Promised from Last Entry: My Conversation with “Nancy”

I left you all with the cliffhanger of the interesting conversation I had with Nancy, one of my first students in China. She is currently staff manager of the Four Seasons Hotel in Guangzhou, seen here below. (Nancy sent me the pictures of her food servers and chefs during a restaurant instructional meeting, along with a food-tasting experience, gourmet pizza)

Below are some photos Nancy sent of her trip she and her husband took to the Gobi Dessert, along with pictures of her beloved Border Collie.

The Reports from Nancy:  Number 1 — Hotels are Full

With very few foreign business folk or wealthy foreigners entering the country, you might be wondering who exactly can afford paying US $250-and-up a night for such a swanky hotel room in her  Four Seasons. (Other Four Season Hotels in other Chinese cities are $450 or more)

None other than wealthy and upper middle class Chinese.

According to Nancy, Covid restrictions on traveling around the country have kept many couples and families in their residential cities, meaning they have no place to go.  Thus they’ve been booking highclass hotels for one night to have a little respite from apartment living.  They can use all the amenities, order room service or enjoy  dinners and buffets in the hotel restaurants (usually there are 2 or 3 to meet the needs of various Western and Chinese tastebuds), sit in the ostentatiously decorated lobbies to people-watch, enjoy night views from the outside rooftop,  or go to the sports’ areas to play ping-pong, badminton, basketball (yes, some have outside basketball courts) and swimming.

Nancy also mentioned her hotel in Guangzhou is always booked solid for the lunch.  Chinese love to eat and the $35-50 per person buffet is one which is highly desirable for the 2-hour lunch break many have.

Nancy’s hotel offers “casual dining” at the 72nd floor Italian restaurant, Caffe Mondo.

Evening meals will run a person $150 – 200 per couple. Reservations are definitely required.

Mental Health Facilities at Capacity

Another of Nancy’s interesting mentions dealt with mental hospitals.  

The Zero-Covid has done a number on China’s economy, people’s freedom and way of life.  With so many lockdowns (unable to leave homes for weeks at a time), limits on travel (tourism at a stand-still in many areas),  shutting down of factories (meaning migrant workers have no means of supporting family back on the farm),  job losses (so many small businesses closed their doors, unable to bounce back from unending lockdown procedures), young people unable to find employment, and at one time stable, middle-aged couples with kids losing their jobs as well, it’s been a nightmare.

The mental health of many has reached an all-time desperation low.  Depression has set in. People now are looking for help by checking into mental hospitals.  

I remember when the 2008 earthquake hit and how unprepared China’s mental health professionals were to adequately counsel  those suffering from the after-effects of such a horrendous tragedy. Chinese are not used to “bearing all” to strangers and many psychologists did not have updated, modernized methods how to truly help those who experienced trauma.

The Amity Foundation, aside from attending to the physical needs of earthquake victims, sent well-trained psychologists from Nanjing, the organization’s headquarters,  to the hard-hit areas.  These individuals worked with local mental health professionals to lead seminars which trained how to give the best possible mental healing to those feeling utter hopelessness.   

In today’s Covid situation, I do know suicide has been on the rise with many feeling there is no end in sight.  An increase in domestic violence has been a huge issue as well due to  family members  being stuck at home together, money being scarce, the looming fear of getting Covid, changing temperaments and an inability to “get away” due to constant lockdowns. 

Luzhou has a mental hospital, very near the Number 6 Middle School swimming pool I used to exercise in every day.  I wonder if it is likewise full of patients affected by the current Covid restrictions over the past 3 years?  Be interesting to find out.

Closing Off

The bright side is that in my area of China, things are back to normal.  

My college is now open, with students having returned after the October holidays.  They are attending in-person classes.  Residents are only required to do Covid testing once a week.  My Luzhou Church has finished a major renovation of the 1913 building, which I will report on in the next post.  Worship is open to all and the church choir has been holding regular practices twice a week as always.

Foreign English teachers are being hired by private pre-schools and getting into the country.  I know of 3 who have landed this week and are in quarantine.

It might be my school leaders will be willing to invite me back in for 2023.  Send lots of good thoughts my way for that!

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

Posted in coronavirus, coronavirus situation in China, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown Stories, Tales of China, Travel | Leave a comment

China’s October Holidays Over: Luzhou Lockdown lifted and Former Student Nancy’s Story

My last report talked of Covid lockdowns in my area of China, including that freshmen (who were to begin the school year that first week in September) were asked to remain at home. There was hope that the National Day Holidays (Oct. 1-7) would release restrictions and allow most students to begin arriving on campuses.

Students at my college were invited to return during the week of the 8th and are now enjoying campus life as usual.

Fearful School Leaders

But at the nearby Medical College, online classes have continued in full swing for several weeks now. Perhaps leaders there are more wary of Covid spread than others. I read that a university president in Hohhot, capital city of the province Inner Mongolia, was sacked when 39 students came down with the virus. He was blamed for not taking proper precautions to keep the city and the campus population safe, even though Covid cases in the city itself reached a whopping 2,000, considered a dangerous number.

Hard to keep students from getting Covid when it’s spreading around a city of 3 million. No wonder the Medical College is fearful of bringing students back. Careers are in jeopardy so best to be safe.

I have also heard that Covid, which mostly had been targeted to specific areas, is now spreading everywhere. This is due to many who went traveling during their holidays, despite the government telling folks to stay home.

