An Update from Chicago

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Just thought I’d give a brief update from the Windy City, which has had wonderful weather after an icy Marshall, Illinois, start 5 days ago.

Smooth sailing from there on for me and my mom.

We’ve taken in a few half-price ticket shows and gone on some free or low-price tours.  One of those was at the Chicago Theater, a premier movie theater for silent movies when it opened in 1921, seating 5,000.

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Our tour guide, Harold, was a recently-graduated theater major who was aspiring to become an actor.  He was a wealth of information and the 4 of us on the tour for that day were very fortunate to have him.

 

Especially interesting was to see backstage where the signatures of many famous performers were written up and down the walls.  This tradition began with Frank Sinatra who signed his name when he gave the first performance in the newly renovated theater in 1986.

 

 

Meeting Up with Old Friends

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Today at noon, we had our yearly meet-up with Barb Ziemba.

Barb ( a Chicagoan) used to work as the secretary at the infamous Chicago Temple, the largest UMC in the world.  In 1992, I walked into the Chicago Temple while my parents and I were visiting Chicago.  I attended a UMW meeting and afterwards, visited the pastor’s office.  Although Rev. Eugene Winkler was out, a friendly Barb greeted me.  I left my newsletter, putting the church on my newsletter list and later, added Barb herself.

Over the years, we have kept in touch with Barb enthusiastically collecting loads of things for me which she mailed to my home in Marshall.  Every time I visit my mom, there is Barb’s stash of pencils, notepads, calendars, bookmarks, and cultural materials waiting for me.  She is such a joy to be with, and one of the many women I feel so lucky to have met through our United Methodist Church connection those many years ago.

Finishing Off our Chicago Week

Tomorrow is our last full day in Chicago before leaving on Saturday.  We are planning to visit the Lincoln Park Zoo, a first for us, where many inside exhibits will keep out the cold.

Tomorrow is also the first day of Spring Festival (Chinese New Year),the Year of the Dog.

At our hotel, there is one member in the housekeeping staff who is Chinese. Her English name is Sally.  I tracked her down and made sure her day was a good one with a Chinese hong bag (red envelope) filled with a monetary gift thanking her for servicing our hotel room.

For Valentine’s Day, my mom and I surprised each other with small Valentine gifts, but we also surprised the hotel staff (anyone we saw) with Hershey kisses and Lindt chocolates.

 

 

Everyone deserves a little “thank you” on Valentine’s Day, and chocolate is a great way to do it.

From Chicago, here’s sending you Ping An (Peace) for your day and an auspicious first day in the Year of the Dog

 

 

Posted in A Grand Chinese New Year Vacation, A Visit Home to America, China, From Along the Yangtze, Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown Stories, Smalltown American Life | 3 Comments

Mom and Daughter Trip: Heading Off to Chicago. The weather? Yikes!

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It’s soon to be the Year of the Dog, beginning February 15 (Thursday).  My mom and I are taking a trip to Chicago for a fun mother-and-daughter week, our initial journey beginning today, so I will just post this note here in case I am too busy to write later from the hotel.

The Weather is Not Cooperating!!

Icy roads today have us a tad concerned about getting to Mattoon this afternoon (we spend the night) for our train travel tomorrow on the Saluki line to Chicago.  We were both up early, early to drop off the dog at the kennels (local vet’s office) before heading to church.  We are in the choir and our director, Paula Ross, wanted everyone there to practice with the children as we were doing a joint number with the kids:  This Little Light of Mine.

She was quite adamant at Wednesday night’s practice about our 8:15 rehearsal time before church at 9 a.m. Being good- girl choir members, we wanted to oblige.

The Dog Drop-off:  A Careful Affair

I had cleared with the vet already concerning the dog. I was to take our Chinese rescue Chihuahua, Little Lao-lao (Old-old), over at 8 a.m. where Sara (a high school girl hired by the clinic) would let me in for drop-off.  She was in charge of kennel duty during the weekend.

However, upon getting up, we saw the roads were quite icy with no hint of warming up.  My mom pulled out her heavy-duty, plastic shoe slip-ons with cleats.  I was the one to tromp around outside onto the back deck, filling up the bird feeders and later making my way to the car to warm it up for defrosting.

Our side street was pure ice but Route 1, which runs in front of us, was slowly clearing off as more and more traffic appeared, albeit a car every 30 minutes at best.

Eventually, it was time to load up  all of Lao-lao’s supplies (1-page instructions on care, food, bedding, pre-cooked frozen chicken tenderloins, supplement food, mouth pet wipes, mouth spray) and the pooch himself. Since Lao-lao is a “special needs” dog, having had a broken jaw and most of his teeth gone, he is a bit more challenging to care for than just a regular canine.  Thus the long instruction sheet and supplies.

IMG_5715 I re-cleated myself and drove over to the clinic, only to find Sara hadn’t arrived yet.

The vet’s parking lot was a sheet of ice so I waited on the gravel entryway before our gal arrived.  This ended up being Christina instead, who works the front desk.  Seems Sara’s dad didn’t want her to drive in the ice as she’d just gotten her driver’s license.  That is understandable but Christina was pregnant and not too happy about dealing with a slippery parking lot to take care of the kenneled critters inside.

I pulled up alongside her, opened my door and told her my plan:  I’d slide her  my mom’s cleated shoe boots so she could at least make it to the building’s door to unlock it.  She’d then slide them back to me so I could carry Lao-lao to the side entrance and back again for his supplies.

