Luzhou Vocational and Technical College Celebrates 115 years

As mentioned before, my busy semester had me scrambling away with hardly enough time to get to bed before 11 p.m.  Very little space in my day was available for website updating so let me remedy that a bit with this news concerning closing off 2016.

The School’s New Year’s/Anniversary Gala

2016 marked the year when Luzhou Vocational and Technical College celebrated 115 years since its founding in 1901.  This was a huge deal, especially since we had just moved to a new campus, and the administration wanted a celebration to mark this milestone.

It was decided that a grand 2-hour performance celebration would take place in the new auditorium (seating 1,000) on Dec. 30, 7 p.m., before the new year was upon us.  For 3 months, students and faculty prepared for this grand affair, and what a show! Over 100 teachers volunteered for the big choir number for our opening.  This was directed by one of the music teachers.  Students prepared traditional dance numbers.  We had poetry reading with a power-point slideshow in the background of historical pictures and current ones of the new campus.  The art department’s teachers gave us a lot of laughs with  a humorous skit.  The retired teachers (all women, ages 55 – 75) added their talents with an intriguing, cute, and quite difficult, choreographed dance routine.  The finale included everyone lining the auditorium aisles, singing with gusto as our operatic teachers from the music department belted out a patriotic number from the stage.

Quite a memorable performance!

Here are a few photos of the evening.  Certainly puts to shame anything a US college would have put together, that’s for sure.  Seeing such school pride displayed by students, faculty and administrators alike was truly inspiring.  Looking at the pictures below, I think you’ll agree.

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In a country where immigrants are at risk, our Chinese immigrant (小老老, Little Old-old) Thrives

In America’s current climate where immigrants are at risk, my family’s diminuative Chinese immigrant might very well come out on top.

Every year, my local hometown paper in Marshall, Ilinois, has a seasonal contest (usually in the winter) in which residents vote for a winner by placing pennies into a contestant’s container.  The container with the most money is the winner, with prizes being donated by various Marshall businesses and the penny donations going to a local charity.

For several years, the contest has been limited to only men with The Best Beard Contest.

During the opening day of the contest, photos of our community’s hefty guys with well-endowed, tidy, full beards filled The Marshall Advocate’s pages for the opening day.  After that, citizens were invited to stop into the newspaper office to vote.  Large plastic pickle jars, with each contestant’s name and picture posted on each one, lined the Advocate’s front desk.  Residents were then encouraged to drop by and toss in their pennies (as many as desired) to select who they felt should win the grand prize.  This usually went on the entire month of February, after which tallies were totaled, the top 3 place winners announced, prizes given and proceeds sent to the chosen charity,

This year, the paper’s editor and staff took a different path.  Instead of a contest of beards, we have a contest of furry, feathery or scaly critters.  Yes, it’s the Best Pet Ever Contest!

From January 16 to 31, entries have been flooding the newspaper, including the one I sent for Lao-lao.  Requirements included a photo and 50 words (max) telling people what’s special about our little guy.  Hard to limit his unique, and ornery, personality to 50 words but my mom and I came up with what we hope is a good summing-up of his most desirable characteristics.

The penny voting jars will be open from Feb. 3 – 24, with winners announced in the February 28th edition of The Marshall Advocate. This can be viewed online at strohmnews.com, for anyone interested.

I must say the prizes are pretty desirable.  The winner will receive $675 worth of pet merchandise, gift baskets and gift certificates from local restaurants, flower shops and even the veterinarian clinic.  Second place receives $50 cash and 3rd place receives $25.

But the most rewarding prize of all will be the donations in the jars, sent to our local animal rescue group, Rescue Me Clifford.

My mom and I are hoping that our Lao-lao will pull ahead of the pack in pennies because of his town celebrity stardom.  He’s been featured in the newspaper several times for his immigrant story, that of surviving the Sichuan 2008 earthquake and his remarkable journey to America after I scooped him up off the streets of China, broken jaw and all.  He also has his own children’s book in our public library, a book which I have as yet to find a publisher for.

