My last report talked of Covid lockdowns in my area of China, including that freshmen (who were to begin the school year that first week in September) were asked to remain at home. There was hope that the National Day Holidays (Oct. 1-7) would release restrictions and allow most students to begin arriving on campuses.
Students at my college were invited to return during the week of the 8th and are now enjoying campus life as usual.
Fearful School Leaders
But at the nearby Medical College, online classes have continued in full swing for several weeks now. Perhaps leaders there are more wary of Covid spread than others. I read that a university president in Hohhot, capital city of the province Inner Mongolia, was sacked when 39 students came down with the virus. He was blamed for not taking proper precautions to keep the city and the campus population safe, even though Covid cases in the city itself reached a whopping 2,000, considered a dangerous number.
Hard to keep students from getting Covid when it’s spreading around a city of 3 million. No wonder the Medical College is fearful of bringing students back. Careers are in jeopardy so best to be safe.
I have also heard that Covid, which mostly had been targeted to specific areas, is now spreading everywhere. This is due to many who went traveling during their holidays, despite the government telling folks to stay home.
Due to such a rise in cases, daily testing of all citizens in some areas is a constant. In Luzhou, it is now once a week to receive your colored codes on your phone: Green (negative), Yellow (pending results), Red (infected). A Red code means to pack a suitcase, wait for quarantine bus to arrive, be ushered out by hazmat suited chaperones, pile on with other red-code passengers, be driven to an outlying warehouse lined with bunkbeds and wait there until you test negative 3 times in a row.
Here is an example of what the App looks like on on my former student’s phone (“Nancy”) who lives in Shenzhen.
Former student “Nancy”: Her Story
Nancy is one of my more prosperous students. She attended the adult language English training classes I led during my first years in China, 1991-93. The 1-year program was held at Nanchang Normal University as an Amity Foundation education division co-partnership with the provincial government. The program was to be for English teachers from the countryside or small-town areas who wanted to improve their language skills and teaching methodology. Many had had little education aside from junior or senior high school with a few having attended perhaps a 1 or 2 year college. Many had just been chosen to teach English at local schools because their English was better than their classmates or there was no one in the area who had any English skills at all. The 1980s was a time period where many had just come out of the Cultural Revolution where nothing had been taught except Chairman Mao’s doctrines. Party leader Deng Xiaoping forged ahead to re-educate an entire nation and bring China back into the world scene after it had been closed for so long. At this time, there were a lot of foreigners coming to China as English teachers.
This is also when the Amity Foundation’s 2-year English Teaching program began, the first set of Amity’s overseas teachers arriving in China in 1986. Christian sending agencies in Sweden, Norway, Finland, America, Britain, Canada, Japan (teaching Japanese) as well as others joined with Amity to send qualified teachers to normal schools (teachers’ colleges) throughout the country.
My 1991 – 94 stint in Nanchang, the capital city of Jiangxi Province, had me working with Canadians, Japanese, Americans, Fins and Norwegians. Enrollment for the program was limited to 30 Chinese English teachers coming to the campus to live and study for a fully year with us, the two foreign language Amity Foundation teachers.
“Nancy” was one of them, studying from 1992-93.
She actually wasn’t a teacher at all but her father, an important leader in local government, had managed to snatch her a spot to study with us for a year in the hopes it would improve her job perspectives in the future. Having good English language skills was a huge selling point for jobs in the business field.
She came to us in her 20s, very close in age to myself. We formed a tight bond in that year.
Nancy proved to be a hard-working student, taking advantage of every class we offered and all out-of-classroom activities. In that year, her skills grew from practically zero English to being able to converse at a basic level.
A Successful Rise through the Ranks of the Hotel Industry
When she left the program, she snagged herself employment working at the switchboard of an international hotel in Guangzhou, a city nearby Hong Kong. She used to make free phonically to my mom or me in America, the phone ringing from 2-3 a.m. in the morning. This time period (1994-96) was during my study in America for my MA degree at Southern Illinois University.
My mom, dad and I always knew not to panic when the phone rang in those wee hours of the morning. No tragedy had befallen the family. It was just the high-pitched, sweet voice which greeted us the same every time we lifted the receiver: “Hello! This is Nancy. . . . in China!”
Those first few months of her calls, our chats lasted for 5 minutes or so before her limited English ability failed her. But over the year, her proficiency greatly improved and she was able to hold a decent conversation. Her US boss realized her potential and sent her for managerial training for 3 months.
With that first stepping stone, Nancy worked her way up through the ranks of the hotel industry, serving in all positions offered with promotions continuing upward and onward.
She ended up having numerous placements within the Shangrila Hotel chain, which held a 5-star rating for China. Her first assignment was in the southern city of Shenzhen for several years, then she was moved to Shanghai and later to Guangzhou. While in Shanghai in 2011, I actually visited her where she could treat one guest to a free night. I enjoyed the spa, the sauna, wearing soft plush robes, swimming in the 25-meter indoor pool, stuffing myself at a $50 dinner buffet, followed the next morning by a $25 breakfast buffet and thoroughly indulging in a truly lovely room with a magnificent view of the city. The $120 US hotel room was certainly a treat for me, who usually stayed in the $9 mom-and-pop hostels. Those were often without hot water, the beds harder than rocks but at least they were clean.
As you can see below, the Shanghai Shangrila has an abundance of amenities. Hot water certainly was one of them!
The Single Life Until . . . .
I remember at the above meet-up in Shanghai, we had discussed our single lifestyle. Both of us were in our late 40s and quite happy to be single without children, just our pets. So imagine my surprise when a year later, Nancy found someone!
She married a very nice businessman who followed her to her next employment move, working for the internationally renowned Four Season’s Hotel in Guangzhou. She is still there to this day, overseeing the entire staff of the hotel. She and her husband have no children but they do have a border collie that they love immensely. All through Covid lockdowns, they were still able to walk the dog outside, Nancy told me.
The hotel suffered greatly during that first year of Covid and even into the second year. At times, only 20% of the hotel was filled with a stray Chinese business person or two, even perhaps a foreigner. The staff had very little to do and many were let go.
And Today? (An astonishing Conversation)
Needless to say, things have changed quite a bit from a year ago. Nancy and I have just had a very fascinating conversation which I will reveal in the next entry.
Ending in a cliffhanger to peak your interest!