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.
Today was Rollie and Norah’s anniversary and also Norah’s birthday. The students had been planning a party for weeks, and of course they wanted it to be a surprise, but the news did manage to leak out. The party was complete with birthday cake and 50 candles, and the singing. Then came the speeches and toasts. Some of the more memorable comments made were: “We hope you have a wonderful welding anniversary and may you live forever in conjugal misery. There were large letters which decorated the wall stating “Happy Annual.” Our students insisted we each sing a solo. None of us were prepared, but we managed to dig out a few golden oldies, including “You Are My Sunshine.”
What makes China such an exciting and beautiful adventure? It’s her people, and they are everywhere! I have discovered there is nowhere you can go in China and not be in the middle of throngs of people!
China is adorable babies…
Precious old people…
And delightful young people…
China is old memories and new horizons…
The modern and the ancient side by side.
Today our Shanghai team, “The Gang of Four,” took an all-day bus tour to the ancient Chinese city of Suzhou. Suzhou has an extensive network of canals which is still used for transportation, and also gives the city the nickname of “Venice of the East.”
Suzhou was settled over 3,000 years ago. When Marco Polo visited, he noted that there were over six thousand bridges of stone. Suzhou has more than 150 exquisite gardens. It is said that there are seven traditional elements considered essential to a perfect Chinese garden: stone, rocks, plants, trees, pagodas, waterfalls, and a legend. One of the legends concerning Suzhou is that, “Argument in Suzhou is more pleasing than flattery in Guangzhou!” The people in Suzhou are said to have a smooth, flowing dialect, although
I wouldn’t know the difference!
One of the gardens we visited was the Lion Grove. A brochure describes this place as a “veritable labyrinth of hollow caves of spectacular shapes,” and believe me, you can get quite lost in them. The grotesque stones come from nearby Lake Tai. Stones such as these are quite popular in many of the parks I’ve seen here in China.
The second park we visited was called the Humble Administrator’s Garden (Zhuozhengyuan). It is also referred to as the “Plain Man’s Politics Garden.” This particular garden was built by Wang Xianchen.
Here are some plain men enjoying the “Plain Man’s Politics Garden!” (You will notice it is quite common to see many of the older men still wearing the “Mao jackets,” which was standard garb during the days of the Cultural Revolution. People were not allowed to wear bright colors.) Zhuozhengyuan has some rather intriguing names for its various points of interest, as do most park here. If there’s anything at all relating to nature, the Chinese will give it a special name. Names are so important here. For instance, the various points of interest in this park include the “Pavilion of Fragrant Snow and Azure Clouds”, the “Pavilion of Expecting Frost”, and the “Small Flying Rainbow Bridge.” We also visited Tiger Hill (Huqiu). The hill was built 2,500 years ago by the King of Wu as a tomb for his father. At the top of the hill is Yunyan Pagoda which was built in 96 A.D. Over the centuries the pagoda began to tilt, but it has recently been reinforced.
After our tour of the parks, we spent some time just walking the streets of Suzhou, doing a little shopping, and admiring the babies. Karen and I both agree that Suzhou wins the prize for having the most adorable babies!
Today I had lunch with Dr. Zenas Bicket and Dr. Don Roberts from Evangel College in Springfield. What a treat to see some familiar faces once again! They brought special treasures from hone including letters and pictures from the students and teachers at Weller, and several boxes of Russell Stover Candy and bags of M and Ms…a must from anyone visiting from the States!
Tonight, I had supper with Dr. Bicket and Dr. Roberts at the Peace Hotel. Afterward I took them shopping at the Friendship Store which caters to foreign tourists.
Today Dr. Bicket and Dr. Roberts visited our students at Jiaoda. Dr. Bicket showed slides of Evangel which the students really enjoyed as it gave them a peek into my “alma mater.” Oh yes, the students wanted to know if everyone at Evangel were as tall as Dr. Bicket and Dr. Roberts!!
