Return to China: It’s Frustrating but always hopeful

It’s the end of August!! How did that happen?

The past 2 months have been filled with Illinois travels to 8 speaking engagements and a 4-day visit to Detroit for a Volunteer in Mission Board Meeting (So fulfilling and wonderful!). It has been so refreshing to have Covid somewhat behind us but still frustrating that China is indeed the last country to remain closed to tourists, returning teachers, some new teachers, all foreign students and even its own citizens are not able to leave the country or return from their overseas job placements.


My travels here were filled with questions about my return to my college in Luzhou and what’s been filling my days. (A lot!)

Fortunately for me, I have made numerous contacts in China, aside from my Chinese sponsoring organization, The Amity Foundation, that give me the ins and outs of the private school sector in China which is getting foreign teachers into the country.

Here are my gleanings.

British Arnold’s Teach-in-China Recruitment Agency
My desperation for information (any information) of when my area of China might consider opening to my return has me in one expat WeChat group in China (those foreigners teaching in Wuhan, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou) and one private recruitment organization which meets bi-monthly on Zoom. The coordinator, Arnold, out of Britain, has graciously allowed me for the past 2 years not only to join in but even give presentations on life in China and The Amity Foundation.

His services include a set fee (close to $500 US) to connect candidates with private schools in China who have the government connections needed, and the know-how, to get English teachers’ invitation letters approved. From my end, the frustration is that those applying are quite young, not professional teachers but merely native speakers who are working in rather dingy, low-paying jobs in their own countries, or have student debts to pay off. On our Zooms together, some want to expand their Chinese language abilities to open businesses of their own or want some sort of adventurous travel job for a couple of years or just make money.

Strict Covid Policies: Not much traveling for locked down areas are becoming more and more prevalent

Covid policies in China, however, are not great for traveling the country at present if you’re a foreigner or even a local. 3-times-a-week testing of all citizens sometimes takes place in most cities or towns to find cases, symptomatic or asymptomatic . One case and the entire city or town shuts down, people are required to stay at home or only go out twice daily to stand in line at testing centers with hazmat suited individuals swabbing away. If positive, your cell phone alights red and off you go to a quarantine center. No one is allowed to stay at home, including those you’re living with. You must test negative 5 times in a row to get out of such quarantine centers, which are set up in warehouses with rows of cots, portable potties, makeshift wash-off troughs and meals served 3 times a day. No one goes out; only workers go in.

If you have pets, they usually don’t survive after apartment doors are locked tight and your home is considered contaminated.

Living in China, with a Zero-Covid policies and its “whack-a-mole” strategy, is a challenge for everyone involved.

Private Schools and their Students

For foreigners now getting into China to teach at high-paying private English schools, the children being instructed are anywhere from 2-12 years old, in group classes, with extremely wealthy parents hovering outside of observation rooms to make sure their money is going to good use. They want their children to have a step-up in life for getting that extra boost on English language test scores to get into the best schools in China or for future school enrollment overseas.

Granted, Xi’s government has tried desperately to get these private English schools closed, wanting to even out education among the rich and the poor. A great majority of these after-school and weekend educational institutions have indeed closed under Xi’s policies. However, there are ways of getting around these regulations. While many such schools did close, with the founders moving on to other business ventures (coffee shops, specialty restaurants, bakeries, online ordering companies, etc.), those with stable connections in larger cities have managed so far to survive.

The draw for Foreign Teachers: High Salaries

The fact that Covid locked down the country to new incoming teachers and foreign students has been a struggle for all public universities, colleges, and private institutions. Many of the private schools and public schools have managed to snatch up those foreign teachers already in the country who were not happy with their schools or were enticed by exorbitant salaries and perks.

I know of one older Brit in Luzhou who had been teaching for almost 4 years in Luzhou. He was making about $2,000 US per month but was quite fed up with his school, the workload and the relationship with school staff. (He was not very culturally attuned, from what I understand). When Covid struck, many private schools had teachers abandon their positions to return to their countries. Our Brit went searching online, found an offer in another province for $4,000 US per month (including apartment and air-travel) so he took it. From what I understand, he is very happy and making a killing despite not having a degree in teaching but merely is qualified due to his native English speaking ability.