During this carefully maneuvering by us humans, the dog decided he wasn’t happy in the car and before I could stop him, he jumped out!  He didn’t get very far as he slipped and slid, finally realizing his escape wasn’t doing him any good, so he just sat, looking pathetic and waiting for me to pick him up.

My mistake was trying to scramble out of the door to catch him before he took off, which he wasn’t able to do, anyway, due to all the ice.  Without the cleats, which Christina still had on, I had a touch-and-go moment where I thought I’d end up like the dog:  flat on my behind, unable to move.

Luckily, I managed to balance well enough to scoop him up but I will say I came mighty darn close to landing on my bum alongside him.

Eventually, Christina and I were safely inside the building with Lao-lao finally settled into his cage.  I carefully clogged and cleated my way back to the car, drove VERY slowly along our slick streets, clomped  into the house at 8:40, and proudly proclaimed, “Hey, mom, I’m back!  We can head off to church!  I’m ready to go.”

That’s when my mom shouted down to me from upstairs.

“Paula called!” she announced.  “Church is canceled.  Too much ice.”

Heading Off at 1 p.m.

The drive to Mattoon should be fine as long as we stay on the main roads and not take our usual fast route through the countryside.  That scenic journey is iffy, winding curves popping up right and left, dips and rises . . .  just too nerve-racking for me!

I’m sure we will make it just fine to the overnight in Mattoon and the morning departure to the train station.

So for now, wishing you Ping An (Peace) and safe travels to all, including those heading home for Chinese New Year holidays across China.

Happy Year of the Dog, Everyone!

 

 

 

 

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A Spring Festival Interview for Luzhou

A few months ago, my school was contacted by the Luzhou media, wanting a foreigner to interview for Chinese Spring Festival (Chinese New Year).  This was to be a special edition of a broadcast on February 15, Spring Festival Eve.  My name came up as I’d been the foreigner who’d stayed the longest in Luzhou, having arrived in 2002 and been a resident in the area (off and on) for more than 12 years.

I was happy to comply and waited for the reporter to contact me.

Nothing happened and I soon forgot about it, until last week when my school texted me while I was in Xiamen at the Amity Winter Conference.

“The reporter has asked about interviewing you, but I told him you were not in Luzhou,” my foreign affairs director, “Catherine” Ying, texted.  “He said he can do the interview in writing.  If you agree, I will give him your email address.”

By this time, I was ready to head back to America for the  holidays, meaning I wouldn’t be returning to Luzhou until March.  I OKed the written interview and received a few days ago the questions he wanted me to answer, in a hurry because he was on a tight deadline.  He added he wanted several high definition photos to place with the article that gave a “Luzhou flavor”.

Eager to please, I spent nearly a day carefully crafting my answers, which were meant to shed Luzhou and Luzhou people in a positive light (easy to do as I really love this city), and choosing choice photos that centered on Luzhou with familiar background settings.

Off that went, with huge relief and satisfaction on my part to have done it so quickly.

And I was kind.  I didn’t say a word about the fact that this should have been done a lot sooner and he’d had more than 2 months to get it done.  Obviously, I’m not the only one who procrastinates!

The Reply:  Hmmm.

Last last night,  I saw in my in-box a note from Reporter Wang.

“Oh, good!” I thought.  “He received my email and is probably thanking me profusely for helping him out so quickly.”

Well, sort of …..

Wang wrote:  “Thank you, I am very happy to receive your reply in such a short time. I have received your photos.  But unfortunately, there is no suitable as a cover.  Cover requirements are high definition, single person, for example, SLR camera art photos.   Wang Yao.”

And his final email, after I told him I had no high-definition camera to do such a thing, was:  “OK, thank you. I’ll take the time for the next interview and try to do the best. After you return to Luzhou, we can chat with your tea on the edge of the Yangtze River and wait for you to come back.”

Not wanting my interview to go to waste, I’ll post it here.  I simplified my English for computer translation purposes, which I did via Google’s translation site.  From the read-through I’ve done, it looks fairly good although I’m no grammar expert in Chinese.  I’ve included it after the English for my Chinese readers.

From frigid Illinois, here’s wishing you all Peace (Ping An) for your day!

My  Discarded Luzhou Interview Offering (English and Chinese)

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I am an Amity Foundation (爱德基金会) English Language teacher.  I have been teaching English with Amity for 17 years in small colleges across China.

 

Amity first sent me to Luzhou Vocational and Technical College (泸州职业技术学院) in 2002.  I had just finished teaching in Hohhot (呼和浩特), which at that time was a very dusty, dirty, gray city.  I remember thinking, “Sichuan is so green!  And Luzhou has so many pretty parks with leafy trees along the streets.  What a great place for me!”

I was also excited to see the Yangtze River.  When I was a little girl, I read a book about China’s famous Yangtze River.   I really wanted to see it.  My childhood dream came true.  Now, I see it every day.

Luzhou is my Chinese home.  It is the people who leave a deep impression on my heart and make me feel a part of your Luzhou city family.

Luzhou Vocational and Technical College leaders, teachers, students and campus workers always treat me with great warmth and kindness.

Luzhou local people are always friendly to me.  They help me practice my Chinese every day by asking me questions and telling me their personal stories.  They are the best Chinese language teachers I have ever had.

When I first came to China in 1992, I remember my father was very concerned about my safety and health.

Now, China has so many modernized changes, especially in Luzhou.  There is no need for my dad or family to worry about me.

