The Campus Pool at Luzhou Vocational and Technical College: Finally Open . . . . . Without Me

It’s been a tough 24 months away from “my” China, for numerous reasons: No in-person contact with beloved students, colleagues and friends; missing my campus apartment with all the homey comforts (and really neat clothes that always dazzled my students!); greatly increasing the teaching load my Chinese colleagues, who are taking over my courses since there’s no one to sub for me ; not being able to sing with my Chinese church choir; putting on hold, yet again, all my holiday activity events (including Easter egg hunts, which were everyone’s favorite Spring activity); Plus not being able to fully utilize the English Language Resource Center for movie night, student lesson planning sessions, useful classroom arts-and-crafts demonstrations, Tuesday and Thursday game time and hoisting down boxes from shelves to pull out seasonal decorating items. (See below an evening game night.)

A Die-hard Swimmer Bemoans her Current Fate

But most distressing has been the opening of the school’s first natatorium. I’m a die-hard swimmer, and have been all my life. I tell people I’ve spent more time in the water than on land. I started splashing about at our local summer pool when I was 3, joined teams all the way through college and continued onward to keep in shape even to my current age of 57. (Ah, those years of summer swimming team!) I’m Age 6, 1971, in the first picture, then moving on in years from there through to high school.

When the indoor pool finally opened, without me, on the school’s campus in May of 2020, I was devastated.

Anticipating the Grand Opening

For 3 years, I’d watched it being built along with the basketball stadium. Every day, I’d walk to the sports field to take a look at the progress of our college’s 50-meter pool complex. I marveled at the workers’ 2-story temporary housing go up, watched with anticipation the empty expanse of land being dug out, witnessed bulldozers, flatbeds of iron girders and other equipment come and go, marveled at the rise of the impressive criss-crossing steel frame of the building itself and reveled in the eventual completion of the spectators’ stands as well as the actual filling of the pool.

When I left for my Chinese New Year holiday in January of 2020, there were leaking issues the workers were dealing with so it continued to be closed, much to my disappointment. But I figured by my return after just a month in America, I’d alight on February 14, 2020, to a grand opening. I was determined to be the first in. I wanted to wow the lifeguards, my students and administrators with my swimming prowess. I was especially looking forward to our school’s 3-day Sports Day in April, a yearly campus-wide mini-Olympics, where I promised students I’d coach those who wanted to enter the swimming competitions. As for myself, the teachers in our Foreign Language Department already had me down to enter the faculty competitions, where we all knew I’d give us a glorious outcome over the other departments. Finally, the first time in our school’s history, the PE teachers wouldn’t stand a chance against the College of International Studies’ foreign teacher, Connie. They might be able to defeat us in basketball, ping-pong, badminton, volleyball, and track & field but in the water, that was the foreign teacher’s domain.

How I was looking to walking 5 minutes to the pool from my campus apartment home rather than spending 30-minutes to taxi across town for my daily workout at the city’s new natatorium, where I had a year pass. There I met with the older crowd, all die-hard swimmers like myself. The water was heated but not the pool deck area, which made for a very chilly walk to and from the locker rooms.

School Pool Opens, Closes due to Covid, Re-opens to Date

While many areas of China have recently been struggling to keep the country’s Zero-Covid strategy in place, Luzhou (6 million, Sichuan Province) is proving itself Covid-free . . . at least for now. My students are posting pictures of folks maskless, lovely spring flowers throughout the campus, outings into the countryside with friends, eating out at crowded restaurants, sports events taking place, as well as contests and performances going on in the fully packed auditorium. Campus venues likewise remained fully operational, including the sports stadium and the natatorium.

I received word of the grandness of our new water-sport addition from Australian, Geoff, who recently turned 70. I once featured him and his disabled wife (Chinese, whose English name is Snow, 56) in a previous post. The two of them visited my campus recently to take a look at our nice facilities. They sent these pictures.

Quite impressive, isn’t it?

The gentleman giving the “thumbs up” signal was meant for me. He and I swam together every day at Zhangba Park Natatorium, where I had a year pass. Now he is swimming at my college pool, which is open to the Public for a $4 US fee per swim or you can purchase a year pass, as I absolutely will do when I return.

