China My Time in
2011-2012 Act 1
Beijing | Forbidden City | Great Wall | Summer Palace | Olympic Park | Hefei | AHU | Sanhe | Wild Animal Park | Foreign Expert
I Can’t Wait
3 August 2011
In less than three weeks I’ll be in a place I’ve only dreamed about. China is my destination and will be my home for almost a year as I help university students in the Anhui Province perfect their English speaking skills. It will be an amazing adventure. Not only will I get to learn the culture, meet the people, maybe learn a little Mandarin, but also I’ll be checking a few things off my bucket list. In less than a month I’ll have walked on the Great Wall of China and through the paths of the Forbidden City. I can’t wait! I will be teaching at Anhui University in Hefei. It’s a city with more than a few million people, but it isn’t even a first or second tier city in China. I can’t wait to meet my students and explore the university campus, but also explore the whole city. Over most holidays I’ll be going on trips to awesome and amazing places. While in the Orient, I’ll try to write about all of my adventures. I don’t think I can access Facebook or Twitter while there, so pictures and stories will be shared via this blog. If I can’t access WordPress for any reason, I’ll send posts to my sister to publish, so hopefully when I get to the terracotta warriors or to the giant Buddha or rice terraces or to Mongolia, Hong Kong or Tibet you can share in my adventure. I can’t wait! In the mean time, while I eagerly await my sojourn to a land with ancient history and amazing people and more, I will try to have as many adventures as I can here in the Dallas area. I’ll be visiting a few museums and another trip to the Fort Worth Zoo, so stay tuned for some fun adventures. If you want a postcard from China, send me your mailing address in an email or in a comment and sometime over my time there, I’ll send you a postcard. And don’t assume I have your address. Also, if you have Skype, I’ll probably be using it often to communicate with my family and friends.
Note: The dates represent when these blog posts were written and posted on the blog not when the adventures were had.
Korean Pit Stop 21 August 2011
I left for China on Saturday and landed in Korea on Monday. Yeah, I skipped right over Sunday. I guess that’s okay though because its one day less to wait for China since I’m getting there this afternoon. A few thoughts on the journey thus far: • Korean Air is awesome because their flight attendants not only give great service but they look like flight attendants right out of the heyday of commercial flight in the 1950s and 1960s. • LAX has a poorly laid out international terminal with all the restaurants and shops outside of security and not in the gate area. This makes for poor selection and exorbitant prices while waiting for your flight past security. • DFW’s relatively new international terminal is great even though McDonald’s didn’t have a Dollar Menu. • I struggle sleeping on long flights. I can’t seem to get comfortable in those seats especially with strangers next to me. Good thing there are tons of options for movies, shows and games on most international flights. On this flight I watched “Kung Fu Panda 2,” “Rio,” “Water for Elephants,” a documentary about the origins of Buddhism and only the beginnings of “Sucker Punch” and “There Be Dragons.” Maybe someday I will afford to get a ticket for one of the “Cocoons,” as they’re called in “Last Holiday,” and be able to lay down in my own little space undisturbed. • Incheon International Airport is really nice, at least the parts I’ve seen. There are comfy lounge areas, free wifi, Korean culture exhibits, showers and so much more. And they have beautiful live orchids growing in their planters. Well, that’s my thoughts on this part of the journey. I am so excited to arrive in China! Over the next few days I’ll meander through the Forbidden City, walk on the Great Wall of China, see my first mummified dictator, and visit the National Stadium aka The Bird’s Nest. We will also visit the Summer Palace, a jade factory, the silk and pearl markets and so much more. Tonight, we are attending a Chinese acrobatics performance which should be pretty spectacular and maybe trump the Cirque du Soleil shows I’ve seen. Anyway, I’m alive, well and made it over the Pacific Ocean for my first excursion to the Asian continent. I’ll write often ‘cause I’m sure almost every day will have a new adventure. After all, adventure is out there! On that note, I have to say thank you to my mom and sister who helped finish my patch bag. It’s pretty awesome. Here are a few pics.