And if he doesn’t win?  Not a top priority on our list.  It’s really  just the fun and joy of entering.  My mom and I hope that Lao-lao’s jar will fill up with enough monetary donations that the group receiving the funds, Rescue Me Clifford, will greatly benefit.  Being a rescue himself, it’s only fitting that our little Chi should give back to his American brothers and sisters in the animal kingdom here.  He’s very proud to be a part of our USA small town and wants to help in every way possible.

Wish him luck!  And Ping An (Peace) in his happy home life.

Our Entry

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What’s Special about Lao-lao in 50 words or less?

Law-abiding (legal immigrant, from China), low-maintenance (sleeps 24/7 with minimal breaks for food and walks), quiet (one bark per year), safety-approved (no biting capability due to limited teeth), self-cleaning (grooms daily), economical (licks plates clean), abstains from promiscuous behavior (neutered), compact (fits easily in a totebag), crowd-pleaser (just darn cute!)

小老老  Xiao Lao-lao (Little Old-old)

 

 

 

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My 2016 Christmas Open Houses

I’m still playing catch-up after such a long silence.

I wanted to share these pictures of my Christmas parties for students, faculty and friends.  Mostly, I am very proud of all those decorations!  Being in a new apartment, it was quite the task to unpack my Christmas hoard of celebratory items (all 5 boxes of them) and try to arrange them for the first time in my new home.

Usually, decorating takes about 3 days, from beginning to end, but this year it was 7.  I was fortunate to have Jackie, the Peace Corp volunteer, to consult with about where things should go and give advice (not to mention help) in lining the walls with lights, posters, sparkly roping and whatever else necessary to fill in vacant spaces. (Many thanks to you, Jackie!)

The end result was magnificent!  Everyone who entered received quite a taste of Connie’s Christmas bananza.  In Jackie’s words, “I love coming into your home.  It just makes me  so . . . . happy!!”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.  Hope you feel happy, too, after seeing all the below photos.  Enjoy!

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A Trip to the Windy City

The following photos are for a few of my Chinese followers who were asking about Chicago and what my mom and I did there.  Here are a few visuals from our trip which we took a week ago.

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Nearing the Year of the Rooster

The Chinese Spring Festival, the Year of the Rooster, is January 27  and is nearly upon us.  My college’s Fall semester ended January 9, and finally, I find a moment to breath.  All I can say is:  What a crazy, chaotic, topsy-turvy semester!

Let me start with  catch-up news, of which there is plenty. It started with doing without.

The New Campus:  Unprepared and Unfinished

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The 11-story faculty apartment building for single teachers looked great from a distance but inside, a lot needed to be taken care of during those first months of the Fall semester.

No consistently working elevators.  No Internet. No hot water. No washing machine.  No gas for cooking.  No remote for the air-conditioning units.  No nearby grocery stores for shopping.

There was an even further dilemma of trash control.  There were no bins or trashcans yet on campus so rubbish from the the student dorms, cafeteria, and offices  was piling high in the most unusual places.

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One of those huge heaps was near our building.

Eventually, a giant iron garbage bin was hauled in to be plopped in the middle of our campus roadway.  Some improvement not to have to step over and through all that had been discarded but  I can tell you, the smell (and the sight of this) was pretty disgusting.

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Yes, it was a challenging move to the new campus (at the outskirts of Luzhou), for Jackie Zubin (a Peace Corp volunteer)  and myself.

 

Moving Into a Building Not Yet Ready

Our new faculty apartment building for single teachers, with 66 units of apartments (6 on each floor), was fairly empty the month of September because no one wanted to move into a building that wasn’t yet truly ready for inhabiting. It was the last building to hastily go up before the school opened, thus the one that had the most problems.  Many of the teachers held off moving in until December, when things finally settled down.

Wise move.