How I miss all my swimming buddies, including times I was asked to give swimming stroke advice for freestyle and butterfly, two of my areas of expertise. Looks like upon my arrival to my Luzhou home, whenever that can take place, I’ll have a lot to look forward to: new swimming friends and just a 3-minute walk from home, up the roadway incline to my favorite hang-out place of all time, the swimming pool. Can’t wait!

Next report: China is struggling as Omicron variant runs wild Updates will be personal stories from former students about the current Covid situation who live in: Shanghai, Jilin (Beijing district), Shenzhen, Nanjing (our Amity Foundation headquarters), tiny town Longzhou (my 3-year placement from 2009-12, along the Vietnam border) and Hong Kong.

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On this Ash Wednesday: Reflect and Pray

I No Longer Pray for Peace

On the edge of war, one foot already in,

I no longer pray for peace:
I pray for miracles.

I pray that stone hearts will turn
to tenderheartedness,
and evil intentions will turn
to mercifulness,
and all the soldiers already deployed
will be snatched out of harm’s way,
and the whole world will be
astounded onto its knees.

I pray that all the “God talk”
will take bones,
and stand up and shed
its cloak of faithlessness,
and walk again in its powerful truth.

I pray that the whole world might
sit down together and share
its bread and its wine.

Some say there is no hope,
but then I’ve always applauded the holy fools
who never seem to give up on
the scandalousness of our faith:
that we are loved by God……
that we can truly love one another.

I no longer pray for peace:
I pray for miracles.

Poem by Ann Weems, a Presbyterian elder and poet
written for Ash Wednesday 2003

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Watching the Winter Olympics Reveals Our Silent Assassin

My mom and I were engrossed, extremely engrossed, watching the Winter Olympics during the past few weeks. We’ve been glued to the TV in our small sitting room, afternoons and evenings, to catch all the latest excitement of the world’s incredible athletes.

Olympics 1

Squeezed between us has been Chinese rescue, Bridget, who came to America in the summer of 2019 to be my mom’s new doggie companion.


This has been Bridget’s first Winter Olympics, and while she has been cheering on her fellow Chinese, she’s likewise done the same for her adopted countrymen and women. I consider her a bit of an Eileen Gu, who holds dual citizenship with loyalties to both the US and China. (If you hadn’t kept up, since 2019, American-born and raised Gu switched her sports allegiance to China. She gave 2 golds and 1 silver to her Asian team instead of joining in our USA athletes.)

Another kind of athlete, that of Nature, alights

It’s been while watching the Olympics that we’ve had another nerve-racking view of sorts. While sitting on the couch, we’ve had a clear view of the neighborhood birds and squirrels, eating happily on our deck from offerings of cracked corn, black oil sunflower seeds, corn and suet. It’s been through the French doors leading to the outside deck that we’ve been witnessing their happy antics, especially when the snow and ice brought our little creatures crowding one another out to peck away at all the goodies.

Hawk 3

The scattered messes they leave on and around the back deck, from empty seed husks to droppings, are forgiven as those that make them are so much fun to watch. But one such remnant, which struck us as much more concerning and unwanted, was a pile of plucked feathers spread out in 3 different areas around the house.

Hawk featers 1

Yes, it seems we have a predator in our midst, one which feeds on vulnerable critters. While debating what it might be (cat? owl? eagle? hawk?), our silent assassin suddenly made himself known by swooping down and perching on the porch railing.

This was none other than a sharp-shinned hawk, which is the only bird in the hawk family that is known to prey on small birds and rodents. After numerous tries at getting a good picture of this slick, stealthy feathered creature, I got him! He perched first in our small backyard tree and hopped down to the railing before sailing off after a small sparrow.

Since that first sighting, we’ve continued to apprehensively await his sudden visitations.

This brings me to the hazards of keeping our Christmas tree, bought in early December for the back deck but not yet sentenced to the trash pile. I’ve watered it continuously for 3 months and you’ll be surprised to know it still holds its soft pine needles and emits that fresh evergreen fragrance. These are the benefits of keeping a freshly cut tree outside in the frigid temperatures of central Illinois.

We left the tree as a shelter for our little birds but have found it more of a death trap. On more than one occasion, we’ve watched our sharp-shinned hawk position himself on the cast-iron deck railing, cast his evil eye deep into the fir tree’s branches and wait patiently for the petrified sparrows within to stir.