China! I’m in China! 25 August 2011
We arrived in Beijing on Monday, and after going through immigration, getting our bags and going through the green customs line, we finally entered China. China! We were all so excited to be in China. I had been dreaming of this for years. When my brother came to China, I was nearly jealous. When the Olympics were in Beijing three years ago, I imagined what it was like to be in the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube. Well, now here I am in Beijing, China. My first observations of China: • Smog! As we were descending in the plane and about to land, we couldn’t see a thing. I questioned whether we were actually landing or not then we hit the runway. As we taxied we could see the airport but not much further than a few hundred yards because of the intense haze. I heard about the smog and read about it around the Olympics but could never have imagined it like this. I suppose it’s partly because we’re here in August, a very hot month, and the greenhouse effect is taking place. • So many people! Yeah, there are tons of people everywhere in Beijing. I guess that’s what happens in a city of nearly 20 million people. It’s been great entertainment and a little bit of terror to be riding in our bus and seeing how the traffic works in such balance with the bikes, scooters and pedestrians, and by balance I mean how something balances above a bed of razor-sharp blades about to fall off and slice into a million pieces. If you think it’s crazy in Manhattan or Boston, come to Beijing and you will think it’s mild there. After getting to Beijing we checked into our hostel, not too far from the Forbidden City, Beijing Night Market and a nice walking street. Then it was off to my first real Chinese food not the acculturated stuff we find in America. It was delicious! I really enjoyed it and I used only chopsticks even though I’ve never used them before. I was so proud that I didn’t use the fork they provided for us.
After dinner, we attended a Chinese acrobatics performance. It was like Cirque du Soleil in the raw form. There was tumbling, drum dancing, Chinese yo-yos and more. My favorite act was called “Playing Straw Hats.” It was the men of the troupe doing tricks and juggling with straw hats. I had never seen this before and was very impressed. They did some pretty cool things with straw hats. The final act of the show was the globe of death. You may have seen it before at the circus or on America’s Got Talent. There’s a big metal sphere that motorcyclists get in and drive in circles. It’s pretty spectacular and until now I had only seen it with three motorcycles. They upped the ante and got four bikes in at once. To get back to our hostel we drove past Tiananmen Square all lit up. This only got me excited for the next day and our adventure in the heart of Beijing.
The Heart of Beijing 25 August 2011
Day two in Beijing was awesome. We spent half of it in the heart of the city experiencing old China and the other half exploring modern China.
Supposedly the world’s largest public square, this giant swath of concrete is a must see for anyone visiting China and it doesn’t take long to visit unless you want to visit the Chairman. The square known by many Americans because of events over the last 70 years could be considered similar to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It has national landmarks such as the Monument to the People’s Heroes, a large stele in the middle of the square, and General Mao’s Memorial Hall. The square is flanked on either side by important national buildings like the China National Museum and the Great Hall of the People, their capitol building, and at the north end lies the Forbidden City. To get to the square, you go under any of the surrounding streets and through security check points where they x-ray your bags. We wandered amongst the thousands of Chinese tourists who were taking pictures or waiting in line to see Chairman Mao’s wax-like body. The line stretched on and on and on. At the south end of the square is the third gate. It was the third gate out from the center of ancient Beijing leading to the Forbidden City where the emperor lived. It is a beautiful Chinese structure worth a walk around and many pictures. As I meandered around the square I saw hundreds of tour groups huddling together, standing erect and practically emotionless as their picture was taken in front of the Forbidden City where the large portrait of Chairman Mao overlooks the square. Many of the the tour groups wear matching hats making it covered in colored polka dots. I also noticed people taking pictures of me and watching me through binoculars. I only got a little attention unlike the girls in our group with blonde hair who were practically mobbed for pictures.
Next I checked an item off my bucket list as I walked over the moat, under the portrait of Mao and into the Forbidden City, the magnificent palace of Chinese emperors of yesteryear once off limits to us commoners. Now it’s a bustling sea of people. There is a big outer area with lots of vendors and stuff, but it’s not until you go through another massive “gate” or tunnel that you’re in the Forbidden City. That’s also where you have to pay to get in. I was greeted by a magnificent view with the giant courtyard at the bottom of steps leading up to a grand hall painted with brilliant colors and beautiful dragons. I wandered with my friend Aaron through as many places as we could. We went on side paths and explored smaller, less magnificent but still beautiful and surprisingly quiet and calm areas of the palace. The gardens were beautiful and the buildings amazing. One item off the bucket list making me excited for the next day and another item, the Great Wall, but first there was still half a day to explore Beijing a little more.
Where Records were Made
After the Forbidden City and a short lunch break, a group of us took a journey to see some other magnificent buildings of recent import at the Beijing Olympic park. When the 2008 Summer Olympic Games opened with the pomp and circumstance of amazing opening ceremonies, I think everyone watching was hoping to one day see the Bird’s Nest or National Stadium in person. The magic created by the iconic images of Beijing’s Olympic venues stayed with me and did not disappoint. After a 40 minute bus ride on a jam-packed public bus, we reached the park. It was awesome! I couldn’t believe that I was standing in the shadow of this amazing building. And just across a large plaza is the Water Cube where Michael Phelps beat record after record after record. It is an amazing building, even in the day when it isn’t all lit up. We couldn’t really figure out how to go in the venues or where to buy tickets to go in and the only supposed English tourist information center didn’t have anybody who spoke English. We still walked around and enjoyed the architecture of the two jewel venues, the torch, Olympic tower and other scenery. Maybe before I leave Beijing, I’ll get back out there at night with it all lit up.