High risks, high costs for newly hired foreign teachers entering China

I just finished a Zoom call last week with Arnold and those who have managed to get their visas approved. Some have landed already, entering Hong Kong to continue into the mainland because prices are $4,000 to $5,000 cheaper for a one-way flight directly into the Mainland.

Hong Kong tickets, one way from Canada, the UK or the States, are about $1,200 and can be fairly easily booked. Quarantine in a HK hotel is now down to 3 days from 7 days. After that, Covid tests are required to take the train from HK into Shenzhen, the further-most city of Mainland China, where several of the private schools are located. Another 4 days quarantine in a hotel is required in the city of employment and another 7 days in the apartment which the school rents for the new teacher’s 1-year contract.

Of course, all along the way, Covid tests are required.

Most costs are paid by the sponsoring school EXCEPT if you test positive for Covid upon your arrival or before entering the mainland or even during your hotel quarantine in the city of employment. According to Arnold, if you test positive at any point along the way, you are no longer sponsored by the school. All costs, including that $1,200 getting to China and all your visa costs, plus mandatory Covid costs, on your country’s end (usually around $1,000) are yours and yours alone.

The school no longer wants you, your visa (good for 1 month until a permanent visa can be acquired with your school’s help) will not be honored. You will be required to pay for all your quarantine costs, for however long it might be, and have to pay for your return flight, whenever you can get one.

This is the price of going with a private school, doing it somewhat on your own, with no organization to support your or back you up.

Thank goodness I have the Amity Foundation behind me 100% and my school as well!

Latest News:  All upbeat except for Luzhou and Sichuan Province

Tier 1 cities (a majority being capital cities) seem to be able to apply for teachers in the private school industries, but NOT government-run public institutions.

I have been asked to be patient, that after Xi’s election for another term in October, policies will change, perhaps almost immediately for a 2023 visa for me to start up the Spring semester in February.

In the meantime, I continue with my advocacy work for both China’s Amity Foundation and the North Central Jurisdiction.

Watch this space for reports from my graduating students in China.  I have a lot of stories to share!

Here’s wishing you “Ping Ahn” (Peace) for your day.

 

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Chinese Canine Immigrant:  Thank you for my blessing

The following was submitted to my local newspaper, on behalf of our China rescue, Bridget

Dear Marshall Trinity UMC Members and Pastor Zoila,

           Last week, my owners saw an announcement in the Marshall Advocate that Trinity United Methodist Church was providing a Blessing for Our Pets event in the church shelter on Friday, June 25, at 10 a.m. The article explained all people and pets were welcome, with dogs leashed, cats in carriers or birds in their cages. Also welcome were pictures of pets, and even images on cell phones could be brought.

           As some of you may know, I’m Bridget, a street stray from China. I was a mangey, starving Chihuahua-mix found tied under a bridge in Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan Province. My rescuer named me Bridget and it stuck.

           At that time, American Connie Wieck, an English teacher at China’s Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, saw me advertised on the Internet and thought I’d be a great candidate for adoption. She took care of my health issues, prepared all my flight papers and I was brought to Marshall as a companion for Connie’s mom, Priscilla. In fact, my 3rdyear anniversary as a Marshall citizen was this past June 25th!

        When I saw the announcement of Trinity Church’s pet blessing on my special day, how could I not attend? Not only that, but giving this special blessing to me was yet another immigrant to America:  Trinity’s Rev. Zoila Marty. She and her husband, Rev. Pablo Marty (serving at Paris First UMC) are originally from the Dominican Republic and have been citizens in this country for many years. 

Connie, Bridget, Pastors Zoila and Marty

     At the event, Pastor Zoila laid hands on me and gave me a tender blessing for my life and the lives I’ve touched here in my American home.  It was so meaningful and I felt very loved.

