Arriving in Chengdu
When LF and I arrived in Chengdu late last Tuesday night, I was tired.
The week before had been scurrying about to add another 6-hours of teaching to my schedule to make up for classes I’d be missing for the Jinding Award ceremony the following week. Saturday was a full day with the city-wide speech contest, hosted by my school, with me judging the senior school students in the afternoon. Sunday was church as usual with an afternoon spent with Li Xiao Lian (Cathy), my former departmental dean. (Her son, Jack, is the one who is now attending Beijing Aeronautical University. I had written about his celebration party in a previous blog entry).
Cathy and I consider ourselves as sisters. Her help in the Jinding Award department was to accompany me to a hair stylist for a good cut and then later to choose the appropriate wardrobe for the ceremony. The hair went well but we had a bit of trouble with the sweater we both agreed I should wear. There was a tear in the seam so we had to find someone to repair it. Seamstresses are all over Luzhou, along every little alleyway, but the ones near my college were not in the mood to deal with us. I ended up repairing it myself.
Monday the entire day, and a booked-solid Tuesday morning, had me teaching my infamous Thanksgiving Day lessons. First period is the history and second period is setting the holiday table. The lesson goes at a fast clip with lots of activities and a bag full of props. By the time dog and I were packed on the 3 p.m. bus to Chengdu, I was exhausted.
Nor was it any fun to arrive in Chengdu in the evening, when taxies at the Wu Gui Qiao bus station refuse to take passengers unless they are traveling far distances. My hotel wasn’t considered far enough for their interest so for 30 minutes, I was snottily waved away with a quick hand dismissal whenever I tried to get the two of us into a cab.
Eventually, I sweet-talked a female driver into taking us, two "girls" from out-of-town who were cold, hungry and tired yet the men drivers refused to help us.
That "men drivers" reference pretty much won her over. Off we went and were settled into our cheap little $14-a-night hotel by 8:30 p.m.
The Thursday Schedule
The schedule for the award activities was to have the foriegners check into the JinJiang Hotel (the first and oldest 5-star hotel in Sichuan Province) on Wed. at any time. We would be given a schedule for Thursday’s plans after that and meet up on Thursday morning for an outing. Our Chinese colleagues and representatives were not invited on any of these things, including hotel accommodations, and were merely to show up for the Thursday 5:00 ceremony to be audience participants.
From Luzhou, Catherine, from the foreign affairs office, and Ms. Deng, one of our three vice-presidents, would be coming but not until Thursday afternoon. As always, they were extremely busy and couldn’t spare extra days to "play around" like I could.
As it turned out, I ended up staying with LF in my cheap hotel and shuttling back and forth from the JinJiang, which was only 15 minutes’ away by taxi. I originally had asked Catherine to tell the Jinding committee organizers it was not necessary to book a hotel room for me for 2 nights, hoping that they could save some money ($125 a night), but they were keen to show their appreciation with a room so I let it go.
Our Outing to Sanxingdui
Thursday morning had us award winners all meeting in the lobby at 9 a.m. to visit Sanxingdui museum.
Sanxingdui is an ancient archeological site over 4,000 years old with very amazing finds that have been discovered nowhere else in China. Those who lived in this area so long ago were master craftsmen for their time period, creating masks, bronze statuettes, stone statues and jade ringlets using tools which no one has yet found. How they could create such smoothly and accurately carved objects is a mystery. Also a mystery is what some of the artifacts were to be for, such as giant stone masks with protruding eyes (perhaps a god?), flat stone and jade disks, and odd-looking pipe trees whose branches are tipped by hollow metal birds.
I’d heard about this museum but had never been. Although it’s only 1 hour outside of the city on the expressway, I never did manage to get myself in that direction all the years I’ve been in Sichuan. The fact that now it was completely arranged for me, and I’d be traveling along with the selected group of other award winners, had me quite excited. I was certainly up for meeting these other awardees, learning their names and their fields of expertise so I could further understand the difficulties Sichuan faces and how they’ve helped.