We’re on the Great Wall ... of China! 30 August 2011
One must-see for everyone who visits China is the Great Wall. Originally built many centuries ago by the joining of many city walls when China united under one emperor, the Great Wall is magnificent. Because of the wall’s age, the weather and many regime changes since, the wall has fallen into disrepair in many places, been ransacked for building materials and rebuilt as tourist destinations. The section we visited is just outside of Beijing and is one that has been restored for the massive amounts of tourists who visit each day. On the way to the wall, we drove through many small villages and through the mountains, but unfortunately, the smog from Beijing reached all the way out to the wall and made panoramic views near impossible to see, let alone photograph. That didn’t matter much because I was on the Great Wall … of China. Since it has been restored as one of the tourist sections of the wall, there was a little market lining the path to the ticket booth and gate with shop owners trying to drag you in to buy trinkets, t-shirts and more. (side note: there was an Oba Mao shirt with a picture of President Obama dressed as Chairman Mao that says something like “helps the people” in Chinese and there were many versions of “I climbed the Great Wall of China shirts.” I ended up getting both at the silk market the next day.)
To get to the wall, you can either hike up or for a little more money ride a chairlift or gondola up. I opted for the chairlift to get some aerial views. My lift ticket was round trip meaning I could ride the lift down or take the alpine slide. Once on the wall, you realize how magnificent it really is, even if it isn’t completely original. I walked down the wall one way taking pictures and back up the other way taking more pictures and constantly hoping that some of the more scenic and panoramic pictures would come out okay with all the haze. I had lots of fun and thoroughly enjoyed getting lots of random and fun pictures like a Samuel the Lamanite picture. When I didn’t want to hike up and down anymore, I rode the slide down. It is very long and could be lots of fun, but if you get behind a Chinese person, be prepared to slow down. They seem to use it more as a mode of transportation than a means of enjoyment or entertainment. I was going pretty fast for about a quarter of the way then had to hit the brakes. They also have guards spread out along the path to tell you to slow down and remind you of no pictures on the slide. Hopefully, while here I can visit the wall at another section with less pollution to see the grand views and length of the wall. On a side note, if anyone was wondering, I am officially a man. After all, Chairman Mao said “He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man.”
From the wall we journeyed on to a jade factory, which is more of a jade carving shop and showroom/shop. We were told about jade and its superstitious meaning and uses and taught how to distinguish the real from the fake (even though the markets do a really good job of mimicking the real jade with glass and marble). We had a delicious lunch in their restaurant and spent some time looking around. As nice as many of the carvings and things were, they were way too expensive for me at this point of my journey. Maybe before I leave Iâ€™ll buy some real jade for good luck.
Our next stop was part of a very large historical area, the Ming Tombs. The tombs of the emperors and their families and servants are scattered over several kilometers at the foot of the mountains (which we couldnâ€™t see because of the haze). From previous experience, our program directors and tour guide knew that the most interesting part to the majority of us would be the Spirit Walk at the entrance to the tomb area, so thatâ€™s where we went. This path takes you past many beautifully carved marble statues of animals, real and mythical, and court officials of the emperors. My favorites were the dragon-turtle and the camels. For some reason I never found out, each kind of animal had two pairs or four total on either side of the path, one pair sitting and the other standing. Each statue was masterfully carved many hundred years ago. With that age some have been repaired with newly carved marble being cemented where the old fell off. This was obvious. I enjoyed the leisurely walk under the willow trees admiring the statues.
3 September 2011 Most places I’ve been around the world have at least one walking street with lots of shopping and food. Beijing is no different, and it is very close to our hostel. After a day of sightseeing with the group, some of us went for a stroll to find the walking street and explore a little bit more of Beijing. What we found was awesome. From the little restaurant where we ate a delicious dinner, we walked up a few blocks to find St. Joseph’s, a catholic cathedral in Beijing originally built in 1655 but destroyed over and over again then finally restored in 1904 and then closed in 1966. This is a happening place. Each night in the plaza in front of the church hundreds of people gather to dance. They don’t do any spectacular dances but a very simple line dance over and over and over again to every song that’s played. As we watched one of the old men came up and started to teach us the dance. I tried and got it down very slowly. It would have taken much more practice to do it at the pace they do it even though it’s slow. Down Wangfujing Dajie a little further is the walking street where there is no vehicle traffic just pedestrians. It’s a fun street and reminds me a bit of Times
Square on a smaller scale because of the lights and signs. Thankfully, there werenâ€™t as many people as Times Square. Unfortunately, most of the shops and food are Times Square prices. Off of this street is a little alley we found with food vendors. What were they selling? Nothing much, just scorpions, starfish, cicadas, sea horses, silk worm pupae and more. Its like we were on the set of a Bizarre Foods episode. I half expected to see Andrew Zimmern there sampling the morsels. We went back another night to test these delicacies and tried scorpion. It didnâ€™t taste like anything except the seasoning and it was really, really crunchy. Near the walking street is the Beijing Night Market, a long section of food vendor booths like you might see at a state fair selling everything from noodles and dumplings to scorpions, cat and ostrich. We had dinner there another night.