Luzhou has excellent hospitals, beautiful new parks, shopping malls and many clean, updated sports’ facilities.  In fact, I go swimming every day in the Feili Impulse Fitness Center.

Luzhou has an active Protestant church, too.  I am a Christian.  I can go to church in Luzhou, just like I go to church in America.

Spring Festival is so exciting in China.  I love the beautiful decorations.  The atmosphere is always happy.  Everyone is smiling to one another.  It reminds me of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  All the Chinese people were unified, cheering for their country and their people, and so welcoming to others.  Spring Festival is like that in China, I feel.


I wish everyone in Luzhou a very safe, happy, restful Spring Festival holiday.  Thank you for making me feel so welcome in your city.  Thank you for making me a part of your Chinese family.  You will remain in my heart forever.

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我是爱德基金会(Amity Foundation)英语语言教师。我和Amity一起在中国的小学院学习了17年英语。

2002年,爱德基金会一次把我送到泸州职业技术学院。刚刚在呼和浩特完成教学,当时是一个尘土飞扬,肮脏灰色的城市。我记得想,“四川是如此的绿色!泸州有这么多漂亮的公园,街上有茂盛的树木。对我来说真是个好地方!“

我也很高兴看到长江。当我还是一个小女孩的时候,我读了一本关于中国着名的长江的书。我真的很想看到它。我童年的梦想成真了。现在,我每天都在看。

泸州是我的中国人的家。是我心中留下深刻印象的人们,让我感受到你的泸州城市家庭的一部分。

泸州职业技术学院的领导,老师,学生和校园的工作人员总是热情善待我。

泸州老百姓对我总是很友善。他们每天帮我练习中文,问我一些问题,告诉我自己的故事。他们是我所有过的最好的中文教师。

1992年刚来中国时,我记得我父亲非常关心我的安全和健康。

现在中国有这么多现代化的变化,特别是在泸州。我父亲或家人没有必要担心我。

泸州拥有优秀的医院,美丽的新公园,商场和许多干净,更新的运动设施。事实上,我每天都在飞力冲动健身中心游泳。

泸州也有一个活跃的新教教会。我是一位基督教徒。我可以去泸州的教堂,就像我去美国的教堂一样。

春节在中国如此激动人心。我喜欢美丽的装饰品。气氛总是很开心。每个人都在互相微笑。这让我想起了2008年的北京奥运。全体中华民族统一,为国家和人民欢呼,欢迎他人。春节就像在中国,我觉得。

祝愿泸州老百姓过一个安全,快乐,安宁的春节假期。谢谢你让我在你的城市感到如此受欢迎。谢谢你让我成为你的中国家庭的一部分。你将永远留在我的心中。

 

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School Year Ends; Holiday Begins!

Finally!

A spare moment to give you an update from China.

My Christmas ended on a high note, as always, with gift photos handed out to all the students, faculty and friends as well as Christmas pencils which so many of you donated and sent my way.  We actually ended after Christmas but no one seemed to mind an after-Christmas holiday gift.

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See below the my photo choices which were given to all who received their laminated copies.  Christmas greetings in English and Chinese were printed on every one.  Can you guess which one was the favorite?

Saying Farewell to the Seniors

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That last week of school was spent finishing up testing, grading and (always a bit sad) saying goodbye to my seniors.

Although our vocational school is a 3-year college, all education majors (no matter what subject) finish their time on campus at the 2 1/2 year mark.  Their last semester, they do not attend formal classes.  Instead, they finish up, on their own time,  graduation  research papers on education as well as complete self-study projects.  In June, they then return to school to finish up all coursework, hand in research papers and complete graduation paper requirements in order to get their certificates of college completion.

During the spring semester, after spending holidays with their families for Chinese New Year, many either stay in their hometowns  or return to Luzhou where they interview for jobs, do part-time teaching or volunteer at local schools to gain more teaching experience.

My senior English Education Majors (140), which I have taught since they were freshmen, departed 2 weeks ago after our departmental picture on January 8.  All 3 classes gathered together on that day with our school leaders and English language staff, including me, their foreign teacher.

We were so fortunate to have a sunny day, which allowed us to take many fun pictures together to commemorate their graduation and end of college life as they know it.   Sad in many ways but joyful all the same.

Best of luck, my seniors!  You should feel so proud!  I will miss you.

 

Before Heading Back to America: The Amity Foundation Winter Conference

January 21 – 26 gave me a rare opportunity to gather together with other Amity teachers in China for our yearly winter conference. Also included in the 6-day meeting were 10 school representatives who have Amity teachers placed at their schools.

At present, there are 5 in the Amity Teachers Program (we teach at the college level) and 11 in the Young Adult Volunteers Program, which is a 1-year commitment, initiated by the German Lutheran Church, teaching English or German at the elementary and junior high levels.  Also present were two Norwegian youth, straight out of high school, who were sent for 6 months by the Norwegian church to help with Amity-sponsored projects in Nanjing.

This year, the conference was held in a large, coastal city called Xiamen.

The highlight of such gatherings is visits to Amity-sponsored projects in the countryside.  In the past, these have included visiting a school for the deaf and handicapped, attending a support meeting for those recovering from drug addiction, touring a village which received funding for an irrigation system and personally seeing the results of Amity’s micro-loan program.  In the micro-loan program, recipients proudly showed off their bakeries, convenience stores, and livestock which have allowed them to make ends meet in remote areas of the country.