I must say, the time we spent together in the van ride over to the museum, at the museum, talking over lunch and the return to Chengdu didn’t disappoint. Our total 6 hours together ended up being the only time we truly had to get to know one another. After that, we were whisked about here and there by leaders, to the ceremony, to dinner and then taking off afterwards. Some were returning back to their countries that evening while others were visiting good friends or stopping by their Chinese partnership offices the next day to follow-up on their joint venture projects.
Meet Our Fascinating Award Group
It seems that of all the 11 awardees, only two of us (Gianluca from Italy and myself) actually were based in the province. The others came and went from China during the year, some spending a few days, a week, a month or two at a time. We had newbies to China, who’d only been working on China projects for 2 to three years, and veterans, who’d had continuous contact since 1982. I was somewhere in the middle, having first arrived here as a teacher in 1991.
The opportunity to tell you about all these wonderful individuals I spent the day with is just too good to pass up. There were only two I didn’t meet. One was Henry Clee from the US who was not able to come and Peter Tseng (Chinese-American) who flew in from Taiwan later on in the afternoon. But for the others, here goes . . . .
Ravi first began in China in 1986. He was originally from India but has been living in Mexico for 25 years. His field of expertise is in agriculture with wheat production and also crops that produce oil, such as rapeseed. China is the largest wheat producer in the world. Ravi spends time working with the Sichuan Agricultural Department for better wheat production for its people.
A similar role is played by Volker, a German biologist who likewise works in a similar fashion as Ravi. Volker was an interesting fellow as he has been to and from China for many years. His knowledge of Sichuan far surpassed any of us. Volker had been to the Woolong Panda Reserve 10 times and was full of panda facts. He was extremely interested in Sichuan’s traditional art world, such as Sichuan opera, mask changing (masks are changed by the actors at incredible speeds, almost like magic) and tea ceremonies. His love of cats was obvious as he gave us plenty of cat stories from home about his 2 feline companions, 16 and 17 years old.
Other “old” timers to China included Moris, a plastic surgeon from Israel. Moris has played a key role in reconstructive surgery for breast cancer patients in the province. These kinds of procedures are usually not thought of by women in China nor do doctors have the expertise to help them. Moris has carefully worked side-by-side with top Chengdu surgeons to help teach the latest possibilities for women who have had masectomies. What he is most famous for among officials, however, is his active and continuous help during the Sichuan earthquake. He’s been flying back and forth since May, consulting with doctors and performing surgeries on disfigured earthquake survivors. In fact, Moris was the one asked to give the award address on behalf of all of us as recipients.
Our two other medical professionals were Phil Craig (Britain) and Gary Morsch (USA).
Phil had the most fascinating stories as he works in parasite control. Weeks and months at a time, he and his team live in tents or small shelters among the Tibetan people in the far northern areas of Sichuan. Parasites passed from animals to humans are the most troublesome, and deadliest, problems faced by those living on the harsh plains. Poor hygiene due to lack of water for washing, cold (no heat so no one baths or washes much in the winter) and just cultural sanitation differences create an environment where worms and other nasty bugs invade the human system. Phil explained that dogs and cattle especially carry these. The worm eggs live in the feces and can withstand frigid temperatures plus survive for a long period of time. They are easily passed by touching contaminated animal fur, then touching the face where the eggs enter through the nostrils. Such worms are difficult to kill. Other nasty critters attach to the liver, where there is no cure other than operating. Due to poor hospital facilities in these remote areas (meaning you usually die on the operation table), and also a lack of money to pay for these expensive surgical procedures, most Tibetans don’t bother with treatment. In other words, they die painfully after a long (or short) period of time.
Phil and his team work with Tibetan farmers on how to control these parasites and what to do when you get them.
Dr. Gary Morsch might be a name some of you have heard of. He has written numerous books, including the New York Times best seller, The Power of Serving Others. He is likewise founder and president of Heart to Heart International, a well-recognized and respected relief organization. He has played an active role in Sichuan Province’s many areas of medicine, including sanitation. Of course, the Sichuan earthquake had him here on consistant visits (and he still is) coordinating relief efforts for those still suffering with the quake’s aftermath.