Due to such a rise in cases, daily testing of all citizens in some areas is a constant. In Luzhou, it is now once a week to receive your colored codes on your phone: Green (negative), Yellow (pending results), Red (infected). A Red code means to pack a suitcase, wait for quarantine bus to arrive, be ushered out by hazmat suited chaperones, pile on with other red-code passengers, be driven to an outlying warehouse lined with bunkbeds and wait there until you test negative 3 times in a row.

Here is an example of what the App looks like on on my former student’s phone (“Nancy”) who lives in Shenzhen.

Former student “Nancy”:  Her Story

Nancy is one of my more prosperous students.  She attended the adult language English training classes I led during my first years in China, 1991-93.  The 1-year program was held at Nanchang Normal University as an  Amity Foundation education division co-partnership with the provincial government.  The program was to be for English teachers from the countryside or small-town areas who wanted to improve their language skills and teaching methodology.  Many had had little education aside from junior or senior high school with a few having attended perhaps a 1 or 2 year college.  Many had just been chosen to teach English at local schools because their English was better than their classmates or there was no one in the area who had any English skills at all.  The 1980s was a time period where many had just come out of the Cultural Revolution where nothing had been taught except Chairman Mao’s doctrines.  Party leader Deng Xiaoping forged ahead to re-educate an entire nation and bring China back into the world scene after it had been closed for so long.  At this time, there were a lot of foreigners coming to China as English teachers.  

This is also when the Amity Foundation’s 2-year English Teaching program began, the first set of Amity’s overseas teachers arriving in China in 1986.  Christian sending agencies in Sweden, Norway, Finland, America, Britain, Canada, Japan (teaching Japanese) as well as others joined with Amity to send qualified teachers to normal schools (teachers’ colleges) throughout the country.  

My 1991 – 94 stint in Nanchang, the capital city of Jiangxi Province, had me working with Canadians, Japanese, Americans, Fins and Norwegians.  Enrollment for the program was limited to 30 Chinese English teachers coming to the campus to live and study for a fully year with us, the two foreign language Amity Foundation teachers. 

“Nancy” was one of them, studying from 1992-93.  

She actually wasn’t a teacher at all but her father, an important leader in local government, had managed to snatch her a spot to study with us for a year in the hopes it would improve her job perspectives in the future.  Having good English language skills was a huge selling point for jobs in the business field.  

She came to us in her 20s, very close in age to myself.  We formed a tight bond in that year.  

Nancy proved to be a hard-working student, taking advantage of every class we offered and all out-of-classroom activities.  In that year, her skills grew from practically zero English to being able to converse at a basic level.

A Successful Rise through the Ranks of the Hotel Industry 

When she left the program, she snagged herself employment working at the switchboard of an international hotel in Guangzhou, a city nearby Hong Kong.  She used to make free phonically to my mom or me  in America, the phone ringing from 2-3 a.m. in the morning.  This time period (1994-96) was during my study in America for my MA degree at Southern Illinois University.  

My mom, dad and I always knew not to panic when the phone rang in those wee hours of the morning.  No tragedy had befallen the family.  It was just the high-pitched, sweet voice which greeted us the same every time we lifted the receiver: “Hello!  This is Nancy. . . .  in China!”

Those first few months of her calls, our  chats lasted for 5 minutes or so before her limited English ability failed her.  But over the year, her proficiency greatly improved and she was able to hold a decent conversation.  Her US boss realized her potential and sent her for managerial training for 3 months. 

With that first stepping stone, Nancy worked her way up through the ranks of the hotel industry, serving in all positions offered with promotions continuing upward and onward.  

Nancy’s Rise 

She ended up having numerous placements within the Shangrila Hotel chain, which held a 5-star rating for China.  Her first assignment was in the southern city of Shenzhen for several years, then she was moved to Shanghai and later to Guangzhou. While in Shanghai in 2011, I actually visited her where she could treat one guest to a free night.  I enjoyed the spa, the sauna, wearing soft plush robes, swimming in the 25-meter indoor pool, stuffing myself at a $50 dinner buffet, followed the next morning by a $25 breakfast buffet and thoroughly indulging in a truly lovely room with a magnificent view of the city. The $120 US hotel room was certainly a treat for me, who usually stayed in the $9 mom-and-pop hostels.  Those were often without hot water, the beds harder than rocks but at least they were clean.  

As you can see below, the Shanghai Shangrila has an abundance of amenities.  Hot water certainly was one of them!

The Single Life Until . . . .

I remember at the above meet-up in Shanghai,  we had discussed our single lifestyle.  Both of us were in our late 40s and quite happy to be single without children, just our pets.  So imagine my surprise when a year later, Nancy found someone!

She married a very nice businessman who followed her to her next employment move, working for the internationally renowned Four Season’s Hotel in Guangzhou.  She is still there to this day, overseeing the entire staff of the hotel.   She and her husband have no  children but they do have a border collie that they love immensely.   All through Covid lockdowns, they were still able to walk the dog outside, Nancy told me.  

The hotel suffered greatly during that first year of Covid and even into the second year.  At times, only 20% of the hotel was filled with a stray Chinese business person or two, even perhaps a foreigner.  The staff had very little to do and many were let go.

And Today? (An astonishing Conversation)

Needless to say, things have changed quite a bit from a year ago.  Nancy and I have just had a very fascinating conversation which I will reveal in the next entry.  

Ending in a cliffhanger to peak your interest!

Posted in Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

More Updates of Covid Lockdowns: Chengdu (Capital City of Sichuan, 21 million) and My City, Luzhou (6 million)

My last report gave an inside look into Chengdu from my former student, “Jason,” who escaped to the countryside just in time. He currently resides in his farming community with his parents in the areas new apartment complexes.