For the project visit, our group spent three days in Pei Tian village, a community of 1,000 which is struggling to become a tourist attraction due to their excellently preserved ancient houses.   Here, Amity assists in several projects.  One is bringing in experts to help villagers learn better farming techniques.  Another is providing micro-loans to entice those youth who have left Pei Tian to return home and start businesses to help promote the village’s tourism trade.

Aside from learning traditional crafts and enjoying musical performances from the locals, we teachers organized two English language evenings for the village children.  Over 50 youngsters (ages 4 – 12) came to our sessions, which we held in the village meeting hall.  The children became so attached to us that the second evening, when they heard we were leaving the next day, one little girl clung to Tobi, a German Young Volunteer, and sobbed in his arms.

“Don’t go!” she cried, tears streaming down her face.

For all of us, leaving Pei Tian and the people there who welcomed us so warmly, was similar to that little girl’s feeling:  Just really hard to let go.

When I finally download the pictures onto my computer, I’ll post those here.

This Evening’s News from the Airport Hotel

It’s finally time for me actually to begin my vacation, which I will spend in Marshall, IL, visiting my mom, from Jan. 27 – Feb. 27.  The school year starts up March 5, which gives me plenty of “down” time before entering the classroom once again at Luzhou Vocational and Technical College.

I am truly looking forward to this trip back to the States for several reasons but the big one has to do with birthdays.

My mom turned 85 last November but as I was in China, I couldn’t be with her on this day, obviously.  My 53rd birthday was on January 12 so I figured we could combine a celebration with a special trip to Chicago.  From Feb. 12 – 17 in the Windy City, we’ll enjoy some mother-daughter time, celebrate our birthdays together and relax in our favorite hotel, the Monaco.  The Monaco, a lovely boutique hotel, is located within walking distance of Marshall Field’s (now known as Macy’s), the theater district and our all-time love, the Art Institute of Chicago.  There will be shows to see, great food to eat and shopping to do which will make our birthday treats to ourselves all the more exciting.

Don’t forget:  The Year of the Dog is Coming Soon

Before I forget:  Pet your pooches, everyone!  Feb. 15 begins the Year of the Dog.

I have already loaded up on posters, wall hangings, stuffed canines and other decorations to give away during my stay at home. They are at present weighing down my suitcase.

There is a Chinese restaurant in my hometown owned and run by a Chinese family from Fujian Province, where I have just spent the last week. (Xiamen is in Fujian).   It’s my custom to inundate them with decorations to put up in their establishment as these are hard to come by in a tiny town like Marshall.

Here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your weekend with more posts to come after I have landed in the States.

 

 

 

 

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Participating in My Christmas Chinese Church Program in Luzhou

 Note: An edited version of the below was submitted to my hometown newspaper.  Hopefully, the article will be coming out  today or tomorrow. 

Many foreigners in China are ignorant about the Chinese church and all that it has to offer.  Rarely do overseas’ guests who are Christians attend the open worship services, Bible studies, hymn singing sessions or prayer meetings held on a regular basis in the thousands of Protestant and Catholic churches throughout this country.

Part of the problem is that everything is in Chinese.  Most foreigners don’t understand due to the language barrier, but a majority of overseas’ visitors don’t even know that there are churches in China, where they are in their areas or that everyone is welcome to attend.

From Luzhou (“loo-joe”, a Yangtze River city of 5 million), let me enlighten you about what our Luzhou Protestant Church has planned for Christmas.  It will surprise you!

Welcome to Our Christmas Worship 

Last Wednesday evening, the church choir (of which I am a member) and Christmas Eve worship performers finished our first dress rehearsal for our 2 worship programs this coming weekend.  Dec. 23rd, 7:00 – 9:30 p.m., will be for the Christian community and Dec. 24th will be for the public. Both services are exactly the same, with nothing omitted or added to accommodate different audience members.

The church is always packed  full of people for these celebrations. It’s standing room only, and this is why our program is given twice.  It allows as many people as possible the opportunity to attend, especially as the church sanctuary and balcony can carry only so many at one time.

What’s in Store for Visitors and Christians Alike:  The  Worship

We have an opening processional, with votives alight, which the choir leads while following behind a huge golden cross.

Years ago, the choir carried wax candles (as I’m sure many of you American choir members remember doing as well) with wax dripping down onto our hands (Ouch!).

There was always the fear that a choir robe would go up in flames as we walked so near to one another.  Plus there was the problem of a candle (or two or three or more) blowing out due to the open windows.  The church has no heating so windows were/are open to help with the smelly, stuffiness of the crowds. I remember when a candle went out, we had a quick scramble to get a neighboring choir member to light it for us.

Made for a rather stumbling, bumbling display of our orderly, lovely processional.

Ah, those were the days!

The electric votive variety of lighting, as I’m sure you all know, is  safer, much more convenient and there are no surprises of flames going out on us.

Continuing onward:  During our processional, recorded bells toll solemnly and “Amazing Grace” in Chinese plays softly as we file in, holding power-operated votives.  We bow before the church cross and  take our places on the risers to wait for our pastors to give the invocation.

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For the first 15 minutes of the service, congregation members and other audience attendees are invited to sing all the old Western hymn favorites displayed on the power point screen.  These (in Chinese) are : ”Silent Night,” “Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful” and “Hark, the Herald”.

After that, there is a scripture reading and a 15-minute message from Pastor Liao.