Heinz, from Switzerland, works on and designs generators. His newest ventures include those electrical plants heavily damaged or destroyed by the May earthquake. One interesting thing about Heinz is that he was actually familiar with my website. His wife had googled “Jinding Award” before he left for China a few days before and there I was.
“Oh!” he said when I first introduced myself. “You’re the young woman with the website!”
Naturally, we had to take a picture together right away to post on my blog for his wife. (Yes, the picture’s included in the album below.)
Dirk, from Holland, was the only one accompanied by his spouse. Like a few others, he had traveled specifically to China to receive the award but planned to visit friends in the province afterwards. Dirk’s area of expertise is in animal husbandry.
Lastly, Gianluca, from Italy, was the baby in the group. He’d only been in China for 2 years. He is a designer of tool machinery used on assembly lines for vehicles. As I mentioned before, Gianluca and I are the only ones actually living in country. He works in the small provincial town of Zigong, just an hour from Luzhou, which is famous for three things: a world-renowned dinosaur museum (fantastic!), salt (30% of the world’s salt comes from Zigong) and the Chinese paper lantern, which is said to have originated in Zigong. Although people such as myself really enjoy small-town living, Gianluca said life was a bit boring in his place. This is one reason why he has a private car, giving him freedom to drive to and from the capital city at any time or to other scenic areas. He had considered having his wife and child (9) here but it was just too difficult to arrange.
The Jinding Award Ceremony
The ceremony itself was a very dignified, lovely affair with our Vice-Governor, Wei Hong, presiding along with a number of other provincial leaders. As is customary, the leaders sat at a long table on the stage, overlooking the audience. We awardees were at front-row tables with audience members behind us. Those attending were local city and provincial government officials. In my case, I had representatives from my college unlike a few others who were pretty much on their own.
Speeches were given with translators, of course, and we marched up one by one to receive both a certificate and a very prestigious-looking lacquered wooden box which held the Jinding gold medal inside. It was a great honor to stroll across the stage when my name was called and shake the hand of our vice-governor.
I must say, however, that I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit as our award acceptance music filled the hall. "The Magnificent Seven" movie theme song is always a favorite to be played at award ceremonies in China. I have no idea why, nor do Chinese even know it’s a movie theme. I guess they think it’s a plucky, rousing melody that goes well with award ceremonies.
Anyway, there was a moment, as that infamous Western melody bounced along and I headed across stage, when I felt a horse trot coming on. It’s a good thing I controlled my enthusiastic feet as I’m sure such a strange gait would have been totally lost on the Chinese, not to mention gotten me some very strange stares and whispers.
A banquet afterwards whisked the awardees and officials to the 9th floor, overlooking the city, where we were given a bizarre fare of "blended" Asian-Western dishes. This was probably the only part of the day that was somewhat a bust. Not only did most of us pick through the odd concoctions before us but our Chinese hosts left their plates untouched as well. It was such a shame, too, because I’m sure this “special” meal was a pricey one. We would all have done far better if the chef had stuck with what he knows best to do: 100% Chinese cuisine.
Now back in Luzhou, Dog and I are settling into our usual routines. We’re now awaiting the arrival of 8 Fulbright scholars to our school who’ll be here for a week as my teaching assistants. (More on that later).
The Jinding Award day has passed and seems far away, but the thoughts of the wonderful people I met are very clearly pictured in my mind. After often meeting rude foreign tourists and “ugly” Americans who have little tolerance for China or the Chinese people, it was such a great privilege to be among those like myself who truly love “our” China. Our conversations centered not on cultural annoyances and personal complaints, but on our work here, our great respect for colleagues, our admiration for the government leaders, and our excitement and joy of being a part in helping others.
This was a very special group of people, all who truly deserved to be honored for their time and energy spent here in Sichuan with the Sichuan people. How very blessed I feel to have been included in their numbers.
From Luzhou, wishing you as always “Ping An!” for your day.