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.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

worth the whole trip...

...and learning chop sticks and the heat and long teaching days for the moment a student asked me today if I could teach him the "Hicky Pucky." That's what it is all about!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

World shrinking observations

T-shirts with English on them here say incomprehensible things. Today two girls had on "Fashion Yashion" shirts. Many have random words like "garden, evening, moon" in what might have been a sentence but lost something. The best one lately was "Brimming Hum." A large city in AL? Spilling over with song? No one has a clue what their shirts say and even if they can read the words they do not know the meaning. Just the shapes look nice. Makes me wonder what we are advertising in the US when we wear shirts with unknown Chinese characters...local Shanghai used car dealerships?

Today I compared experiences on the topic of dating. The law in China forbids any male under 22 and any female under 20 from marrying. The class is all professionals who thought dating should start after college and marriage at 25 is fine. One child by age 30 and that phase is over. About 1/2 the married class members still live with the husband's family so grandma does all the cooking and cleaning and child care while both partners work. The few college students and HS graduates in the class think the dating age should be younger - 17 or 18 with marriage at 25. Times are changing as the world shrinks.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Catching up

The Share the Computer Plan means I missed a day - but not an adventure!

Crossing streets in China - I have finally figured out that none of the cars, buses, pull carts, motobikes, or bicycles really WANT to run over pedesterians. I actually have seen no accidents of any kind and the cars are not dented. However, they only want to miss you by the closest possible margin. And "close" for them is way inside the personal space I normally reserve for Bob. I find a pack of Chinese at a crossing - preferably with a male baby or a large load of soft materials - and shadow them.

Language - I conducted 8 transactions today with no Chinese/English problem. Universal language: money. All retailers - and I was in stores made out of storage units, tables set up in alleys and then upper scale malls - have pocket calculators and are happy to show you the price in the kind of money I have in my pocket. I bet this is how Bill Gates deals with them, too, but with bigger calculators.

Today the teaching topic was literature. They were each to tell me a Chinese children's story in English. Some were almost familiar: Little Red Cap, Snow White and the 7 Pygmies. Some I attributed to others: Dog and Reflection, Fox and Crow, Crow and Jar of Water. (Did Aesop get them from China or visa versa?) Some were new:

1 - A rat and her baby were out one night when suddenly a cat appeared in the distance. The rat mama knew she could not out run the cat so she began to growl and bark like a dog. The cat ran away. "See," said the mama rat to the baby rat, "That is why you should always learn a foreign language."

2 - A man brags to his friend that he has the smartest dog in the world. When he gives the dog, money, the dog goes to the store and brings home the newspaper. The friend wants to try so he give the dog money. Hours later there is no dog and no money. When he asks what went wrong the man asks, "How much did you give him?" The friend answers, "$5." That's the problem, " says the man. "If you give him that much the dog will go to the movies."

3 - Up on the mountain there was a temple and in the temple lived an old monk and a young monk. One day the old monk told a story: Up on the mountain there was a temple and in the temple lived and old monk and a young monk. One day the old monk told a story: Up on the mountain there was a temple and in the temple... (continue until the baby is so bored it falls asleep).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

One busy Saturday

We climbed into the van today and I was thrilled to hear on the radio traditional Chinese music on authentic instruments. Then I recognized the tune: Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head...

First stop was a "pottery bar" - no alcohol or legal briefs but potters wheels and a chance to get messy. My "creation" was mercifully recycled.

Then the "just a few words" at the local junior high - number 13. (Here the number 4 means death but 13 is OK.) The power point slide overhead: Warm Welcoming to Foreign Teachers for English Lecture-Giving. The title was longer than the speech. Then 45 minutes outside (the AC was not working so in theory it would be cooler in the 102 degrees outdoors) with the kids. Today they all had pens and paper and wanted autographs. Watch for them to be sold on e-bay next week.

Best question: When do children in America learn to speak English?