The choir sings its last anthem, we all say The Lord’s Prayer in Chinese (those not familiar with this can read from the screen), Pastor Liao gives the benediction and the worship closes dramatically with the choir quietly filing out the same way it came in.

Next, it’s time to launch into all the different performances which center on Christianity.

The Performances

This year, the program is changed a bit.

We will be having English announcements at certain points in the program and also English subtitles on a few of the video clips shown.

The reason?

My city has the Luzhou Medical College which enrolls 600 students from developing countries who are studying to be doctors. Students from African nations, Nepal, and Pakistan use English as a common language for their medical courses and to communicate among themselves. Some are Christians.  Christmas is a time they often come to worship so the church is trying to make them feel welcome.

Aside from foreign students, there are a limited number of English teachers and business people from America and other countries.  They have been known to show up for Christmas Eve.  I’m sure the English language translation will be greatly appreciated.

Other changes include more liturgical dance numbers, those that re-enact Bible stories or accompany soloists who sing Chinese praise songs and hymns.

There is one routine which tells the Parable of the 10 Virgins (Mathew 25: 1-6):  5 young girls who went to meet the bridegroom with no oil in their lamps and 5 who wisely came prepared.

 

No Christmas program is complete without the portrayal of the Jesus’ birth.

A mother-and-child performance will be another  highlight of the evening.

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We also have a very powerful modern piece  done by the young adults.  The choreography tells of a young teenager tempted by sinful people.  They and the devil try to convince our poor lost girl to do evil acts against God, including committing suicide.

Jesus holds back the wicked hoard, trying desperately to get their grip on their victim.  He blocks their advances and tosses them back to their hellish domain.

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He then wraps the girl in a robe and leads her toward the light, the loving safety of God.

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The Choir:  Ready to Go!

As for the adult choir, we members have been practicing 2 to 3 nights a week (2 1/2-hour sessions) for over a month on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Yes, it’s been a huge commitment for me, and challenging due to all the Chinese, but I have enjoyed it immensely.

Needless to say, we’re as ready as we’ll ever be.

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We have several wardrobe changes, including this outfit for 4 praise songs we sing with hand-held fans and sunflowers

We have a very unique baroque piece.  This will take the place of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, which used to be the closure to our Christmas service but I think our director wanted to try something different this year.  It ends with a dramatic pause and “荣耀!”(“rong yao”, Glory!) snapped out with staccato gusto, so I’d say it fits the bill for an impressive finale to our night.

Pastor Liao will close with a blessing and invitation for non-Christians to return to the church at any time. We then encourage everyone to sing with us a popular Chinese praise song shown on the overhead screen while we extend hugs of Christian love before people depart.

Crowd Control by the Luzhou City Police:  A Blessing, not a Curse

Since this is a public event and a gathering of so many, the church always invites the Luzhou police to come and make sure we don’t have too many trying to enter at once into our small sanctuary and balcony area.

Usually, about 10 police officers come to help maintain control.

I mention this here because sometimes, pictures are posted of policemen outside a church on Christmas Eve with captions that church is forbidden and the government police are there to watch people, take down names or stop the service from happening.  This is not true, at least not in our case here in Luzhou.

Pastor Liao is on very good terms with the officers (both men and women) who come to our aid.  She talks with them about how many the church can accommodate, where people should stand who come in late, that the adjacent church clinic is open in case of accidents and what the program entails if people ask.  She makes sure the police officers  are well-informed about the service and what to do in case of an emergency.

And those on duty are just as happy to watch the performances from the church entranceway as those who attend inside.  They also are getting an education about Christians, how they worship, what their values are and what the religion is all about.

It’s a win-win situation for all of us, which is truly a blessing from 15 years ago.

Christmas “Stampeding” Problems in the Past

Pushy crowds used to be a worrying issue in the past, especially upon my first arrival in Luzhou in 2002 when we had only one service for Christmas.  A large number of Chinese who were not church members  behaved quite badly, pushing and shoving their way into the church to see our performance programs.

I still remember when there was  a 4-year period in China where the Chinese were very ignorant of the meaning of Christmas and treated it as a Mardi Gras celebration.  They purchased Mardi Cras masks, confetti spray canisters and inflatable plastic baseball bats to use at midnight, Christmas Eve.  These items were sold by sellers up and down the streets of the city.   Thousands of revelers gathered in our downtown square, began a countdown to midnight and when midnight struck, they whacked one another over the head with their bats, sprayed confetti everywhere and shouted “Merry Christmas!” in Chinese.

The wild square-gatherers always crashed our Christmas midnight eve service with their antics.  It was impossible to keep them, or their rambunctious, ornery  kids, from entering the sanctuary and balcony where they would spray confetti on everyone below when the churches’ midnight bells rang out Christmas Day had arrived.

Granted, it didn’t help that at that time, Santa Claus was a popular entity to add to every Chinese church service.  At the end of our worship, out came Santa to throw candy and Santa hats to those in attendance.  The mad rush to the stage, trampling of those in the way, and the chaotic snatch and grab to get Santa’s goodies was quite dangerous and frightening.

And, believe it or not, the overzealous, excited church members were the ones doing most of the trampling!

I am happy to say that those days are long gone.

Now Chinese church pastors and lay-leaders have been re-educated on the mood to set for Christmas Eve.  Seminars sponsored by the China Christian Council (the governing body of the Protestant church in China), courses in seminaries addressing Christmas protocol and other means of information offered on Christian websites have helped a great deal.  Now many churches across the country take note to create a calming environment for Christmas worship.  Those wanting ideas  can even download full tapings of successful services held in other cities, both in China and abroad.  In fact, our Luzhou church is one of those that offers online videos of our Christmas program every year to those interested.

