Returning to Luzhou: Losing Neighbors and Friends

Of course, I’m excited to return to China.  There will be new students to prepare for, old students to welcome back, Luzhou neighbors and shop keepers to say “hi” to, stories to share with those who are interested in listening and the first Sunday back to worship at the Luzhou Protestant Church.

I’m definitely ready to jump into our Fall semester with enthusiastic vim and vigor.

But there are also a few sad things which will greet me upon landing at the school.

Peace Corp Volunteers Angela and Geoff Return Stateside

Peace Corp volunteers Geoff and Angela are on their way to a life back in the States.

Peace Corp volunteers Geoff and Angela are on their way to a life back in the States.

Our school’s Peace Corp volunteers, Angela and Geoff, have finally completed their 2-year service and are now back in the States. Angela is currently in LA, visiting with family and looking for a job, while Geoff is in Washington, D.C. where he has received a 3-month unpaid internship working in the PC offices there. He’s hoping this will lead to a permanent position of some sort working in our country’s capital.

Of course, I wish them the best of luck. I’m happy to see the two excitedly move onward in their careers but it’s always a little sad for me to say goodbye to our PC folk.   First were Brian and Amy (13 years ago), then John and Ashley (now in Chicago as teachers, with a new baby girl to keep them very busy) and now Angela and Geoff. All 6 that I have known have been wonderful to work with. They are very understanding of the culture, able to fit into the community with ease, have enough independence to do things on their own and a joy to co-teach with.

Now will come new Peace Corp volunteers who will move into the former volunteers’ apartments to take their places as foreign language teachers on our campus.

As is my custom, I have American goodie bags ready for them as a welcome. These include granola bars, instant cocoa packets and American food mixes plus stickers and a few other small school supplies. Some are things we foreigners hold dear to our hearts since they either can’t be found in our areas or are too expensive to afford. I’m sure they’ll be grateful to receive them once invited over to my home for a get-to-know-you gathering.

So, yes, a little sad not to have familiar Americans around to catch up with about our summer holidays but I’m sure the new PC will fill that catch-up space just fine.

A Beloved Chinese Couple Moves

Along with Angela and Geoff’s departure came yet another before I left.

My downstairs neighbors, the eldery Mr. Wang (83) and his wife (64), are no longer living below me.

I reported in a previous blog that Mr. Wang (whom I fondly referred to as Mr. River for his nickname) had fallen.  It had been a stroke and he spent 2 weeks in the hospital before finally returning with his wife to take his place once again in our apartment building.

A week before I left for the States, piles of boxes, bedding and furniture were being loaded onto a truck from their home.  Daughter Chen (in her 40s, a teacher at our college) was helping the two pack up their belongings for a speedy departure.

In one day, they were gone.

This is my apartment building, where mostly single teachers or teachers and families live.  It's the oldest on campus, with leaking water pipes, broken toilets, mold dripping from ceilings and electrical wires dangling. (I'm on the 3rd floor.)

This is my apartment building, where mostly single teachers or teachers and families live. It’s the oldest on campus, with leaking water pipes, broken toilets, mold dripping from ceilings and electrical wires dangling. (I’m on the 3rd floor.)

Mr. and Mrs. Wang lived here, on the first floor.

Mr. and Mrs. Wang lived here, on the first floor.

I later talked to Ms. Chen about her parents. She and her husband had purchased an apartment near theirs in the city so that her mom and dad could be better cared for.  Mr. Wang’s failing health had been a huge concern for several years but the elderly couple had hesitated to move from the campus.

Their community of friends was at our school.  The senior citizens’ activity center was  the next building over where Mrs. Wang often played mahjong with others.  The outdoor vegetable and meat market was within easy walking distance from the school’s front gate.  And the two used to make daily jaunts around the campus, collecting recyclable materials (plastics, boxes, paper, glass jars, aluminum cans) which they sold to our recycle guy for a little extra spending money.  I once blogged about their fruitful ventures, which brought in $50 or more a month.  It kept the two of them busy, healthy and happy.