They huddle in terror, desperately keeping as still as possible.

One eye flick, one wind-ruffled feather, one shift of tiny feet sends this stealth bomber diving deep within as his prey try desperately to stay out of his reach. On more than one occasion, we’ve watched the race for dear life as our dainty, twittering two or three are chased from their safety zone. They strain in flight, scattering high into the sky, with their sharp-beaked grim reaper swooping fast behind them.

The result has been either an escaped meal or, as my mom and I have found around the house, plucked piles of soft, downy feathers.

Victory or defeat?

While the Olympics are now over, the Paralympics are yet to come. This will place me and my mom yet again in the sitting room, watching the competitive spirit of these special Olympians on TV. At the same time, we’ll be anxiously eyeing our unconcerned, peacefully clustered birds.

For both the humans competing and for our backyard Nature-dwellers feeding at our invitation, one wonders will it be the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat that meets them these next few weeks?

In our silent assassin’s viewpoint, I’m guessing he’s thinking that depends upon whose answering.

Sharp-shinned hawk

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The Recent Snowstorm Adds Excited Posts for my Students in China

There is nothing like watching the Winter Olympics on TV when it’s likewise really wintry outside your own windows. Yesterday’s recent storm through America’s Midwest and swooping onward across the country didn’t disappoint in adding that extra “Wow!” factor to enjoying the Games on our USA networks. Our Marshall, Illinois, yards, streets, rooftops and trees are completely covered in that powdery substance we call snow. While it certainly wasn’t a time to be out on nearby I-70, it proved to be a perfect evening of cozy couch wrap-ups and cocoa-sipping.

Snow Experiences in my Beloved Luzhou

In Sichuan Province’s Luzhou (loo-joe), the city where I live in China, temperatures rarely dip below 45 in the winter. Very few of my students have ever experienced snow or the frigid degrees that come with it.

I will say, however, that my first year in Luzhou (2002) did give us a snow shower on Christmas Day, one which I’ll never forget.

I’ve reported this before but I was holding final exams on that day and my students were coming, one by one, for their conversation exams which I was holding on the open-air corridor balcony leading to their classroom. There was no heating in the classroom so all were hunkered down in their seats, mittens on and layered in sweaters. Quite a few were jumping up and down, flapping their arms to extend enough energy to warm themselves. Others, while waiting for their turn to come for evaluation, were wandering the room while spouting well-practiced, memorized English sentences.

I remember my fingers were so cold that I could barely hold the pen to mark their scores.

As I asked questions and waited for the replies, the air filled with my breath. I’d have moved into an adjacent classroom if one had been available but since none were, I was stuck outside in the elements with only the corridor’s overhead for shelter.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, it started to snow.

None of my freshmen, ages 17 to 18, had seen snow before. I later heard from colleagues and news reports that the last snow in the region had been 50 years ago. This snow was proving to be such a unique, rare and utterly astonishing event that it sent everyone inside scurrying to the windows to peer out. My little balcony corner was suddenly engulfed in vocalized exclamations of wonder and eagerness to race outside to play in the snow.

That proved a bit difficult with our exams going on; however, as I was toward the end of my testing list, I figured might as well make their day. I dismissed those who had finished while the others were left to wait it out for their turn to come, after which they, too, could join their classmates to rejoice in all the excitement.

The last few leftovers I was grading were definitely a challenge to converse with due to all the chaos in the courtyard below. Their classmates, not to mention numerous other students, were running about , shouting, twirling, catching snowflakes on their tongues, inspecting the delicate flakes that landed on their clothes, and basically causing such a fuss that I could barely make out my examinees’ responses.

When everyone was able to finish, I remember standing on the second floor of the classroom building, watching the frolic of the campus students below. Such joyful abandonment! It brought back memories of my own childhood: building snowmen, sliding on icy streets and sidewalks, creating snow forts, participating in snowball fights and creating snow angels in snowy drifts. What a shame cellphones were not readily available or even used at that time or we’d all have been able to record the entire thing.

That snowfall was quite brief, a mere 2-hours with no accumulation. By noontime, there was no evidence of this wintry wonder even having taken place. But the excited chatter of that first snow experience lasted for several weeks afterward and I’m pretty certain the memory 20 years ago of that special event, with the Winter Olympics upon us, is being brought up today by those who experienced it.

