I can’t believe how fast this month has flown by. How can Christmas be just a few days away? And how can it be that I’ve been “stuck” here for almost a year now? Yes, still waiting for my visa to be approved, which seems unlikely to happen due to our unstable virus situation here in America. We just can’t seem to keep Covid from rampantly invading every niche, corner and crevice of our country, including our own Covid fatigue, somewhat defeated attitude. So many, tiring of stay-at-home urgent pleas and mandates, itch for close contact with loved ones, family and friends to the point of throwing all care to the winds. We are seeing, after the massive “Homeward bound!” during the Thanksgiving Day holidays, where that has landed us: In a dire, mind-numbing quagmire of virus cases that sink us deeper and deeper into the unknown.
My greatest hope is that getting the vaccine, which I’m guessing will be a requirement for any foreigner re-entering China, will give the necessary boost I need to bring me back into my English language classroom. Hope for that; wish for that; pray for that.
In the meantime, let me offer up a happier, more cheerful and festive look at the happenings from my end
Decorating my Mom’s New House
My mom and I have been busy decorating her new home for Christmas, which demanded pulling out all the bins stuffed with so many of my childhood memories of Christmas: the 90-year-old Christmas scene, the 1930’s creche, treasured tree ornaments, holiday figurines and stuffed animals, and ornamental gifts from friends and family over the years. It was fun finding just where to put things.
In her old home, every piece had its special, time-honored place on the shelves, on the walls, on the tabletops, on the buffet, on the piano . . . But in the new house, choosing the proper spot was a challenge. We spent hours, even days, selecting items, discussing placement, analyzing balance, commenting on decor, moving things from here to there, adding this or subtracting that . . . The production of it all! But, oh, what satisfaction and delight in the final settling.
Sure, there are still a few frowns and sideways glances at what might be better elsewhere but those will be saved for next year. As it stands now, the house is finished!
A Visit to Danke’s Tree Farm
Preparing the Outside
And the Inside: Tree is first!
Next come all the family favorites
The Christmas Scene
My most favorite, and missed while in China, Christmas tradition has always been the Christmas Scene. These 1930’s and 40’s Barclay figurines have been saved and kept safe for many years. The houses as well, which include an 1800’s wooden cabin with a 150-year-old couple to match. Don’t you want to shrink yourself to an appropriate size to live here? I sure do!
What a grand holiday home!
We still have a few more trinkets to go but my mom has decided that, for this year anyway, not everything needs to come out of storage. After all, have to save something for next year, right? Thus leaving this year’s Christmas home a finished product.
Until my next entry, may peace (Ping an) and joy be with you.
Note: My mom’s weekly column for our local newspaper talks about Christmas cookies. I’ll add my next entry about my cookie-making in China, with pictures.
Walking about Town, by Priscilla Wieck
My mom, Priscilla Wieck, and I are enjoying the holidays together (Unmasked for this selfie picture. Otherwise, we are fully facially covered for virus protection.)
December blew in last week, bringing our coldest temps so far. I have had to retrieve my winter coat from the far reaches of the closet and my knit hat from winter storage to be able to continue our daily walks. Dog Bridget, however, has gloried in the wind and cold, prancing and chasing around like a pup. She surely is a winter dog because she begs to remain outside when it is sunny, snug in her doggie bed even after a cold walk.
In December, walking in the town of Marshall becomes more interesting due to all the Christmas decorations that suddenly appear after Thanksgiving. During November, we walked the fair grounds in the late afternoon and followed with interest the assembling of the annual Festival of Lights. We will visit the result of all those volunteer hours of work put forth by our Christmas Committee in a few days. Many thanks to all those who spend so much time and effort to make our holiday season brighter.
Also in December, Christmas cookies become a subject of interest. This year, there seems to be a full-fledged debate occurring about the worthiness of those delectable morsels. Rex Huppke began this debate in his column of November 27th in the Chicago Tribune. Rex, who is a bit of a curmudgeon in my opinion, opened his column with this simple statement: “Nobody actually likes Christmas cookies.”
Huppke further claimed that we only make them because of tradition and we only eat them because of the frosting. Why else would so many people “offload the goodies they are given on friends and neighbors if they like them so much?” he asked.