A 28 dish lunch with 6 different kinds of noodles.

After an evening trip to Walmart and KFC we end our last Saturday in Jingdezhan - next week at this time we will be in Shanghai and heded home.

Friday, July 25, 2008


My topics this week were geography and history. We talked about the US first and then they taught me about China - in English to improve their skills.

It is a little like listening to the British version of the American Revolution to be in on their discussion of the Opium Wars and the building of the American transcontential railroad using Chinese slave labor. But it is part of history on both sides. Their kingdoms and dynasties rise and fall with the triumph of the 2nd son over the elder who is due to inherit. Very much like Esau and Jacob. Only in all cases in China the older son has to die - sometime the father and the younger sons too to be on the safe side. The idea that Jacob could come back to the land and be forgiven by Esau was completely startling to them. It made me grateful to be part of a legacy of forgiving. That is as close to the Bible as we can get is references to stories. Then if someone asks...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Hot time on the Old Baseball Field

Hot there? Check out the heat index! So of course it was the day for our Championship Baseball game. Today we actually inforced rules so we needed a umpire and since I have no other athletic skills and an honest face, I claimed that coveted position. It was even too hot to wear a hat but I needed heat protection. Might be a first for the Umpire to Carry a Parasol...another Baseball Fashion Breakthrough.

Game highlight was a runner headed for 2nd and being chased by some kind of fielder with the ball. To get back to first without being tagged she raced into the "stands" around the pitcher and zigzagged the infield with the ball carrier in hot pursuit. (Both, of course, in high heels.) I called it Safe at First just for ingenuity!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Ah-ha! Tonight we had a banquet before our "very informal English Corner." There were 24 dishes on the table for us to share - several area speciaites. Usually at big dinners we only get 18 or so.

We arrived at No 2 school (there are 30 in town - we have been to #1, #5 and Saturday is #16) and found a formal lecture set up. Not even a surprise anymore. After 45 minutes they ended that and we figured we got of easy. No - we were led in total darkness to a large square lit only by the lights playing on fountains for 45 more minutes of Close Up English questioning by 200 SH students. I now know the answer to the "favorite animal" question is "panda," but I was stumped by "Which Back Street Boy is your favorite?" No one asked about Luther or Bach at all!

What does this mean?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Deep Culture

Take me out to the ball game! We are teaching baseball to our classes this week. Monday was rained out so yesterday we took the field. Chinese teachers - in fact women in general - always wear 1.5-2.5 in heels on their shoes. Very cute. That is the professional look. They wear them with dresses, pants, shorts, short shorts. The shoes are the same. So when we started to pay ball yesterday I suggested to them they run barefoot. They were scandalized. Take off their shoes in public? Never. So our running and stealing bases was called on account of fashion and my team lost.

In the hotel now is a contest for JH students who play musical instruments, sing or play piano. The place is filled with music - and very enthusiastic parents making sure they are getting their money's worth for the lessons.

The hotel staff worked on "clean glass" and "dirty glass" last night which I hope improves our dining experience greatly.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Recycling - we mean it!

Because recycled materials are worth money here, the market for empty water bottles is high. One of our group had a woman follow her for 2 blocks yesterday and finally tap her on the shoulder and give the universal "finish drinking" signal, then sntach the empty bottle from her hand. Gotta admire her commitment to the Green Team!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Usher duties

We were at the same church this morning and the street is still under constructin so we had to walk a ways and were late. It was worth it to observe Chinese Usher Duties. They wear a red arm band with words realting to the authority and seniority vested in them. All were elderly but formitable ladies.

We tried to sneak in and 3 out of the 4 of us had actually made it to various seats, but then we were spotted. The Head Usher poked each of us and would not take no for an answer to being relocated in the front row of the back section under a fan. However there were already people sitting there - 5 even older ladies, 2 with canes. Usher team members grabbed their arms and moved them out so we could have the honored seats. We finally got settled to their satisfaction - the original 4 on a bench did not work since she determined we were too close and would get too hot so she cleared the elderly off the next bench and spread us out. Then she graciously brought us each a bottle of water.