Looks like I’m joining them by bringing it up here in this space!

Sharing My Snow Experience with My Chinese students and friends

Yesterday and today proved to be a great opportunity to post snow photos and videos to share with my Chinese students and colleagues. I had so much fun! And the response of the below was non-stop. My WeChat replies exploded with exclamations of delight and longing at such a wintry scene. Here’s my offering for today, with more to come.

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Sharing the Happiness: A Chinese New Year Visit to my Local Chinese Restaurant

If you’ve been following my Year of the Tiger posts, you’ll remember that Gao Pei (Frank) sent me an incredible box filled with favorite Chinese snack items as a New Year’s gift. It was great fun to see such a wide variety of items I never see here in my Midwest USA area. In China, I see such gift boxes and individually sold snack items on a daily basis. Pulling them out one by one brought back so many memories of the tastes and smells of my overseas home.

It also made me realize that there’s no way I could possibly eat all of these on my own. They are an acquired taste, some of them, so sharing with my mom is fine for some items (like the almond cookies) but not so much for others (like the Sichuan spicy noodles or rice flower red bean candy.).

Who in my community would possible appreciate any of these? None other than our local Chinese restaurant owners!

Happy China

Over I went to bestow upon the mom and dad, plus their adult kids and the grand-kids, 3 boxes of Frank’s generous picks which he had sent to me.

As I swooped in the doorway of Happy China, then bustled past a few lunch diners who eyed me with curiosity at the fancy boxes I was carrying, I felt stealthily secretive, just like a tiger. No one had any idea I was coming. All were in the back kitchen, woking up more vittles for the buffet, when I burst through the swinging doors of the back room, shouting, “Gongxi Gongxi! 恭喜! (Congratulations!)”.

“Wow! Connie!” greeted me, with a response of “Gongxi, Gongxi!” and “Happy New Year!” in Chinese.

Chinese Restaurant Owner

I began hauling out the contents of one box, pointing out the assorted snacks inside. The goodies were individually wrapped but not for long. All grabbed their favorites, tore into the sealed packets and began munching down all those familiar tastes of China while at the same time serving up buffet stir fries into the containers. Not missing a beat, they kept working while exclaiming, “好吃! 好吃!” (Good eats! Good eats!)

The son has 4 children at home so one box went to him. It might be that his very Americanized kids won’t care for what is offered but I bet Dad will. His wife is from South America, Lupe, a young woman very adventuresome. I’m guessing she’ll be keen on trying out whatever her husband brings home. I’ll be interested in hearing the reports next time I see her.

In exchange for my goodies, I was gifted with a Fujian Province apple, ordered from Chicago’s Chinatown by the family. The apples had just arrived that morning by truck from their Chinese product company used for all their special orders. I felt so honored that they would part with one of their treasured items and I was the recipient.

Happy China 2

For those here, it’s really business as usual but for those in China, I continue to receive messages filled with family pictures around the dinner table and descriptions of gatherings, shopping ventures, highlights of this year’s CCTV gala  and plans for short-distance traveling.  The reports are filled with excitement and happiness, reflecting the joy of the holidays.  How I wish I could be a part of it all!

Well, there’s always next year.  Perhaps in 2023, I’ll  be celebrating alongside all those who are currently sending me greetings from afar.  Let’s hope that next year’s Chinese New Year (the Year of the Rabbit, to be celebrated on January 22nd)  will give us respite from the virus and see me curled up on my couch in China, sipping tea among friends and discussing with relish all our upcoming holiday plans.

Until next entry, here’s wishing you peace 平安 (Ping An) for your day. 

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我和母亲祝愿我的中国学生和朋友们:虎年快乐!My mom and I wish my Chinese Students: “Happy Year of the Tiger!”

My mom sighed.

“I suppose you’ll want to do a video,” she intoned while watching me haul out my camera tripod from the closet.

I nodded absently, engrossed in the task at hand as I bustled about our very small living room. I rearranged furniture, prepared my back-drop, scripted dialogue on my portable whiteboard and set out appropriate props. Finalizations were made at last as I adjusted the tripod’s legs and fiddled to attach my phone to the bracket for taping.

“I’m almost ready!” I enthusiastically shouted out to the back room where my mom and the dog were hiding.