Today we attended another concert of the Traditional Chinese Orchestra. Afterwards, they invited anyone who was interested to come forward to take a closer look at the instruments. I got to play an “erwhu” – a two-stringed instrument held in the lap and played like a cello! Karen, Norah, and Rollie all agreed that I needed more practice!
This afternoon I went to the Japanese/Chinese coin exhibition with our Class A resident coin expert, Mr. Shai. He is quite knowledgeable about ancient Chinese coins and has given me several sets of coins representative of various dynasties.
This evening I took Mrs. Wang Rong Qiong out to dinner at the Jing Jiang. She is leaving soon to study and work on her Master’s in London. Mrs. Wang is an English teacher at Jiaoda and is one of the first persons I met here. She is a very special, dear and precious person, and I will truly miss her!
Norah bought a can of chrysanthemum tea and brought it in to the office today. As I was fixing a cup to drink, I began reading the spiel (in English) on the backside of the can. It was good for a laugh! It reads:
“By selecting special grade Chinese Chrysanthemum and impoying modern scientific preparations, this article is prepared in passing throught the process of concentration thereby retaining its characteristic colour, fragrance, and taste. It is an aromatic cooling beverage, eye-brightener, liver-soother, anti-inflammatory and heat-reliever to human health. This article is a yellowish white crystal in the form of grains. Put 3 or 4 spoonfuls in a cup and add cool or boilinc water to it. The preparation is clean, transparent, sweet and tasty. It is a drinking stuff suitable for constant consumption in hot and cold districts as well as all seasons!”
Today I went to a fascinating Chrysanthemum Exhibition at ZhongShan Park with Miss Lian, Mr. Shai, Mr. Song and Mr. Xue. I learned many surprising facts about this flower! There are over 5,000 varieties of “ji hua” in China. One of the most unbelievable was a one-stemmed chrysanthemum that had 5,611 blossoms!! Another mum had four different colors of blossoms grafted into the plant! As we went through the park, the students were giving me the names of the plants in English. They included: Angry Tiger, Princess Beats the Drum, Many Heads, Life Springs from the Old Tree, New Meaning, Welcome Spring, Bright Moon and a Few Stars in the Sky, Beautiful Lady Puts on Green and Purple Dress, Spring in Huang Pu River, Frozen Heart, Golden Lion, Beautiful Ancient Girl, Sun Shines into the God, Small Smile Coming From My Heart, White Cloud on the High Mountain, The Queen Drank Too Much and the best of all…The Queen Just Got Out of the Bathtub!! The Chinese do have a way with words!!
Three little giggly school girls on the streets of Shanghai! The red scarves show they are members of the Young Pioneers.
Another “yummy?” Tian Lin supper tonight… cut up carrots with green pepper, seaweed soup with eggs, and to-fu (bean curd) with cabbage slices.
Our students have completed their mid-term exams, so tomorrow we begin a much-needed and long-awaited Thanksgiving Break. Karen, Rollie, Norah and I will take off for Beijing tomorrow where we will spend a one-week ESEC teacher reunion. We are looking forward to a week of rest as well as getting to see our old “summer friends” once again.
We flew into Beijing – early afternoon via CAAC Airlines. Looking out from my plane window, my first impression of Beijing was that it was quite dry. It is located in a Northern Plain and receives little rainfall or snow during the winter. However, it does experience strong northern winds that whip up constant dust, ad most people wear masks to keep from breathing the dirt. (They wear them in Shanghai as well, but mainly to keep from breathing in the pollution from the hundreds of factory smokestacks.) Due to the extreme dry climate you can see lots of canals and irrigation ditches everywhere around Beijing.
Another first impression of Beijing was that it was curiously quiet despite being a city of over nine million people. The roads seem much broader here and there seems to be much more SPACE to move around, as compared to Shanghai. No wonder it was named “Northern Peace.”