I would debate Huppke on this subject. I happen to like Christmas cookies. In fact, in years past I actually enjoyed making them.
His column started me wondering just which Christmas cookie is the most popular among bakers and eaters. I would have guessed a cut out frosted Santa or tree, but no. General Mills Kitchens reports that the most requested holiday recipe in 2019 was for Peanut Butter Blossoms. I assume those are the ones made into little balls with Hersey Kisses on top. They are good but I prefer a thin, orange-zest flavored cut-out sugar cookie, the kind my mother so laboriously and lovingly made each year.
Contrary to Huppke’s posit, maybe we like Christmas cookies because they bring back a little taste of home with fond memories. Maybe we enjoy making them because as we do, we envision the enjoyment others will have when eating them. And just maybe we offer them to friends and family out of the joy of giving something of ourselves.
So that ends my debate with Mr. Huppke. Who do you think won?
A History of the Christmas Cookie
How did this Christmas cookie business get started, anyway?
To find out, I consulted my somewhat reliable resource Wikipedia and found that the making of special holiday foods began hundreds of years ago when the Druids celebrated Winter Solstice — sort of a feast-before-winter-famine idea. Later, when trade routes from the far east were developed, spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger were available to home cooks. Recipes for biscuits (the Brits’ name for cookies) can be traced to Medieval Europe with additional ingredients of almonds, black pepper and dried fruit.
The earliest examples of today’s goodies were brought to America by the Dutch in the early 17th century. When the Germans introduced the first tin cookie cutters in the 1800’s, popularity of a frosted cut-out cookie really blossomed. Recipe books featured ways to incorporate the various shapes into the holiday decorations by hanging them on Christmas trees as well as serving them to guests. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that someone came up with the idea of pairing those cookies with milk and setting them out for Santa.
Many different countries have contributed to the variety of Christmas cookies that modern day families enjoy. The ones we seem to cherish the most are made from those recipes that have been handed down in our own individual families.
We should never underestimate the importance of the humble cookie. It is one of the many traditions that holds our families together throughout the years. So, eat up and enjoy!
“A balanced diet is a Christmas cookie in each hand.”–Anonymous
My Christmas cookies last year, which I so lovingly made for my students, friends and colleagues in China.
It’s Thanksgivingday weekend and time for me to share what I am thankful for. Being “stuck” in America for so long hasn’t been something that I was expecting. Recently, I’ve tried not to dwell upon my holiday lessons, which I so much look forward to each year and are not to happen for 2020. Instead, I’m concentrating on the connection I do have with my China. I am so appreciative that our modern technology allows me to stay in touch with others around the world. How does this take place? Through WeChat!
WeChat is similar to Facebook and is used throughout China for instant communication with others through this special phone App. My WeChat account has a “Moments” page where I blog and post pictures of the topics I cover. I post teaching videos or walk-about-my-town clips. I record me and my mom singing or my hometown church in worship. I also have individual communication chats with all my Chinese friends so we can share what we’re doing on a daily basis.
Expanding my connections even more, I also belong to numerous WeChat groups: My college’s alums, my former students’, my Luzhou church groups (church choir, daily scripture readings, English prayer learners), my college English department, Foreigners in Luzhou, and my college students (English Association, English Corner Extravaganza, English Center volunteers).
One of my Favorite WeChat Groups: Connie’s English Corner
Connie’s English Corner is one of my favorites. A very motivated Luzhou Vocational and Technical College alum, a Business English major, started this among her classmates. Her English name is Stacey and, while she was not one of my students, many others she knew were. Stacey (now married and expecting her second child) has been doing online courses to qualify for an English Translation certification. Her drive to improve her English is quite commendable. She began her English WeChat group to help unite her former English-speaking friends and classmates but also to help her in her own studies in English.
After I joined her group, she decided to change the name to Connie’s English Corner, and so it has remained for several years.
A Close-knit, Long-distance Community
One of the reasons I rejoice in this special connection with all who have joined is their infectious humorous banter back and forth, not to mention their heartfelt sharing of their lives. You can feel the close-knit comaraderie among this special crowd, separated by miles, provinces, countries and even half the world, as in my case. The good-natured quips, joking comments, wicked teasing and shared sharp wit lift my spirits and make me truly grateful to have met each and every one of these young adults.