There was a pause.

“Do I have to be in it?” she called back. I detected some hope of her not participating.

Yes, you have to be in it! Isn’t that what moms are for, sacrificing for the benefit of their children’s happiness?

Our China rescue canine, Bridget, had no choice in the matter, either. Ears back and eyes in a panic, she pathetically hunkered down in her dog bed, thinking she’d escape notice. NOT!

So here is our recording, sent out today to my Chinese friends via WeChat for the beginning of their Chinese New Year celebrations. And to my mom: Thanks for being such a good sport. I’ll put that toward your 2022 brownie points for Best Mother of the Year.

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February 1st: Welcoming in the Year of the Tiger


Wieck, Chinese New Year box

Last Wednesday, a large, heavy box addressed to me landed on our doorstep here at 710 Mulberry Street.

          “What in the world did you order that’s 22 pounds?” my mom called out to me.  

           She continued her inquisitive nature by peering at the return address.

           “It’s from . . . Hong Kong?”

She paused in disbelief, continuing with “You ordered something from Hong Kong?!”

          Well, not exactly. 

           My box was a gift from a very good Chinese friend, Frank (Gao Pei), who wanted to send me and my mom something special for Chinese New Year.   He had ordered a variety of Chinese snack items and food stuffs from a supermarket in San Antonio, Texas, called Hong Kong Mall. $80 worth of noodles, cookies, miniature cakes, seafood chips and delicate sweet and savory pastries greeted us as we pulled out the packaged items one after another after another. Quite a haul!

           What an excellent reminder that, yes, it’s that  time of year for quite a few of the world’s Asian populations. 

Chinese New Year in China       

           If you didn’t know, February 1 begins what the Chinese call Spring Festival  (春节 choo-n jee-eh), or what we Westerners often refer to as Chinese New Year.  2021’s Year of the Rat is now being replaced by 2022’s Year of the Tiger.  Celebrations on Mainland China entail visiting friends and family, eating special snack foods, shopping, giving money gifts in red envelopes to children and basically enjoying a lot of free time for the next 15 days.   February 15, referred to as the Lantern Festival, then signals the end of this special holiday with people returning to work, schools resuming and everyone back to normal routines until the next year.                  

         My Chinese students, colleagues and friends, however, are reporting a different New Year for 2022.  

          China is hosting the Olympic Winter Games and with the government’s strict “Zero-Covid” policy in place, people are asked to remain in their cities and towns.  The Omicron variant continues to pop up in places that were once never a concern.  The way to keep the virus in check is massive mandatory testing of all citizens and complete shutdowns of infected areas:  No one goes in; no on goes out. Migrant workers in country are encouraged not to return home but remain in their places of employment to keep the virus from spreading. As for the Olympics, there will be no outside spectators, Chinese or other, for events.   Incoming overseas flights have been limited mostly to athletic teams only. Those who want to leave the country for holiday travel have already been told on their return, 21 days of quarantine in expensive airport hotel facilities will be enforced, with yet another 2 weeks isolation in their private homes. Needless to say, people are pretty much staying put. 

          Thus is life during Covid in China.

           That will not stop people from visiting neighbors, crowding into shopping malls or traveling by car to outer-lying areas to see friends and relatives.   In other words, there will still be plenty of happiness and excitement despite mandates of caution.

Join in the Celebrations!

           Here in America,  I encourage you to do a different sort of Chinese New Year traveling.  Drop yourself off at your nearest Chinese restaurant and give the owners a joyful beginning to the Year of the Tiger with your patronage.  

           Listed here are some simple Chinese phrases to use.  I recommend printing out the below and taking it with you to your favorite Chinese restaurant during the next 2 weeks.  As mentioned above, the Year of the Tiger celebrations continue onward until February 15 so you have plenty of time to try out your greetings.  Don’t be shy, have some fun and enjoy sharing in a culture different than your own.

Chinese New Year Greetings 

1)  新年好  (xin nian Hao = Shin  nee-uhn  how)    Happy New Year!

2) 虎年快乐  ( hu nian  kuaile = who- nee-uhn k-why luh)  Happy Year of the Tiger!