Countryside Living for Jason’s Village Folk

About 10 years ago, the farmers in surrounding villages were offered to leave their plots of land and homes located in village clusters. Many of the homes were made of sod or had a traditional set-up of concrete with courtyards with pig stalls and chickens wandering about, outhouses, wood-burning ovens, no showers, make-shift pipes to pull in water or using buckets to bring in pond water from local outside sources.

The government was encouraging farmers to buy into newly built high-rise (6 stories, no elevators) apartment complexes which had all the amenities of in-city apartments. For more money, people could purchase or rent space on the buildings’ first floors to open small shops and groceries for convenient buying of the basics. The cost was low for the buy-in (I believe around $3,000 US as a downpayment) but more was required for ownership. Also, the apartments were empty cement shells, meaning that $10,000 US and up would be needed to install all the pipes, electrical outlets, lights, toilets, decor and furnishings. Loans from the bank were required for most since their income was so low, or borrowing money from distant relatives, or doing steady migrant work where monthly salaries could be as high as $600-700 US a month.

Jason’s parents took up the offer as the living conditions are so much better. With Jason’s help as a China and overseas tour guide, which brought him a substantial amount of money, he was able to add to their ability to upgrade and make a very nice home for themselves.

They still farm the land, which is about a 15-minute walk up the road, but that doesn’t bring them much income. The two did work in a local factory for awhile (stuffing feathers into cheap duves) but that company has since closed. At present, they have no income with Jason’s current employment (the online overseas limousine booking service he provides) being the only financial assistance they receive.

Moving On:  News from Chengdu

Jason reported that news from Chengdu concerns the below map of the city, 21 million people.

IMG_3239

  1. No one is yet allowed to leave the city nor allowed to enter the city, but in the green district areas, people can move about freely.
  2. Masks are required everywhere you go.
  3. The white area is where Covid cases are still being detected. Close-contact people and positive cases are required to stay in quarantine centers. No one is allowed to stay at home if positive — they must go to the makeshift quarantine center for 2 weeks, after which they must test negative at least 3 times over a period of 5 days.
  4. Stores in the green are allowed to open but the government has encouraged people not to go shopping. Driving about in cars is also not encouraged. Schools still remain closed as well as gymnasiums, theaters and malls.
  5. Stores in the white area cannot open. People can only order online for food delivery and pick those up at the barriers when contacted by the carriers.
  6. No one from the green area can cross into the white and vice-versa
  7. Barriers and volunteer “guards” in hazmat suits have been set up to make sure green and white do not mix.
  8. No one knows when the restrictions will lift.

Needless to say, Jason is VERY happy he’s where he is in the countryside. He left just before the full lockdown, anticipating Chengdu would soon close itself off to the entire country. He is currently able to enjoy freedom with his family, walk about in the fresh air and not have restrictions about where he can and can’t go.

News from Luzhou

My city still remains on lockdown with everyone required to stay at home.  The emptiness of the city is shocking!  The above were sent by a Luzhou colleague.  Shops are not allowed to open except if they are designated grocery stores.

 One family member can go out shopping every other day for only 2 hours.  Everyone must go out every other day to be tested, standing in long lines which does give at least some fresh air but with masks on, not so much so.

My friend, who has 5 very big dogs, said she is allowed to take them out to do their business only and then immediately head back upstairs to her apartment.  Her report was 4 days ago, however.  It might be that she can’t even do that now.  

In strict lockdowns, such as Chengdu’s white area, residents are only allowed to leave their homes to pick up food  at the barriers which they ordered on their phones .  Walking pets is not allowed, nor walking outside to stretch your legs.

One of my former students, feeling bored, decided to volunteer at his neighborhood’s testing site.  He wanted to be of use, rather than sit inside his home all day.  (On the left)

 

Teaching Situation

My above former student is at present a teacher at the elementary school level.  His principal decided to hold off on online classes as it’s too difficult for children to sit in front of a computer or cell phone all day to receive lessons.  There’s too much of a burden on parents to make sure their kids stay put.

Instead, there are numerous Apps for different required subjects which schools are encouraging parents to use to keep their kids busy.  The lessons are created by experts, professionally done, with activities, video inclusions and fun special effects to hold the children’s interest.  These are truly a Godsend for elementary teachers and parents of that age-group alike.

But for junior high and high school, many teachers are required to teach virtually, all day, Monday through Friday, and create their own lessons.  Those who are motivated and gifted teachers will spend hours doing their PPTs or researching how to help the students learn.  But others just lecture, putting in the hours required without really caring if the students learn or not.  They are just buying time until in-person will return.  

The Lament

From my friends, I hear the same laments:  “We are so bored!!”, “I can’t make any money.  It is very worrying.”, “When will this end??!!”

That last is a very good question, especially when China’s 1.3 billion people last received their virus boosters almost a year ago, or rather that is what my friends have reported for themselves personally.  The entire country is extremely vulnerable to an unimaginable explosion of illness and deaths, especially as very few have been exposed to Covid due to the strict lockdowns. They have no antibodies, stimulated via vaccinations or other means, that are currently of use.  

Final Comments

In the meantime, I have continued to post on my WeChat moments of my life in America for all to see and read about:  Pictures of me and my mom, our flower garden, my swimming ventures, my brother’s birthday celebrations, Walmart grocery shopping, Rural King outings, our county fair, the Fall Festival parade, my recent trip to Detroit . . . . All have us unmasked, in close contact, laughing, hugging, walking, talking  . . . 

These posts bring a lot of conversation among those in China who follow them.  The one outstanding remark is this:  “All the world is opened up.  When will we?”

