China Journal
January 1986

My year in China was eventful. I tried very hard to keep a record of my daily activities.
Some days were more exciting than others; I'll let you be the judge.
Sadly I did not continue my written journal past the first semester. However, for the 2nd semester I have included a synopsis and reflections on some high points along with photos.

New Year's Day - 1986

Today Rollie, Norah, Karen and I were treated to a dinner feast at the home of Zheng Xian Min, our academic liaison, in honor of my birthday. There was so much food we couldn’t eat it all. I lost track after 15 different plates of food had been placed in front of us. And, of course, we had to eat noodles and glutinous rice peach-shaped dumplings. The meal was topped off with another birthday cake! I still couldn’t blow out all my candles! (Too old!)

There was not too much hullabaloo today. The Chinese do not celebrate their New Year until February according to the Lunar Calendar – and not the Western Gregorian calendar.

January 2

The semester is fast coming to a close. It doesn’t seem possible. Our students have become such wonderful friends; they are just like family to us. It’s going to be so hard giving them up. We don’t even want to think about it! One of the students expressed it well in his journal entry entitled Friendship:

Time is money. You can buy everything, even a person with money, but you can’t buy time with any money. Time is life. Time is as precious as the life of the people. If someone looks at the future, he will find that there are still many days for him to live in the happy world. But, if he looks back at his past time, he will be very surprised and will say, “Oh, time is flying rapidly.” Yes, time is flying rapidly. This semester when we learn English from foreign teachers will end one month later. They teach us English; they talk about anything with us; they play with us. They all are very kind and close to us. The friendship between our foreign teachers and us has been established in such a short period. Why? Because we treat with each other wholeheartedly.

Yes, the semester will end. Someday, our teachers will return back to their own motherland. Maybe we won’t meet again. But the happy memories will remain in our hearts forever. The friendship between us will always bear in mind.. Friendship is more important than time!

January 4

Today Ruth, Helen and Ada treated me to a delicious birthday lunch at the Jing An Hotel. A few hours later I met our ESEC team from Hangzhou for supper. Today I was satiated with delicious food…wonderful!

Student journal quote of the week:

“I remember vaguely the names of my schoolmates in the primate school.”

In checking some journals today, I was surprised to see the following entry from Mr. Li, who has been taking a serious look at the Bible lately. An excerpt reads:

I remember that several years ago, I felt it was very strange that some people would like to spend the whole Sunday morning going to church. Now, I come to know it is the Bible that has such strong moral influence on them. I notice that most of the Christians are good-natured and warm-hearted. They are kind, gentle, loving. The Bible teaches people to take compassion for the unfortunate, the sick and afflicted. For the time being, I have come to see more and more clearly that it is only God’s Word that can save a man from his inherent self-centeredness and move him to invest his life in serving others less fortunate than himself.

Nowadays, more and more Chinese young people are coming to church. It is said that nearly half of the audience in church are those under 30, while another half are old people. The middle-aged are rarely there. Though my mother goes to church every week, I myself only have been there for two times. It is quite reasonable for old people to go there, because they had become Christians before liberation. But, it is really a serious problem that so many young people are going to church while few are interested in political studies in Communist China. I think they might have many reasons to do so. Maybe they feel too frustrated in their lives. Maybe they feel very lonely at home. Maybe they are not content with Communism. But, anyway, I am sure they are going to church to look for something, something that they fail to find outside. Meanwhile, the church and Bible to give them a lot of things, and many a time, it leads an honest inquirer from doubt to faith.

January 6

I had a long talk with Mr. Li today. It seems he would like to become a Christian, but hesitates on the grounds that it might ruin his future; no chance for study abroad, a promotion, etc. I have heard conflicting reports on this situation and tried to encourage Mr. Li. He is sincere and open and there is no doubt that God is dealing with his heart.

January 20-22

Finals week – the students are in a panic…they are so nervous! I’ll be glad when they’re out of their misery. Chinese students take exams much more seriously than Western students. Their whole future: job positions, further studies, promotions and advancements on pay scales all hinge on their scores! No wonder they are such diligent students!

January 22

Tonight, Class B treated us to a fabulous dinner at a downtown restaurant. I couldn’t keep track of all of the dishes, but tried to jot some of the down: braised bean-curd slices, fried chicken strips in pungent sauce, fried river eel shreds, prawn slices with pepper sauce, stewed sea-slugs in butterfly style, baozi dumplings, steamed pork and shrimp dumplings, steamed mandarin fish, fried hot-cake stuffed with mashed bean, fried crisp duck, green cabbage with mushroom, bamboo shoots with mushroom, fried squid with scallion (Phoenix and Dragon) and sweet-sour and peppery pork fillet with quail eggs! Needless to say, we did not leave the table hungry. True to Chinese host tradition, the students kept piling our plates with more food long past our saturation point! Of course, we had to keep eating to show our appreciation. (I once read a statement that says – The Chinese will eat anything with four legs, except a table; and anything with two wings, except an airplane. This, I have discovered, is very true!)

January 23

Despite the fact there was a lot of excitement about the end of the semester, we’ve all been dreading this day. No one looks forward to having to say good-bye. This afternoon we had a graduation ceremony. Dr. Danny Yu, our ESEC President, came into town on the train yesterday. He has been visiting the various ESEC programs throughout China, for final assessment with the Chinese officials. It was perfect timing to have him come to Shanghai for our graduation. He gave the graduation speech and passed out certificates. The students were overjoyed to have the opportunity to meet him. They felt very honored to have him attend their graduation. Danny was quite excited too, since this was the first ESEC graduation he had ever been privileged to attend.