        Parishioner members gave me lots of pets, too.  

Bridget , Blessing of the Pets

        I was lavished with so many treat bags that I decided to share with my American brothers and sisters in the Clark County Animal shelter. Those were picked up by shelter volunteers who likewise swung by the Marshall Community Swimming Pool to pick up abandoned towels to be used as animal bedding. 

Pet Treats

         Every treat bag had the following Bible verse attached: “So the Lord God formed from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky. He brought them to man to see what he would call them, and the man chose a name for each one.”  Genesis 2:19 NLT

       Thank you so much, Trinity United Methodist church members and Pastor Zoila, for offering this unique spiritual gift to me, a lost little dog whose home is now such a happy one here in this country and smalltown community. I will be back again next year, and bring friends! 

         Love and licks,

         Bridget (as told to rescuer and owner, Connie Wieck) 

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My Apartment in China: Always safe, . . . .until now!

We’re going on 2 1/2 years now that I’ve been stuck in America. China’s strict “Zero Covid” stance is actually starting to lift, as of June! Large cities throughout China, and even those in my province of Sichuan, are now allowing schools to issue invitations.

Sad to say, however, small Luzhou is being VERY cautious. I just keep hoping that this summer might finally convince local government officials that Connie can return.

Questions Abounded from Friends and Family

In the beginning of being stranded, people would ask me when I was returning, what kinds of supplies I’d like to take back with me, who was teaching my students, was I in contact with my friends, my school, my Chinese church choir (Yes, daily!) . . . The list goes on.

But one of the most common questions I received was this one: “What about your apartment and all your things? Are you paying rent all this time?!”

No, I am NOT paying rent.

Apartment Arrangements

I live on the campus of my school in the 11-story single teachers’ housing building. Although it was originally built for single teachers, it ended up that families also were allotted space to live there. An outer room, 2 bedrooms, a bathroom and kitchen area made it a tight squeeze for our married couples who had one or two children, plus grandma and/or grandpa also staying with them, but it was do-able.

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While those staying in the building are required to pay 1,000 yuan a month (roughly $170 US), with extra for utilities, as a foreign teacher, my cost for everything was taken care of. This is almost always a perk for overseas teachers in China: apartment rentals (on or off campus) are fully paid for by the employing school, sometimes even offering options to find your own apartment for X-amount of money which the institution will cover within reason. This has never been my case but I do know of other foreign teachers who have opted for the latter, which has given them an opportunity to pick what they personally would like rather than have a Chinese staff member choose.

My School’s New Foreign Affairs Assistant, Ms. Xiao’s (Cherry’s), Sends a Message

I am in constant contact with my school, still waiting for the local government to give permission for my invitation letter to be processed. Our new Foreign Affairs assistant is a former English teacher whose position has been changed. That person is Ms. Xiao, whose English name is Cherry.

Here is her message to me 3 days ago considering the news that other cities in Sichuan are now open to teachers having their employment papers processed.

“Please be patient. I believe our city will gradually open up the policy and let you back to the school as soon as possible.”

She continued onward in the next text segment with this:
“Here’s another thing. Your luggage and some things are still in our dormitory, right? Now our dormitory will be moved to another new teacher’s apartment not far from th school. We need to ask for your opinion on whether we can move your luggage to another dormitory (we will make a video recording for the whole process.). If you don’t want to, please feel free to let me know.”

So it seems that the school invested in reserving apartments in the nearby new complex for more senior Chinese teachers to move into and pay rent on. This apartment complex had just begun being built a few months before I left for my vacation in January, 2020, when I then became stranded in the States. Many teachers had been offered a buy-in before the completion of the high-rise buildings as well as the school vouching with a reputable loan company for those payments. Downpayment was 20,000 yuan ($3,500 US) with the smallest units selling for a total of $60,000 US (the empty cement shell without any decorating). While that sounds like a lot of money for a poor college teacher making roughly $650 a month, those living in my apartment building had been saving for years for such an offer. The proximity to the school campus was great, without any commuting time, and the school had vouched for their loans so quite a few were happy with the arrangments.