Sorry to say, I have no answer.  

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in coronavirus situation in China, Coronovirus Situation, From Along the Yangtze, Tales from Sichuan's Yangtze Rivertown, Luzhou | 1 Comment

From Chengdu (Capital of Sichuan): NY Times Article; A Former Student’s Opinions

A Former Student Shares Frustrations

In the previous entry, I shared a bit about Jason’s recent messages to me. His wise decision to leave the city before the lockdown took place has him enjoying relative freedom in the area about an hour in the countryside where his parents live. His current job has him up all night, working for a company that hires limousine service for those needing transportation to and from airports around the globe. The international hours demand him to be ready to answer the phone during his night time and speak with overseas partner companies needing vehicle pick-ups/drop-offs for their staff or clients. Sometimes, his number is given directly to the person who needs his services. Just this morning, he told me he’d been arranging limousine service to the hotel for someone landing in Chicago. That’s in my state!

“Do you know what we call Chicago?” I asked him in a text message.

“No,” was his reply.

“It’s the Windy City, because of the wind that comes off of Lake Michigan,” I continued in the next entry. “You can be in-the-know and impress the next Chicago client with your knowledge.”

And his next voicemail startled me:

“You know, before my friends can go out shopping for 1-2 hours during the lockdown but not now. More cases have been discovered, with daily testing of all citizens to catch those who are positive, so now everyone is on full lockdown. No one can leave their homes. Barriers are being set up around neighborhoods. Everyone must order food online for delivery. I worry about so many elderly. They are not good at using cell phones to order things online. Who will help them?”

This is so true.

When Shanghai went on the same draconian lockdown for almost 2 months in March and April, criticism arose for those unable to get adequate amounts of food. Stories emerged of those in their 70s to 90s, living alone, going without food for several days until a next-door neighbor brought over a few small items. One old man’s pleas went viral when he broke lockdown protocol, went out to the street and flagged down one of the few public buses to tearfully beg for food. The video circulated with many critical comments added about how to solve this problem.

In the end, many viewing this immediately began a search for those needing help so they could group-order food needed. Leaving an apartment was only allowed for daily testing, which presented a dilemma as to how to reach vulnerable individuals. One young couple posted signs in their complex, telling residents to call them for assistance. Others talked to those in their Covid testing line, saying they were willing to order food for them. Such compassion spread to other parts of Shanghai, where willing and able new-generation techies took it on themselves to organize teams to make sure those struggling to get food didn’t starve to death.

One hopes that Chengdu residents will take Shanghai’s example to heart and do the same.

China’s strict Zero-Covid Policy

If you are unfamiliar with why China is sticking to this policy, or what it exactly means, read below. It gives a very good explanation.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/08/world/asia/china-zero-covid-explainer.html

News from Luzhou: Experiencing 7th Day of Lockdown

While Chengdu’s population of 21 million is not allowed to venture out, Luzhou city (where my school is located) has been experiencing their own troubles.

From 4 positive cases last week, to another 8 and now 50 reported after daily testing, lockdown measures have taken full effect. One family member is still able to leave for 2 hours of grocery shopping every day but that might be changing soon due to rising Covid cases. Despite keeping families at home, the every-other-day testing requirements are still finding cases.

One gentleman was reported to have been arrested for jogging around his area. The police tried to catch him on 4 different instances and finally did, sending him to a detention center for violating the “stay-at-home” order. He was made a huge example of all over the city as a selfish man, one holding no regard for the safety of others.

Such behavior and blatant breaking of lockdown rules obviously will not be tolerated.

My college held off inviting students back from summer break, hoping Sept. 7 might see the doors open, but that is not the case. All schools at all levels are now all online. Malls and shops are closed. Restaurants and gyms tightly sealed. Businesses are shuttered as well. This is in an attempt to catch every single new virus case possible.

There was hope that the lockdown would only last a week but with rising numbers, my college officials are thinking perhaps after China’s National Day holidays are over, October 7, there might be better news to get students back into the classroom.

Recent Double-Celebrations from Windows and Balconies

The Mid-Autumn Festival, celebrated this year on September 10, coincided with the United Nations’ declared holiday, Teachers Day. Both are celebrated by China, with the festival giving the entire country a 3-day holiday to travel or have family time at home to enjoy watching the full moon while eating mooncakes.

Due to the city’s strict virus-control regulations, however, Luzhou residents were required to stay at home. In an attempt to give some joy to citizens, Hazmat suited volunteers and those used to enforce the lockdown led apartment complexes in celebrations from the outside courtyards. City text messages went out in the millions, inviting citizens to wave flags from their balconies and windows at a certain time, as well as sing with favorite songs blasted over loudspeakers.

See the below, posted by my former student, an elementary education English teacher. Rather than stay at home and be bored all day, he has been volunteering to help with Covid testing and upholding the stay-at-home order. He was able to get a great view of the city’s success in making a dismal holiday outlook become a vibrant show of solidarity and joy.

Feeling Left Out

I must say, after watching that video, I really regretted being here in America. I’d much rather be in China to join with my colleagues and friends in their on-going struggles as this lockdown continues. What I can do, however, is send lots of positive hope their way through messages and voicemails.

