A diligently recorded overseas’ life makes an appearance


After years in boxes, my overseas’ life emerged from hiding in the attic and has been unfolding before me.

Since my mom’s October, 2019 announcement of a newly purchased house several streets away, the dread of clearing out my things has been looming over me. Diaries, saved letters, pictures, slides,  published articles and sentimental items from Germany, Tunisia, Japan, Taiwan and China awaited re-discovery, then decisions on pitching or saving, keeping or giving away.

How does one begin with 40 years of  documented adventures and memories?

This blast from the past was to have lasted one month.  I had planned to catalog my journals and things by country and date during my Chinese New Year break as a college teacher with the Amity Foundation at Luzhou Vocational and Technical College.  What was to be a 4-week, madly rushed, whirlwind task has now morphed into 5 months and most likely a few more added to that.  Due to the virus, I am still blocked from returning to China until the Chinese government decides to re-activate visas and allow foreigners to return.

That has left me with plenty of time to get into high gear and finally deal with all those vividly recorded recollections from years ago to the present.

Inundated with Emails

The range of my life story is staggering.  I knew I had a lot but this much?!!

I have notebook upon notebook of handwritten journals, airmail letters sent to my parents which my mom squirreled away, published essays of numerous revealing overseas’ experiences, newspaper articles I wrote for local papers, correspondence from former students who wrote to me about their lives and hundreds of pictures either in tidy photo albums (some labeled, others not) or barely seen and still in their just-developed envelopes.

Quite a few of these my mom has on a thumb drive, along with her parents’ war letters, some of which I’ve shared on this website.  Thanks to my high school classmate, Pam, who spent hours upon hours, months upon months, of scanning a majority of those into my mom’s computer, we now have the ability to pull  up quite a few on a computer screen without the worry of well-worn pages shredding, getting soiled or destroyed as they are read or moved about.

Years of printed emails

Most impressive in this library of life, I would have to say, are the 3-ring binders which my mother kept of all my emails, printed out from 1997 – 2020.  These she hole-punched and labeled, beginning from my 3-month orientation with the United Methodist GBGM to my 3 years in Taiwan (1998-2001) to my 22 years in China Mainland with the Amity Foundation (1991-94, 2001- 2020).

The printed version of all these emails was done for my dad’s benefit.

After my mom bought her first computer, she taught herself how to use it.  But my dad became frustrated by the new technology.  Things would disappear for no reason.  Blinking cursors were hard for him to see.  The entire concept of clicking on icons was beyond him. The mouse was especially problematic.  He spent most of his time aggressively punching the mouse, as you would a type-writer key, instead of tapping on it gently.  The result was all sorts of strange things happening on the computer screen which only confused and annoyed him further.

My poor dad!  He completely gave up.

In order for my father to share my news with his wife, without the frustration of computer use, my mom printed out all my emails for  him to read.  After he finished, she hole-punched every page and placed them all into a 3-ring binder, in the order they had been received.

Little did she know her steadfast diligence in doing this on a daily basis, sometimes twice a day as I often sent morning and evening reports from China, would accumulate and span decades.   The result was 50+ 3-ring binders (which she cataloged chroneologically) continuing to take up shelf upon shelf space in the upstairs make-shift library room.  Even long after my father died, she continued her habit of email printing, hole-punching and inserting until this past January 9, which was my last electronic report sent from a Chongqing hotel room early morning before my departure to the States.

Time on My hands

My China updates, however,  have currently halted.  With the Covid-19 situation keeping me here in the States, there have been no emails to my mom, no more 3-ring binder additions, no more details of my life overseas.

The hiatus in entries has allowed me to get busy on compiling all those emails into labeled booklets to get rid of the cumbersome thick plastic binders.

It took me several days but I got them done, after which into the bins they went. . . .

and over to my mom’s new house, carried into the well-sealed garage, where they are now stacked neatly onto shelves.

I must say it’s a bit astounding to see my life, from grade school onward, lined up against a single wall. Wow.  All those years of sentimental things, treasured collections, nostalgic photos, and detailed written experiences of my childhood and adulthood, stuffed into 16 storage bins.  I expect no one will care much for all this long after I’m gone but, just the same, I’m keeping the entire kit and caboodle, at least until my next weeding out.