I certainly was impressed watching the buildings go up, thinking how nice that might be for me to live in those.

I doubted the school would ever consider preparing such a nice place for me. But maybe think again!

To Move or Not to Move?”: That question has no options

Considering all my stuff of 20-years-worth of living in China, and furniture, and SO many clothes, and appliances, kitchen utensils, books (good grief!!) and drawers needing to be weeded through, plus the fact that for every move I’ve made, it’s been a 100 large box affair (I always had students help tape together my 100 boxes for me to fill), what do you think my answer was?

A very appreciative response of: “Thank you so much for asking but I think it’s just too much trouble for you and the school. I’ll pass until I can return.”

My guess is that Cherry is very relieved not to deal with packing up my things, hiring movers (which the school must pay for) then overseeing the entirety of the move from a campus building to an off-campus one. I also have no idea what floor I’d be on, meaning holding up elevators numerous times as boxes were loaded and unloaded onto the appropriate story.

I’m also not 100% certain I’d like to move off-campus. At present, it’s always taken me 10 minutes to walk to my classrooms, whereas off campus it would be more like 20-25. Still close but not as close as the apartment I’m living in now.

So reiterating what I told Cherry: I’ll pass until I can return. (What a happy day that will be!)

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My College in China has a request for the upcoming graduation performance celebrations

I received a message 2 weeks ago regarding the end-of-year celebrations at my college in Luzhou. We always had a performance event in the auditorium for graduating seniors. Seniors and others would show off their talents as a final farewell. Administrators would be the guests of honor and beloved teachers. Skits, songs, choirs, instrumentals, and dance numbers graced the stage for 2 hours with student hosts announcing the acts. Student awards of excellence were interspersed between performances as well.

I would always do something for this yearly event, either sing a song or teach a simple children’s English song with motions so that the administrators could join in, then sing that same song in Chinese for fun.

For 2020, the school was doing only virtual classes so this celebration was nixed. 2021, we had it but, sadly, no one asked me to participate. But here we are in 2022, the end of June soon to be upon us along with the closure of the school year, and I was asked to send a video.

I wasn’t given a choice on what to do. Those in charge decided I should send in a short explanation of what I knew about Dragon Boat Festival, a well-known Chinese cultural occasion celebrated in May or June, depending on the Chinese lunar calendar. This year, it was celebrated on June 3, with many watching Dragon Boat races and eating zongzi, sticky rice with cooked meaty or bean centers which are wrapped in bamboo leaves.

With the request, I did my short video as instructed, which you can see below.

However, being the kind of person I am, I couldn’t help but do something a bit more silly and “out there” for not only the school but for those graduating who had me as freshmen 2 1/2 years ago. They needed a send-off of the energetic, humorous, Connie-we-know (personality and all) as a final farewell from me.

My mother was not too keen to join me but I cajoled her into it. Here is what we came up with. If it will be used or not for the upcoming celebrations in the auditorium, I have no idea but I’m glad we did it. I’ve already sent our mother-daughter cooperative video venture to my former students and educator friends who are teaching now at the pre-school and elementary school level. They loved it and have been sharing with their students . We certainly won’t be going viral here in America but one never knows what might happen in China.

Have fun watching. I know one of us, at least, enjoyed making it. (You can probably guess who!)

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A Desperate Plea for Help to Save a Sister

Every morning, and throughout the day, I check my WeChat messages from China.

There are messages from former students, comments from colleagues about my “Moment” posts (mini-blogs), friends, foreign teachers giving me in-country updates, my church choir’s announcements and the Amity Foundation staff member, “Sally” Wang, who connects with my school regarding my return. (Yes, that still is halted as China continues to limit those coming and going from the country due to Covid.)

While I’d much rather have that message from my school representative, Dan Li, saying, “Guess what?! We have your invitation letter!”, the next best thing is always, “Connie, can you help me?”