Needless to say, our current videos no longer include Santa Claus  stirring up the frenzied masses.

This change in worship practices has helped the Chinese public as well. No longer do we have people believing that Christmas is to be ushered in with confetti, masks and playful beatings with inflated baseball bats.

Christmas Eve (referred to as “Peace Night” in China) is now viewed as a time of respectful, joyful and meaningful celebration for Christians in the country.  This takes place via song, prayer, scripture reading, dance and other means of praising God.

An Added Element: A Commercial Video

For the first time, the church has created a professionally done  2 1/2 minute video announcement to the public and media about our worship nights.

While an exuberant, uplifting praise song is sung, the video details the service and shows many clips of the Luzhou church, including shorts of the young adult services which are so lively and upbeat.  There is also a WeChat account (China’s Facebook counterpart) with a QR code to be scanned.  This will add the individual to the WeChat group for updates and other church news.  (A QR code, for those not familiar with this, is a matrix bar code that is read by photographing with the camera of a smartphone or other mobile device equipped with a bar-code reader.)

Since virtually everyone in China has a smart phone, the video has been flying around this city of 5 million via text messages and attachments.

Even I have been posting on my group chats for friends, colleagues and students to freely attend if they wish.

From China, Merry Christmas!

I hope this post has given you an uplifting view of our upcoming Christmas program and worship at the Luzhou Protestant Church.

It will be a packed full weekend, including Christmas Day worship which begins at 9:30 and will include adult baptisms and communion.   No rest at all for this gal!

May your Christmas be as exciting and wonderful as mine.  Ping An (Peace)!

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Parties and Choir and Baking, Oh, My!

From Thanksgiving to the current date, it’s been non-stop so not a lot of time to get in stories and pictures but let me remedy that today!

I hope this post give you an idea about what holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) entail for me here in China.  So many newcomers from America never bother with these celebrations.  They mope about the lack of holiday spirit, call or Skype home often and lament to friends and family, “There is no Thanksgiving or Christmas in China. I feel so lonely.  I miss my special foods.  I feel so depressed!”

Well, not this foreigner in China!  Read on and you’ll see just how great it is to be overseas’ during this time of year.

Thanksgiving Lessons

Despite the late date, I will enclose pictures from Thanksgiving as my lessons were so much fun.   After there history of Thanksgiving Day was introduced, students learned how  to set a beautiful table.

They also participated in my  “thankful hands” activity, which was a craft idea that my elementary art teacher , Fred Hayes, used to do.

He posted a huge turkey in the hallway and students would cut out their hands, write what they were thankful for on all the fingers and place on the turkey.  The hands, made from a multitude of colorful construction paper, filled in to make the turkey feathers and was left for everyone to read as they walked by to their classes.

In my class, before placing your thankful hand on the turkey, students must say out loud before the class what they wrote.  It is wonderful practice for future teachers, training them to develop their “teacher voice” (say loudly!) which English Education majors are in so need of practicing.

So how do we decide who gets the big turkey when we finish posting our hands and taking photos of the bird with us in front of it?  Via a drawing, of course!  That is pretty much the highlight of the lesson, with the student winner jumping up and down in glee to be able to put this up in his or her dorm room.

A great memory for the lucky winner, to have all your classmates’ thankful hands to read and savor every day in your room.

It’s Christmas Around China

Just like in America, Christmas decorations start to appear right after our U.S.  Thanksgiving.

Chinese are  familiar with Christmas now because the secular, commercialism explosion of this holiday has been here for the past 10 years.  Decorated trees, Santa Clauses, windows with snowflakes and “Merry Christmas!” stencils in English and Chinese, Christmas sales (building up to Chinese New Year in January) are everywhere.   Christmas carols are played throughout grocery stores and malls.  That includes Silent Night, in both Chinese and English, as well as Jingle Bells, We Wish you A Merry Christmas, American Christmas songs by famous artists (“All I want for Christmas is You”, for example) and Chinese pop songs that now sing about the Christmas holiday.  (Surprise!)

Even elementary schools, colleges and high schools hold Christmas parties for all to enjoy.  (Another “surprise!” for many overseas’ teachers who come to China.)

Of course, no one really has a clue what Christmas is about.  Most just think it’s the Westerners’ New Years and a fun holiday.

We have one small alleyway in Luzhou that has lots of decorations. I visit there every year to load up on more lights, ornaments, wall decs, tinsel roping and all those cheapie, holiday items sold in the Dollar Store in America that are stamped, “Made in China.”

Christmas in My Classroom

As always, I do culture lessons for Christmas which include the religious story of this day (the true meaning for Christians), and then I cover the secular part the next week.

For the freshmen, this is all new, exciting, different and very educational.

For my seniors, graduating soon, we have a refresher course which includes different holiday activities they can  do with their future students.  Two years for them is a long time to remember all that Christmas entails, thus the 2-week review.  Many of my former students told me how they were asked by their principal to have a Christmas party for students.  In other words, it’s vital for them to keep all our lessons in mind so they can perhaps use some of the activities we did with their own students.

The Religious Lesson:  Meaning of Christmas via Christmas Story Re-enactment

I make sure every one of my students knows the story of Jesus’s birth, which is the foundation of this special Christian event.  Without this information, how ignorant they appear to others when they say, “Oh, I know about Christmas.  It’s the Westerner’s New Year.”