Keep in mind what looked like the sermon was going on the whole time. Having gotten the visitors organized teh Ushers returned to the task at hand. Every 5 minutes they patroled the aisles to wake up anyone who is sleeping. Even if people are just resting, they make them sit up straight to listen. No one argues with the Red Band Band.

But they met their match a few minutes later. July 20 is one of the Auspicious Dates for new beginnings - according to the local Bride's Magazines - and the Cell Phone store across the street celebrated its grand opening with a firecraker blast that went on for a good 5 minutes in various bursts - none of them could be preached through with the windows open. Not to say the preacher did not try! But she finally gave up and smiled. Usher Team was beside themselves figuring out what the noise was and how to get it to stop but it did cut out the sleeping problem.

However I think nothing says Grand Opeing of the New Entrance like fireworks! Somebody write that down.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Chinese Surprise

One of the unique things about Chinese culture is the sense of surprise. You enter a square door cut in a round hall in a gray wall - and there is a lovley garden. You see a plain dumpling and it is filled with delicious...stuff.

Anyway we toured a replica of a working kiln this morning that traced china making from the clay in the mountain to the gift shop. At each stage we had demonstrations - Naper Settlement for Ceramics. But the way it was laid out we were always going around a corner through a narrow door and there would be a woman painting equisite designs on vases free hand. There was an original garden from the Ming dynesty with a pavilion where they played music on all ceramic instruments. One surprise after another.

Then we were off to a middle school where our team leader was to give a short speech and we were to have a panel on whatever the students wanted to ask. No stress - it's Saturday. We blithly wandered in, but Cadi and I were stopped at the door and directed to the other group of 75 students to give our 60 minute presentation. I asked for a bathroom break to gather my thoughts since I had no clue this was coming. I can wing a 2 minute prayer but...

Chinese restrooms are all squat variety, no paper, low walls and very often 1/2 or no door. So it is not the Western Pondering Environment one would think. Never the less I asembled enough non-Biblical material about Chicago and speaking to foreigners and knowing what your T-shirt in English says to make 55 minutes worth plus questions and, of course, Scarboro Faire. In the name of avoiding an international incident with the Olympics so close, I decided against any cow jokes...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Dinner in the country

This link will take you to an artist colony in the country, at the foot of the mountains that surround Jingdezhan. By the pond pictured we drank tea after dinner. It was hard to believe we were 10 miles from the city. The Millennium Wall was all constructed of shards and pieces of ceramic. Amazing. Our dinner companions were 2 adults and 5 children who far outshown our chopstick skills! One girl sang and lovely Chinese song for us and we repayed with Scarboro Fair - the only thing I could think of not in the Lutheran hymnal. I have to get out more.

We walked around town today when only the Americans and chickens ventured forth. 12-2pm is nap time in China! In fact 3 or 4pm is about reopening time and they are still going strong at 10. In this heat, clothing and baby washing are done on the sidewalk outside the shops. Men carry buckets on shoulder poles next to motor scooters so quiet you do not hear then until they honk. There is a dumpling place on the next street that is so popular people pull up in cars, shout out the orders and have it brought out. I saw 2 cars and a scooter waiting. Early McDumpling.

Friday as the end of a work week is something I have not experienced for years. I may go back to work just to get the Friday Feeling every week! Of course we give a lecture to middle school sutdents tomorrow - 45-60 minuts on "phrases we use everyday in America" - any suggestions?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Chinese paparazzi

I suppose Jingdezhan in July is like Chicago after the Cubs are out of the running and small news gets big attention. The Big News yesterday was the Foreign Teachers were coming to the town square at 7:30 for an English Corner. So we envisioned some folding chairs, 20 or so folks gathered in a semicircle asking polite questions and maybe knocking off early for ice cream for lack of interest.