I’ve had several of those this past week. Let me share with you one of them.

From Qi Ping, in Japan

Briefly, I met Qi Ping (chee-ping) in 2013 at the swimming pool in Chengdu.  I was doing a stint of language study at Sichuan University and swam every day at the natatorium.  Qi Ping was in the lane next to mine and admired my swimming stroke.  Her English was somewhat limited but when she found out I had lived in Japan in my younger years, she shared with me that she was visiting her parents in Chengdu but she actually lived in Japan.  She married a Japanese businessman, whom she met on a factory tour when she was hired as a translator (She majored in Japanese.) She was the same age as I, in her 40s, so we hit it off right away.

Our friendship continued with me visiting her parents a few times and she even visiting me in Luzhou the following year, after I returned to my teaching placement at my college.  

She came twice a year to check in on her aging parents and her 2 older sisters but was not accompanied by her husband.  He seemed to have little appreciation of China or the culture, plus it was hard for him to get away from work long enough for a visit, so Qi Ping came on her own.

 “Can you order this mushroom health product for me?”

Qi Ping’s message for help, sent yesterday, was one which touched my heart.

Her sister, whom I met on one of my Chengdu visits, has cancer.  

Qi Ping learned of this recently.  Due to Covid, she hasn’t been able to visit her parents or her sisters since 2020 as China is not allowing her entry due to stringent “Zero Covid” policies.  Visas are not being approved, even for returning Chinese desperate to reunite in person with family members.  The government fears too many will bring the virus with them.  

“Hello, Connie!  The picture I send you is a mushroom health product. It is said to be produced in the United States.  I would like to ask you to help me purchase.  This product is not on the mainland.  If you can buy, how much money a bottle?  My sister is suffering from genealogical cancer.  It is said this care product is useful for her treatment.”

After doing a little research on mushroom powder, I discovered the following:

  • Balances Immune System.
  • Boosts Cognitive Function and Mental Health.
  • Improves Energy Levels. 
  • Supports Healthy Brain and Nerve Cells. 
  • May Contain Anti-Cancer Properties. 
  • Defends Against Free Radical Damage and Oxidative Stress.

Further research had me pulling up a wide variety of mushroom powders to order online, from pulverized stems only to mushroom caps and even roots, as well as blends.

Screen Shot 2022-05-28 at 3.04.03 PM 

 Also mentioned were the different medicinal qualities of different kinds of mushrooms. Reishi,  Lion’s Mane,  cordyceps, chaga, Turkey Tail, shiitake  and maitake are all mushrooms that supposedly carry different healing qualities.  For Qi Ping’s request, I found chaga was listed as one of the best for antioxidant support and healthy aging, with studies showing it can slow cancer growth and reduce oxidative stress.

Problems of Ordering and Shipping to China

Qi Ping’s plan had been for me to order here in America, package it up, send to her sister’s address in China and she would pay me back.  There is a brand of mushroom powder sold in China but unfortunately, Covid has closed the factory where it’s produced.  She mentioned that she had no way of knowing when the product would be available and she was eager for her sister to begin taking the supplements.

While I’d have been very happy to help Qi Ping, packages arriving from overseas now are quite challenging to have delivered due to Covid.

Boxes are sprayed with disinfectant numerous times (literally doused to dripping, I’ve been told) and have a “detox” room into which they are tossed until deemed safe to send. (Usually 2 – 3 weeks). Some are opened and the contents sprayed in case Covid-positive individuals handled them.  

I can just imagine having something delivered from a USA warehouse to China having such a fate, and perhaps not even making it past customs.

All that money, perhaps $300-400  in total to send perhaps 5 bottles, without being assured of an arrival or even a “when” arrival, just doesn’t seem a wise use of Qi Ping’s money.

I’m always happy to help order such things for my friends but in this case, I explained my skepticism and  encouraged she wait until the powder was available in China.  Or try supporting her sister’s cancer fight with different products.  There are so many traditional Chinese medicines, likewise plant-based, which might be even better.  