It took us several bus transfers and three hours to make it to Beijing University (nicknamed “Beida.”) where we will be staying for the week. The ESEC Beida teaching team is hosting all of us in their guest house for the week. Actually, it is just a dormitory hall. Each teacher here only has their own personal bedroom. I guess our Shanghai team is quite fortunate with our spacious accommodations. The Beida campus is quite beautiful, with an imposing statue of Mao (he is everywhere) surrounded by a small lake full of lotus blossoms that thrive in the summer. It is frozen over now. The weather is quite cold, but dry, so you don’t feel the chill as badly as you do in Shanghai. Chairman Mao worked in the Beida Library in 1918, and it was on this campus that he and other intellectuals planned the important May 4th demonstrations of 1919.
This evening all of us ESEC teachers gathered together for dinner at the Friendship Hotel. I don’t know which I enjoyed better – getting to see all my good friends again, or my delicious, juicy steak! Dinner was followed by a time of testimony sharing and devotions. What a delightful experience sharing Christian fellowship once again! It was especially delightful singing our favorite hymns together. We have some talented musicians and singers in the group!
I was intrigued, and amused as always, at the lyrical names given to various sites. Some of the areas of interest include East Palace Gate (Donggongmen); the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity; the Garden of Virtuous Harmony; the Hall of Happiness and Longevity; and the Hall of Jade Billows. (Longevity, harmony and happiness seem to be favorite themes everywhere you go.) Many of the buildings were used as elegant apartments for members of the royal family. Many still contain the original jewel-encrusted furniture and precious art objects.
Two Mongolian Warlords visit the Summer Palace!!
It is recorded that 100,000 artisans and one million laborers were forced to build the palaces. Many died from exhaustion and overwork, or were maimed or killed. One of the slabs of stone used for a arving weighed 200 tons. It was this form of inhumanness that finally exposed the true nature of the feudal system and eventually brought its downfall – with peasant insurgence. After Liberation (1949) the Imperial Palace underwent a government sponsored program of restoration. It has now been restored, as much as possible, to its original state, and stands as a shrine to the “blood and sweat” of the common laborer.
It is said that the feudal rulers squandered the people’s money lavishl, while the laboring people lived in poverty and starvation. The wedding of Emperor Kuang Hsu cost a fortune that equaled the price of 3oo kilograms of rice at that time. It is reported that could have fed 3,600,000starving peasants for a year.
There are many exhibits and museums within the walls of the palace. One of the most fascinating was a collection of antique clocks from all over the world. Evidently, it was a past time or hobby for the Qing Emperors to collect such rarities. The most fascinating clock was a clepsydra” water clock which was a time piece in ancient China. The method of recording time by dripping water was invented about 2,500 years ago.
After spending several hours roaming through the huge expanse of the Imperial Palace, we came out the front gate facing Tian’ammen Square, the Gate of Heavenly Peace. (Added note – this name seems ironic in light of the student protests and violence that took place there in 1989, four years after our visit.) The square in front of Tian’ammen is the largest public square in the world. It was originally built in 1651, and was quadrupled in size in 1958..to 100 acres. Each flagstone is numbered so that parade units can line up in their assigned places. On various occasions the square has been known to stand over on-million people!
As you face the entrance to the Forbidden City from the square, you can see an imposing framed picture of Chairman Mao. Of course, there are few people left who adulate him, but he is remembered only as an historical figure. Actually, his memory is a blight on the nation. Any Chinese will readily admit that the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) was a terrible national nightmare, a tragedy. Estimates are that at least three million people died violent deaths. No one can explain it, or understand why it happened. The Chinese consider those years totally wasted, in terms of economic and cultural advancement, as well as personal achievement. Some of our finest students (now engineers at Jiaoda) spent the prime of their lives working in the fields as common laborers. One of our students this semester spent ten years working as a water coolie. When they tell of their experiences, they just shake their heads, sometimes with tears in their eyes.
