The story of Australian Geoff and his Chinese wife (a Luzhou native), English teacher “Snow” Xue, is a long one. Let me give you as brief a history as I can muster. I might have missed a few important facts but I think I’ve gotten the best bits.
Geoff, An Australian on Walk-about Who Lands in China
Geoff is a history teacher out of Australia who left his country to teach in Africa for a number of years. A divorcee, he adopted a young African girl as his daughter. She later was schooled in Australia, graduated from University and now has a wonderful job working in a public relations company in Australia.
Geoff’s strong ties to Africa ended when he decided to try teaching in China. He landed in Luzhou, my city, where he taught English at several schools and at different grade levels: college, junior high and high school. One of those schools employed English teacher Ms. Xue, whose English name was Snow. She was also divorced with a teenage daughter at that time who was being raised by Snow’s mother-in-law.
Snow was a vibrant, energetic, warm-hearted woman in her 40s whose personality drew everyone into her presence. Even the grumpiest, nastiest of people melted under her charms. She was always a bright spot in the day of whoever met her, an endearing soul whom we all admired, loved, respected and adored.
Wherever she went, she gathered people around her of all ages. She organized school outings, parties for the foreigners in Luzhou, and gatherings in her apartment for any and all who wanted to visit. She was constantly on-the-go, even teaching for free (or with a small fee) night English classes or special weekend English classes to children, their parents and even the very wealthy (and not-so-wealthy) of Luzhou. (See my blog entry “The Ladies who Lunch”, June 30, 2016)
Her enthusiastic helpfulness and friendliness were fully extended to Geoff, a newcomer to China, who was having difficulty adjusting to a country which was very unlike Africa. The language, the culture, the customs, the mind-thought of the Chinese, the bureaucracy of the system — all of these were taking a toll on Geoff’s sanity until Snow stepped in to advise, aid, guide and gently introduce him to her beloved China.
Their Time in Africa as English Teachers
Over the next few years, a special relationship developed between the two: that of romance. Then, surprise! The two were married. After the marriage, Snow applied for a 2-year leave of absence from her school to travel with Geoff to Africa where they enrolled in the Australian version of the Peace Corps. They both taught English in Uganda.
After their 2-year commitment ended, they returned to China with Geoff coming and going throughout the next few years (Australia, China, Africa) while Snow continued to teach English at her junior high school. The plan was for Snow to reach the age of 55 (retirement age in China for women) so she could then receive her pension. After that, she and Geoff planned to travel the world, perhaps even settling down in Uganda for a few years.
The Devastating Stroke
3 years ago, when Snow was 51 years old, the Chinese New Year holidays arrived. Geoff and Snow decided to spend their vacation time in Uganda to re-connect with old friends and students they had taught those many years ago as volunteers. The trip was about 5 weeks and included many countryside outings, hiking and once again being reunited with the people they had come to love.
A few days before they were to return to China, they landed in Kampala, where they were to fly out of, to rest up a bit before the long trip back to Luzhou. It was there, in the hostel, that Snow had a massive stroke while in the room where they were staying. Geoff just happened to walk in the door as she suddenly stumbled out of the bathroom, saying, “Geoff, I think I’m having a heart attack.” After that, she fell into his arms.
It was pure luck that Geoff was able to immediately rush her by taxi to the Kampala hospital, a few blocks away, where the best neurosurgeon in the country happened to be visiting. She was in a coma for 10 days. No one knew if she would wake up or not. No one knew what brain damage had been done: Would she be able to talk, to move, to know what was going on around her, to function at all, or have any true quality of life? It was a very difficult, emotionally draining time for Geoff as he visited the hospital, day after day, remaining by her side and praying, hoping for the best.
Those of us who were their friends received daily updates via emails from Geoff about her progress. These updates began from her stay in Africa to her eventual move to an Australian nursing home for over a year and now, her return to Luzhou.
Her recovery was, needless to say, incredible, verging on miraculous, although she still has limitations. She is confined to a wheelchair most of the time but has managed to walk a bit with unaided help. Through all these difficulties and challenges, Geoff has been by her side, reporting on a regular basis about his life with Snow.