The last two years, however, have been hard on Mr. Wang whose deteriorating health made it more and more difficult for him to leave his home.  Two strokes, with him falling and spending long stints in the hospital, then having Mrs. take care of him during their return home, finally took its toll.

Their daughter convinced them it was time to move, so off they went.

The Wangs apartment after moving out. (Notice the mold on the walls.)

The Wangs apartment after moving out. (Notice the mold on the walls.)

This was their bedroom, dark and dank.

This was their bedroom, dark and dank.

Daughter Chen returned two days later to totally clean out the apartment. She made a final sweep before locking the door with the help of several students. Whatever was left behind, she said I could have so I took Mr. Wang’s favorite wicker chair which he sat in outside his home to enjoy the fresh air.

The Wang's daughter (center) with students came to finish cleaning everything out.

The Wang’s daughter (center) with students came to finish cleaning everything out.

It is a nice reminder of his presence and has become my guest chair for visitors.

“Don’t Leave Me!!”

My greatest concern after their departure revolved around Tomcat Kitty.

Tomcat Kitty had been the constant companion of the Wangs for many years. They were not animal lovers but the white kitty that adopted them became a steadfast come-and-go guest, even accompanying Mrs. Wang around campus when she went out to collect recyclable materials. He freely came and went through their bathroom window, which opened to the outside and was covered by a flimsy piece of cloth. He yowled for food, which he was always given in great abundance. He flopped on their beds and comfy furniture, which most Chinese frown upon. Tomcat Kitty, however, had purred his way into their hearts and they loved him dearly.

Imagine my surprise when Tomcat Kitty showed up outside their door, in the stairwell, curled up on one of the Wang’s discarded beddings. He meowed pitifully, looking hungry and miserable.   He’d entered the apartment through the window to find everything cleared out. Thus he returned to wait outside the locked door for his beloved humans to return.

Tomcat Kitty, waiting for his beloved parents to return.

Tomcat Kitty, waiting for his beloved parents to return.

I fed him some chicken, which he gobbled up immediately before curling back up to continue waiting.

“Why did you leave me?!”

I had taken the daughter’s phone number before she left and called her right away.

“This is the foreign teacher, Connie. Did you know your mom and dad’s cat is here?” I asked worriedly. “He’s very sad. Are you taking him to the new home?”

Daughter Chen was so relieved. “My parents miss him very much,” she replied, “but when we moved, he was gone. I will come right away.”

She was across town but within 30 minutes, her husband drove her over to take Tomcat to his new home.

Later in the day, I texted her to ask how Kitty was doing. She sent a reply that everyone was fine. Kitty was very grateful to be reunited with his people once again. Her parents had been quite lonely without him, even for a few days.   She reported he was already exploring the new neighborhood and finding his way around.

While I’m sad to return soon with no Geoff, Angela, Tomcat Kitty or the Wangs to greet me, I’m glad all are safe and sound, fitting into a new life nearer family and loved ones.

That’s what truly matters.

Still from the U.S., here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your day.

About connieinchina

I have been in the Asia region for 18 years as an English language teacher. 13 of those have been spent with the Amity Foundation, a Chinese NGO that works in all areas of development for the Chinese people. Amity teachers are placed at small colleges throughout China as instructors of English language majors in the education field. In other words, my students will one day be English teachers themselves in their small villages or towns once they graduate. Currently, this is my second year in Guangxi Province at the 3-year college, Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities. The college is located in smalltown longzhou, 1 hour from the Vietnam border.
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One Response to Returning to Luzhou: Losing Neighbors and Friends

  1. Kate Lindsay says:

    How exciting that you will have new PC colleagues joining you as you return to Luzhou. ‘Know how nice it is to have the contact with folks when immersed daily in Chinese life. I was felt your loss of the Wangs when you shared their empty apt with us……I remember when I went by Mr. Hong’s (90+ year old former English teacher at Fuyang Teachers College) after his death….his room had felt so full of life with him there and so empty later. Thank goodness Tomcat Kitty came home when he did and you were able to help him get back to the Wangs!!! Look forward to meeting your new students and colleagues in the future, Connie. From Texas Kate

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