If I can’t yet be there in person, I can at least be there in spirit.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The school year in Sichuan first delayed due to a massive heatwave; Now delayed due to Covid

 All across China, students were gearing up  to return to classes yesterday, on September 1st, but due to the horrendous heatwave and continuous power cuts to take care of huge cities, this has been changed to September 6. This CNN news report tells of the desperation in my area of China, Luzhou (loo-joe), located quite near Chongqing.

https://www.cnn.com/2022/08/26/china/china-sichuan-power-crunch-climate-change-mic-intl-hnk/index.html

Sichuan’s temperatures have soared as high as 40 (105 degrees F) during July and August.  Many colleges don’t have air-conditioning the dorm rooms.  At my college, dormitory air-conditioners were installed 3 years ago but to use them requires each dorm room to pay according to how much is used.  The electricity cost was to be divided among the 4 or 6 students in the room.  With a majority being from the countryside, struggling to pay even for their meals much less electricity, there was a lot of hesitancy to turn them on.  I remember we had a lot of arguments among dorm mates concerning the use of their air-conditioners:  complaints of it being too cold once on, complaints of cost, complaints of not everyone paying their fair share . . . .

A delayed 1-week starting date won’t relieve any of that, I’m guessing.   It’s expected the heatwave will continue all through September, especially for Sichuan, but at least the delay gives everyone another week of rest.  I imagine the freshmen will be soaking up all that family time while the upper classmen will be bemoaning yet another boring week hanging out at home.

Thus is the life of a student, yes?

Sichuan in the Grips of Covid-19

But just within the past 4 days, announcements now from my college, my church choir, Luzhou city government posts and Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, are all about one thing and one thing only:  Confine yourself to your home, go out only for daily Covid testing in your neighborhood area, don’t panic if your Covid code (located on the cell phone) turns yellow or red, contact local authorities for further information, allow only one member to leave for shopping every 3 days, adhere to all regulations and cooperate with your local Covid task force.  

All the announcements and urgent postings I’m reading seem to end with a positive spin of “Fight the virus!  We will prevail!” 

All this began first in Luzhou, when 2 positive cases were found through random testing.  The two individuals had recently returned from another province and were eating out at a restaurant located in my college’s city district. Once found, the district announced for mandatory testing of everyone in the city with Longmatan District being closed.

Good thing our school and others delayed that September 1st starting date as students hadn’t arrived yet to start the school year.  Otherwise, they’d have been stuck in the midst of a lockdown, on our campus with school leaders having to deal with their whereabouts and all the hassles of keeping them in their dorm rooms, delivering their food and testing them daily.

This morning, however, more messages from my Luzhou friends have noted other districts in the city are now closing down.  Those 2 positive cases are now at 19 and most likely there will be more.  My Chinese church choir will not be meeting for choir practice and worship services will be going back to online, which took place 2 years ago.

Chengdu more serious

Chengdu’s cases have suddenly soared as more and more positive cases are found, leaving that city on total lockdown.  Much like Shanghai a few months ago, Chengdu’s 21 million residents are now experiencing daily testing and stay-at-home orders with food deliveries stepping up as well.

 

One of my former students, “Jason” Ke, has recently been employed in Chengdu working for a company that books cars for businessmen coming and going to airports across the country as well as the world.  His position requires him to reserve private transportation for such individuals, Chinese and foreigners, which he does through phone calls and the Internet.  With overseas services, he is required to speak English, thus his language skills are put to good use.

Jason’s parents, sister and brother-in-law, live in a small countryside village an hour from the city.  When the rumors began of a possible lockdown in Chengdu, and local government officials promising “This will take place for only 3-4 days as we test everyone, beginning at midnight tonight”, Jason didn’t take any chances.  

He immediately received his negative Covid test result, hopped on a bus and headed back to the countryside to stay with his family.  

Within a few hours of his departure, the city announcements changed to total lockdown of all residents, including no one leaving the city or coming into the city,  flights immediately canceled at the domestic and international airport, and detailed instructions of what to do, where to go, how to act and when normality might resume, which was touted “in just a few days.”

“Just a few days” is another way of saying “indefinitely.”

Jason sent pictures of his family and others being able to walk around their countryside neighborhood, continue planting or harvesting crops, go fishing on the nearby lake, head off to the local market to buy food and enjoy a life of freedom.  Masks around others were to be worn and Covid testing required with Hazmat suited CDC staffers, but nothing as restrictive as those in the city.

Wise decision to get out while you can, Jason!

No one can predict if that promised “only-3-to-4-day” lockdown will hold true or not.  In the case of Shanghai, days ballooned to weeks ballooned to months.

We shall see if Chengdu or Luzhou follows the same fate as Shanghai.  Watch this space for updates!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Follow-up of Previous Post: Foreigners Receiving Visas from Private Preschools in China

My previous post spoke of my frustration concerning unqualified individuals getting into China to teach at private preschools. In my WeChat group with these young people from Canada, Britain and the US, they continue to share vital information. Despite my complaint of their qualifications, all are very generous in helping one another, supporting one another, adding encouragement, answering questions and honestly making the journey to their schools less stressful. They detail their arrivals into Hong Kong (flights are numerous and much cheaper than the mainland, plus only a 3 + 4 day quarantine period), important Apps to download, the complicated procedures to cross into the Mainland either by train or air, payment methods (no paper money anymore, folks — all via credit card or electronically), suggestions of what favorite goodies to bring for quarantine, how to pack, China Health Code hints, documents to fill out, detailing Covid testing procedures and which VPN services to use or sign up for so Internet use (a must for Covid requirements) is continuous throughout.

Personally speaking, if I were to go it on my own, I have no idea how I’d ever manage. I mentioned before this group is one which pays for recruiting services by Brit Arnold Vis. Arnold has connections with tried-and-true private schools who use his services to find teachers. He is very careful about choosing Chinese educational institutions that are legitimate, hold-the-foreigner’s-hand, have spotless reputations of support and payment that adheres to the contract.