The squre is about 3 city blocks square, has a huge ceramic dragon on one side, a large area for skatboarding and in line skating, another area for line dancing and exercise, still plenty of space to mill around. I would estimate on this random Wednesday night about 2000 folks were hanging out there. Babies to seniors. It was not necessarily cooler temperature wise but at least it was friendly. As soon as we stepped off the bus we were literally mobbed. It took 20 minutes to get to the English Corner - the huge banner must have said that. After that there were never less than 30 people of all ages pressing in and around me, some wanting ot talk and others to listen. I finally backed up to a garbage can to get some fresh air behind me. Some had babies and childrne who just wanted them to see the Westerner. School kids start English in 3rd grade so by JH they are pretty good. Parents were pushing them towards us to "talk English to the American" - read "Prove this education you are getting is worth it." Some stood up to the challenge and asked question. Some freaked and ran away only to be dragged back for another try. The fact that it was still 95 and the Chinese are not as sensitive about personal space as we are, made it very chummy indeed. When it was time to go they literally followed us to the bus and were waving and calling after we left.

The most asked questions were Did I like China? and Did I know the 2008 Olympics were going to be in Beijing? and about some NBA player for the Houston Rockets?? Some of the funnier ones were: I understand "hot" means "sexy" in America. So how can I tell people how I feel in this weather without saying I am sexy? and I am not very tall yet. Do you think I will get taller? and What is your favorite animal? (The correct answer IS Panda.)

We crawled back on the bus and slithered into bed!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

At the Movies

Today witht he Englihs teachers we are discussing American movies. The ones they most listed are: Titanic, Gone with the Wind, Roman Holiday, Rush Hour, Lion King, Superman and Spiderman. Other entries were Harry Potter, Kung Fu Panda, Finding Nemo, and Sex in the City. Imagine what impression they have of Americans with that viewing list!

Last night we began to teach the hotel staff English for a big china festival coming in October when they hope to attract Americans. We are working with reception staff, wait staff and housekeeping staff. They all have some English writing skills but absolutely no English speaking. For most of them we are the first English speakers they have ever seen. So we are winging this one from square one. Last night we worked on hello, Do you want to register, are you ready to eat, and I'll get it for you right away. Thursday we graduate to Sheets and Towels, Serving Spoons and possibly May I have your credit card.

Monday, July 14, 2008


The students' English ability ranges from those who are barely speak English to those teaching HS who are very proficient. So the needs are great on both ends. We have them in graded classes in the moring but the afternoon is supposed to be a group and one end cannot sing Row Row Your Boat while the other end wants to know how to prepare students for college entrance exams. Maybe Take me Out to the Ball Game will fly today.

Just a couple of extra thigs for the English techers this week - tonight a class for hotel worker to learn English before october when there is a big convention here. Tomorrow night an English Corner where we sit in the public town square and anyone can talk to us about anything. Saturday was billed as sightseeing - further questions revealed the sight will be the local high school and the seeing will be by the students as we give a 1 hour lecture on "deep culture." I better bone up on Thoreau before then - he's pretty deep.

classtime and lunch

Today was self introduction. I brought large pictures of the family. They agreed Bob was very handsome and that was the first English word they learned: Bob. I know it will be useful. They were impressed we had four children - the concept of step family was a bit much - but astonished Bob's daughter Jenny has 3 children. Mine were all born before the 1 child rule in China. But Jenny is their generation and they have a boy or a girl and that is all. They all wanted to meet David until I pointed out his wife Karen. Many of the girls take Lily as an English name so they were delighted to see Bethany's daughter Lily Beth - an American with their name. But it was Brian's dog Munster that brought down the house. It was like having the family here which was good because I miss them all very much.