I Want One! A Summer Palace that is. 4 September 2011
Our next big group adventure, planned by China Horizons, was an adventure at the Summer Palace. This massive complex was originally built hundreds of years ago but due to wars and fires, it was destroyed several times. The current manifestation was built in the early 1900s. It’s still beautiful, impressive, grand and so much more. Right when we walked through the gate and could see the lake and the giant pagoda on the hill behind it I said “I want one!”
We followed our tour guide in and around the buildings learning about the empress who lived there and put the emperor on house arrest. We learned about her “eunuch” and the concubine and eunuch role in the emperor’s house. Part of the summer palace includes the long corridor, which is considered the longest in the world. It has more than 8,000 paintings, each of them different, on the panels. As we walked along the corridor, we heard some drums and singing, so we followed.
Up the hill was a small pavilion with lots of people singing songs with a band accompanying and director leading. If you didn’t know the music, you could even buy a book with the songs to sing along. It was pretty cool and they sounded good too. Our guide told us they were old, retired people with nothing else to do, so they do that. Imagine if all the retired people in America did that? Parks would be completely different. Once we reached the other end of the lake and were below the giant pagoda, we found our way to the dragon boats. Next to their docking area was the marble boat built by the empress. We rode the dragon boat across the lake and docked next to a long bridge with many arches leading to an island. We had a few minutes to check it out before leaving the Summer Palace. Once again we found a large group of people with a band and director gathered singing.
Our next stop was a pearl “factory” or a place where they sell pearls and jewelry after telling you about how they harvest them and how to tell real from fake and so on. The guide at the factory even cut open a live oyster for us to see where pearls come from. There were about twenty or so pearls in the oyster and we each got one as a souvenir. Then they tried to sell us jewelry and trinkets with pearls.
Best Friend Price 4 September 2011
From the pearl factory we went to the market, and it was time to shop, shop, shop. In China there are many big markets with just about anything sold from little booths. Many of the things are knock-off brand clothes and bags. There are also many Chinese souvenirs, all real of course and only one in China. We went to a more mild market where vendors couldn’t leave their booths and follow you and weren’t that aggressive. Then we went off to the Silk Street Market, which is much more crowded, busy and fun. The best part of these markets is being able to bargain, haggle and negotiate the price down to a fraction of their original asking price since their original asking price is absolutely ridiculous. It’s a big game that’s really fun to play. You joke with them, and they joke with you. They insult you, and you insult them. You walk away. and they yell after you telling you a cheaper price. They insist that they’re giving you the best price ever with the biggest discount ever, and you say heck no, too much. I had heard about these markets from friends who have been to China with the Young Ambassadors. They would tell me all about the special prices like “best friend price” and more. I even used this in some of my haggling asking them for a best friend price. Another fun thing to do in the market is look at the labels for horrendous mistakes like the following Abercrombie & Fitch shorts or to find the most interesting things like these little figures of famous people like Obama. My favorite tactics were when they would say “that’s only five yuan difference, and I need ice cream.” I responded by saying “yeah, it’s only five yuan, and I need ice cream.” They would laugh and tell me I’m fat and I would respond saying “yes, I am.” One vendor felt my forehead for a temperature and told me I’m crazy. I just smiled and agreed. The haggling game is so much fun, and I’m excited to continue play when I get a chance.
A Couple Other Beijing Adventures 4 September 2011
Our last couple of days in Beijing were spent with training for what we would experience as teachers in China and in general what we would experience living in China. It was a couple of long days but worth it with lots of information and ideas for teaching, which starts soon. After our trainings though, we had some free time that I used to go on a couple more adventures.
The blot on the landscape?
After another adventure to the Silk Market via subway, an adventure in and of itself, I made it to something I’ve wanted to see all week after reading about it in my Lonely Planet guidebook. I didn’t get to go inside but the outside is magnificent. It’s the National Center for the Performing Arts.