Directly across from Mao’s portrait, on the other end of the square, is his shrine and tomb. Everyone is made to line up in a double file, before entering the shrine. Talking and whispering are strictly forbidden. As you enter the outer chamber, you see a beautifully carved white marble statue of the Chairman in a sitting pose. Then as you pass into the inner chamber you walk past a glass-topped casket which contains the preserved remains of the Chairman. When a man in front of me made a remark to his wife, he was severely reprimanded by a guard. It was all quite eerie, I thought.
Today we visited the Beijing Zoo. The Panda Bears were not in the best shape, and seemed content to just sit around and sleep or nibble on bamboo. Pandas are an endangered species. In the past few years, it seems, a poisonous variety of bamboo has been flourishing in the mountains of Central China. Many Pandas have become ill and died. So, the government is sponsoring a massive, campaign to try to save these beautiful creatures.
This afternoon we visited Beihai Park, said to be one of the best preserved ancient gardens in China. It literally means “North Lake” and was named for one of their imperial lakes on the grounds. The main feature of this park is the Tibetan-style White Dagoba, built in 1651, to commemorate the visit of a Dalai Lama. The park itself is said to date back to 300 A.D. Once again I was quite fascinated with the names of the various sights in the park: Hall of Wisdom Pearls, Pavilion of Concentrated Charm, Spring Shade on Jade Isle, Hall of Pleasant Snow and Quiet Heart Pavilion. The Chinese do have a way with names!
Today we loaded all 40+ ESEC teachers onto a bus and took a full day’s expedition to the Great Wall! What an experience! Some friends (or should I say “connections”) of our ESEC teachers in Beijing made arrangements for us to meet the Mayor of the small town located near the Great Wall, who was to give us a personal tour and then treat us to a banquet. Well, we never found the Mayor at the Great Wall, so we decided to just do a couple of hours of exploring on our own. It is said that the Great Wall is the only man-made object visible from satellites in orbit. The construction of the wall began during the Warring States Period (403-221 B.C.) when separate sections were built in scattered strategic areas. Following China’s unification under Emperor Qin Shi Huang (221-206 B.C.) 300,000 men, many of them political prisoners whose bodies are buried in the wall, were put to work connecting the segments.
Today the wall measures 6,000 km. (3,750 miles) from the Shanhaiguan Pass near the Bohai Seat to the Jiayuguan Pass in the Gobi Desert. During 1970-1974 (Cultural Revolution) the Wall suffered great damage from Chinese army units stationed nearby. They destroyed some 9,840 feet of the wall and used the stones to construct barracks. Local peasants and miners soon began to follow their example, creating a national historical crisis. The government became concerned about the situation in 1979 and established a commission to preserve this marvelous monument. It is honestly such a thrilling sight. None of us left the place disappointed. We had the entire Wall to ourselves to explore, as we were far from the maddening crowd of tourists that gather around popular areas. Also, we were blessed with beautiful, sunny weather, which is an unusual treat for Northern China at this time of year!
After exploring the Wall for several hours, we loaded onto our bus and drove to a small town nearby, where originally the mayor of this village was to host us to a large banquet. Our Chinese driver seemed quite concerned about finding the mayor and asked several people in town, but no one seemed to know this phantom mayor or where he could be located. We decided there must have been some miscommunication somewhere along the line, and since we were in town, we might as well stop for lunch. We fanned out in various small groups, some looking for shops, some for restrooms, and some for a teahouse. A few of us had settled down to a delicious lunch of jiaozi – stuffed dumplings (my favorite) when our bus driver reappeared and came running into the restaurant looking for us. He was rattling away in Chinese and seemed quite excited. Someone in our group was able to vaguely interpret that the phantom mayor had been located and was awaiting us at the banquet hall. We were to leave immediately! We reluctantly left our table of delicious jiaozi and headed for the banquet hall. Our driver whisked all eight of us off to the banquet hall and then returned with a huge empty bus to look for the others. The mayor accompanied him in a private car to help with the search. In the meantime, the mayor hired a taxi-driver to help as well, and evidently gave him explicit instructions to “shanghai” anyone that looked foreign. It ended up being a rather humorous situation. We had teachers scattered all over town. Rollie and Norah were accosted by the taxi driver who forced them into his car!! They had no idea where they were being taken! The scene was repeated many times all over town! We were so glad there were no other foreigners in town that day. I’m afraid they would have had a terribly frustrating experience. In about an hour and a half we were finally all gathered at the banquet hall. Most of us had already eaten lunch and were so full, the food just didn’t look appetizing at all. But we smiled and tried to act as gracious as possible. After about the 15th course, I lost track of how many plates of food had been placed in front of us. By that time, we were all in a total state of misery. However, we were just grateful that we had located the mayor at all. It would have been a terrible breach of protocol to have had so much food prepared in our honor, and then not show up to eat it!!