Adventures in food at noon today included a reptile of some sort with the head floating in the sauce. And onion rings. Every meal we have the Same Green Vegetable that is pumpkin vines. But there is plenty and I never go hungry - despite consuming all that with chop sticks!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Just like home

Sunday here and we went to church. There is only 1 in this town of 1.5M - all "non denominational." We had to park far away and walk through construction. The church is tucked away in the center of town - you could hardly recognize it. We walked up dark stairs to a huge open room with a stage on one end and a microphone. All the windows open and fans blowing on the stage. We sat on uncomfortable chairs and there was a clock so the preacher could end on time. Just like Grace in so many ways!

The minister was a woman and even though I spoke no Chinese I understood her smile and warmth in the preaching. Afterwards I met her and had our picture taken. Then she told me she had a 3 month old daughter and could the baby be in the pictures, too? Of course - and I held it!

Afterwards we walked through a shopping area and I brought an umbrella - far better here to keep off the sun than a hat that is too hot. Then we went to a KFC - yep - the Boy from Kentucky is here. It had a playland and there were so many adorable children and families out eating.

Now we have met and interviewed each class member - 85 probably. Mostly women. Tomorrow we begin!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Our new space - and home for 3 weeks

Jingdezhen is a lovely town - 1.3 M is a town here. It is the china captial - in fact the ancient name was "Chi na" and the English took it back and used the word for all things procelain. We have been in two shops already but even more interesting are the lamposts coverd with huge china murals, the hills have massive china murals placed in them. The town is all about the product. Clean and easy to transverse.

Today has been sightseeing and a spontaneous 1.5 hours of speech and Q&A to Sr Hi kids - they want to know about our music and politics and mostly how we feel about the 2008 Olympics. We sang Take me Out to the Ball Game as our contribution to both culture and athletics.

We eat 3 banquets a day - but in very small bites because of the chopstitck use. It is all delicious - not labeled but that is all to the good. Much of it comes with the heads attached...eyeballs and all. I've tried not to get on a first name basis with dinner...

Our rooms and classroom are modest but we seem to have all the technology we need and everyone is very organized. Tomorrow we have opening ceremonies, placement and Monday begin teaching. Ready or not!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

End of training

What you don't see is that my screens have all the prompts and questions in Chinese. I have no idea what I clicking but it seems to work. Or - I might have ordered an original Ming vase...

We had our final training sessions today - it has been a lot to absorb - some reassuring: we are teaching teachers who want to speak and learn English and we all know how to talk so this will be OK. Vs the "Well one time..." stories that stand out in the minds of the experienced teachers. Who know what happened to the teachers who did not come back?

And the next phase has lots In that we fly somewhere at 6 tomorrow morning and then take a bus/train/car/van/something (meeting at a TBA location and time) for 2 hours and are met by??? at??? to be taken to the teaching area which is??? And may change after 2 days??? Our lodgings is at??? and Dinner will be served at??? Or maybe not. Opportunity for adventure!

But Monday (or maybe Sunday) we meet the students and begin to teach. I'm sure those moments will make this minor angst a non-memory.

The real stuff

Today was full full - we got into the meat of teaching - more experienced teachers relate tales of horror and success. I tried to listen to the success...but people are people, teachers, students, adminstrators. Any one of them can have a bad day...

Then we went to he Nanging museum on the Rape of Nanjing. Dark and angular and very sobering as was the event. I must read the book when I get back. It was moving.

There is a line for the computer tonight. Friday we fly to Nanking and then a bus to Jingdezhen. Tomorrow is more teaching skills. The brain is full. I hope I am up to this task - Prayers welcome!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tuesday - or maybe Wednesday

Still July I think - still Nanjing. I'm hoping in the next 24 huors to unlag this jet and be in the same time zone - body, mind and spirit.

Today was long - introduction of various Ministers of Things and prepared statements. All interesting but some significan wiggling required for bodies who think they ought to be sleeping...this afternoon was a tour of a large Bible printing plant.