We two foreign teachers, however, had no choice.

Our  lease was up at the posh apartments we were temporarily housed at and the landlords refused to allow us to stay longer.  Also, the school administrators wanted us on campus for safety reasons, with no commuting from far away distances to reach the school.

Thus off Jackie and I went, a full two days of the 3-man-company movers coming back and forth in their small truck, loading and unloading our furniture, boxes, heavy appliances and other items we had.

Luckily on that day, one elevator was working  to haul everything to the 9th floor where we  finally settled into.

However, as we soon found out, there were many things that were not yet taken care of.

We had no hot water or gas hook-up for cooking for 3 weeks.  We had no washing machine usage for 6 weeks (The workers were too busy to connect our machines for us).  We had no Internet for 6 1/2 weeks until the school finally  negotiated  Internet terms with China Telecom. The students all  had WiFi connection via the entire campus system, as did all the offices, but the wiring in our building was defective.   We later learned that finding where in the building the faulty line was located would be next to impossible without electricians tearing through the entire network, located in the walls.

The astronomical cost and timely feasibility of correcting the error was pretty much dismissed as not doable.  Thus it was decided that each apartment unit would have to be connected to the city’s communication’s system, China Telecom.  For the foreigners, the school took up the cost of monthly payments but for the other Chinese teachers living in our building, they would have to pay the $200 US a year on their own.

Many decided not to bother and just use the campus WiFi once they stepped within the campus WiFi network.

And while the air-conditioning wall units had been installed, the remote controls were nowhere to be found as they were tucked away in someone’s office drawer.  We sweltered away in Luzhou’s horrible September heat for a good week before they finally were thrust into our hot little hands.

God Bless Elevators!

 We struggled through all the above with great fortitude and understanding . . . .  until it came to the elevators.

After our first week, suddenly, the two elevators were turned off.

I admit, the turning off was partly my fault.

I was actually stuck in one of them on the 1st floor and had to call out for help.  A worker came and jumped up and down on the top of it  (the entire compartment shaking and rattling as he did so) until the doors slowly jiggled opened.

Needless to say, I didn’t step back into that elevator again.

Not a problem in doing so again because once the word got out that the foreign teacher had been stuck inside, both were immediately turned off until a proper inspection could take place.  This left  me and Jackie to hike up and down 9 flights of stairs  every day for 3 days.

It would have been longer except I decided enough was enough.

I sent out 5 text messages to 5 different leaders.  I profusely apologized for bothering them but I was an old lady (in my 50’s), very tired from teaching so many, and walking up and down 9 flights of stairs every day was very difficult for me.

Could someone please turn on at least one elevator for old foreign teacher, Connie?  It would be greatly appreciated.

Within 1 hour of those texts, in the drizzling rain, 3 administrators arrived to my building:  English Dean Horace He, Mr. Liu (foreign affairs director) and  housing affairs director Mr. Chen with  the elevator key.  All gathered around the right-hand elevator while Mr. Chen ceremoniously placed his key into the lock and turned it on.  After that,  we all took turns going up and down  3 times to make sure it was in proper working order.

Mr. Chen posted a Chinese sign on the outside of the elevator  that said if something went wrong, call him.  (Why on the outside, I’m not sure because if you’re stuck on the inside, how would you know his number?)  I was then cautioned to bring my cell phone with me at all times so I could call for help.

Didn’t exactly restore my faith in the elevator but as long as I didn’t have to hike up 9 flights of stairs several times a day, I wasn’t going to complain.  I learned my lesson the first time!

 Settling In

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November finally had  Jackie and me settling in nicely, although here it is in January  and I still have many boxes yet to dig through. There just was no time in between teaching, swimming, church choir ( a huge commitment), 4 animal rescues (too many to report quickly), decorating and baking for the holidays, Christmas open houses (12 in total) and end-of-term testing plus grading.

Visiting the States

                Unpacking those boxes, by the way, is certainly not on the agenda today.

