平安 (ping ahn), Peace!
I begin this first entry for 2020 with, of all things, excuses.
The silence to this blog space has mainly been due to a very hectic semester: more teaching hours than ever before, the usual activities during the school year to organize and carry out (English Center hours, Halloween Activity Night and Mooncake Festival English Day), 3 animal rescues (2 tiny kittens and a 6-week-old puppy found their way into my care), my regular swimming schedule at the indoor pool across town, Christmas decorating and Christmas parties in my home and the many joyful hours put into the church as a choir member. We have weekly practices that last 3 hours (2 times a week) and then Sunday worship, but rehearsals for Christmas celebrations had us often at the church until 11 p.m. on several weekdays to prepare for the 24th. Since Chinese don’t have holidays at Christmastime, this meant continuing with my teaching schedule as usual. We had a wonderful Christmas Eve program but I will say, after it was finished, I was glad not to attend rehearsals anymore. (Can you find me in the below choir picture? Hint: I’m in the first row!)
A Demanding Teaching Schedule
This year also saw me teaching more students, all the freshmen (214 for Oral English) and the added seniors (140 for my Activities in the Classroom course). I mentioned grading final exams, which took up virtually 2 weeks of my time to finish all my exam requirements I gave my seniors. It was a thorough exam, demanding a lot of work from these future English language teachers, and certainly proved all they had learned, BUT it took me hours and hours to grade. It took me 9 days straight, with not many breaks, to eventually finish them all. I often didn’t make it to bed until 1- 2 a.m. working on my seniors’ tests, then was up at 6 a.m. to make it in time for my 8 a.m. classes with the freshmen who were not yet finished with their school year. Exhausting, to say the least.
New Peace Corp Volunteer Arrives
An added element to the above was a new Peace Corp (PC) volunteer at our school, Lindsey from South Carolina, who joined our teaching staff for her 2-year PC commitment. Showing Lindsey and in’s and out’s of China, as well as helping her navigate the many teaching requirements of the school, was exciting and fun. Probably too much fun as we often spent our precious spare time not doing lesson planning, but chit-chatting while sharing student stories, our personal teacher laments and all about our families and experiences in student teaching.(Yes, I could actually remember back that far!)
Due to all of the above, my website remained inactive for the entire Fall Semester. However, let’s see if I can change that a bit now, especially as I’m sure many are wondering my plight at the moment due to the current situation in China regarding the coronovirus.
My Holiday: Not in China
My Chinese New Year vacation began January 5, with January 25th marking the Year of the Rat. Several reasons had me leaving China to return to the States, but the biggest one was my mother. She is downsizing and has bought a smaller house, a few blocks from the 1917 2-story, wrap-around 4-square which has been my childhood home for 50 years. It has also been my storage unit for half a century as well, since all my stuff has been scattered around in different boxes (including the attic) all this time. Scrapbooks, clothes, journals, my antique collection, diaries, nick-knacks, photographs, childhood games …. You name it, it’s all here. And it all must go, or be packed up and moved somewhere else.
A Lot to be Done
There is still so much to be done on this new house, however, that my mom won’t be moving in anytime soon. (See below pictures). She estimates the summer at some point and while I plan to be in the States at that time, I’d rather concentrate on my stuff now and her things later than vice-versa. Plus help my mom choose flooring, colors and advice about what furniture to move in, what furniture to get rid of and what furniture she’d like to buy. To be honest, she’s done so much research on everything that mostly, I just nodded my head in perfect agreement. She is a master decorating! I think she missed her calling.
It was this reason that had me able to enjoy my first birthday as a senior citizen (I just turned 55) in America on January 12. I left China on January 9, which (as you know) was about 10 days shy of the coronovirus surge, reports of which have been sweeping internationally.
What’s the News from China?
While I am not in China at the moment, I am in constant contact with my friends (both Chinese and foreigners) via WeChat, which is the equivalent of Facebook here in the States. Let me give you a run-down of what has been shared with me.
Although Luzhou (loo-joe, my city of 5 million in Sichuan Province) is nowhere near the epicenter Wuhan, in Hebei Province, precautions across the city have taken effect. All public gatherings for Chinese New Year celebrations have been canceled. Parks and shopping malls which should be bustling with people enjoying their holidays were asked to close. Church services at the Luzhou Protestant Church did not take place today and the choir members have informed me that practices have also been suspended. All families are asked to remain at home as much as possible and not to travel outside of Luzhou.
There is 1 confirmed case of the coronovirus in Luzhou, meaning that most likely, there will be more since I am positive that person came in contact with others.
As for other first-hand news, I have heard from Lindsey (traveling at the moment) that the Peace Corp head office in Chengdu has advised all the volunteers to familiarize themselves with their evacuation protocol. She is returning to Luzhou because the places she had intended to visit with her PC colleagues are shutting down. They had planned a 3-day hike in one of the tourist areas near Kunming but their hostel and the area is now closed to all tourists. Museums, markets and parks are also closed in Kunming, meaning they have nothing to do except roam fairly empty streets.
Tourist agencies across China have canceled all tours to contain the virus. Lindsey reported that she and her friends were struggling to get re-imbursed for their housing arrangements. Also, changing tickets to return to Luzhou has been difficult. Prices are rising and seats are filled on buses, planes and trains as people try desperately to get home and stay put.
I will update you all next time I hear from her.
At present, I am concerned with returning to China as planned on Feb. 11. Delta Airlines and others have offered waivers for those wishing to change their tickets to and from China but those waivers were only for tickets with flights between certain dates and mine wasn’t one of them.
I also am uncertain if our school year will, indeed, begin on Feb. 17 as planned or be changed to later. Already, I have heard Hong Kong schools have delayed their start-up dates after the Chinese New Year. China’s government workers have also been given extra days, going to Feb. 3, before returning to the office.
Everything will depend on the next few weeks and how much the virus continues to spread.
In the meantime, I will just plug away as I tackle and sift through years worth of things (and memories). It’s a daunting task. My 10 empty bins are filling fast with what I just can’t part with while the Goodwill pile seems to be a lot smaller than I’d like.
Ah, the challenges of downsizing! Wish me luck, folks. I need it.