Their English names fill my chat box: Stacey, Mike, Herbert, Jason, Melody, Sarah, Violet, Alex, Ivy, Emily, Frida, and Hanna. Their busy lives with family and jobs never seem to interfere with taking time to post happenings of the week or day. Here are a few from the past few months.
Connie’s Mistake; Herbert’s Modeling Career
(Background: Herbert’s company sells Halloween decor to overseas’ partners, from masks to animated figures to ghoulish mannequins.)
Jason: Are you a mask model?
Herbert: Professional. Free of charge. Only like to show it with photos.
Connie: My favorite is the pug (That’s a kind of dig).
Jason: @ Connie — Dog!! Wrongly spilt.
Stacey: @ Jason — Spelled, not spilt. Wrongly spelled.
Jason: So bad!
Connie: Not as bad a mistake as I made. I’m the native speaker!!
Stacey: And the English teacher. (winking emoji)
Connie (crying face): So sad.
Stacey, me and Jason: a 2017 meet-up.
Jason (my former student) with Stacey and her little boy (first child). This is a 2018 photo in the springtime.
Stacey’s WeChat Lament
Stacey and her first child, a little boy. We met up 2 years ago when I visited Chengdu, near her hometown.
Stacey and Baby Boy number 1: 2018
(Stacey, pregnant with her second child, is doing online courses for an English Translation certificate. She had an in-person exam at a campus testing center and while waiting for her husband to pick her up, and re-hashing her test answers, she sent the below.)
Stacey: My god! I translated “world environment” wrong in my exam. I realized it at the last minute but the right word did not appear in my brain. I just attended an exam today, translation exam. We had two parts. Morning and afternoon. I am seated in a chair on the campus right now, waiting for my husband to drive me home. What a pity I wronged a word. Maybe 2 points or more is lost due to it. I wrote “inport” in last year’s exam. Today I made same mistake on easy words.
Connie: Don’t feel so bad. It happens! Do you remember Dean Li Xiaolian? Her mistake was tragic on her PhD entrance exam for the program at Beijing University. She passed the English interview with high marks. She easily passed the Chinese parts of the exam (teaching methodology, Communist Party Principles, philosophy and others) after studying for 8 months. Then came the very simple English section. Her BA and MA were in English. How could she possibly fail the basic English section of the standard PhD test? She easily whizzed through it and waited until the next day when she confidently knew she’d be asked into the PhD program. But when the committee invited her to sit in the office, she was told all her scores were outstanding except for one: The English section. In shock, she was told she had accidentally skipped a question when she filled in the ovals, meaning every question after the one she skipped (which was Number 2) had the incorrect answer for all the other 33 questions. Thus she failed. And because there was an age limit to studying for a PhD, she wasn’t qualified to try again the next year.
Stacey: What a pity for her!
Connie: Yes. She said she cried almost every day for 2 months.
Stacey: I will attend more English exams.
Connie: Do you feel nervous?
Stacey: Now I no longer feel nervous about exams. I am a veteran.
Connie: How about the baby?
Stacey: The baby will be born within half a month.
Connie: That’s so exciting. Such a lucky baby to have such a good, and intelligent, mother.
A plea for help that disintegrates into congenial ribbing
(Violet, working in a government position, was asked to translate for her department head a many-paged document with specialized, political language. She attached the Chinese document and announced the below. )
Violet: Who will help me translate this?
Jason: I can’t.
Stacey: Too much! I’m powerless
Luo: How about Mike?
(No answer. 5 hours later)
Jason: Where r u, Mike?
Melody: Where is Mike? Violet needs you! Eagerly needs you.
Connie: @ Violet. There are many Apps that can be downloaded which can translate difficult documents into English. I know WeChat has one. Look on your Chinese websites and see what you can find.
Jason: A very good idea.
Stacey: It’s a big project. You can hire someone to do it.
Jason: Yes. Hire someone. Hire someone.
(Silence until a day later)
Mike: Hey! What happened? Seems I have missed getting tens of millions of $.
Stacey: Yes, Mike, you are wanted!
Mike: I have been tied up with work stuff.
Jason: A good excuse. How is your translation work now, Violet?
Melody: I think not even started.