Still patiently hangin’ in there until my China return,

Connie in Illinois







Posted in A Visit Home to America, A Visit Home to Marshall, China, Illinois, Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, Travel, Wuhan coronavirus | 1 Comment

My Mom’s recent “Walk with me” column: Banana Bread takes the cake as COVID-19’s Yesterdish

By Priscilla Wieck

I came across an intriguing  article last week written by Jen Rose Smith, a CNN correspondent. Part of my interest in the Internet lies in the wealth of trivia I am able to access through its ever-amazing portals. Smith’s article helped add to my daily trivia count and gave me some food for thought–Banana Bread!

According to her article, there has recently been a 54% increase in Internet users looking for time-tested homey food recipes. Baking goodies seems to be a coping strategy for many who are sheltering in place. Banana bread recipes head the list. There are, Smith posits, mental health benefits to be gained by the process of making and baking banana bread. The joy and comfort gained by spending time in the kitchen help in managing stress, she writes. The repetitive movements of cracking eggs, adding flour, mashing bananas, mixing and baking are calming and soothing to our minds and bodies.

When I was growing up, baking banana bread was not a common activity in our household.  Pumpkin occasionally, and maybe a few other quick breads, made it onto our home goody menus but my mother’s main interest lay in the yeasty variety of breads and dinner rolls. I followed in her footsteps (or should I say floury hands) and have spent many a happy hour in my own kitchen kneading various bread recipes and cutting out cinnamon rolls.

Not all of my efforts were successful. Some of you may recall an article Connie wrote about the family cinnamon roll disaster that appeared in the Advocate when Joe Mc Cammon was owner and publisher. It offered quite a few laughs to readers and some embarrassment to my husband, Bill, and me. Most of the time, however, my baking efforts were fruitful. Looking back, I realize that working with yeast dough was a form of relaxation for me so I can relate to the banana bread bakers’ stress reduction choice.

For thousands of years, bakers had used yeasts to raise their breads. In early American baking, alkaline salts such as potash and pearash were used instead of yeast . This shortened the rising time somewhat.  But baking breads really changed when chemical leavening agents were developed, such as baking powder (think famous brandname Clabber Girl) and baking soda in the early 1900’s. Both of these cooking aids were widely distributed and sold to welcoming American housewives because they shortened preparation and baking times. The homemade goodies were named quick breads for obvious reasons and were truly an American invention.

But what about banana bread? Here’s what I found.

By the time the depression occurred in the 1930’s, bananas were widely available as a cheap and nutritious food. Many recipes were developed using them and thus banana bread was born. Its ingredients were available, it was nutritious, it was quick to make and was extremely filling for families on a depression diet. As I write, this I can still remember: the heavy, cloying texture of a piece of homemade banana bread. It fills us up today just as it did years ago .

I don’t have a banana bread recipe to recommend as I must confess, I have not made the concoction myself lately. However, there is a multitude of such recipes to be found in old and new cook books or on the Internet.

In her article about the bread, Smith wrote that Chrissy Teigan, the well-known fashion model, recently traded a loaf of her homemade banana bread for a bunch of romaine lettuce. The lettuce, it seems, was sold out at the stores so she baked the bread and advertised on Facebook for a trade. She got her lettuce and someone got a loaf of banana bread ala Chrissy Teigan. Her recipe? It was a basic foundation but with shredded coconut, chopped dark chocolate and vanilla pudding as add ins.

Hmmm.  How nutritious is that?

The word Yesterdish was coined for old recipes that we still use today. Banana bread is a Yesterdish.  Next week I am going to feature another Yesterdish so watch for it. In the meantime, if you go right now to your kitchen and whip up a loaf of banana bread, you will be keeping up with the celebs and thousands of others of us who are in need of comfort food in these unusual times.

P.S.   Yes, there is a National Banana Bread Day. We missed it. It was Feb. 23rd. Watch for it next year on the same date, 2021!

“The older you get the better you get, unless you’re a banana.” — Betty White



Posted in A Visit Home to America, A Visit Home to Marshall, Illinois, Walk with Me: My mom's newspaper column, Yesterdish | 1 Comment

Final Letter 5: The Reply from Chaplain Marvin Maris in the Philippines

From the Philippines, Marvin replies to his wife's letters
Note:  This letter is copied from the war correspondence between my grandmother (Connie Maris) in Holland, Michigan, and her husband, Chaplain Marvin E. Maris, in the Philippines. He refers to letters from his wife which have been in the previous 4 posts.  This will be the last letter in the series of 5.  Be expecting more letters to follow in future posts as I continue to read through them.

May 19, 1945  (From the Philippines)

Dearest Connie:

Read 1 letter of May 7 and 3 letters of May 9, all from you.