Many do not and there are horror stories about those which I’ve heard throughout the many years I’ve taught in China.

Arnold also carefully vets those wanting to go through his agency. He chooses responsible individuals, leads them through interviews, provides excellent follow-ups, Zooms with the group to explain the most recent changes in China’s Covid policies and answers any texts, emails or WeChat postings almost immediately. The cost of his services I have forgotten but I believe it is close to $600 US, if not more. I will say you get what you pay for and Arnold delivers, from the moment you step into his Zoom call to the moment you arrive at your school and are embraced by the foreign affairs director who sees to all your adjustment and practical needs.

Are China’s Private Children’s Pre-schools Still a Big Draw among Wealthy to Upper Middle Class Parents?

The answer is “Yep!”
Read the below and find out just how lucrative these school businesses are. I was astounded by this article, written by a Chinese child development expert. Despite her knowledge and thorough understanding in her field, including doubting the credibility of such pre-school classes, as a Chinese parent she was sucked into them.

https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/EKCAAYjMX-pz6Wpq_iXxNw

Notice the cost of such courses. No wonder these schools are desperate for the foreigner’s face and offer starting salaries of $2,000 to $3,000 a month (plus bonuses) plus free housing to those from overseas they employ. Do their Chinese counterparts, who teach as well, and those who carefully create the strict curriculum and lessons to be followed, receive the same amount?

Not on your life.

I can fully understand why China’s President Xi (pronounced “she”) put the kibosh on so many of these schools 2 years ago. It put thousands out of business except the most prominent ones. The owners then turned to other means of employment. I personally know of 4 in Luzhou. One changed her rented 6-room office space into a coffee cafe. Another opened a pet shop. The third is selling cosmetics online and the fourth joined a friend to open and sell furniture in a shop.

They are the lucky ones.

Most have been stuck with no employment at all. How they are managing is beyond me.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

To my Chinese students, friends and colleagues: Swimming lessons, anyone?

Naturally, I had to do a swimming video for my students, friends and colleagues in my hometown’s outside pool. This is the place anyone could find me all summer, 6 – 8 a.m. for adult lap swim, even on Saturday and Sunday before worship services.

I’m so much looking forward to returning to my school at Luzhou Vocational and Technical College because we now have a 50 meter indoor heated pool. My greatest hope is to be the mentor, sponsor, organizer of a student or faculty swimming club. Universities in China don’t have athletic events or scholarship-awarded athletes built into their programs. All sports or specialty student groups (dance, instruments, choirs, English or language, volunteerism) are set up as clubs. Teachers are required to be the sponsors so students who wish to start clubs of any kind must get a faculty member to sign the papers and be present for a few of the meeting times but not all of them.

I have been asked to sponsor or speak at my college’s clubs in the past but have never instigated one myself. With this new pool, I am absolutely considering starting free swimming lessons or give expertise for those wishing to improve their strokes. And I’m definitely keen to start a competitive swimming club of some kind, for students or faculty or both. Even for youth, for faculty’s kids. I can imagine this will be a great connection for me to add a little more to my time at the school other than just as an English teacher.

This will be a new adventure for me, something I’ve never tried before, and I am truly looking forward to trying it out. I’ve already had some takers when I posted the above in my WeChat moments (similar to What’s App).

“Teacher Connie! Wow! You swim so fast, ” was the response. “We are ready to join you. Hope to see you soon at our school.”

Yep. Me, too.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Return to China: It’s Frustrating but always hopeful

It’s the end of August!! How did that happen?

The past 2 months have been filled with Illinois travels to 8 speaking engagements and a 4-day visit to Detroit for a Volunteer in Mission Board Meeting (So fulfilling and wonderful!). It has been so refreshing to have Covid somewhat behind us but still frustrating that China is indeed the last country to remain closed to tourists, returning teachers, some new teachers, all foreign students and even its own citizens are not able to leave the country or return from their overseas job placements.


My travels here were filled with questions about my return to my college in Luzhou and what’s been filling my days. (A lot!)

Fortunately for me, I have made numerous contacts in China, aside from my Chinese sponsoring organization, The Amity Foundation, that give me the ins and outs of the private school sector in China which is getting foreign teachers into the country.

Here are my gleanings.

British Arnold’s Teach-in-China Recruitment Agency
My desperation for information (any information) of when my area of China might consider opening to my return has me in one expat WeChat group in China (those foreigners teaching in Wuhan, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou) and one private recruitment organization which meets bi-monthly on Zoom. The coordinator, Arnold, out of Britain, has graciously allowed me for the past 2 years not only to join in but even give presentations on life in China and The Amity Foundation.

His services include a set fee (close to $500 US) to connect candidates with private schools in China who have the government connections needed, and the know-how, to get English teachers’ invitation letters approved. From my end, the frustration is that those applying are quite young, not professional teachers but merely native speakers who are working in rather dingy, low-paying jobs in their own countries, or have student debts to pay off. On our Zooms together, some want to expand their Chinese language abilities to open businesses of their own or want some sort of adventurous travel job for a couple of years or just make money.

Strict Covid Policies: Not much traveling for locked down areas are becoming more and more prevalent

Covid policies in China, however, are not great for traveling the country at present if you’re a foreigner or even a local. 3-times-a-week testing of all citizens sometimes takes place in most cities or towns to find cases, symptomatic or asymptomatic . One case and the entire city or town shuts down, people are required to stay at home or only go out twice daily to stand in line at testing centers with hazmat suited individuals swabbing away. If positive, your cell phone alights red and off you go to a quarantine center. No one is allowed to stay at home, including those you’re living with. You must test negative 5 times in a row to get out of such quarantine centers, which are set up in warehouses with rows of cots, portable potties, makeshift wash-off troughs and meals served 3 times a day. No one goes out; only workers go in.