Violet: Just like Melody said — not even started.
Melody: Ah! I am right. How well I know you, Violet!
Jason: Of Course. After all, you two used to skip classes together.
Melody: Nonsense! We were the hardworking ones. If not, we wouldn’t be good friends and successful women.
Jason. Well, there must be something wrong with my memory. My memory is hard work shopping.
Violet’s emoji followed:
Ah, how I love this group! Can’t wait for us to meet up again in future correspondence via WeChat. And when I do return to China, we are planning a large reunion on the new campus of Luzhou Vocational and Technical College. What a joyful day that will be!
The below article was written by my mom for her weekly newspaper column, “Walk with Me.” Thought you’d enjoy it here.
Walk with Me, by Priscilla Wieck
I had planned to get back to writing this column in September and it is November already. That reality hit me when I opened an edition of the Terre Haute Tribune last week and saw an article headlined in huge print, “The Mayflower, 400 years later, famed ship’s legacy lives on.” All of a sudden I realized that we are deep into November and Thanksgiving is almost here. If I want to write anything about that day, I had better get busy.
My name, Priscilla , is well known in the state of Massachusetts where I was born because of the often told romance of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. They were fellow voyagers on the Mayflower who were the first couple to wed in the New World. Every year when Thanksgiving came around, their story and those of Pilgrims, Native Americans and the good ship Mayflower were faithfully told and reenacted by a multitude of school children in hundreds of Massachusetts grade school classrooms .We were all made aware that our state bore the distinct privilege of holding the “First Thanksgiving” title.
Imagine my surprise to discover, when I read the Mayflower article in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, that quite a few of those stories were made up of rather unsubstantiated facts. For instance, an art print that hung in our classroom depicted the Pilgrim leader, William Bradford, standing beside Plymouth Rock ,one foot upon it as if he was coming ashore. In reality,Pilgrims first landed on some part of Cape Cod Bay and didn’t reach Plymouth and the rock until several weeks later. And the rock was way too large to set foot upon, anyway.
Many discrepancies in the story of the Pilgrims first Thanksgiving have been uncovered by contemporary historians. Yes, the native tribes instructed the settlers how to grow corn and beans but their arrival was too late to plant a crop to serve at the often re-enacted first feast. In fact, the Europeans spent most of year one living a miserable existence aboard the ship . And as for the art print we students revered showing Pilgrims walking to church in their Dutch influenced garb,neatly starched and ironed, through the snow, muskets and all, forget that!
Hmmm. Me thinks the first Thanksgiving Day gathering is a bit exaggerated here.
The arrival of the Europeans marked the beginning of a long period of enslavement and disease that nearly wiped out indigenous people of North America. More and more, historians are telling both sides of the story—the “foreigners” versus the Native Americans. Many of the childhood myths that we grew up hearing are no longer thought to accurate. Even the love story of John and Priscilla has had doubt cast upon it. I’ll still believe that one!
John and Priscilla, so devout . . . and tidy!
Here we are, 400 years after the Mayflower’s journey. Our country is now made up of such a mixture of people from different races , colors and ethnicities that I wonder if much of the story of the first Thanksgiving is relevant to our present diverse population. The Pilgrims did,however, leave us a legacy of setting aside a day every year to be thankful and that is a good thing. Perhaps this year, you may not think you have much to be thankful for. COVID 19 has entered into the very core of our being. Many have lost loved ones , lives and livelihoods have been disrupted and many families will not be able to gather together for the yearly homecomings.
Perhaps we should all, this year especially , be grateful for what we do have instead of what we can’t have. We all can look forward to a New Year full of promise for a vaccine that will allow us to live a more normal life. While we are waiting for that day ,we can still give thanks that we are here, we are alive,we have friends and family and we live in this great country of ours. The Pilgrims did something right, after all, so enjoy your day. And many blessings to you all.
“Give thanks, not just on Thanksgiving Day, but every day of your life. Appreciate and never take for granted all that you have.”—-Margaret Wright
The past 10 months I’ve been “stuck” here in the States have been a challenge.
The early months had me waiting anxiously for the ban in China to lift. I was optimistic of a quick return. I rejoiced in the extra time I was spending with my mom, a time which I had often longed for but never thought could possibly happen due to the position I held as an Amity Foundation teacher in China. Those first few months were a treasure with much-needed rest and trips down memory lane as I packed up my childhood and young adult belongings to be moved to my mom’s new house.