3) 恭喜,恭喜 (gongxi gongxi = gohng-shee, gohng-shee) = Happiness, congratulations for the New Year

4) 恭喜发财 (gongxi facai = gohng-shee fah-tsigh) = Happiness and prosperity

5) 岁岁平安 (sui sui ping an = sway-sway ping ahn) = Year after year, may you have peace.

6) 大吉大利 (daji dali = dah-jee  dah-lee) = Have big/great luck and big/great profit this coming year.       (Note:  This last one is popular to use for those in the business world.)

Spreading a bit of Chinese New Year’s Cheer

As for myself, I can’t possibly consume on my own all those amazing Chinese offerings from Frank. I’m off to Happy China, my hometown’s local Chinese restaurant, to share my gift box with the owners (originally from Fujian Province) and their extended family members. I can’t wait to greet them with “恭喜,恭喜 (Gongxi, gongxi!)” and watch their faces brighten with astonishment at all these traditional New Year’s goodies, impossible to find in our small-town area. That’s what Spring Festival is all about: Spreading happiness, luck and good wishes to others for the new year. What better way to do so than sharing a feast of Asian snacks with those who’ll appreciate it the most.

            Here’s wishing you 平安 (ping an, peace) for your day, and a very happy upcoming Year of the Tiger! 

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我57岁了!I’m 57!

birthday 57 display

January 12 had me celebrating my 57th birthday.

I awoke in the morning to find the above display, set by my mom.

The birthday bear plays “Happy Birthday to You”. It’s our tradition to bring out this musical stuffed animal for any birthday in our family. This is the second year I’ve been able to celebrate my birthday in America with my mom. Usually, I’m in China but Covid restrictions in Sichuan Province still aren’t allowing schools to apply for foreign teachers’ visas. My college continues to ask but so far, no word has been given except, “Please wait.”

Of course, I’d much rather be at my college in Luzhou but I did receive birthday wishes throughout the day from friends, colleagues, not to mention my current and former students. Made me both overjoyed that I hadn’t been forgotten (I’ve been waiting for 2 years) but also homesick that I haven’t been able to return yet.

Posting for My Chinese Friends to See

To commemorate the day, I made sure to take plenty of pictures to send to others through my WeChat account, located on my phone. (WeChat, if you didn’t know, is China’s equivalent to Facebook or What’s App)

Here were my offerings: A slew of cards mailed from friends, a very pretty store-bought ice-cream cake and the January 12 Dog-a-Day calendar page.

Of course, no birthday is complete without the birthday song. Voices heard are me and my mom.

A Note about My First Birthday Cake Experience in China

Speaking of cake, let me share this story concerning the first birthday party I attended in China. It was 1991, in October, and I had just arrived at Nanchang Normal University in Jiangxi Province. I spoke no Chinese and knew very little about the culture or customs of the country. A teenage girl, whom I met by chance on the street, practiced her English with me for quite some time and then suddenly invited me to her home for her birthday. She had already contacted numerous friends to join us at her house, all of whom were very excited to have their first ever foreigner in their midst.

The cake her parents purchased for her was huge and looked spectacular with heaps of fancy colored icing lathered all over it. This 2-layered wonder seemed to promise a magnificent taste. After candles had been blown out, I remember the birthday girl putting a gigantic slice for me in a porcelain rice bowl (I found quickly that plates were not used for individuals but more as serving dishes for woked-up stir fries). She next gave me chopsticks to use in place of a fork and, smiling all the while, watched with amusement as I tried my best to manuever the dessert into my mouth. (I wasn’t yet very adept at using chopsticks.) I finally managed a huge bite, which caused the group to clap at my success.

As for me, the success was short-lived as I suddenly panicked to swallow.

I was anticipating something wonderful but the surprise came when my mouthful proved to be what I would deem as inedible. It was undeniably truly awful, especially the whipped- cream frosting, which had no taste other than a slick, lard-based, nasty texture that stubbornly adhered to the roof of my mouth. There the slug-like concoction refused to dislodge itself no matter how much tea or water I drank to wash it down.

The entire experience, from the sickly heavy coating to the extremely course, mustard-colored yellow sponge, almost scarred me for life. Nor was I the only one at that birthday party who strained to grin through a mouthful of this birthday “treat.” The Chinese in my midst wouldn’t eat it, either. I quickly found it was the enacting of the foreigners’ birthday tradition, along with blowing out candles, that entertained everyone, not the consumption of the dessert itself.

