píngguŏ), making it “the fruit of being safe” in Chinese. Hence the reason for sending apples as Christmas gifts.

The Chinese church has picked this up as well and it’s not at all unusual to see apples handed out after Christmas Eve services to congregation members as a way to send blessings to those who attend.

Ending my Reports on Christmas

That pretty much ends all my Christmas reports for 2018.  Hope it gave you all some insight into celebrations at the Luzhou Protestant Church.  It certainly was a blessed celebration and one I’m very grateful to have been a part of.

 

 

 

 

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Christmas Activity Night at My College

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Before adding the next posting, Christmas at the Luzhou Protestant Church, I’ll include a short mentionable concerning the campus Christmas Activity Night. The Idea Emerges A few years ago, I had an idea that my Christmas lessons shouldn’t be just … Continue reading

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Playing Catch-up: Christmas 2018 at My College

Since you missed all the Christmas visuals, let me take you through some pictures of my holiday events at my school.
Christmas in My Classroom
My freshmen get the full 2-part lesson of Christmas:  Part 1 is the religious explanation with in-class re-enactment of the story through a short play.
Part 2, a week later, is the traditional symbols lesson (Christmas tree, stocking, reindeer, Santa Claus, etc) which included vocabulary building through my old Christmas cards followed by my  infamous symbol Bingo game.
My Christmas Open Houses
After all my lessons on Christmas were completed, it was time for the announcement of my Christmas Open House nights.
 It took me 5 days to decorate my home, with balcony and window lights galore, to get ready for this.  I emptied 5 boxes of decorations, including 3 themed tabletop Christmas trees:  The Guest Christmas Tree (white lights, gold bows and red/gold tree skirt), the Pet Christmas Tree (photos of pets surrounding the tree covered with animal ornaments), and Connie’s Christmas Tree (apple dangles symbolizing teaching and special decorations with sentimental meanings to me).


Finally finished, it’s time to announce my Open House Visits.

I have 3 freshmen classes of 50 students each, giving me a total of 150.  Every class was divided into Group A (25 students) and Group B (another 25 students).  Scheduled visits to my home, 50 minutes for each group, were arranged over a period of 2 weeks.  I greeted every group outside of my building and brought them up the elevators to my 9th floor apartment where students enjoyed all my decorations, played with the Christmas toys, took photos and ate loads of candy.
I had a total of 6 open houses this year for my freshmen.  I usually buy cheap candy for student events but for Christmas, I spring for the good stuff.  I went through 70 pounds of candy, all different varieties, which I bought at the candy stalls near my school.
It’s always fun to watch students pick through the candy baskets during an Open House.  They scrutinize each piece to find the ones they like the best and snatch those away.
After every Open House visit by every class, I tell them to empty the baskets because that candy is theirs, gifts from my US friends who send money for them to enjoy a better holiday experience.   Pockets are greedily filled to take back to their friends or roommates who are not my students.  Chinese young people are very generous in that they share everything with others.  Ah, the true spirit of Christmas!  Spreading joy and happiness to all.

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A First:  Homemade Christmas Cards
This is the first year that I have had homemade cards prepared and hand-delivered especially for me by my freshmen.  Never in all my years of teaching have I had such creatively designed gifts come my way, with lovely written notes of Christmas greetings and thank yous for my teaching.
As you can imagine, I was quite moved.  I have kept all my cards and will save them for display each year.  See below and you will understand why I will hold onto these for many years to come.

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My Christmas Photo
My biggest expense, as always, is my Christmas photo.  I enlist the help of the school’s photographers, a couple who own the copy shop on campus.  They come to my overly-decorated Christmas home where we do a photo shoot, I choose the best ones, and via computer, they add the Chinese and English greetings on the pictures themselves before they are copied and laminated.
This year, I had 560 printed which were given to my students, neighbors, friends, faculty members, school leaders, and many in the Luzhou church, including the choir, of which I am a part.  How excited everyone was to receive their special photo gift!
My seniors get choices of the photo they like the best to take home.  Here they are below. Which is your favorite?

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Teacher Open House
My last Christmas visit was for the teachers.  All teachers in my building and those in my department were invited, including their kids.  I didn’t have a huge turn-out due because many were busy but those who came had a great time.
For the teachers, candy isn’t enough.  Coffee, tea, soft drinks, my homemade Christmas cookies and chocolates were served.  The spread was beautifully displayed using a table cloth brought from America which belonged to a dear friend of my mom’s.  She no longer wanted it so I snatched it up in a hurry.  It now is a permanent member of Connie’s Open House decor, and one which makes my Christmas table complete.
For those reading who sent a little extra money my way for my holiday activities, thank you so much!!  It was so much fun not to be a stingy Scrooge at Christmastime. Your very thoughtful donations absolutely made that fun possible.
Next post will include more Christmas photos to finish off my 2018 holiday postings.
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