I’m back in Illinois, visiting my mom for my Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) holidays.  We’ve just returned from a trip to the Windy City where we enjoyed the lyric opera (The Magic Flute), Broadway’s “Hamilton”, a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry, as well as a few shopping ventures plus lunch in the Walnut Room,  located in what is now Macy’s but before Marshall Field’s.

Now it’s back to smalltown living where I am getting my newsletter in order and repacking the suitcase for my return to China on Feb. 7.  It is a very short holiday this year, only 4 weeks, so not much recuperation time from last semester.

This next semester won’t be any easier than last, either.

Our school’s second Peace Corp volunteer, Garett the lawyer, didn’t return after the summer holiday last August.  His surprising exit meant that all of his courses had to be divided between Jackie and me.  It was a bit of a chore but we managed and will be doing the same this coming Spring.

It’s added a lot of extra hours that we haven’t had before, thus the very long silence on my website.  Most likely, after I return to China, the same will happen but for now, just thought I’d update a bit.

As always, wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your upcoming weekend and smooth sailing into the Year of the Rooster.

 

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Sharing My U.S. Election Ballot with My Chinese College Students

 

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The move to my new college campus, at the outskirts of Luzhou (loo-joe) city in Sichuan Province, China, brought with it a lot of changes.  New area of the city, new school  buildings, excellent classroom equipment and a  modern 11-story faculty housing  complex with 66 apartment units.

                The latter has me finally settling into my 9th floor apartment overlooking a river, terraced farmland and a distant railway line that carries cargo during the midnight hours.    It’s not the Yangtze River, which was my balcony view before, but it proves to be just as pleasant.

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My current view from my balcony, including the distant cargo train line, raised high above the land.

 

 

 

             The new apartment has a much bigger space than my previous tiny one, thus I’ve been having open house student  visits which have become quite the campus buzz.

Each class, anywhere from 40 to 50 students, has been divided into two groups to visit my home. My college freshmen, sophomores and seniors have been alighting  during the past few weeks to play  table-top games, take countless cell phone photo snapshots and write housewarming wishes to me which are then taped to my balcony’s sliding doors.

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Students write housewarming wishes while sitting in my outer living area.

               

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After finishing their wishes, these were posted on my balcony sliding doors (in the background)

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So many wishes warmed my heart, and my home.

It was right before one of these open houses that my absentee ballot arrived, sent straight from our Clark County Courthouse by our very own County Clerk and Recorder, Carrie Downey.  

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My voting envelope arrived with self-addressed envelope and ballot inside.

                I had tucked away the ballot envelope on a shelf, where I’d later open to vote, when one of my visiting open house students, Ajay (Mize Ke), announced, “Your election is coming very soon.”

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Ajay corners me with voting questions.

               

      “Yes,” I replied.  “On November 8.”

                “So will you go back to America to vote?” Ajay asked me in all seriousness.

                I had to laugh at that one.

How could any American overseas teacher even consider  buying a $2,000 airplane ticket to trek back to America, vote, and then return to teach  classes within a 24-hour period? 

That’s a mighty dedicated voter! 

                Such a ludicrous question is understandable, however.   My Chinese students are quite provincial.  They think all Americans are rich.  Many have never been on an airplane before, much less know that my traveling time from Luzhou all the way to Marshall and back again would take much longer than 24 hours. Plus U.S. voting procedures are unknown to them so the question, while seemingly silly, isn’t all that odd.

                “Well, actually,” I replied, “I can vote via the Internet or even by mail. I’ve chosen mail. Do you want to see how we Americans do that if we live overseas?”

                “Yes!  I want to know!” Ajay piped up excitedly.

                “Just a minute and I’ll show you.”

                I retrieved my unopened ballot envelope and returned to an anxious Ajay.

                Those within earshot of our conversation began  gathering around as Ajay did the honors of carefully opening the outer envelope.