Ah! As Sreejith comments: The taste of that first apple (here being a much-longed-for extended family time) was wonderful!
But then came the second apple, and the third, and the 5th with all those special moments I had once loved suddenly becoming mundane and unwelcome. That feeling of thankfulness began to waiver as the summer came and went, and Fall now upon us with a Midwestern winter at my fingertips. My China home feels seemingly unattainable as the Covid ban continues and our US Covid cases explode.
I remember one particularly tough morning in late August where I completely broke down in tears. The school year was about to begin. Reports of students returning from their summer holidays filled my WeChat messages. Other foreigners teaching at overseas international schools in China had permission to return but not yet for me, an Amity Foundation teacher employed by a small 3-year Chinese college in a small city. So unfair!
I sat at the kitchen counter, my spirits lower than ever before, when the morning sun came streaming in. The crystal prism my mom had dangling in the window sent waves of sparkling rainbows sprinting across the cherry-floral wallpaper. A hummingbird, his vibrant greens and reds glistening in the rays, energetically began enjoying our homemade nectar from the feeder positioned at the window.
The realization came: I can either be grateful for every moment I am here or mope about, stressing and fretting about things I have no control over.
Isn’t it better to count my blessings?
Zoom meet-ups with United Methodist groups, church meetings, participating in worship services with my mom (duets every first Sunday of the month), making mini teaching videos for my English Education majors to watch, moving and settling into my mom’s new home, plus completely enjoying the beauty of an Illinois autumn.
And how grateful I am for our modern technology that unites me with “my” China: WeChat messages and notices on my cellphone come from China on a regular basis: the Luzhou church choir rehearsals in full swing for Christmas; Chinese Bible verses to study from my Luzhou church scripture leader; my English Daily Prayer postings to be read; Notes from students exclaiming “Connie, we miss you!”; a video of my empty apartment and scraggly plants which my downstairs’ teaching colleague, “Bruce” Li, is watering; photos of spoiled, happy rescue kitty Ping-ping, sent by former church choir director Zheng who adopted her last summer.
I have so much to be joyful about.
With Thanksgiving Day approaching, the first one I’ve had in America in almost 30 years, I am truly thankful.
So I say, “Bring on that 10th apple!” I’m now willing, ready and able to take a big bite of gratitude for all that I have.
Here’s wishing you 平安 (Ping An, Peace) for your upcoming weekend and hoping your 10th apple is just as sweet as mine.
From the Christian Science Monitor, Home Forum, October 31, 2002
Today, No Other Vegetable will Do
by Cornelia Wieck
“She wants a what?” barks the fruit seller standing next to the vegetable lady.
I am in one of the many street markets of Luzhou, a small city located along the Yangtze River in China’s Sichuan Province. Already, a crowd of curious onlookers is gathering: white-haired grandmas, toothless old men, mothers shifting squirming infants. Everyone is waiting, wondering what the foreigner wants that is causing such a fuss.
I take a deep breath. The crowd leans in.
“Nangua!” I explode in my best Chinese. “A pumpkin! Do you have a pumpkin?”
Faces brighten with comprehension, but, alas, no nangua here, and I am forced to move on to yet another market in my search for Halloween.
As an American English teacher in China, the urge is strong to explain my country’s cultural traditions to my students. I have had plenty of success in teaching the Chinese about significant United States holidays and events, Halloween being one of them. Yet I am now in a new teaching position, in a different region of the country which seems to boast every kind of produce known to man except the one I want for Oct. 31.
I have learned that in teaching about Halloween, there is no substitute for a carved pumpkin. Explanations produce blank stares. Drawings are misinterpreted. Pictures only puzzle.
Sure, I can forgo showing a real jack-o’-lantern to my students. I can lecture on the history of this druid-based tradition. We can bob for apples, have a go at wearing masks, and role-play trick-or-treating.
But nothing elicits the childlike excitement I associate with All Hallows’ Eve than a darkened room with a lit candle glowing from a pumpkin’s cackling face. For that reason, I am willing to go through just about anything to find a pumpkin for my students.