We closed with the following:

Qi Ping:  Thank you, Connie.  The company Bactolac in China has many medicines.  I can try.

Connie:  Yes!  You can try!

Qi Ping:  I’m sorry to bother you.

Connie:  Never a bother, Qi Ping.  We are friends.  We will do our best to help her.

Qi Ping:  Yes. Do our best.  To save my sister.

 

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Shanghai Struggles: A BBC Interview with Two Delivery Riders

Screen Shot 2022-05-02 at 7.13.24 PM

There was hope for Shanghai yesterday.
It was the first time that the city had reached Zero-Covid status for residents outside of quarantine centers. But today, after another daily round of Covid testing, brought 58 positive cases to the forefront from those not within highly secured and watched quarantine isolation buildings.

Disappointment, despair and a sense of defeat followed.

There had been hope that negatively-tested residents would be allowed to at least walk out of their apartments for some fresh air. One section of the city was released from confinement but with these newly-discovered Covid positives, it might be everyone sealed back inside again.

There haven’t been many published interviews of those stuck in this situation but the BBC managed these two with riders who deliver bulk food to the masses. It sounds like an incredibly difficult job, one that has riders homeless and sleeping on the streets, unable to go home and unable to get inside beds anywhere in the city as authorities deny them entry for fear they’ve been too exposed to the virus.

This is a fascinating read. See what you think and give some feedback.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-61270253

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The Current Covid Situation in Shanghai, China: Sixth Tone updates

I’ve been spending a lot of time searching the latest news of Shanghai as the city struggles to control its virus cases. When positive cases exploded 4 weeks ago, a majority of Shanghainese felt the Zero-Covid police would not be so strictly enforced. Authorities calmed their concerns by telling residents not to hoard groceries, to continue as normal, they’d handle everything smoothly and efficiently.

But in just a matter of 3 days, things went from calm to panic as orders came down from Beijing to get the disastrous situation under control.. . . immediately.

More than 10 officials were sacked for not reigning in spiraling positive cases sooner. Lockdowns ensued immediately with barriers set up on streets and around apartment complexes, not allowing anyone out unless it was for daily mandatory testing. Make-shift quarantine buildings hastily were prepared to house the positive cases who were not allowed to quarantine in their homes. To make room for the tens of thousands of positive cases, convention halls, schools, hospitals, gymnasiums, empty apartment complexes and even already rented apartments (some residents were evicted and sent to other areas of the city to be housed) have been hastily prepared with rows of cots to accommodate all who test positive.

My first news updates are those found either online or from Chinese news outlets. This one is the most recent.

Article from The Sixth Tone

I subscribe to The Sixth Tone, a great news resource out of China which I have on my phone. Articles range from all across the country as well as more local news from my own city, Luzhou. The following I found quite interesting, concerning truck drivers who have found themselves “stuck” in Shanghai:

“When truck drivers drop to Shanghai in late March, little did they know that many of them would be unable to return to their home provinces for weeks.

Since the Covid-19 lockdown started March 28, truckers from neighboring Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces said they have faced several difficulties. Som are struggling with limited consignments from the city, while others find it difficult in obtaining permits to leave Shanghai.

Those stuck in Shanghai have turned their trucks into makeshift homes. But they’re running out of food, and their truck batteries are either dying or dead.

As Shanghai enters its third week of lockdown, the truck drivers and their vehicles have become immobile — just like the city itself.”

Other Sixth Tone Articles

A few other articles highlighted ordering food online.

With 26 million people needing food, cell phones went into overdrive as residents spent a majority of their time trying desperately to place orders. Some downloaded as many as 20 different grocery Apps on their phones, working their way through App after App trying to get just one simple order of groceries accepted. Starting at 6 a.m. in the morning, phone users worked throughout the day (sometimes not even able to get in an hour) before announcements of “No more food orders are being accepted” messages became a constant.

The most desperate situation reported dealt with the elderly, many of whom were not very adept at cell phone use and some who had no cell phone at all. One woman in her 80’s, living alone, had gone without food for 4 days.