According to the Lonely Planet description, this building was designed by ADP Aeroports de Paris, the one design that didnâ€™t incorporate influences from the neighboring Hall of the People or Forbidden City. The building is a big dome made of metal and glass. Its surrounded by a reflecting pool that completes the image creating a full oval that looks like either an ear of corn, a lotus blossom or who knows what. You tell me. Some people consider it a blot on the landscape, but I find it beautiful. To get back to the hostel we walked by the gate to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, which are beautiful at night.
Chun Yi: The Legend of Kung Fu On my last night in Beijing, I joined some of the other teachers seeing a show called Chun Yi: The Legend of Kung Fu. It was a fantastic show that told the story and journey of Chun Yi who was dropped off at a monastery as a young boy by his mother. He did not want to be there and then he saw kung fu. It was then that he decided to stay and train. The show displays many amazing fetes of acrobatics and martial arts as it tells the boy’s coming-of-age story. The production describes kung fu as an art that teaches harmony and working as a group to achieve harmony. The art strives to be in balance with nature using it as a teacher. This is where the animal styles of kung fu come from, the mirroring of nature. Chun Yi goes through different stages as he progresses in the story including temptation and overcoming personal selfish desires. One of my favorite scenes is when they demonstrate the animal styles of kung fu in their basic forms. You could really see how the movements of the animals inspired these styles. No photos were permitted during this show, but we got a fun kung fu pic outside afterward. This show had a great production value with wonderful sets, lighting and effects. The story was told in English so we didn’t have to watch subtitles but could watch the stage. For some reason, I was deeply touched while watching this production. I felt that this is where I should be right now. I had a confirmation that I should be in China. The next day I would be leaving Beijing for Hefei and had no clue what lay ahead of me. Beijing is amazing and I’m sure I’ll find myself back there again at some point before I leave this great land.
Going to Hefei
6 September 2011 Sunday night, after spending the day doing churchy things like meeting our branch president and attending the virtual branch for foreigners spread across the country, I hopped on an overnight train to my new home for the next ten months, Hefei. I was greeted at the train station by someone from the foreign relations department at my school, Anhui University. She dropped me off at my apartment and left me for a while. That’s when it really hit me that I’m in China to live not just visit. This really scared me and I felt very alone. I’ll admit my homesickness and feeling a bit like a prisoner because I don’t know where anything is, how to speak or read their language, and I had no friends anywhere near. I didn’t have my computer set up until that night so I couldn’t even email anybody. That afternoon, I met some of the other foreign teachers, Birte a German teacher and Kim a French teacher who has taught here for six years. They are very friendly and willing to help out especially since both of them speak Chinese. It was with them that I had my first real adventure in Hefei, a trip to the police station to register that we are here. The woman helping us had never done it before and insisted that we had the wrong visas and she couldn’t help us, so someone made a phone call and got a higher-up to help us. During this visit, I also got my Chinese name from Birte and Paul, our helper from the school. My name is Wang Kai Wen. I’m not completely sure what it means yet. Wang is a family name and is similar to Earl. Kai is the word for on like turning on the power. Wen has something to do with writing, literature, language and culture. From there, Kim took us to a local supermarket. I was nearly lost in the market especially when it came to food. I have no clue how to make anything Chinese and it’s not like there are English instructions on the packages. I also had to get some things to outfit my apartment. The teachers who lived here before me left practically nothing - no dishes, cleaning supplies or anything else, just the Lord of the Rings trilogy and a toothpick dispenser shaped like a pig. This didn’t help my loneliness or homesickness. Over the next couple of days, I walked about the campus to get to know my surroundings. I live on the new campus of the university. It is a beautiful campus and very thoughtfully designed with gardens, plazas and grand architecture, however its a little unkempt. The greenery is overgrown in many places and full of weeds and some things have fallen into disrepair. But even with these slight imperfections, the campus has a certain beauty to it. Even though it has been here for a few years now, they are still building and adding to the campus. Not far from my apartment are the new graduate student dorms and dining hall. I look forward to them opening because then there will be a dining hall just a few minutes away and not across campus.