The food is all delicious and the Lazy Susan Family Style means we can sample what looks reasonable and skip the jelly like substances in favor of Recognizable Rice. Next week we'll be more adventuresome. Watermelon 3 times a day.

Tonight was a very good session teaching us basic (REAL basic) Chinese. I had tried a CD of Chinese for Dummies and have several Emergency Cards but nothing beat actually being forced to say out loud what we want to convey - right or wrong. It is the first real taste of what our students - teachers themselves - will experience. Now the challenge is to use the Chinese in public in the next 72 hours. Then we will really understand what the learners are up against. I have new respect for the task ahead - theirs and mine.

Monday, July 7, 2008

train to Nanjing

The train from Shangihai to Nanjing was wonderful but the train station was amazing! I was given complete oral directions and sent in a cab as leader of the pack. To the cab stand, up the ecalator, past the iron bars where you show your ticket, through the x-ray security, up more escalators, find the waiting room for the train number. "Waiting Room" does not begin to describe this! Imagine July 4 on the lakefront only in orderly rows by train numbered section. When the sign on your section turns from red to green the crush through one tiny turnstyle begins and somehow we all come out on the right platform and get on the train. The ability to move mass numbers of people in an orderly way - not to say without pushing, that is - astounds me. Tonight we are in Nanjing which I love more than Shanghai - but that might be the section we are in. Very new and safe, wide plazas and lots of people out walking. I only have 2 hours access for 4 days at this hotel so I'll be brief and probably not even spell check! But we are here safely and it is really beginning!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

First days

We arrived in Shanghai after 13 hours in the air - the flight was easy and seemed short compared to the taxi ride from the airport! Lots of highways where all we could see was the tops of big buildings. Once we got off the major roads the area around the hotel was more what the guidebooks describe - a Sunday afternoon of stalls below the living quaters of the sellers. they are like one dark little closet after another of shoes or live crabs or dead chickens or electric meters. Laundy hanging out from most apartments. We walked for an hour and I did not see another Westerner - but did not feel uneasy. Everyone looked - no one spoke. Today we take the train to Nanjing.

Friday, July 4, 2008

last minute flurries

The phone and DSL went out. The ATM folks expediated the card but snail mailed the PIN. Will the Chineses adapter be enough or do I need a transformer? Give up the plan to take the lap top. Lists turn into piles spread on the bed - too much for one suitcase!

The phase of the experience that is planned on paper is almost over and the reality of unknown begins. This is the adventure I have been thinking about for a year, worked diligently with everyone from the bank to the Chinese cousulate to accomplish. And now - all I have to do is get on the plane - tomorrow.

From the Ballad of the Hobbit:
The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.
Today and tomorrow are yet to be said.
The chances, the changes are all yours to make.
The mold of your life is in your hands to break.

If you are reading this, a small prayer would make a big difference!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

will eat the flavor to be tasty exceptionally

Reseaching the Porcelain Capital of China and our teaching location uncovered the above guide to local food. Got the Imodium.

About 2 hours south of Nanjing, it is a small city of 1.4M. We stay on a campus of some kind and walk to class. Each day we teach the same 45-minute lecture 4 times in the morning to groups for 25. In the afternon we have the entire 100 students together and do activities to encourage conversational English speaking. Guess who is teaching the Hokey Pokey!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Swing your window open...

A friend sent journals - one titled, "Then swing your window open, the one with the fresh air and good eastern light and watch for wings, edges and new beginings." An encouraging thought at the moment as the reality of a month away from "normal" is setting in. What was I thinking? Maybe I should stay home and just watch Ranma 1/2.

Saturday we* fly direct from Chicago to Shanghia. (NOTE: remind the pilot to make sure the tank is full.) We travel on our own from the airport to the Green Tree Inn via taxi. It looks pretty western - but there is no close up of the bathroom...

* My ELCA travel companion is Cadi from Minneapolis.