We have a wonderful Christmas story script which I wrote and have used for years.  There are 16 parts, including the star (non-speaking — just hold the star and smile).  Homework is to read this outside of class and do the question page.  In class, a power point shows the story as we read together and see the visuals on the big screen.

Then comes the fun part the second class period.

We have a drawing to see who gets what part.  I love that part of the lesson, pulling   names of students out of a basket, because many are chosen who are shy and would never have volunteered on their own to participate.  With the name-draw, there are no objections or balks to take your place in the performance.  Everyone is equal in a drawing so if your name is drawn, up you go! I never have anyone who refuses.

This year, I had Chinese English  teachers in our department observe my class.  I made sure to invite them to this particular lesson.  Not only is it a great technique used in teaching  methodology (role-play is our key here), but a must for cultural understanding of Christmas.

Thus this year, several of our college Chinese teachers in my department and all of my frehmen got a good dose of what this celebration truly means for Christians.

See if you can guess which parts of our story is shown in the photos below.  (Different classes are represented. )

The Secular Christmas Lesson

The next week, we went over the non-religious symbols and the meanings of these for Christmastime.  Christmas tree, Christmas stocking, snowman, Santa Claus, reindeer, poinsettia, bow . . . After the power point visuals and displaying my extra Christmas items, which I brought to class, it was time for Christmas Bingo!

This is my absolute favorite game.

I created a bingo game with 30 bingo cards many years ago and have used this in every class for years. Instead of numbers, the spaces have pictures of  all the symbols (religious and non) which are in our  Christmas culture unit.   The students have such a blast playing this game.

If a pair has 4 in a row, both  must stand up and shout “Merry Christmas!”  This certainly keeps everyone on their toes because if there is no standing up and no “Merry Christmas!” shouted, you lose your place if someone else is faster than you are.

Candy is the prize, and the winners (always paired) come to the front to become the teachers themselves.  They then take turns drawing and announcing the symbols to their classmates, including checking to make sure answers are correct.  It’s a great way to review the words and work on pronunciation, plus introduce a new teaching activity to those who will be teachers in the future.

The best part is that I get to play, too!  When students become the teachers and call out the symbols, it’s time for me to step aside and enjoy the game as well.

 

My Christmas Home

It took me 10 days to get all my decorations out and up as I have so many things but I finally finished a week ago.

I must say I overdid the lights  this year.

Last year, I had no outside lights on the balcony or in my windows.  This year, it’s an explosion of sparkles and colors.  Hard to miss my floor from outside of the building.  I’m the only one with lights up.

The only disappointing part is that my apartment faces the countryside area, not the school campus. The construction workers who are building the bridge behind my place at least have a great view of my place.  Everyone else has  to walk around to the back of the building and look up to see most of the windows.

I do have one  window that does face the distant campus side gate where people walk through constantly.  I made sure it had extra lights and, yes, you can see it from quite a ways away.

Church Choir

I also am in the church choir.

We are having 2 practices a week for our Christmas program.  We practice 2 hours each session and since the campus moved to the outskirts of town, I taxi it the 30 minutes into the city center during rush-hour.  My Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6 – 10 p.m., are pretty much booked solid getting to practice,  singing with the other choir members under the direction of our choir leader, Ms. Zhao, and then finally getting back home.  Our director is quite enthusiastic to get us up to her standards so we often aren’t  dismissed until 9:30.

On Thursdays, we have a short 15-minute devotional led by one of the choir members.  And we always open and close with a prayer at every practice, no matter how late we might be.  This also includes the Lord’s Prayer which we say at the end of every practice.

One new addition to this year’s many vocal numbers we are doing is that we have props!  Sunflowers for one peppy number and then fans for others.

Oh, dear!  I am so bad at remembering motions of any kind while struggling to spit out the Chinese words which we have to memorize.  I have enough trouble recalling what I’m supposed to sing next.  Now I have to remember when we open fans, close fans, lift them up, wave them to the right, wave them to the left, hold them steady or fan them.

I was put on the back row with the men because I’m taller than the women.  (I’m only 5’5″ but I am taller than some of the guys even).  It’s rather funny because the men and I are always in the dark, moving at the wrong time or just guessing what we’re supposed to do next.

And wouldn’t you know it, I’m on the end and was also put in charge of passing out the fans at the appropriate moment.  Pressure!!

But it really is so much fun.  We have such a good time.  Lots of joking going on amidst our back row but we take our role seriously.  We watch out for one another and remind each other what’s coming up next in the motions.  I am sure everything will come together in the end for our Christmas worship services.  December 23rd, 7:30 – 9:30 pm, is for the Christian community and December 24th (Christmas Eve) is for the public.

We give two performances because the church is too small to accommodate everyone just for one worship.  The crowds are huge!!

Sharing Christmas with the Campus

Christmas Activity Night finished last night, which was an open invite to the campus to come and participate in Christmas activities.  This was the first time I’ve ever tried this sort of thing and I was quite nervous about it coming off well.

I put this together with the help of the English Association, our English Club of 250.  We had  5 rooms with different activities for students to do. It was open for the entire school, plus teachers and their kids or others who want to attend.

We had Santa Claus picture room with props, tree decorating room, say “Merry Christmas” and get candy room, make decorations (crafts) room and gift-wrapping room.