Trying to Figure it Out 6 September 2011
The other foreign English teacher, Melissa, arrived last Tuesday night. I met her Wednesday and found out she was also placed through China Horizons and is LDS. My friend Aaron, who got me into this, is also teaching in Hefei. He came down to our campus and we visited for the evening. It’s nice to have friends with similar values and background close by. We were going to call in for the Institute class, but we couldn’t dial out on my phone and my laptop still wasn’t hooked up to the internet, so we couldn’t call in through Skype. Since I arrived in Hefei, I’ve asked many people what there is to do here. They all seem to say that there’s nothing to do in Hefei. However, as I’ve walked around campus and rode in taxis through town on errands, I’ve seen how big Hefei really is, and in a city this big there are always things to do. You might just have to travel a little bit to get there. I’ve also made a few mental notes of places I might like to visit or observations of Chinese culture. For instance, there is an aquarium here in Hefei with dolphins, whales and sea lions. That sounds like a fun adventure for the very near future. One cultural observation is how advanced they are in some things and not in others. For instance, on the street next to campus there is a long row of apartments with shops in the bottom. I would guess that nearly one fourth of these are hair salons. I noticed that each hair salon is equipped with state-of-the-art tools and then across the sidewalk, they are air-drying their towels and clothes in the dirty humid air. I find it peculiar that in one way they are so advanced while at the same time sticking with the traditional, sometimes less-effective, methods of doing something. Another interesting thing I’ve seen as I’ve been on campus is the military training for freshmen that takes place just before school starts each year. They learn to march and take orders. I spoke with a senior English major the other day about it and he said it is to learn how to work together and build unity and harmony amongst the students. If you think about it, this could be a beneficial practice for others to adopt to a certain extent. I did have my first teaching experience the other night too. I was told that I would have a class Thursday nights for non-English majors applying for a second degree and that it would begin on September 8. However, on Thursday, September 1, I got a phone call from the class monitor asking where I was. I quickly rushed over not really knowing what I was going to teach. I also misunderstood the class thinking it would be three separate groups of students for 40 minutes each and not one group of students for three consecutive class periods of 40 minutes each, so I let them go after the first 40 minutes much to my chagrin. After I let them out, I hung around and talked with some of the students, who spoke very good English, about what they like and let them ask me questions. I was very excited for this class because I knew the students in it wanted to be there and practice their spoken English. They wanted to learn and with that long of a class each week we could have done a lot. Unfortunately, when I got home that evening, I was told that there was a mistake with my schedule and that I would not be teaching that class anymore. More than anything my heart dropped because I had told these excited students that I would be there again and teach them all semester.
A Little Settled In 6 September 2011
I’m starting to settle in a little better. I’ve gotten out and explored by riding the bus around and walking around a bit so even with the language barrier I’m feeling more comfortable being able to get myself around. My computer has also been set up on the internet so I can peruse Google Maps and feel so much more connected than before.
Today, being Sunday, we got together for church, Aaron, Melissa and I. We make up the group in Hefei as part of the virtual branch in the China International District. The Spirit can do wonderful things in helping calm the soul. I am so grateful for the technology and the permission from the Chinese government that we can meet meet as members of the church. We are not allowed to actively or passively proselytize but we may meet together privately as foreigners for church meetings. Each Sunday, we will gather around our computers or phones to call into a conference call for our sacrament meeting and then rotating weeks for Sunday School, Relief Society and Priesthood for the second hour. We can also participate in Institute each week and do home and visiting teaching over the phone or computer. I received two callings today, one on the branch level as co-group leader for our little group and one on the district level as a Young Single Adult representative for our branch.
Another thing that has helped me settle in a little more was a trip to the Metro store. It is a German store kind of like Costco. Since it is a foreign store, you can find Western food and brands. Knowing that I could get some of these things and find comforts of home nearby is so nice. Now I can have great Chinese food from local places and have some of my favorites from home. Some people would not understand how much this helps with homesickness. I had KFC yesterday and it was amazing what greasy fries and a chicken sandwich can do for you.
Another random observation for you of Chinese culture; since I’ve been in Hefei there have been fireworks set off every day at different times and who knows for what reasons. They haven’t just been set off at night when you could see them in all their glory but in the morning, afternoon, evening – you name it. It also seems there are no restrictions on where you can set them off. The other day there was, I think, a wedding party for someone in the building next door. I think it was a wedding with the nice shiny car all decorated with flowers and stuff. When I set out for a few hours they were just gathering. When I got back the driveway was covered, and I mean covered, with spent fireworks. I wish I had been there when they went off to get a video but I was somewhere across town. Now, all of these fireworks as far as I can tell have been amateur, personal fireworks. I can’t wait for a real professional show if they take their explosives this seriously. I only mention the fireworks because a couple of hours ago I was sitting here thinking that I hadn’t heard any fireworks today and then just a few minutes ago I heard some.
I also got to talk to my sister Susanna on Skype Sunday afternoon. It was great to talk to her and see her. I hope I get to Skype with some of the others of you too. Its free and easy. If you want to add me to your contacts, my user name is kevinsearl or you can find me by my email.
Medical Assembly Line 7 September 2011
In Order to get my residency permit and foreign teacher card, I had to get a physical exam at the Chinese office of travel health or something like that. It is a government facility that does physicals for all nationals wishing to leave the country for work or school and for foreigners who will be applying for any kind of extended stay permits.