In another section of the city, I make my way down another alleyway into yet another outdoor market.
“Do you have a nangua?” I ask the first seller I see.
“A what?” the woman snaps.
“A nangua,” I repeat.
The seller surveys her table’s tidy display of produce.
“How about a xigua?” she offers.
No, I don’t want a watermelon. I want a pumpkin.
“A hamigua?” she tries, lifting up a ripe muskmelon and thumping it with a smile.
I shake my head.
“A donggua!” she beams, shoving a winter melon into my hands. “These are good for the health, you know?”
Yes, I know, but, no, I don’t want a winter melon.
“What about a nangua?” I persist.
My seller thinks I am deliberately being difficult. “Pumpkins?” she snorts. “Don’t have those.”
I sigh. Perhaps this year I will have to make do without a jack-o’-lantern after all.
A barefooted, sun-browned farmer waves to me. He has a huge wicker basket full of something.
“Foreigner! Come, come.”
He beckons, smiling so invitingly that I am sure he has what I am looking for.
“Nangua?” I question excitedly, peering into his basket.
“Houzi!” he announces with pride. He pulls out a subtropical citrus fruit the size of a soccer ball and holds it up for me to see.
“Oh,” is all I can say. My disappointment is so apparent that the man takes pity on me.
“You want a pumpkin?” he says. “Go to that place, to the left. Not certain, but maybe that seller has a pumpkin.”
I thank him and head in the direction he has pointed, but I hold little hope that I will find what I want.
The market stand I approach is overburdened with a variety of earthy yields.
“Do you have a nangua?” I ask the woman sitting with her goods.
“A pumpkin?” she repeats, thinking carefully before suddenly rising from her chair.
After some time digging through nearby baskets and sacks, she pulls out a rather pathetic representative of the vine-crops family. It’s not very big, nor is its greenish-orange hue a desirable color. Nonetheless, it is a pumpkin, and I am ecstatic. I’ve found it!
On the bus ride home, I stand, protecting my pumpkin from the tight press of passengers. As usual, people are staring at me, one of the few foreigners in a city of 4 million. Their eyes alight on the thing I clutch to my chest. They are curious, wanting to know what the foreigner has bought that she guards so carefully.
On most occasions, I ignore them, but today, my inner goblin gets the better of me.
I hold up my find, this Halloween sprite soon to be released as a jack-o’-lantern for my students.
“Nangua!” I announce triumphantly, then smile while my Chinese audience looks on in utter bewilderment.
Last Year: A glimpse at my Halloween culture Teaching Methodology Lessons
Last year’s Halloween mask-making contest in my methodology class.
Create your own puppet skit for Halloween! My students in groups of 4 targeted specific Halloween words and came up with a puppet script which they performed in class.
A huge surprise last year when my freshmen threw me a Halloween party. “Happy Halloween!” they shouted when I walked through the door. And presented me with a panda Halloween hat. I miss you all!
Thought this seemed appropriate and a bit light-hearted humor for your upcoming Halloween
This essay first appeared in the Christian Science Monitor’s Home Forum section on October 27, 1997.
My first year in China with my adult students, all English teachers from the rural countryside enrolled in a 1-year intensive methodology and language course.
Lost in Translation: American Halloween
by Connie Wieck
As Halloween approaches, I am once again haunted by the cultural ghosts I accidentally released in China.
The school year had begun at Jiangxi Normal University, where I was teaching English to 40 Chinese English teachers from rural secondary schools. The teachers were eager to learn, knowing that the intensive one-year language study would increase their English skills and introduce them to new teaching methodology.
But soon, October arrived. The damp, autumn chill invaded our unheated classroom and everyone’s spirits plummeted. Cheerfulness was replaced by the homesickness of men and women, far from family and friends. Even I felt the tug of loneliness. I began dreaming of sunny fall days in my hometown and evenings curled up on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate.
In mid-October, a package arrived. Inside it were festive Halloween decorations. A card read, “Have fun with your students! Love, Mom.”
Her advice was not taken lightly.
After an evening of planning, I created a series of Halloween lessons bound to put the pizzazz back into our classroom community. But more important, I wanted to model an innovative English-language unit that the teachers could use with their own pupils.