The volunteers and I worked very hard to make sure everything went smoothly.  We planned for 3 weeks and spent the entire Saturday getting the rooms decorated and in proper order for students.  And  now that we have Taobao, the Chinese online Amazon, you can order anything and everything for Christmas on the Internet.  Cheap prices and sometimes no shipping. Lights, trees, stuffed animals, Santa and elf suits, Santa hats, banners . . . . Lucky us!  We had it all!

Was it successful?  You bet!  Just look at the photos below.  It was really a wonderful evening and gave everyone a taste of the festive spirit of Christmas.

Open Houses for the Freshmen

I have just completed all my open houses with the freshmen students last week before they begin their final tests.  All four classes, between 40 -50 students, were divided into two groups and invited to my home in the evenings.

Preparations were made ready every night before students arrived. Candy baskets were overflowing.  My family photo albums and high school year books were ready to be flipped through.  All Christmas lights turned on and sparkling.  Christmas music filled the room.  Santa and reindeer antler hats waited to be donned.  Lots of little things displayed to enjoy and the toy table ready to go with animated stuffed animals, barrel of monkeys, Simon (hand-held musical game) and the miniature stackable chair game.

What a great time we had!

Friday’s Teacher and Faculty Open House

This Friday will have leaders, teachers and others from the campus coming to my home.  Family and children are always welcome, of course.  From 2 – 6 p.m., Zuri (Peace Corp volunteer) and I will await our guests.

For this group, the specialty items are Christmas cut-out sugar cookies (Domino brand sugar cookie recipe, the absolute best!) and chocolate truffle cookies (made by yours truly with her hoarded butter from Chengdu), hot drinks, tangerines (in season now and sold on every corner of the town) and the usual candy baskets.

I have just finished my holiday baking yesterday of sugar cookies.  It took 4 hours in my tiny oven and I have a total count of 168 edible stars, reindeer, Santa Clauses, scotty dogs, lions, camels, bells, Christmas trees, snowmen and mini-gingerbread girls and boys.  I only do this once a year and I enjoyed listening to Christmas music while baking away.

This year, I only over-browned 2 batches so I was quite pleased with the turn-out of 168.  One year, I only made it to 120.  Too many distractions and a new oven made for a lot of burned cookies.

Closing Off

As you can see, this is a busy time of year for me.  Testing for students begins this week and next.

Grading and scoring is next for me, along with our closure classes with the students.  Everyone gathers for our last time together to receive grades, a Christmas photo of me and pick through all the beautiful Christmas pencils with so many devoted Methodist UMW groups and others have collected and mailed to me.

This will take place the week after Christmas to close off our school year by January 1st.

I will do my best to post pictures of my church Christmas after that.  As I am not sure when I will post next, here is wishing you a wonderful Christmas, a season full of joy and a very Happy New Year!  Ping An (Peace) to all!

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The English Association Moves into High Gear with Halloween Activity Night

In a previous post, I mentioned the number of student clubs and associations we have at this college.  Booths were lining the walkways to entice new members to sign up, paying a fee of 20 yuan (roughly $4.50) per person.  These fees allow the clubs to hold  parties, contests and other activities for the members.

The more members, the more money and the bigger and grander club-hosted events can be.

When I left off a month ago, the English Association numbers were a sad 25.  The year before had been 300.   The new club president, Anna, was worried and had voiced her concern during the entire week, asking Zuri and me to hang out at their booth in the hopes of drawing more new students.

As it turned out, the final count ended up being 260.  Down 40 from last year but not at all anything to be ashamed of.  With 260 newcomers, Anna reported around $1,250 for their club funds.  This would be used for the full year and, hopefully, would be enough for some excellent activities.

Below, you see all the new members, coming together for the welcome party.

First Major Event:  Halloween Activity Night

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Saturday, October 28, from 7 – 9 p.m., marked the first big event for the English Association — Halloween Activity Night.

With organizational help from me, over 25 volunteers manned our 4 rooms:  costume wearing, mask-making, carving Jack-o-lanterns combined with bobbing for apples and our Trick-or-Treat room.

I gathered the crowds for 10 minutes in the larger lecture hall for an opening introduction via power-point to room activities.  We had a countdown before all were released (probably around 200) to scurry off and freely visit the rooms.

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I had arranged the volunteers to announce this in Chinese on our faculty housing’s whiteboard to invite children and their parents.

Through WeChat (like our American Facebook), I also made sure our teachers and others on the campus knew to bring their kids, or just themselves, to have a nice evening.

What a huge success!

 

 

Over 300 college kids came and went during the evening. We had some visitors from the Medical College campus next door.  These were the international students, studying at the Medical College were there are over 600 from different countries:  Nepal, India, Pakistan, and numerous African countries.  They also added to the fun.

Aside from the college students, about 16 children came with parents or grandparents.  Our costume room was their favorite as well as the pumpkin carving. (Parents used the knives with the kids giving directions.). Pumpkins that were finished and lit were displayed in the room for picture-taking and were not to be taken until the end of the evening.  However, exceptions for made for kids.  If the children were leaving early, I told the volunteers to make sure they could choose a jack-o-lantern to take with them.

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After all, Halloween is really for kids.

When it came to bobbing for apples, the volunteers ran out of apples in the first 30 minutes so had to send more outside our front gate to purchase several more pounds.

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A Fantastic Night Closes Off

It was one of our best Halloween events we’ve held for several years.  Many thanks to the volunteers for all their help.  Hope you all enjoy a few more pictures below.  Now it’ll be on to planning for Christmas!

Here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) from Luzhou

 

 

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