So, if there were an office like this in America or almost anywhere else I know of, it would be like a doctor’s office where you go into a room privately and have some tests done by a nurse or doctor. For special tests you may be taken to another room but generally it is a private room behind closed doors. Well, it’s not like that here at all. After checking in at the counter and paying, you’re given a form with several stickers and told to go get everything done. At this particular office, everything except the chest x-rays was done on the second floor. You basically go from test to test in no particular order until you have them all done. This means you can look for rooms with fewer people waiting. When you are being examined, say for blood pressure, someone else is standing there waiting and the person who just got checked is lying on the bed in the corner waiting to be prodded by the nurse. Other tests include blood tests (where they use the stickers to label the vials), chest x-rays, ECG, ultrasound, urine analysis and more. The room to get your blood drawn is like a bank counter with many windows and when one is open you go up and stick out your arm. Thankfully, they use new needles each time and that I’m not allergic to iodine because they didn’t ask. It’s also the first time I’ve gotten an x-ray without a protective shield on the rest of my body not getting scanned. I feel like we got everything done that we needed to get done very quickly but in such an unorganized and public way. But even in this assembly line manner, I did not feel compromised in my safety or privacy. In a couple of days they will have all the tests done and my liaison can apply for my residency permit. I can’t wait to get that because then I can travel more freely without getting a visa to visit places like Hong Kong and maybe a bordering country or two while I’m here.
Anhui Univeristy New Campus 8 September 2011
The last few posts haven’t had any pictures so I thought this one would have more pictures. On Monday, I walked around campus to explore a bit more and this time brought my camera with me. So these are pictures of where I’ll be working and living over the next several months.
Lions and Tigers and Bears and so much more, part 1 9 September 2011
Today, I went to the zoo! I love zoos, but was a bit scared of going to one in China because I’ve been told and read in Lonely Planet that the zoos in China treat the animals very poorly with animals in cages that we would’ve replaced years ago in America on account of them being too small, inhumane and not stimulating for their occupants. Well, I saw some of that, but there were also some great things. But first, since I don’t start teaching until next week, I have had lots of free time so I’ve done a bit of reading, and this last week I finished The Wizard of Oz. I think I like the book better than the movie. It has so much more to it. But I could also see how the story was adapted to screen and where they got ideas from other parts of the story and integrated them in the movie. Now I’m reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which is a difficult book because of the accents and dialects it is written with, but I’ve wanted to read it since my first go around with The King and I in Australia. It’s also a lot longer than The Wizard of Oz so it will take me a little longer. Thanks Dad, for letting me bring your reader.
Now, back to the zoo. The Good There were many parts of it that I enjoyed and thought were very well done. Perhaps the best example of this is their Beasts of Prey exhibit. It’s huge for a set of animal enclosures at a zoo, several acres at least. In this exhibit there are four main areas, for lions, tigers, bears and wolves. Oh my! Each enclosure is bigger than any other exhibit I’ve seen for similar animals at any other zoo I’ve been to, and I’ve been to a lot of zoos. The whole zoo sits on the feet of a small mountain in Hefei so these enclosures have a gentle rise to them with plenty of trees, bushes and lots of grass growing all over. You can observe these enclosures either through the fence around the outside or better yet get a bird’s eye view from the bridge or catwalk they have over all of the enclosures. As you walk over each enclosure you have to hunt for the animals that may be lying under the trees or meandering through the grass but you can get a great view of them where ever they are (unless it’s raining and the majority of the lion pride decides to hang out under the bridge you’re walking on). The exhibits give the animals lots of room to roam and be stimulated and the visitor a chance to observe while not just on the edge of the enclosure peering in. Other habitats also had lots of space for the animals like the Japanese macaque family that had a whole mountain and moat to swim in if they so chose. The giraffes are in a very large habitat too with some zebras and Oryx sharing it. The squirrel monkeys also had a ton of space for their little troop in a little orchard that they could climb through and roam around in. The zoo also has a ginormous aviary with a big pond and small forest for its inhabitants that roamed free, mostly waterfowl but also lots of peacocks. I just wonder that if it hadn’t been raining, if the birds would have done more flying for us.
