The move to my new college campus, at the outskirts of Luzhou (loo-joe) city in Sichuan Province, China, brought with it a lot of changes. New area of the city, new school buildings, excellent classroom equipment and a modern 11-story faculty housing complex with 66 apartment units.
The latter has me finally settling into my 9th floor apartment overlooking a river, terraced farmland and a distant railway line that carries cargo during the midnight hours. It’s not the Yangtze River, which was my balcony view before, but it proves to be just as pleasant.
The new apartment has a much bigger space than my previous tiny one, thus I’ve been having open house student visits which have become quite the campus buzz.
Each class, anywhere from 40 to 50 students, has been divided into two groups to visit my home. My college freshmen, sophomores and seniors have been alighting during the past few weeks to play table-top games, take countless cell phone photo snapshots and write housewarming wishes to me which are then taped to my balcony’s sliding doors.
It was right before one of these open houses that my absentee ballot arrived, sent straight from our Clark County Courthouse by our very own County Clerk and Recorder, Carrie Downey.
I had tucked away the ballot envelope on a shelf, where I’d later open to vote, when one of my visiting open house students, Ajay (Mize Ke), announced, “Your election is coming very soon.”
“Yes,” I replied. “On November 8.”
“So will you go back to America to vote?” Ajay asked me in all seriousness.
I had to laugh at that one.
How could any American overseas teacher even consider buying a $2,000 airplane ticket to trek back to America, vote, and then return to teach classes within a 24-hour period?
That’s a mighty dedicated voter!
Such a ludicrous question is understandable, however. My Chinese students are quite provincial. They think all Americans are rich. Many have never been on an airplane before, much less know that my traveling time from Luzhou all the way to Marshall and back again would take much longer than 24 hours. Plus U.S. voting procedures are unknown to them so the question, while seemingly silly, isn’t all that odd.
“Well, actually,” I replied, “I can vote via the Internet or even by mail. I’ve chosen mail. Do you want to see how we Americans do that if we live overseas?”
“Yes! I want to know!” Ajay piped up excitedly.
“Just a minute and I’ll show you.”
I retrieved my unopened ballot envelope and returned to an anxious Ajay.
Those within earshot of our conversation began gathering around as Ajay did the honors of carefully opening the outer envelope.
“Your first U.S. Presidential election, Ajay,” I joked.
Didn’t take long for his classmates to join in on the fun.
“Yes, Ajay. Who will you vote for?” his roommate, Nick (Zhu Hongzhi), teased. “Must be Trump. He’s a rich man. He will help you get a lot of money.”
The other male students nodded in agreement.
“No, not that man,” Jessica (Yan Yingqiu) retorted. “Vote for a woman. The woman president is best. She will lead strongly, I think.”
My female students murmured approval, backing up Jessica’s comments for Hilary Clinton.
As Ajay finished opening the envelope, we pulled out the contents: ballot, ballot information sheet and the self-addressed, return mailing also enclosed inside.
I explained each piece of paper, including the fact that on the ballot, there were other people to choose from besides just the President.
“After the national leaders, here are the candidates for my state and local offices. In fact, my brother is running for a local office, County Board.”
“Really?” Ajay asked, searching the ballot. “Where’s his name?”
“He’s for another area, another county, so I can’t vote for him,” I said sadly. “But I would if I could.”
“In China, only Communist Party Members can choose government leaders,” Nick commented . “I’m not a Party member. It’s too much trouble.”
I’d already known that.
I used to think everyone was a Communist Party Member in China but that’s not the case. To join the Party, adults 18 or older must first have a sponsoring member to vouch for them, attend orientation meetings which introduce them to the duties and obligations of a Party member, take Party Membership classes and finally pass an exam. After that, Party Members attend monthly meetings in their areas, pay monthly dues (around $30 US) and are allowed to vote for government office candidates vetted from among their ranks. They can also run for government offices themselves with Party approval or group consensus from their different regions.
There is definitely a voting procedure that takes place in China but for most offices, it is among Party members only, not the grand masses. And many city, provincial and national government offices are appointments only by the higher ups in the Party, much like our US President who has the ability to appoint individuals to certain positions without Congressional approval.
Being a Party member can be quite a boost to one’s personal career, especially in the business world and if applying for civil servant positions. Among educators, it’s somewhat a necessity to join the Party in order to move up the ladder in any school system, whether elementary, secondary or tertiary . Party membership allows a classroom teacher to ambitiously move upward to become a professor (no PhD required for this title), a principal, a dean or other administrative positions.
Most of my students, who will be teaching English at the elementary or junior high school level, don’t bother with Party membership. They are quite satisfied with being a simple school teacher without the pressures of a higher position. But we do have Party enrollment meetings that take place on our campus every semester. Those interested join in and finish their initiation process within a year.
“ So who will you vote for?” one of my students asked, looking at the empty ballot boxes not yet filled in.
“That’s a secret,” I hedged . “Some people don’t like to share their opinion while others like to tell everyone. Depends on the person.”
“How about Little Sister?” Jessica asked with a grin, looking down at her feet where my Chihuahua sat wagging her tail. “Who will she vote for?”
“Good question,” I replied. “So, Sister, who will you vote for? Trump or Hillary?”
All eyes were on my dog.
Sister gazed upwardly at our expectant faces. Her nose twitched. Her mouth opened. Was this canine actually about to speak?!
It truly seemed so, until she scooped up a piece of candy from off the floor and scurried away.
We all burst into laughter.
“Looks like her vote is a secret, too,”Jessica sighed.
Yes, Jessica, I guess so!
Here’s a reminder to all that every vote counts, no matter who you’re voting for or from where. My vote from China is already in my local ballot box in Marshall, Illinois. Be sure to add yours for your own city or town elections. Happy voting, everyone!