The last week of October was devoted to All Hallow’s Eve in our classroom. I zealously whisked my students through language and hands-on activities centered on American Halloween traditions.
For the unit’s finale, the students came trick-or-treating to my decorated apartment Halloween night. I greeted them in an improvised black cat costume and handed out candy-filled bags with every “Trick-or-Treat!” shouted at my doorway. Everyone enjoyed the visit. After posing for pictures with a jointed cardboard skeleton, they departed with great laughter and stories to tell.
I was confident my Halloween unit had been a success, but I knew some form of evaluation was necessary. I asked my students to come to class prepared to write about a Halloween tradition they would like to teach their own Chinese pupils.
On the assigned day, the students arrived with paper and pencils. They sat at their desks, diligently composing their essays. Their pencils moved nonstop. Such intense concentration only bolstered my confidence that the Halloween lessons had been worthwhile.
When the last essay was collected, the students returned to their dormitories. I eagerly headed back to my apartment to read what they had written.
It was a teacher’s nightmare.
American Halloween “traditions” came flying off the pages of their essays and whizzed about my head like confused bats: All adults wear masks; frightened children run madly through the streets; candy becomes the staple food. Ghosts are seen and wolves are heard. Pumpkins are “craved” and houses are “hunted.”
But only when our most practiced Halloween activity crumbled before my eyes did I finally admit defeat.
“At 8:20,” one student wrote, “we knocked at the door. The door opened and out came our foreign teacher. Then we shouted the famous Halloween words: Strike-or-Streak!’ “
Here’s hoping your Halloween evening is full of safety and fun. But, please, folks, no striking or streaking.
My last update of a return to China concerned bans being lifted. In that post, I excitedly announced the opening up of the country on September 28 to those of us who hold, or have held, resident permit visas during the time of Covid-19.
Stipulation of a return included an invitation letter from the employer, which in my case is Luzhou Vocational and Technical College. My college would send me the letter, officially stamped et al, and I would work through my visa agent in Chicago to submit this to the Chinese Consulate in Chicago. After that, processing would occur, which I was warned might take up to a month or two.
English teacher Danli, an extremely capable young woman helping in my school’s Foreign Affairs office, was put in charge of this. Her upbeat messages were encouraging, how the school was on top of things and she was finding out the necessary documents and procedures needed.
“I’ll get back to you, Connie,” she wrote. “Don’t worry. We are so eager to have you return!”
Three weeks went by after that upbeat text message. Her next reply included the following information:
It seems an invitation letter demands a bit more than just the college’s Party Secretary’s (the head of the college) go-ahead. According to the strict policies of returning foreigners, the provincial government office of Luzhou city has to approve. After consulting with numerous official city departments, and submitting detailed plans of how the college would monitor me for the virus after my initial airport 2-week quarantine, my school was told to wait before sending my invitation letter. The virus has been so well-contained in China that allowing others coming from outside, especially from America where our cases are drastically and uncontrollably rising, is on high alert.
Disappointing for all involved, including my department, my students and myself, but I completely understand. My school will continue to try again in November since policies are continuously changing.
A New Role in Place: Keeping Busy
While I wait, an addendum was added to my job description with the General Board of Global Ministries. I am now the Mission Advocate (MA) for the United Methodist’s North-Central Jurisdiction. This includes the following UMC conferences: Indiana, West Ohio, East Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, the Dakotas, Northern Illinois and Illinois Great Rivers, which encompasses Marshall First. Details are yet to be given but from what I understand, an MA is the liaison between Global Ministries and each conference’s Conference Secretary of Global Ministries (CSGM) who passes on all mission and missionary program news to the districts. I will attend mission meetings (held virtually via Zoom), gather information to relay to others, host my own or present at meetings, post GBGM updates, relay current information online and be available for whatever else is asked of me.
I’ve already mentioned in a previous post that these duties demand a bit of quiet and “spread-out room,” which the Marshall First UMC has graciously given me in what is the prayer room. How very grateful I am to have my home church meet my needs in such a special way. I will use this sacred space to continue my work with the church while keeping engaged in mission and serving the Lord as I feel called to do.
Watch this space for more updates! Until then, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your week.
“There just isn’t anything in here I want to eat, ” my mom lamented on Friday around noontime as she peered with disappointment into the fridge.