Interested in your reactions to so-called VE Day, Rolf’s fishing and hiking activities, Priscilla’s interest in personal pruning or is it preening, and the people you mentioned:  Winstorms, Cole’s and your schoolteacher landlady.

Naturally, Priscilla will want to read our letters.  Why not?

My News:

  1.  A soldier killed by explosion of undetermined origin (booby-trap, shell, grenade?) buried yesterday with military honors.  Name:  Graves, Capt Reilly had a coffin built.  This is a luxury
  2. Built a chapel seating 40 people in an upper room house for headquarters.  Other services in gun sections, tents and open-air
  3. Saw a well-known public figure riding in his limousine today.  He must feel satisfaction with the progress of the war.
  4. Everybody has little red pimples (prickly heat). We did not suffer with this in New Guinea because we got more sun baths and skin was in better shape.
  5. Soldiers all upset by the newly announced point system of discharge.  Just another one of those wild rumor subjects
  6. Lt. Callahan’s court martial today.  The playboy who went AWOL two nights after our historic landing and lost a jeep while drunk.  What does an officer have to do to get cashiered out of this army, anyhow?

I will write the Winstroms a letter of appreciation if you say so, my dear.  Tell Rolf I have caught perch, sunfish, speckled bass, blue-gills, dog-fish and bullheads and even one big snapping gurgle but never a sheepshead.  Cut it open; there is a white stone in its head.

Your old man, M.E.M

(Marvin Ellsworth Maris)

Notes from above

—“Saw a well-known figure” :  This most likely would have been General MacArthur, who was in the Philippines at the time of Marvin’s letter. Due to security reasons, I’m sure he wasn’t allowed to give a specific name.

— “the newly announced point system of discharge”:  On May 10, 1945, two days after the unconditional surrender of Germany to the allies on V-E Day, the War Department announced a point system for the demobilization and discharge of Army and Army Air Force enlisted personnel.  The Advanced Service Rating Score was a scoring system that awarded points to a soldier and was used to determine who were sent home first. At the end of the war in Germany and Italy, a total of 85 points was required for a soldier to be allowed to return to the States. If you had less than 85 points, you could expect to continue to serve in the Army and most likely be sent to fight the Japanese.  A few weeks later, the points were lowered to 75, probably soon after Japan surrendered.  Enlisted women were able to return after 44 points.

Points were awarded as follows:  

  • + 1   each month of service,  Sept 16, 1940 – May 12, 1945)
  • + 1    each month overseas, Sept. 16, 1940 – May 12, 1945
  • + 5   each award received:  DSC (Distinguished Service Medal) , LM (Legion of Merit), SS (Silver Star), DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross), SM (Soldiers Medal), BS (Bronze Star), AM (Air Medal), PH (Purple Heart) 
  • + 5   campaign stars worn on theater ribbons
  • +12 for each child under 18 years old, limit of 3 children

— “Two nights after our historic landing”:  This might refer to the pictures below, labeled and posted in my grandfather’s journal:  March 14, 1945. He illustrated his journal with not only photos but his own drawings.

My grandfather’s drawing to illustrate the invasion route, from New Guinea to the Philippines.



Upon entering Manila, the devastation wrought by the Japanese was a shock to all the Americans who arrived, including my grandfather.


This photo was included in Marvin’s letters from the Philippines, most likely taken during the months of May – September, 1945

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized, Visit To The States, World War 2 Letters, World War 2: VE Day Correspondences | 1 Comment

Letter 4: My grandmother’s news and observations, Day After VE Day: May 9, 1945

This is 136 W. 18th Street in Holland, Michigan.   I imagine my grandmother writing  the below letter from the first floor of this bungalow where she and her children spent the war years.  She rented the 1st floor.  The owner Jeanette (a retired school teacher) lived on the second floor.

Note:  This posting is Number 4 in a 5-letter series, taken from the war correspondence between my grandmother (Connie Maris) in Holland, Michigan, to her husband, Chaplain Marvin Maris, in the Philippines.

Wednesday Morning, 8:15 a.m.    May 9, 1945

Dearest M.M.,

The kids are slowly getting ready for school.  Rolf is still at the breakfast table and Priscilla combing her hair. She’s going from one extreme to the other and combs her hair at any moment.

Rolf hasn’t gone to that stage yet. In fact, he would just as soon be dirty.

This is a nice sunny day.

Had to leave this and go supervise Rolf’s cleaning! While gone, Priscilla read this.  She’s getting nosy so I can’t leave anything around any more. She didn’t used to be interested but now she’s too interested!