A heartwarming story emerged of a young couple who posted a written note at the entrance of their apartment complex for the elderly to read when they emerged for their daily Covid tests. They gave their phone number and apartment number, announcing to any who needed help in getting food to please contact them. This simple act of kindness immediately gained them 7 elderly couples who called or knocked on their door, asking for assistance. The couple then began taking bulk orders to cut down on too many deliveries, which worked out quite well. Working together on two separate phones, the couple was able to get supplies for everyone and distribute them evenly among those who needed it.

In Week 5 of the lockdown, the couple continue to order food for those in need with more young people in other apartment complexes around the city following their lead. Aside from groceries, online ordering has even branched off to getting much-needed medicine for “grandma and grandpa”, since they are not able to go to shops or hospitals to pick up what is needed.

The biggest difficulty deals with rising prices, it seems. One woman outside of Shanghai spent her days trying to order for her father who was a Shanghai resident. After 2 days on her phone, she managed to get 60 eggs and a small bag of rice, paying $62 US, delivered to her dad.

And on a more personal note, one of my former students whose friend is in Shanghai was able to buy 4 piddly little cucumbers, usually available for 50 cents in the grocery, for a whopping $5.

One does wonder what happens to those who have little or no money, or haven’t set up payment via their cell phones like a majority of Chinese have. I do know that when Covid hit, many went to direct payment from bank account Apps as money was considered a virus spreader.

From what I have heard, in today’s China, paper money is rarely seen, used or wanted.

Next Report:  What My Friends Are WeChatting About

I’ll let you all continue to search and read more about Shanghai on your own.

I will say that in my area of China, all is calm with people going about life as always. Some are not even wearing masks anymore, including in the classroom at my college. Most have told me that Shanghai’s problem came with officials not keeping a close enough eye on the virus spread. While they sympathize, quite a few are taking pride in their towns and districts that have made sure a single case or two is taken care of immediately, even if there is a bit of inconvenience involved with shutdowns or required constant testing.

When referring to the Chinese, I’d say a majority of those I know would agree this old saying goes over quite well: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

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Easter Celebrations in My Hometown: Collecting Photos for my Chinese Students

The last full-blown Easter traditions and reports I remember came via email from my mom, 3 years ago while I was in China. She described a meaningful cross-walk with parishioner members on Good Friday, a church Easter egg hunt for the kids, a potluck supper in the church basement, a well-sung Easter anthem which she led as choir director on Easter Sunday and the many lilies, tulips and hyacinths that graced the sanctuary in remembrance or honor of others.

In contrast, I shared my own Easter celebrations.

Among my students, I held traditional events in the English Center , including students, colleagues and their kids coloring hard-boiled eggs. I organized 6 of my first year classes to have an egg hunt in the classroom by hiding colored construction-paper eggs which could be exchanged for prizes. (The gold egg was worth 50 yuan, about $9 US, while other colors were chocolate, rabbit stuffed animals and flowers.).

In my Chinese church, weeks of choir practices had us busy preparing for our special Easter anthems and looking forward to the 50 + baptisms of new believers during the service. I remember we choir members arrived at the church for warm-up and prayers at 7:30 a.m. with worship beginning at 8:30. Pastor Liao had managed to reserve the Luzhou Christian drumming troop to welcome in Easter with a parade down the alleyway into the sanctuary. Baptisms started at 10 a.m. followed at 11:30 with communion with our new brothers and sisters in Christ. A substantial meal in containers full of rice and stir fried meat and vegetables, including a hardboiled Easter egg, was served to all 700 present. Parishioner members also carried free meals to all the shopkeepers nearby to share in our happiness. No one went home hungry on Easter Sunday, that’s for sure!

In 2019, Easter for me and my mom, located halfway around the world, had been very meaningful, joyful and spiritually rewarding.

Then came Covid-19, which stranded me here in the States while China went into full lockdown, even today not allowing foreign teachers such as myself to return.