We had a party afterwards, but the atmosphere seemed pretty subdued and there were some rather emotional farewells exchanged. Many of the students had tears in their eyes. “Terrible! Terrible!” is one of the students’ favorite expressions. The only consolation is that we’ll still get to see most of them on campus next semester.

Over this past semester we have really established some strong bonds of friendship, mutual respect and appreciation for each other. I wish more people in the world could experience what we have for these past 4 ½ months. The world would truly be a better place…

I think one of our greatest accomplishments as an ESEC team this semester has been to banish a lot of misconceptions, misunderstandings, and irrational images of the West that have been deep-rooted in China. For example: 1. All Americans are rich 2. All Americans are immoral 3. Westerners do not have close family ties 4. Christianity has no relevance in today’s world, and educated people do not succumb to such.

Times are changing in China. There seems to be a tremendous spiritual hunger evident everywhere you go. Young people are seeking answers to the questions of life. Premier Deng Xiao Ping has encouraged an atmosphere of openness and a measure of religious freedom. But, he is an old man, and many people in China fear a drastic swing back to repression when he passes on.

I have been afforded some marvelous opportunities to share my faith with many of the students. They are so eager to listen, and at times I’ve actually been bombarded with questions: Are you a Christian? What is the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism? Does everyone in America believe in God? Do Christians believe abortion is a sin? Do you go to church every Sunday? Why? How can God help you when you are full of despair? What happens when God doesn’t answer your prayers? Can a person trust God to find the right mate? Can you pray for my husband and me to have a baby? (I did, by the way…and they did!) Do you read your Bible and pray every day? How can you prove a religion is true? Can you give me a Bible? Several students mentioned to me that they have tried getting Bibles for years! When I hand them a Bible, they are speechless with joy and turn the pages tenderly. One student told me he has been trying to get a Bible for the past four years. A few years ago, the government gave a local Shanghai book store permission to sell Bibles. The Bibles sold out immediately and the store was swamped with orders. When the government saw what a commotion it was causing, they rescinded their permission to continue selling the Bibles. Now, the only place to buy Bibles in China is at a local church. However, most people are hesitant to buy from a church because their names will be registered.

Another student asked me for a Bible the other evening when he came over to visit. I was so surprised. He had shown some resistance in the past when I had talked about Christianity. He had said, “I believe perhaps Jesus was a good man, but not the Son of God.” The other evening, I detected a dramatic change in his attitude. He said, “Miss Isensee, I think it’s important for me to read the Bible.” I agreed, “Yes, if you really want to understand life and understand God, you must read the Bible.” Then with tears in his eyes he responded, “Miss Isensee, I used to have a Bible years ago, but the Red Guards took it away from me.”

There is so much more to tell, but often some of the conversations I’ve had with students have been too deep and sensitive to even begin to try to record…only God knows their hearts.

The following is an excerpt from a letter sent to us from Randy Odom, ESEC teacher in Wuhan, China:

So send I you:
to ants in the sugar bowl
to things that fly, creep and crawl into your room
to uncertain water, sporadic electricity
to long hours, sweltering heat, biting cold, exhausting days
to uncomfortable vehicles, crowded and smelly buses
to noisy early, EARLY mornings
to rice, rice and more rice
(Cabbage, cabbage and more cabbage – I added this line!)
to masses of people like you’ve never seen
to know and work with people who have never known comfort
So send I you, and I expect you to adjust.

So send I you:
to people who will give to you from their poverty
to friends who will embarrass you with their generosity
to hungry, receptive, questioning people
to study, to teach,
to learn from your study and teaching
to probe your own motives, values and beliefs
to learn about yourself and the culture that reared you
to know God and to understand more deeply, dependence on Him

So send I you.

So perfectly stated!

This brings my first semester China Journal to an end, and I close with a quote from Rabindranath Tagore:

Thou hast made me known to friends whom I knew not. Thou hast given me seats in homes not my own. Thou hast brought the distant near and made a brother of the stranger.

I am uneasy of heart when I have to leave my accustomed shelter; I forget that there abides the old in the new, and that there also thou abidest.

Through birth and death, in this world or in others, wherever thou leadest me, it is thou, the same, the one companion of my endless life who ever linkest my heart with bonds of joy to the unfamiliar. When one knows thee, then alien there is none, then no door is shut.

Oh, grant me my prayer that I may never lose the bliss of the touch of the One in the play of the many.


2nd Semester Graduating Class

Unfortunately, I never kept a journal of my second semester at the university. It’s been so many years ago, that I couldn’t even tell you why I didn’t, but I’m guessing it was because we were kept so busy. Even our evenings were taken up with visiting students who would stop by our apartment. If the first semester was amazing, the second was incredible. One of the highlights was a two-week visit from my Mom. I asked her to share some class time with our students. They loved her and referred to her as “The Great American Mother” – and that she was! Another highlight was getting to meet my pen-pal from Guilin in southern China. He and I had corresponded for several years. A highlight in February was a trip to Hong Kong which I briefly shared in a couple of my blogs. It was the Chinese New Year, and we were treated to the most amazing show of fireworks over the Hong Kong harbor. We had a bird’s eye view from some friends’ apartment balcony. The fireworks were spectacular with huge explosions of tigers and other animals, such as I had never seen done before.

So, there you have it, in a nutshell. It’s a good thing I’m not including a second semester journal, or it would be much too long of a read. Suffice it to say, my year in China was the experience of a lifetime. My hope in sharing this journal is that it might inspire a young single person, or a couple, or a retiree to consider going to another country to teach English. The possibilities and opportunities are endless. If you love adventure and love to travel, the sky’s the limit – and I promise you – it will change your life!