Luzhou on Lockdown: Geoff’s Musings and Stories
I am in touch with many in Luzhou but those are Chinese, who have limited vocabulary to fully express what is happening and whose opinions are not fully voiced.
Geoff, on the other hand, has a lot of insight and gives a very different update that I receive from Chinese nationals. His weekly updates can be found at: snows.site123.me
Here are a few excerpts:
February 16: Geoff Reports
By mid-week it was apparent that bio-security measures were becoming even more rigorous with recreational areas being cordoned off to further discourage people from going out – the whole riverside promenade on which I normally run 2 or 3 mornings a week is now a no go; no swimming, kite flying, jogging, strolling, etc. See the photo of the deserted area – we were passing by as it was being roped off. Also, the extensive park near the downtown area now completely closed as well small alleyways blocked off.
For the first time on Thursday I saw workers dressed in full white bio-security suites with goggles walking the streets as well as the first evidence of army medics being deployed, with a PLA medical vehicle stationed outside a hospital.
Yesterday saw the roll out of the harshest Wuhan-like restrictions across the city by the municipal authorities – each household must register with the housing complex manager to get pass outs which allow only 1 person from the household to leave the complex for 2 hours every 2nd day to buy food. (However, we were told that we would be allowed to go together because we are a special case.)
Exits will be recorded – the complex managers being responsible for the system’s administration. People will have their passes checked at the entry to supermarkets before being allowed in.
February 21st, Friday: Geoff Reports
The 3 year mark (since Snow’s stroke) passed a little after midnight this morning here. For some reason I stayed up last night until 12, which is very unusual for me, so I was just drifting off to sleep with Snow when the time slipped by. To sustain the level of care required, I’ve had to adopt a strict daily regimen of sleeping 11 to 7, getting Snow up at 7.30, giving her breakfast and toileting her before I get myself out to exercise by 9 every other day to maintain my fitness. This week, because of the restrictions on going out, I’ve been doing circuits of the stairwell – 17 floors x 4 times (run up; lift down) followed by jogging around the courtyard (100m) 10 times, about the best I can do in considering the circumstances.
However, things did start to relax mid-week. Apparently an instruction had been issued from Beijing on Thursday a week ago after a meeting of senior leaders to call for all areas to adopt measures similar to Wuhan. This led to the frantic activity on Friday to implement such stringent procedures which took effect on Saturday. But it would seem that some municipalities, including Luzhou, were over–zealous in their interpretation of the edict and it was wound back after a few days – apparently local governments were notified during the week from Beijing that they could now take steps appropriate to their situation and as there had been no new cases in Luzhou in the 6 days up to Wednesday the draconian measures were lifted. We can now go out whenever we want but are still encouraged to do so only when necessary – however people from other housing complexes are still barred from entering and temperature screening is continuing at entrances to all housing complexes, as well as at the entry to shops.
By yesterday some of the temporary barriers that had been erected to funnel people passed screening posts were being removed and a sprinkling of businesses beginning to re-open.
– a few mobile phone stores, a copy shop, a couple of clothing shops, a small hardware store, some hairdressing salons and a motor repair garage, an essential service to maintain considering the spluttering bus that passed by us the other day. Nevertheless, business must be very slow as there are still relatively few people out and about but I expect that things may pick up tomorrow as the prefecture government has given the green light for most businesses to re-open, the exception being anything to do with entertainment – restaurants, bars, KTV, tea houses and the like – any place where people might congregate in groups. For that reason, schools and colleges will remain closed for longer. Photos – Snow outside our local mini-market with a motor workshop open next door; a women’s clothing store readying their display; a hardware shop with a disinfectant sprayer about to mount his motor bike.
Taking a walk along the river yesterday afternoon it was pretty much back to normal, with the winter swimmers again bracing the icy conditions and the kite flyers back at it as well as numerous people out for a stroll.
A Return to Normalcy on the Verge?
I would say that last report from Geoff seems to indicate that Luzhou is starting to open up a bit more. That is some relief. I hope as the weeks progress, more news of a return to normalcy will emerge.
Here I leave you with a couple of pictures of Geoff, Snow and myself after their return to Luzhou.