If you have pets, they usually don’t survive after apartment doors are locked tight and your home is considered contaminated.

Living in China, with a Zero-Covid policies and its “whack-a-mole” strategy, is a challenge for everyone involved.

Private Schools and their Students

For foreigners now getting into China to teach at high-paying private English schools, the children being instructed are anywhere from 2-12 years old, in group classes, with extremely wealthy parents hovering outside of observation rooms to make sure their money is going to good use. They want their children to have a step-up in life for getting that extra boost on English language test scores to get into the best schools in China or for future school enrollment overseas.

Granted, Xi’s government has tried desperately to get these private English schools closed, wanting to even out education among the rich and the poor. A great majority of these after-school and weekend educational institutions have indeed closed under Xi’s policies. However, there are ways of getting around these regulations. While many such schools did close, with the founders moving on to other business ventures (coffee shops, specialty restaurants, bakeries, online ordering companies, etc.), those with stable connections in larger cities have managed so far to survive.

The draw for Foreign Teachers: High Salaries

The fact that Covid locked down the country to new incoming teachers and foreign students has been a struggle for all public universities, colleges, and private institutions. Many of the private schools and public schools have managed to snatch up those foreign teachers already in the country who were not happy with their schools or were enticed by exorbitant salaries and perks.

I know of one older Brit in Luzhou who had been teaching for almost 4 years in Luzhou. He was making about $2,000 US per month but was quite fed up with his school, the workload and the relationship with school staff. (He was not very culturally attuned, from what I understand). When Covid struck, many private schools had teachers abandon their positions to return to their countries. Our Brit went searching online, found an offer in another province for $4,000 US per month (including apartment and air-travel) so he took it. From what I understand, he is very happy and making a killing despite not having a degree in teaching but merely is qualified due to his native English speaking ability.

High risks, high costs for newly hired foreign teachers entering China

I just finished a Zoom call last week with Arnold and those who have managed to get their visas approved. Some have landed already, entering Hong Kong to continue into the mainland because prices are $4,000 to $5,000 cheaper for a one-way flight directly into the Mainland.

Hong Kong tickets, one way from Canada, the UK or the States, are about $1,200 and can be fairly easily booked. Quarantine in a HK hotel is now down to 3 days from 7 days. After that, Covid tests are required to take the train from HK into Shenzhen, the further-most city of Mainland China, where several of the private schools are located. Another 4 days quarantine in a hotel is required in the city of employment and another 7 days in the apartment which the school rents for the new teacher’s 1-year contract.

Of course, all along the way, Covid tests are required.

Most costs are paid by the sponsoring school EXCEPT if you test positive for Covid upon your arrival or before entering the mainland or even during your hotel quarantine in the city of employment. According to Arnold, if you test positive at any point along the way, you are no longer sponsored by the school. All costs, including that $1,200 getting to China and all your visa costs, plus mandatory Covid costs, on your country’s end (usually around $1,000) are yours and yours alone.

The school no longer wants you, your visa (good for 1 month until a permanent visa can be acquired with your school’s help) will not be honored. You will be required to pay for all your quarantine costs, for however long it might be, and have to pay for your return flight, whenever you can get one.

This is the price of going with a private school, doing it somewhat on your own, with no organization to support your or back you up.

Thank goodness I have the Amity Foundation behind me 100% and my school as well!

Latest News:  All upbeat except for Luzhou and Sichuan Province

Tier 1 cities (a majority being capital cities) seem to be able to apply for teachers in the private school industries, but NOT government-run public institutions.

I have been asked to be patient, that after Xi’s election for another term in October, policies will change, perhaps almost immediately for a 2023 visa for me to start up the Spring semester in February.

In the meantime, I continue with my advocacy work for both China’s Amity Foundation and the North Central Jurisdiction.

Watch this space for reports from my graduating students in China.  I have a lot of stories to share!

Here’s wishing you “Ping Ahn” (Peace) for your day.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Chinese Canine Immigrant:  Thank you for my blessing

The following was submitted to my local newspaper, on behalf of our China rescue, Bridget

Dear Marshall Trinity UMC Members and Pastor Zoila,

           Last week, my owners saw an announcement in the Marshall Advocate that Trinity United Methodist Church was providing a Blessing for Our Pets event in the church shelter on Friday, June 25, at 10 a.m. The article explained all people and pets were welcome, with dogs leashed, cats in carriers or birds in their cages. Also welcome were pictures of pets, and even images on cell phones could be brought.

           As some of you may know, I’m Bridget, a street stray from China. I was a mangey, starving Chihuahua-mix found tied under a bridge in Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan Province. My rescuer named me Bridget and it stuck.

           At that time, American Connie Wieck, an English teacher at China’s Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, saw me advertised on the Internet and thought I’d be a great candidate for adoption. She took care of my health issues, prepared all my flight papers and I was brought to Marshall as a companion for Connie’s mom, Priscilla. In fact, my 3rdyear anniversary as a Marshall citizen was this past June 25th!

        When I saw the announcement of Trinity Church’s pet blessing on my special day, how could I not attend? Not only that, but giving this special blessing to me was yet another immigrant to America:  Trinity’s Rev. Zoila Marty. She and her husband, Rev. Pablo Marty (serving at Paris First UMC) are originally from the Dominican Republic and have been citizens in this country for many years. 