                “Your first U.S. Presidential election, Ajay,” I joked.

Didn’t take long for his classmates to join in on the fun.

                “Yes, Ajay.   Who will you vote for?” his roommate, Nick (Zhu Hongzhi), teased.  “Must be Trump.  He’s a rich man.   He will help you get a lot of money.”

                The other male students nodded in agreement.

                “No, not that man,” Jessica (Yan Yingqiu) retorted.  “Vote for a woman.  The woman president is best.  She will lead strongly, I think.”

                My female students murmured approval, backing up Jessica’s comments for Hilary Clinton.

                As Ajay finished opening the envelope, we pulled out the contents:  ballot, ballot information sheet and the self-addressed, return mailing also enclosed inside.

                I explained each piece of paper, including the fact that on the ballot, there were other people to choose from besides just the President.

                “After the national leaders, here are the candidates for my state and local offices.    In fact, my brother is running for a local office, County Board.”

                “Really?” Ajay asked, searching the ballot.  “Where’s his name?” 

                “He’s for another area, another county, so I can’t vote for him,” I said sadly.  “But I would if I could.”

                “In China, only Communist Party Members can choose government leaders,” Nick commented . “I’m not a Party member.  It’s too much trouble.”

                I’d already known that.

 I used to think everyone was a Communist Party Member in China but that’s not the case.  To join the Party, adults 18 or older must first have a sponsoring member to vouch for them, attend orientation meetings which introduce them to the duties and obligations of a Party member, take Party Membership classes  and  finally pass an exam.  After that, Party Members attend monthly meetings in their areas, pay monthly dues (around $30 US)  and are allowed to vote for  government office candidates vetted from among their ranks.  They can also run for government offices themselves with Party approval or group consensus from their different regions.

There is definitely a voting procedure that takes place in China but for most offices, it is among Party members only, not the grand masses.  And many city, provincial and national government offices are appointments only  by the higher ups in the Party, much like our US President who has the ability to appoint individuals to certain positions without Congressional approval.

Being a Party member can be quite a boost to one’s personal career, especially in the business world and if applying for civil servant positions.  Among educators, it’s somewhat a necessity to join the Party in order  to move  up the ladder in any school system, whether elementary, secondary or  tertiary .  Party membership allows a classroom teacher to ambitiously move upward to become a professor (no PhD required for this title), a principal, a dean or other administrative positions.

 Most of my students, who will be teaching English at the elementary or junior high school level, don’t bother with Party membership.  They are quite satisfied with being a simple school teacher without the pressures of a higher position.  But we do have Party enrollment meetings that take place on our campus every semester.  Those interested join in and finish their initiation process within a year.

“ So who will you vote for?” one of my students asked, looking at the empty ballot boxes not yet filled in.

“That’s a secret,” I hedged .  “Some people don’t like to share their opinion while others like to tell everyone.  Depends on the person.”

“How about  Little Sister?” Jessica asked with a grin, looking down at her feet where my Chihuahua  sat wagging her tail.  “Who will she vote for?”

“Good question,” I replied. “So, Sister, who will you vote for? Trump or Hillary?”

All eyes were on my dog.

Sister gazed upwardly at our expectant faces.   Her nose twitched.  Her mouth opened.  Was this canine actually about to speak?! 

It truly seemed so, until she scooped up a piece of candy from off the floor and scurried away.

We all burst into laughter.

                “Looks like her vote is a secret, too,”Jessica sighed.

                Yes, Jessica, I guess so! 

          Here’s a reminder to all that every vote counts, no matter who you’re voting for or from where.  My vote from China is already in my local ballot box in Marshall, Illinois.   Be sure to add yours for your own city or town elections.  Happy voting, everyone!

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Little Beautiful Sister is still deciding. Just remember, every vote counts! Don’t forget to caste your ballot on November 8.  It’s a great honor and privilege to do so.

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The English Association’s Halloween Party: A huge success!

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