For many years, I wouldn’t touch a Chinese birthday cake, no matter how many times I was invited to do so. It wasn’t until I returned to the mainland in 2001, after I had been teaching in Taiwan for 3 years, that bakeries across China finally discovered adequate recipes, with overseas ingredients to match, which made for more enjoyable cake indulging on my part.

As for my January 12 here in America, I opted for an ice-cream cake, which is very difficult to find in China but one which I certainly prefer and treated myself to.

A Birthday Swim Has me Treating Others

Aside from pampering myself, I followed the Chinese custom which is to treat others for your special day.

Four times a week, I swim at the Terre Haute Aquatics Center for their public lap swimming. I couldn’t resist sharing 40 mini assorted candy bars, placing them on the table entrance to the pool, with an invite for staff and swimmers to pick a favorite.

When I ended my work-out, 2 hours later, not a single goodie was left.  Now that certainly was a treat, knowing that my small offerings were appreciated.

Final Recording

I couldn’t resist this show-off video as a finale to my special day,  along with an “I miss you!”  to my students, friends and colleagues.  

Yes, it was a fun day but I truly hope that my 58th will be celebrated at my Chinese college in Luzhou, with birthday parties galore and another swimming post but this time, in the new pool on our new campus. That was my birthday wish as I blew out my candles.

Be looking at this space a year from now to see if that birthday wish came true. I have faith that it definitely will.

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Wishing my Students in China a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year


Thanks to my older brother, my mom and Bridget for being such good sports to record this for my students. I received a lot of comments after sending it off through my WeChat channels. Thought those of you who follow this site might like to see it as well.

Happy 2022, everyone!

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Our Christmas Eve Church Service: Mother and Daughter in a Tricky Trio

Me and Mom Christmas Eve 2021

There’s a story here concerning my mom and me performing in a trio during our Marshall First UMC Christmas Eve Service.

We weren’t meant to be a trio.

We were only meant to be a part of the choir but when the college student who was to sing with her friend became exposed to Covid by a roommate, thus bowing out of the service, our organist/choir director Jo Sanders was desperate. Who could she turn to at the last minute to step in?

My mom was choir director for over 30 years at our church. She also is a retired music teacher, a music major who specialized in voice. She can read music at the drop of a hat so she was a logical choice as a stand-in.

I, on the other hand, am not that adept at reading music but if it’s the melody, I can hold my own. Thus I was also enlisted to complete what was to be a duet but now became a trio.

On Thursday the 23rd, our trio had a short, 30-minute practice session with recent college graduate Jocelyn, who was to sing first soprano. I was to be second soprano and my mom, alto.

Let me just say there were a LOT of words in that song, The Innkeeper’s Carol. The copy we all had wasn’t so great as there was no original music score to Xerox from. Jo searched in the music files but couldn’t find any, thus my mom and I really struggled to piece together the verses. Jocelyn, being much younger than us, didn’t seem to have visual difficulties but remember, she had a lot longer to practice this thing than we did.

At home, my mom and I went over our music at the piano numerous times. At first, it was an agonizing procedure squinting at our copies, trying desperately to make sense of the faintly visible print while we harmonized our parts. The pressure finally got the better of us. We began giggling so much at our interpreted guesses that we barely made it through the piece from beginning to end.

“Wonder who that baby possibly can be?” became “Wonder who that baby probably can be?”

“Now a baby sleeps upon my stable floor” became “Now a baby sleeps upon my standup door.”

“Up above I hear a host of angels sing” became “Up above I hear a hoard of angels sing.”

“Yonder there are shepherds kneeling by his bed” became “Yonder there are shepherds kneading by his head.”

“Somewhere there are bells, I’m sure I heard them ring” became “Somewhere there is hell, I’m sure I heard him sing.”

It goes on from there but you can see why we got so punchy. While we had great fun during our at-home rehearsal time, the kicker came when it was time to sing for the final performance. This took place in front of the congregation with Jocelyn and was recorded, going out live on Facebook.

Did we slip up and move into our comedy routine during this solemn, holy occasion?

Take a look and find out. Hear anything amiss? That’s my tantalizing invite to get you to listen. Enjoy, folks!! We certainly did.

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