Connie, Bridget, Pastors Zoila and Marty

     At the event, Pastor Zoila laid hands on me and gave me a tender blessing for my life and the lives I’ve touched here in my American home.  It was so meaningful and I felt very loved.

        Parishioner members gave me lots of pets, too.  

Bridget , Blessing of the Pets

        I was lavished with so many treat bags that I decided to share with my American brothers and sisters in the Clark County Animal shelter. Those were picked up by shelter volunteers who likewise swung by the Marshall Community Swimming Pool to pick up abandoned towels to be used as animal bedding. 

Pet Treats

         Every treat bag had the following Bible verse attached: “So the Lord God formed from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky. He brought them to man to see what he would call them, and the man chose a name for each one.”  Genesis 2:19 NLT

       Thank you so much, Trinity United Methodist church members and Pastor Zoila, for offering this unique spiritual gift to me, a lost little dog whose home is now such a happy one here in this country and smalltown community. I will be back again next year, and bring friends! 

         Love and licks,

         Bridget (as told to rescuer and owner, Connie Wieck) 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

My Apartment in China: Always safe, . . . .until now!

We’re going on 2 1/2 years now that I’ve been stuck in America. China’s strict “Zero Covid” stance is actually starting to lift, as of June! Large cities throughout China, and even those in my province of Sichuan, are now allowing schools to issue invitations.

Sad to say, however, small Luzhou is being VERY cautious. I just keep hoping that this summer might finally convince local government officials that Connie can return.

Questions Abounded from Friends and Family

In the beginning of being stranded, people would ask me when I was returning, what kinds of supplies I’d like to take back with me, who was teaching my students, was I in contact with my friends, my school, my Chinese church choir (Yes, daily!) . . . The list goes on.

But one of the most common questions I received was this one: “What about your apartment and all your things? Are you paying rent all this time?!”

No, I am NOT paying rent.

Apartment Arrangements

I live on the campus of my school in the 11-story single teachers’ housing building. Although it was originally built for single teachers, it ended up that families also were allotted space to live there. An outer room, 2 bedrooms, a bathroom and kitchen area made it a tight squeeze for our married couples who had one or two children, plus grandma and/or grandpa also staying with them, but it was do-able.

19

While those staying in the building are required to pay 1,000 yuan a month (roughly $170 US), with extra for utilities, as a foreign teacher, my cost for everything was taken care of. This is almost always a perk for overseas teachers in China: apartment rentals (on or off campus) are fully paid for by the employing school, sometimes even offering options to find your own apartment for X-amount of money which the institution will cover within reason. This has never been my case but I do know of other foreign teachers who have opted for the latter, which has given them an opportunity to pick what they personally would like rather than have a Chinese staff member choose.

My School’s New Foreign Affairs Assistant, Ms. Xiao’s (Cherry’s), Sends a Message

I am in constant contact with my school, still waiting for the local government to give permission for my invitation letter to be processed. Our new Foreign Affairs assistant is a former English teacher whose position has been changed. That person is Ms. Xiao, whose English name is Cherry.

Here is her message to me 3 days ago considering the news that other cities in Sichuan are now open to teachers having their employment papers processed.

“Please be patient. I believe our city will gradually open up the policy and let you back to the school as soon as possible.”

She continued onward in the next text segment with this:
“Here’s another thing. Your luggage and some things are still in our dormitory, right? Now our dormitory will be moved to another new teacher’s apartment not far from th school. We need to ask for your opinion on whether we can move your luggage to another dormitory (we will make a video recording for the whole process.). If you don’t want to, please feel free to let me know.”

So it seems that the school invested in reserving apartments in the nearby new complex for more senior Chinese teachers to move into and pay rent on. This apartment complex had just begun being built a few months before I left for my vacation in January, 2020, when I then became stranded in the States. Many teachers had been offered a buy-in before the completion of the high-rise buildings as well as the school vouching with a reputable loan company for those payments. Downpayment was 20,000 yuan ($3,500 US) with the smallest units selling for a total of $60,000 US (the empty cement shell without any decorating). While that sounds like a lot of money for a poor college teacher making roughly $650 a month, those living in my apartment building had been saving for years for such an offer. The proximity to the school campus was great, without any commuting time, and the school had vouched for their loans so quite a few were happy with the arrangments.

I certainly was impressed watching the buildings go up, thinking how nice that might be for me to live in those.

I doubted the school would ever consider preparing such a nice place for me. But maybe think again!

To Move or Not to Move?”: That question has no options

Considering all my stuff of 20-years-worth of living in China, and furniture, and SO many clothes, and appliances, kitchen utensils, books (good grief!!) and drawers needing to be weeded through, plus the fact that for every move I’ve made, it’s been a 100 large box affair (I always had students help tape together my 100 boxes for me to fill), what do you think my answer was?

A very appreciative response of: “Thank you so much for asking but I think it’s just too much trouble for you and the school. I’ll pass until I can return.”

My guess is that Cherry is very relieved not to deal with packing up my things, hiring movers (which the school must pay for) then overseeing the entirety of the move from a campus building to an off-campus one. I also have no idea what floor I’d be on, meaning holding up elevators numerous times as boxes were loaded and unloaded onto the appropriate story.

I’m also not 100% certain I’d like to move off-campus. At present, it’s always taken me 10 minutes to walk to my classrooms, whereas off campus it would be more like 20-25. Still close but not as close as the apartment I’m living in now.

So reiterating what I told Cherry: I’ll pass until I can return. (What a happy day that will be!)

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment