Monday, September 24, 2012

In class at last

Today was a self introduction. I had large pictures of all the important things in my life and first of course was Bob. So that was their first English word - Bob. AN dthey all thought he was veyr handsome. They were impressed I had 4 children - the sept family concept seemed like it should wait. But they were more astonished the Bob's daughter Jenny had 3 children - she is in their generation and the children were born after the Chinese 1 child only rule. They thought David was very cool until I pointed out his wife Karen. Many of them have chosen the English name Lily so they loved seeing Bethany's daughter Lily Beth. And the picture of Brian's dog Munster brought down the house. It was a little like having the family with me. (I have no clue what I just hit to switch to italics since my screen is all Chinese.) Which is good because it is lonely. The clothes are so western but we are the only Americans in 1.4M. I do miss being at home.

The adventure of new food today included a reptile based dish that had a head still floating in the sauce. We get a green vegetable every day - it is the stems and vines of pumpkins or squash. Chickens are laid out and slided vertically and then horizontally so the bone could be neck or back or foot. But yesterday there were fried onion rings! Every meal is an adventure but I never go away hungry - despite using nothing but chop sticks.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Reflection - the mission

Most of our lives are like the laundry hamper - as soon as you get one load done and put away, you lift the lid and there is more. Certainly in the church, the culmination of one sermon and service was immediately followed by preparatoin for the next one. Even our mission trip to Costa Rica was a small piece - like 6 layers of cement blocks - of a project that continued after we left and we never saw finished. So any project that has closure is most welcome.

In this case 60 teachers took time out of their summer vacation from teaching JH and SH school to improved their spoken English. Virtually none of them had heard English from a native speaker, although the Chinese begin teaching written English in 3rd grade. We were the only Westeners in Jingdezhen the 3 weeks we were there and, from the way we were greeted as a novelty, I think longer than that.

We had to sum up what we thought we gave to the teachers and we chose: Encouragement. Never having heard English, there is great reluctance to try to speak it, especially with a Westerner. At the initial interviews, many could hardly answer "What is your English name?" and "How long have you been teaching?" By the Closing Ceremonies they were putting on skits and singing as well as talking to one another in English. Their confidence that they could communicate in the Foreign Language grew for every one of them. For the JH/SH students we saw, it was a rare chance for them to hear native English and also learn about our culture from real Americans, not the movies or news. For the hotel wait staff...well, they learned "clean glass" which I really think will be helpful some time.

Then we had to choose a word for what we recieved from the experinece: Fulfillment. Not achievenment or accomplishment, because all we really did was talk and listen. There was some rudimentaly subject matter - I taught history and geography as well as dating, relationships and daily schedules. Each time I told them what the US was like, they had to discuss and tell me in English what the Chinese equivalent was. Wow - I learned a lot! The novels I had read about China over the years were correct - or not. But this was real.

And my personal Last Word: Gratitude. For Western Toilets and clean drinking water and free expression and opportunity for self betterment. And to Grace Lutheran for the financial and prayerful support for the trip. And to my family for the constant communication that linked me to home. And - always - to Bob for recognizing and loving the call to make a small difference in the world that extends for me beyond the pulpit.

August 7, 2008

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Reflections - China

To sum up China in a word or two: juxtaposition. Co-existent contrasts.

The brand new and shiny resides next to the old and dirty and worn out with no apologies or attempts to eradicate what might not be pleasing to the Western eye. Sometimes there is a covering over. The concept of “tear down and build new” only occurs when the State determines a change is needed – usually for a big event of some kind. Then the front layer of decay is removed and the street side becomes upscale shops with neon. Directly behind – sometimes attached to - are the original tiny shops and dwellings. I am not sure the Chinese see the disparity or think anything about it. People live there and somehow survive. I saw very few individual homes. Virtually every family lives in an apartment.

The contrast of old and new is most apparent on the street. In any one block we saw vans and buses, tiny taxis and cars, bicycles powered by foot and small engine, scooters and motor cycles, a person pulling a 2-wheeled wooden cart to collect garbage, others pulling heavy loads of furniture, mounts of matting, or stacks of large porcelain vases on two or four wheels by hand or bicycle. When the street gets crowded (or at random) bikes and motor scooters just take over the sidewalk. Flower delivery is motor scooter with the vases or plants held by the person riding in back.

Contrast in family life as well. Each family is allowed only one child. The teachers in the class said in a happy they had a daughter but very proudly they had a son. There are no seatbelts or car seats. All ages ride in the open on the bumper or handlebars of bicycles. Babies are simply carried by the rider; older children stand in front of the driver. Preschoolers wear helmets and pads only for in line skating. Most families include the grandparents who do the cooking and child care why both parents work, but the issue of elder care is being discussed by social groups.

The people, however, are uniformly agreed publically on the policies and directives of the government. The only criticism I heard was of the Cultural Revolution and re-education. They speak factually about ancient events and traditions of the elders while showing no desire to reclaim them. They are hopeful about the future, both with the economic opening of trade and the 2008 Olympics.

I saw no tourists’ sights, had no bus rides or guides, did not get to the Great Wall or Beijing. What I had was enough time in one place to get to know China as it exists and Chinese as they really live.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


The smog was dense in Shaghai. Our little town of Jingdezhen (1.4M) did not have much to speak of, but now I see why Beijing is so busy cleaning up for the Olympics. The heat and smog make the air dense. We were there for 2 nights, debriefing. Which did not, by the way, include adjusting to using forks again.

Sunday morning was a trip to a local church. There are no denominations in China except "christian" and "Catholic" so we were pretty sure of 45 minutes of singing, 30 minutes of Bible reading and 40 minutes of sermon all in Chinese. I decided I would take the morning for a walk in the park and poking around Shanghai before it got unbearably hot. When I went down for breakfast, the only ones who did not go to church were all the other liturgal worshippers: the Church of England crowd from the UK and Canada. So we all said, "The Lord be with you!" And everyone knew the right answer!

Observed today:

A woman with a sewing machine, fan and sofa in the front yard. Apparently Adjustments while You Wait in comfort.

A woman driving a motor scooter with a lawn chair tied on the back bumper where a man sat reading the newspaper.

A huge produce and meat market where you could get your dinner still swimming. Or Clucking. Or Quacking.

A group of senior citizens ballroom dancing to a CD player in the park at 9am.

We did travel to the Bunn area of Shanghai where all the former embassies are still standing, now transformed with neon into shops, hotels and, of course, a KFC on every block.

Homeward Bound

Home again - and recreating the events of the last leg of the journey after being off line. And after having had my first coffee in 30 days...

We had to catch the 8am train from Nanchung for Shanghai so the van arrived at 4am. This is the 9 passener van we had used all week but now it was not only 4 of us but about 200 pounds of various porcelain products. So we packed carefully and believed we would fit. When the van arrived, it turned out it was an oppotrtunity to take the whole van family on a day trip to Nanchung with the Education Bureau's gas so the driver brought his daughter and a cousin, another school official, his wife and her 83-year old mother, plus 2 strangers who slipped him some Mao's at the end of the ride. 3 hours careening down the 2 land roads, out of the mountains and past rice fields with water buffalo, produce carts pulled by bicycle or humans, trucks, vans, cars, motor scooters and pedestrians. Driver creedo: Honk first, steer second, brake only if absolutely necessary.

We observed the development (or remains) of a project China instituted to build apartment complexes in the countryside. The buildings - many, many of them - stood about 1/2 completed, walls up but no windows. Some were being lived in, evidenced by laundry hanging out, but it was questionable whether that was legitimate residency since there did not yet appear to be electricity. I don't know if they were in the process of building or stopped for the time being. It was a long way from any town where residents could get employment and way too many apartments to be sustained by the roadside produce stands or local fields.

The train to Shanghai was new and speedy. Westerners are still a novelty - we are constantly stared at obliquely by the grown ups and frankly by the children. In Shanghai we will not be quite so foreign.

Last days in Jingdezhen

Home in Glen Ellyn with English headings on the computer once more after a blackout of a few days with no internet access in Shanghai. We sneaked in to OHare safely just ahead of the storms.

The last days in Jingdezhen were busy and rewarding. There was a closing ceremony that was not just a bunch of Key Education People seech-ifying, but the students presenting songs and stories in English which made us very proud. Their confidence in speaking improved so much! They sang farewell type songs they could find in Karaoke including "I'm a Big Big Girl," a love song from the Titanic, and a never to be forgotten rendition of Auld Lang Syne. And one last reminder of what it is all about: the Hicky Pukey!

Parting gifts are important to the Chinese as is toasting with Chinese wine which just let me say is not Chablis! Moonshine comes to mind. The "drain the glass" cry is "goomba!" Gifts usually reflect the city speciality so are often silk scarves, jade neaklaces, etc. Remember Jingdezhen is the porcelain catial of China - in fact the term "china" we use for all sorts of pottery things here is actually an English misinterpretation of the original name of this city. But porcelain does not often come in a size Small - our gifts included coffee sets, bowls, large vases and - for me - a 25lb Laughing Buddha. Interesting packing challenges!

Many pictures and tears and a sense of having made a difference for 60 teachers that will spread far wider when their school resumes in the fall.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Endings and Celebrations

We finished teaching today - the mix of happy to complete what we started and sad to leave such wonderful students.

In another attempt at a Deep Culture experience, we staged a mock western wedding - meaning American, not with a cowperson theme. A little short on men, we had a groom - who actually wore a suit - a best man who brought the lighter for the unity candle - and a father of the bride who insisted on have a question asked to which he could answer "her mother and I do." Seems he saw Father of the Bride...The other groomspersons were female as were the 4 clergy, 8 bridesmaids, mothers and sound technician. And the bride - who skipped class to get her hair cut and wore the perverbial sparkley 3 inch heels. Just like for baseball.

Everyone arrived early and we started on time. Fortunately I had 2 cans of Coke for lunch so we had enough pop tops for a double ring ceremony. The vows were every bit as lovely as any other wedding, the best man lit the wrong candles only once, the sound system got a glitch and played I'm a Big Big Girl in a Big Big World as the bride started in, but it was replaced by Pachelbel quickly. Of course there was a wedding cake with caucasian bride and groom on top, punch, cookies and the Hicky Pukey. A international event to rival the Olympics.

Then one of the classes invited us to dinner. We had a warm up hour of the two most popular activities: Majong and Kari-ok-ee. Then a variety of unknown dishes from an unseen kitchen. They were very gracious - lots of toasting and laughter and everyone tried to speak English.

We may lose the computer tomorrow, and we leave here on Saturday for Shanghai where I will seek out a business center or internet cafe.