I’m undecided as to what I should do today exactly.  It is trying to try to get the kids off without getting cross.  Only 26 more days of school in this school year.  It hardly seems that we have spent a whole year here in Holland.

The news is on but I don’t think it’s anything new.  The Germans are still trying to fight by bombing Prague.  It won’t get them anywhere as the Russians won’t forget.

People seem to think that Japan is going to quit now instead of us having to batter her to pieces before she gives up.

The commentator speaking now interpreted Truman’s talk yesterday as saying that Japan will be willing to come to terms before rumor says that Japan has offered a conditional surrender if we promise not to occupy Japan itself. If we let her go, however, won’t she try all this again?

Perhaps all this is true but if we accept this, what can we expect? However, if we don’t, Japan will not lose faith.  Is Japan afraid of Russia?  All the commentators’ ideas are not mine!

The mailman will be coming and I want him to take this letter along so I’ll close now.  This being only an apology letter for my grammar. I’m getting worser and worser, too bad!

All my love, Connie


Posted in Travel, Uncategorized, Visit To The States, World War 2 Letters, World War 2: VE Day Correspondences | Leave a comment

Letter 3: My grandmother’s 1945 VE Day events from Holland, Michigan

Note:  This posting is Number 3 in a 5-letter series, taken from the war correspondence between my grandmother (Connie Maris) in Holland, Michigan, to her husband, Chaplain Marvin Maris, in the Philippines.

V-E Day, May 8, 1945

V-E Day, May 8, 1945: Tuesday

Dearest Chaplain Mine:

Well, the day is done and I’m sitting in bed, cozily garbed in my men’s flannel PJs (which might not be worn out when you return!), trying to figure out the day’s events.

At 8 a.m., we heard Truman’s proclamation.  He was fine.  It was a deeply moving speech and very spiritual.  Immediately following, we heard Churchill who talked over twice as long and said less!  All day, we heard broadcasts from all over the world but Russia — and this afternoon, King of England spoke.  He had a trying time and his stuttering was almost audible.  Tonight, we heard the lighting of the statue of Liberty — the first time since we were at war — Then I went to church.

We had a very nice service. It was quite formal and very reserved and quiet, a prayerful service, not a jubilee.

After service, I went with Jeanette to her sister’s and had coffee and now here at home, in bed I am.

Whilst listening to the radio, I washed curtains, vacuumed rugs and got supper of egg soufflé, pop overs and fruit salad, being how the stores are all closed.

Priscilla went to the movies and Rolf played around all day — it didn’t mean much to him except a day off from school.

We could wish the war in Asia over, too.  The paper carried an article today that the governor of Michigan was asked to find more Army chaplains here.  300 more needed immediately.  Well, I’ve no more chaplains to give to my country!!

Russian Molastof is to speak now.  Stalin just announced the German capitulation.  Molastof is speaking in Russian and I can’t understand his.  He is speaking to the SJ conference.  They are going to translate it, I hope!

I heard the translation — no promise of any help for us. I don’t suppose we can expect any, can we?

It will be a greater day for me and us when VJ Day comes.  Then it will be a year, I suppose, before you do get home.  I’m keeping busy — chin up and time will go fast.  We’ve been apart a year already.

All my love, Connie

Note: My grandmother’s reference to the Russian “Molastof” was actually to be spelled Molotov. Vyacheslav Molotov,  (b. 1890, d. 1986)  was a Russian statesman and diplomat who was foreign minister and the major spokesman for the Soviet Union at Allied conferences during and immediately after WW II.  “SJ conference” refers to the Soviet-Japanese War conference.

Posted in Travel, Visit To The States, World War 2 Letters, World War 2: VE Day Correspondences | 1 Comment

Letter 2: My grandmother’s war letters — Victory in Europe Announced: May 6, 1945

Note:  These postings are from the war correspondence between my grandmother in Holland, Michigan, to her husband, Chaplain Marvin Maris, in the Philippines.


Monday, May 6, 1945

Dearest One far away:

Today is the day will always remember — unofficially the end of the European war.  We are waiting for the official announcement by the three rulers.  It is to come tomorrow, we hear.  We also hear that the A.P. (associated press) is now censured and will be kept out of further news breaks because it let the news out before it was to be known.

The radio says that New Yorkers are going wild but I can’t see why.  We have plenty yet to do.  I feel a little depressed instead of wildly happy.  We have a big job of trying to feed the millions starving, and re-educating the Germans who are still arrogant.

Tomorrow, I suppose there will be no school because of the VE Day.

We had a few other letters besides your most welcome one today.  One from Penny who lived next to us in Albany.  She hadn’t heard from me for awhile.  For the life of me, I can’t even remember her last name this minute.  Also, had one from Mary Cole.  Dan is on Mindanao now.  Florence is engaged to a CPO (Chief Petty Officer) in the regular navy.  He’s been in 18 years and will be retiring soon.  He’s 10 years older than she and she’s very happy.  They’re to be married in June in uniform.  Phil’s second child has just arrived, a girl.

Dr. Tuttle hasn’t done anything about getting them a preacher yet for the marriage and they’re a little sore about it.

You asked about Rolf’s interests.  They’re mainly playing soldier!  They (friends) have an army and he has a first aid kit and your old knapsack and a helmet and off he goes.  Saturday, they’re going on a hike — not very far, I guess, and going to take their lunches in his knapsack which I presume he will carry!

He played marbles for awhile this spring but the older boys took ’em away fast.  He spends a good deal of time inventing and has a great collection of stuff for the purpose.  Lately, he’s been fishing — Bill W. (Winstrom) is swell about taking him on as a pal and Rolf is growing up.  You might just write to Bill a V-mail someday for that.  He’d appreciate it.  The address is The Park Road, Holland.  You could tell him you appreciate his interest in the kids.

Now goodnight, my dear.  I’ll dream of you, maybe.  I made doughnuts today for the first time for a long time.  I’ll get in practice.

All my love, Connie


Posted in Travel, Uncategorized, Visit To The States, World War 2 Letters, World War 2: VE Day Correspondences | Leave a comment

In Honor of the 75th Anniversary of V-E Day: My Grandparents’ WW 2 Correspondence, A 5-letter series

Review Information

A previous post spoke of a rare find in my home as my mom and I cleared out things for her upcoming house move:  Hundreds of  WW 2 correspondence letters between my grandmother, Connie Maris, and her husband, Army Chaplain Marvin Maris, who was stationed in New Guinea and later the Philippines from 1943-45.

Connie was in Holland, Michigan with her two children,  Priscilla (my mother, ages 11-12) and Rolf (my uncle, ages 5-6).  She had moved to Michigan from the California Army base area  after her husband had been deployed.  Officers’ families were not allowed to live in military housing units once a soldier left so she was forced to find a new place to wait out the war.  She had several options but finally decided to sell the car, using the money to hop on the train with her two youngsters and head off to her husband’s hometown, Holland, Michigan.  There Marvin’s parents, Ebba and Harvey Maris, lived, which would put her closer to family.

During the war years in Holland, Michigan: My mother Priscilla (11), her brother Rolf (6) and Marvin Maris’ parents, Harvey and Ebba Maris

In Holland, she rented the first floor of a 2-story bungalow whose owner was a retired schoolteacher (Jeanette) who lived on the second floor.

Being a pastor’s wife, Connie Maris was extremely active in the Holland Methodist Church, where she directed the youth choir, led Christian seminars, served on numerous church committees, and participated in and organized church activities.  In between all this, including raising 2 young children, she sat herself down daily to write long, newsy letters to her overseas’ husband.

Among those many personal letters of happenings in Holland came those poignant moments-in-history reflections, including Victory in Europe (V-E) Day, May 8,  and Victory over Japan (V-J) Day, announced on August 14 but commemorated  on September 2 during the official signing of surrender aboard the USS Missouri.

A 5-Part letter Series

In honor of the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day , I include here my grandmother’s letters concerning V-E Day.  Also included will be her husband’s reply in the following 5-letter series

I begin below with  my grandmother’s first letter sent to her husband as victory announcements began to spread throughout the world via the radio.


Letter 1

Sunday, May 5, 1945


Just three years last week since you left Williamstown.  It sure seems that a lot has happened in all that time — California, Oregon + New Guinea and Philippines for you and Michigan for us.

Yesterday, Rolf went down to the Winstroms for the day for fishing.  He had a grand time and managed to get a sheepshead.

This is a sheepshead.

He said it was too big for him to pull in alone (very proud young man).  Priscilla helped me so well yesterday, I took her out for dinner.  She eats everything now with a relish.  Boy, she can out-eat me and will be a good runner-up for you.

Rolf’s appetite is getting better and he might be climbing up on you when you do get back.

My Uncle Rolf in Holland, during the war years.

Do you know the song “All of a sudden my heart sings”?  It’s very nice.  Good sentiment.

Today has been a day of little accomplishments.  We went to church and Sunday school and then I cooked a nice dinner for a change — pot roast, potatoes, asparagus and green salad.  Pineapple and banana cookies.

Our neighbors came over and wanted us to come and see their 3-day-old goat.  They got it for a joke and were taking it to a farmer later in the afternoon.  It was a good looking brown kid.  They have 4 ducks and 4 chickens and we go over to see the progress every once in awhile.

Ora came for me yesterday morning and we went to the flower show and discovered that Priscilla had taken 2 3rd prizes after all of $2.00 each:  her breakfast tray and miniature. I was very well-pleased.   Imagine getting 9.00 in the family for a flower show.  It is in war stamps so we are going to get a bond with it.  We bought two bonds yesterday — one for us and one for your folks for Mother’s Day. They won’t like it but that’s OK.  I’m going to blame it on you!

Tomorrow, I’ll go down and get stamps which is are our prize money.  Nine dollars worth of war stamps.  I’ll put 9 more with it and the kids can buy a bond.

We’re still waiting for VE Day.  When it comes, it will be a tired starving Europe, won’t it?  I wonder how we can feed all those poor people.  I get awfully ashamed of us when we complain at what we don’t have.  I think complaining gets to be a habit in this country of ours.

The all-girls choir is singing “Trees.”  The hymn tonight is “Now the Day is over”.  One of my favorites!

Off I go.  Send money. I’ll try to buy war bonds with it.  Goody, goody.

All my love, Connie

Note: If you didn’t know, war savings stamps were issued by the United States Treasury Department to help fund participation in World War I and World War II. A war bond was a debt security issued by the government to finance military operations during the war. Investment in war bonds was an emotional appeal to patriotic citizens to lend the government money as these bonds offered a rate of return below the market rate. My grandmother supported the war effort, as did many Americans, by purchasing bonds, as she did for a Mother’s Day present for her mother-in-law, Ebba. Her comment “They won’t like it!” referred to  Harvey and Ebba’s pride when it came to accepting what they considered monetary gifts.  However, in her letter written a week later on Mother’s Day, she reported that Marvin’s parents were very pleased with the gift and felt it appropriate.

Example of a $25 War Bond: January, 1944

Posted in A Visit Home to America, Michigan in 1945, Travel, World War 2 Letters, World War 2: VE Day Correspondences | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

From China: Sichuan Province Colleges are re-opening but under strict conditions to do so

My College is opening!!

“Can we talk?”

The text came at 10 a.m. my time, 11 p.m. China time,  from my best friend Cathy, a departmental head in another college in Luzhou.

Absolutely!  I love talking to Cathy.  Aside from having wonderful English, she is a wealth of information, which she is always happy to share.

My virtual visit with Cathy

Our face-time began on my phone, with enthusiastic greetings of “long time, no see”  and a “hello!” from my mom as she stepped into screen view.   Cathy knows my mom well, both from my reports of her during our 18 years of friendship and also because she met my mom 3 years ago when she visited my hometown.

My frustrations of my delayed return  soon spilled into our conversation.  I launched into my lament that I felt I’d never get back to China:  The inability of my country to control the virus spread is disheartening;  The ban on incoming foreigners’ is still in place; My visa will expire soon, meaning an even longer delay in returning.

“I am sure you can return soon,” Cathy said with firm optimism and solid conviction.  She then went on to tell me about the upcoming opening of colleges in Sichuan, including my own.

Colleges are Opening:  A Bright Spot in China’s fight against the virus

To date, no colleges in Sichuan Province, and my city Luzhou (5 million), were yet allowed to re-open. Luzhou has more than 10 colleges of various educational levels:  3-year vocational and technical schools (similar to a junior college), 2-year trade schools (14 – 18 year olds learning a particular profession) and one full-fledge medical university (Southwest Medical University), which includes 400 foreign students from various developing countries studying to be doctors.  Campuses have remained empty of students, all having gone home during Spring Festival in mid-January and not being allowed to return due to COVID-19 concerns.

During the past months, some elementary schools,  high schools and  colleges went to online teaching.  All provincial  governments waited to receive notices from central Beijing on when to re-open schools and how.

High schools were first, then elementary schools and now, colleges.

Re-opening Requirements for Colleges, Including Mine

Cathy’s college is opening May 17, with students from all over the province and country returning to her campus.  My college (10,000 students)  is opening this week, but with many safety checks in place.

According to Cathy, before colleges can open, they have to meet the following criteria:

  1. stagger incoming students according to graduating classes
  2. all students will have a 2-week quarantine period in dorm rooms
  3. all students have twice temperature checks by campus medical personnel
  4. no students can leave the campus, meaning all colleges must have a well-stocked student grocery in full operation (my college has 2)
  5. In-classroom lessons are limited to 30 students or less (My English language classes usually have 50 -60, but these must be scaled down, divided into 2 sections)
  6. a building for full quarantine, with beds and bathroom facilities, must be available for those who suddenly show symptoms of the virus or become sick.
  7. Emergency lock-down procedures must be in place for a sudden explosion of illness if that happens.
  8. several times a day disinfecting of the campus, dormitory facilities and classrooms.

I am sure there are more detailed requirements but Cathy didn’t share everything with me, just the basics.

Proof of Changes to Re-open

Each higher educational institution had to produce detailed plans and explanations how it would meet the criteria set out by the central, provincial and city governments for re-opening.  After these plans were submitted to authorities, improvements were suggested and sent back for revisions by the college.  Next, inspections were made by local government officials to make sure the requirements had all been met.  Meetings ensued with invigilators to make certain everyone was all on the same page.  After all paperwork and official stamps were given, a college could open.

If anything was missing for the opening requirements, school officials had to amend the failures and submit again for another passing mark from in-charge local educational and sanitation and health bureaus.

Once all the boxes were ticked off, a college could begin to open but not before that.

Fortunately for my college, it passed all the inspections so it now is allowed to continue onward by inviting students to return.

Luzhou Vocational and Technical College:  Summer courses begin and Also my Online Teaching Duties

I heard that our college kids have been arriving for the past 2 days and summer courses will start on Monday. All students at our college are required to take summer courses, meaning we should be reaching our full capacity of 10,000 by Sunday, May 10.

In the meantime, I have been asked to do short teaching videos for students to watch on their WeChat accounts.  I am so excited about this!  I will be enlisting the help of my mom and even Little Bridget, the China rescue dog, to create some innovative mini-lessons for all to enjoy.

Already, my creative juices are flowing and I can’t wait to get started!

Speaking of the above, I’d best close this off for now and get busy.  I was told today to have 2 video segments ready to go by Sunday.  Wish me luck!

From Illinois, here’s wishing you 平安 (ping ahn) Peace for your weekend . . . .and a Happy Mother’s Day!

Me and my mom, last year in Holland, Michigan









Posted in China, coronavirus, Luzhou, Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown, Return to China, Smalltown American Life, Tales from Sichuan's Yangtze Rivertown, Tales of China, Travel | 1 Comment

My Mom’s Weekly Newspaper Column: Walking Observations and The Orphan Train

The Orphan Train

By Priscilla Wieck


Walking the Town Observations

As I write this,  I am wondering whatever happened to our lovely spring weather. Temps in the low 50’s and, oh, that wind! Have any of you noticed how many more strong windy days we have experienced in the last year?  If you are a sidewalk walker or an outdoor worker you know what I am writing about.  Some sort of change in the weather patterns, I would guess.

I hope by the time you read this, our warmer temps have arrived. I can recall having school snow days in April many years ago, but never in May so I think we are no longer in that sort of danger. One benefit of these cooler weather days is that the spring bloomers have been on display for longer than usual.

Not so good for all those who are wanting to get into the fields for spring planting, however.

I have no more current thoughts about our virus situation except to wish you all well in your social isolation and to continue to encourage you who are able to get outside as much as possible, whenever possible. You can do your meet-and-greets on the sidewalks and still keep that recommended distance.

The Orphan Train

I have been doing some research on orphan trains, so today I am sharing some of my findings in this column. Mostly I am interested to find out if you readers have known or heard of someone who came to the Midwest on one of these trains.

The name ‘orphan train’ originated from railroad trains that carried thousands of children from overcrowded northeastern cities such as Boston and New York to live with families in the Mid-west. These trains operated from 1853 to 1929.

While some of these children were orphans, some had immigrant parents who were unable or unwilling to care for them. Others came from crowded slums and had been living on the streets. Eastern cities were happy to rid themselves of the almost impossible social burden of caring for them . The children ranged in age from 1 to 17 years of age.

Charles Loring Brace of the New York City Children’s Aid Society conceived the idea of mass relocation of children, the beginning of what we now call foster care. Between 1853 and 1929, an estimated 200,000 orphaned and abandoned children were placed in what is now known historically as The Orphan Train Movement.

The children were accompanied on the train by adult social workers and Catholic nuns. They left the train at each stop and were lined up for viewing to be chosen or not chosen by people who came to the station to see them.

I can only imagine how confused and bereft those children must have felt. Some were eventually adopted, but many were not. Some were ‘indentured’, meaning that they were chosen to labor on Midwestern farms. Many were well treated and loved , but again, many were not.  Most were separated from their parents and siblings for the rest of their lives.

The orphan trains made many stops in Illinois and it is thought around 20,000 children were taken in by Illinois residents, mostly in rural areas. You can find a map of our state train stops that include Mt. Carroll, Bloomington, Champaign, Normal, Effingham, Murphysboro and other towns on the Illinois Historical Society website. Sadly, there are no records of the number of children chosen at each stop or of their family histories. They began their lives anew and their past was to be forgotten.

Perhaps someone from our area, needing an extra farm hand, went to one of those stops to find a child laborer. Or maybe a childless couple chose one of the babies to adopt. An over-worked farm wife might have needed a kitchen helper.

I can only hope that most children were able to live a fulfilling life and were treated well. Many books, documentaries and oral histories about the orphan train riders can be found in libraries and on Internet sites but I couldn’t find much about those children who were delivered into our nearby Illinois towns and villages. So I ask you readers:  Have you known or have you heard of someone who was an orphan train rider?  This sad part of our state’s history should not be forgotten.

“Home isn’t where you are from; it’s where you find the light when all grows dark”–anon.


Posted in A Visit Home to America, A Visit Home to Marshall, Illinois, Visit To The States | 1 Comment

What’s it like in a Luzhou elementary school now?

I have quite a few former students whom I’m often in contact with.  Many are now English teachers in their hometowns or in different cities throughout Sichuan province.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, which in China took place right before the Chinese New Year  (January 25), many of my students had already gone home to spend time with family and friends.  When the seriousness of the virus took hold, the government had strict protocols in place for the entire country.  Everyone stay in place.  No traveling.  Quarantine yourself in your home with family members.  Wear masks.  Disinfect. Schools remain closed until further notice.

This gave teachers quite an extended holiday break.

On my college campus, many of the single teachers living in my apartment building had already gone home and were unable to return to the campus until restrictions were lifted.  Even afterwards, they were required to enter Luzhou with temperature checks at the city border.  After passing through, our college regulations, upon entering the campus, stipulated for teachers to quarantine themselves for 2 weeks in their apartments. Local city health officials came daily to take their temperatures and food was delivered to their doors by the cafeteria workers or friends in the building. Meals and groceries were left within reach of their doors, in the hallways, for them to pick up.  Three times daily, disinfectant crews came to spray down every floor, hallway and all around the building.  If anyone felt sick, they were to immediately report to our school authorities and await further instructions.

I’m expecting that the same strict requirements will be in place for me after I return to Luzhou in, hopefully, July.

My school’s only teacher apartment building has 66 apartment units. Most living here are single teachers but we also have a few families as well. I’m on the 9th floor.

An Alum, Hero,  Reports

My student, Hero, was invited last year to be a judge alongside me during our college’s English Language Teaching Competition for our 3rd year students. What a proud moment for both of us!

My former student, “Hero” Li, is one of those stuck in is hometown until a month ago when he was allowed to return to his teaching position in my city, Luzhou (loo-joe, 5 million).  He is an elementary education English teacher in a semi-private school with very high tuition but excellent educational standards. It encompass grades 1 – 6 with 2,000 students attending. About 300 students from the distant countryside board at the school.  Their parents, poor farmers, know the importance of education and save every penny they have to keep their children in a city school, in such an exceptional learning environment.

Hero teaches 3rd grade English courses and is the only male English teacher on staff. (There are 6.) Classes just started a few weeks ago. Here is a look at what is required of all students, in the classroom and morning assembly on the sports field.

I am expecting my Chinese college and others around the country, when and if they open in September, will also be following the same protocols. This will be our world in China now for a few years.

One particular school has really taken this to a higher level.  A friend sent this to me, posted in a Chinese newspaper.  Looks like a double-whammy of protection, with both face masks and shields incorporated into the classroom safety protocol.

Will this be the standard in China in the near future?  One does wonder.

From Illinois, here’s wishing you 平安 (ping ahn) Peace for your weekend.




Posted in A Visit Home to America, China, coronavirus, coronavirus, Luzhou, Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown Stories, Travel, Wuhan coronavirus | Leave a comment