We were all relieved to see them bring on the soup. That is a sure sign that the meal was winding down. It is always the last course. Finally, it was time for speeches and good-byes. The mayor signaled Bob Wing to come forward. Bob is American-born Chinese, but speaks little Mandarin. But, no one else in our group spoke any better, so Bob graciously went forward. The mayor gave a short little speech, which we learned afterward, Bob didn’t understand a word of, and totally made up the interpretation. It went something as follows: “We were highly honored to have you visit our province. We hope you enjoyed your stay. We’d like to invite you to come back in the Spring when the flowers are blooming and there’s fruit on the trees.” We all clapped and smiled, and the mayor seemed pleased. We thanked him profusely for his kindness and hospitality, then loaded onto the bus to return to Beijing. Well, we had quite a few good laughs on the way home. Everyone had their own unique adventure to share about the day. We all agreed our banquet was much like the one in Matthew 22 where the guests were summoned from the highways and the byways!
The next day we bid our ESEC friends good-bye and headed home. It was a long eighteen-hour train ride back to Shanghai in a “hard-sleeper” berth. Rollie and Norah took the easy route, and went “soft-sleeper” in a private berth. Karen and I decided traveling by train was absolutely the best way to get to know China and her people. We had some delightful traveling companions in our six bunk berth: two PLA girls (People’s Liberation Army), a cellist in the Beijing symphony, and an acupuncture specialist. They knew little English; we knew little Mandarin, but we chatted away with each other like old friends and enjoyed playing Chinese checkers together. One lady told me she worked in Shanghai and her husband worked in Beijing. They managed to visit each other three times a year.
Our train was not one of the more modern ones in service in some areas, so using the “restroom” was quite an adventure. There was a small little cubicle where you had to squat over a hole in the wooden floor: you could see the tracks flying by underneath you.
Oh my – it was so wonderful getting back to Shanghai, our humble apartment, and our wonderful students. The doormen at Tian Lin greeted us with clapping when they saw us coming up the walk!! It’s good to be back home…
Karen and I shared some culture lectures in our classes this week on the traditions and customs of Thanksgiving Day, as well as its historical background. The students worried that perhaps we would be homesick for our families and a good turkey dinner. Bless their hearts! They went out of their way to prepare us a big feast and make it a meaningful day for us. Class B prepared a chicken dinner (they couldn’t find a turkey) and brought the feast to class for us to eat at lunch time. Class C came to Tian Lin this evening and prepared a banquet for us in order to help us celebrate. They said since we couldn’t be with our families, they wanted to share the celebration with us as “a family.” They really have become like family to us. We have developed a strong bond of love and friendship.
One of the students, Jiang Zhi-qing wrote the following entry in her journal:“Today is the Thanksgiving Day. This is the traditional feast in Western. The members of a family or a group is reunion. They take a big dinner to celebrate the nice day and give thanks for the blessings. What is the things that I want to give thanks? I think there are so many things should be referred. One is I have a good health this year. So I can work and study with pleasant. Another is my husband had got a raise for assist professor. This is a honor to him. Then I have to thanks for that I can got the chance to learn English. Our teachers work hard and we have improved obviously. I thanks for all the favours of God. AMEN!”
Student quote of the week: “Could you tell me the best way to memorialize English words?”