“Too bad we can’t go out for our usual broccoli-cheese soup and salad bar at Crossroads,” I sighed.
Since the pandemic, eating out has been put on hold for both of us during the past 7 months. Those fun spur-of-the-moment sit-downs at our local restaurants are no longer an option. We’ll do take-out to eat at home but other than that, we usually fix our own meals, mostly the same-o, same-o every week.
“Now here’s a thought,” my mom suddenly brightened. “Lincoln Trail State Park’s restaurant has created outside dining along the lake. I heard it’s very safe and nice. Let’s look it up on the Internet and see what the menu is.”
We perused the online menu, called for what virus-precautions were in place, approved of what we heard so off we went. We grabbed our masks and loaded up Bridget, our Chinese immigrant, into the car for the 3-mile drive to the park.
Thus began our new dining-out routine after a 7-month hiatus, and what a beginning it was!
Autumn Lunchtime Ambiance at the Lincoln Trail State Park Restaurant
Rather than write about our visit, let me give you the visuals of our experience.
Enjoying the Park Trails
After our meal, we decided to walk a few trails, relishing all the splendor Mother Nature has to offer at this time of year. This is the first Midwestern Fall I’ve been surrounded by in 27 years. I went a bit overboard in pictures but that’s because I’m already planning on classroom lessons next year to show my students.
As you watch our woodsy trek, perhaps you can imagine how my Chinese students will react to such a different environment than what they are used to. This includes camping vehicles, unknown in China, which were coming in for weekend overnights during the nation’s Columbus Day 3-day holiday.
Sharing an Illinois Fall with My Students
Another surprise for my students will be the many unusual trees we have, indigenous to America, and their vibrant colors that come with October. Sichuan Province, where I live, has very few cold-weather Nature changes. Most tree leaves in Luzhou city and elsewhere just turn a brittle brown and drop off when November and December come around. Nothing very exciting. But in Marshall, the trees’ cascading locks of leafy hair have exploded in oranges, reds, golds and yellows. I have already put together my power point picture display and expect to add even more these next few weeks. Just look at what Marshall has to offer! I’m sure your hometowns are very much the same.
My Mom’s Mulberry Street addition
My mom’s new house is now fully completed with the landscapers who came 3 days ago. Notice her autumn display, adding even more to our residence on 710 Mulberry Street. Of course, I am eager to return to my apartment home in China but I must say, it is exciting to have watched, and been a part of, this house growing from a dilapidated, sad-looking, unkempt building into a truly lovely home.
From Marshall, Illinois, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your week.
As our Marshall First UMC continues with in-sanctuary worship (masks, social distancing, temperature checks and sanitation), my mom and I continue to take over special music for the first Sunday of every month. October 4 had us singing 3 duets and also announcing the Mission of the Month, which for October is the PASBF – Preachers Aid Society and Benefit Fund. It is also Pastor’s Appreciation Month, which gave me the opportunity to share with the congregation the following:
“The word for “Pastor” in Chinese is ‘mushi’ (牧师, moo-shuh), ‘mu’ meaning ‘sheep’ and ‘shi’ meaning Master – So a pastor is the Master of the Sheep. Let me now say, Pastor Bob, we, your sheep, feel cared for, loved and protected under your guidance, leadership and faithful spirit in the Lord. Speaking for myself and for our congregation, thank you, thank you, thank you.”
“And I will add that pastor’s wife also has an appropriate title and that is ‘shimu’ (师牧, shuh-moo), the meaning of which follows as Master of the Master of the sheep. So we also wish to thank Barb for her constant support, behind the scenes, so to speak, of Bob and for partnering with him through his call to serving the church well as a UMC ‘mushi’. We are so very, very fortunate and blessed to have you both in our Marshall First UMC family. Please join with me in showing our “thank you” with both applause and a hearty ‘Amen!’ “
Hope you enjoy our music (below link), Pastor Bob’s moving message and the selections of our amazing organist, Jo Sanders. We are so very blessed to have such leadership and talents within my home church, Marshall First UMC.
Connie and Priscilla: 1) “Come and See” 2). Mission Moment 3) “Oh, Lord, How majestic is thy name” 4) (after sermon) “Carry the Light”.