In-person services ended for two Easters in my small-town USA church for 2020 and 2021, with only one Easter service going to online in Luzhou in 2020.

But here we are two years later and Easter in Marshall is here again in full swing.

Pictures galore for my Chinese Students and Friends

These weeks leading up to Easter have given me the opportunity to collect numerous pictures to share with my students. Palm Sunday, egg hunts, potlucks and church events have had my cell phone collecting hundreds of photos and recordings which I’ve been posting in my Chinese WeChat groups and blogs. My computer is full of theme-centered folders, all awaiting the day when I can put together powerpoints to share back in my Chinese college classroom.

China can’t stay closed forever. When my college can authorize my invitation letter to return, I plan to be ready.

Want to see a little sampling of what I’ve collected and posted so far? Here you go!

Palm Sunday

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First UMC Easter Egg Hunt

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Potluck Thursday Evening Dinner

Carry-the-Cross Walk for Good Friday: Sponsored by Marshall First UMC

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Being Grateful

I attended a 2-day Creation Justice virtual meeting session with those from all over the States. This was shared during one of our closure sessions. I share it with you here, now, to give you a little lift for your week. Blessings!

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Spring Brings out an Act of Thievery

It was all my mom’s doing. She put the idea in my head.

As warmer weather approaches, my mom has been surveying her new garden, established last year at this new little house of hers, to see what has survived and what plans to re-appear. We had received permission from the house owner of her former home, a man who cares nothing for flowers or keeping up a yard, that she could dig up whatever she wanted for transplanting. (See old house below)

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We collected bluebells, lily-of-the-valley, 2 rose bushes, 5 lilies, a clump of hostas, grape hyacinths, the white violets (a treasured, rare collection that clumped under the backyard tree), the clematis vine, spider plant seeds and numerous other whatevers that I can’t remember the names of.

In the past 2 weeks, I’ve found her mid-mornings stooping over the bare earth along the back fence to see what has managed to survive.

One row of tulips never did make an appearance. She dug around to find the bulbs with no luck. She fears the squirrels got to them although another row miraculously are doing very well.

The white violets are there, much to our relief. The rose bushes survived and the clematis has tiny green leaves making their way from all the straw-like, twiggy dead stalks of winter. We didn’t find any lily-of-the-valley but the bluebells seem to be happily making this their new home.

While I was perfectly satisfied with Nature’s offerings in our new back yard, my mom wasn’t.

“I should have dug up the poppies,” she announced with irritation after returning with the dog from her morning walk. “I went by the old house and it’s a complete mess. It took me 25 years to create that garden and now it’s just going to pot. Those poppies are going to be gorgeous but no one will appreciate them..”

She frowned.

“Well, if you feel that way, why not just go and dig up those poppies? And might as well get more lily-of-the-valley, while you’re at it. I’m sure he doesn’t care.”

She looked thoughtful.

“He did say to us come over at any time and take whatever else you wanted,” I further encouraged. “I doubt he’ll even know anything’s missing.”

And so it was that my mom and her enabler (me!) came about to being thieves of springtime.

We completed our mission yesterday at the old house, taking bins and pots, the shovel and clippers, to hack our way through the brush to find what she wanted. Despite the fact we had been given permission a year ago to do so, we did wait until the big white truck was no longer in the driveway before stealthily, and swiftly, pillaging her former garden.

We left with more grape hyacinths, another clematis vine, lily-of-the-valley clumps and the poppies.

Now all are transplanted and safely positioned in the soil alongside the outside of the back fence.

Poppies

Hopefully, they will survive the journey and joyfully make this their new home.

As for the mother-daughter burglary team, I think that pretty much takes care of our acts of unlawful behavior. . . Well, at least for this year, anyway. Who knows about Spring of 2023, after her inspection here a year from now of what took and what didn’t? I wonder how long her old house owner’s open invitation to dig up plants will be considered valid?

Guess if a future entry details a visit to the county jail, you’ll have your answer.

Enjoy your spring, everyone! We’re certainly enjoying ours

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