The Bad We did eventually find some of the concrete box enclosures. These are mostly at the end of the zoo, so if you visit, just don’t make your way all the way back to the end if you don’t want to see these types of cages. Most of these cages had birds and seemed to be holding pens or breeding pens, but we did see some sad instances of little and big monkeys in these concrete boxes as well as some wolves. There were also a few surprises in these that I’ll tell you about in the next section, “the funny.” Some other less-than-adequate enclosures were the other large cat cages for the white tigers and leopards. However, they aren’t any smaller than the mountain lion cage at the Fort Worth Zoo that has two cats in it and these only had one per cage. Even though they were small they didn’t have solid concrete floors so that grass grew plentifully, but it is sad to see such majestic creatures penned up like that, especially when some of their cousins get star treatment at the beasts of prey exhibits. In the aviary there were some birds not free to fly such as the zoo’s exotic pheasant collection and macaws and parrots. I don’t know why these are in smaller cages inside such a large aviary that has so much space for all of these birds, so much it’s not even funny. Most likely the parrots and pheasants would stick to the forest area away from the waterfowl anyway. It could be that these are smaller than the swans, cranes and pelicans and could possibly get out of the holes that are showing up in the overall aviary net.
Lions and Tigers and Bears and so much more, part 2 10 September 2011
The Funny So, I don’t know if you’ll think it’s funny, but while we wandered through the concrete cage section, we were surprised by an all too familiar sound of a dog barking. Yep, that’s right, one row of these abominable cages were dog kennels with, let’s see, a German shepherd, a couple of mastiffs and some other dog or two. I guess in a country where dogs can be on the menu in some places, why not put them in a zoo. On a similar note, while looking at the smaller aviaries in the big aviary, the ones with pheasants and parrots, we came across another one that had, get this, three other bird cages in it with a bird in each one. So that’s a bird in a cage in a big cage in a very large aviary. I’m guessing these are very valuable birds or it’s just some ancient Chinese secret I’m not informed of. Maybe they’re like the ravens at the Tower of London in cages so they don’t leave because if they do then the empire will fall. One funny thing I can’t forget to mention is the gibbons. They have standard monkey enclosures with tons more space than some lauded zoos I’ve been to in America with some trees and stuff to play on. All around their home are signs, as in the rest of the zoo, telling you not to feed the animals. I don’t think many people pay attention to these signs though because when we walked up to the wall, these smart apes who were staying dry in their building saw us and came walking over in their funny little way and right below us looking up for us to drop something in. They weren’t the only ones either. The chimpanzees did this too and both kinds of ape tried to perform for us to get something. One chimp even climbed all the way up his tree to be closer to eye level and waved at us. When he could see we weren’t giving him anything he started to shoo us away. Anyway, if you’ve never seen a little gibbon walk or run, do it before you die because it’s hilarious.
Other The wild animal park, as they call themselves in English, also has a sea lion show that was fun to watch. The arena is set up for more than one animal but we only saw one perform. I’m thinking they only bring out another one if it’s a big crowd. The sea lion was well trained and did all the usual tricks very well. The biggest difference between this show and similar ones at Sea World is that there was no lesson to be taught about conservation or anything during the show. It was purely for entertainment. I also saw my first Giant Panda in China at this zoo. It has its own little walled area with its enclosure in the middle. Unfortunately, the panda was in its little building, probably due to the rain, and just sleeping. We didn’t even get to see its face, but we did see a real live, genuine panda bear in China. It just made me want to go to the China research and breeding facility even more out in Sichuan Province. Someday.
We didn’t really see any reptiles at this zoo because you had to pay an extra 10 Yuan to see them. That’s not really very much but still, I think that your admission to a zoo should cover all the animals even the reptiles. Anyway, I probably would have been disappointed with their reptile exhibits after just being to the Fort Worth Zoo’s MOLA a few weeks ago.
The zoo also has a little amusement area with small carnival rides for kids. It wasn’t open when we were there. But there was a pirate ride that had a great misspelling on it. It was called the “Super Sirate Phip.” The zoo is also making new enclosures and is visibly trying to improve, which is always a good thing. My next animal adventure in China will either be the Hefei Aquarium or the nearby Chinese alligator farm I learned about online yesterday. This weekend is Mid-Autumn Festival though so I’ll have some more adventures to share soon. Thanks for reading and remember, “Adventure is out there!”
Mid-Autumn Festival! Huh? 14 September 2011
This last weekend was a weekend of special occasions. In China there were two special days and of course in my homeland there was a special day of remembrance.
What is Mid-Autumn Festival?
The first signal of the impending holiday was a knock at the door from my liaison from the foreign affairs office of the school. She had with her several brightly colored boxes and handed me one while wishing me a happy Mid-Autumn Festival on behalf of the university. I was pleasantly surprised and excited to find out what it was. It was a box of moon cakes. Well, I had no clue what moon cakes are or why they celebrate this holiday so I quickly turned to the all-trusted source of the Internet finding Wikipedia had a nice article on
both. I learned that the moon cake is the traditional treat for Mid-Autumn Festival and is generally given between friends and family. There are many varieties and it has become a common practice for businesses to give them to clients. They’re kind of like a fruit cake at Christmas. The holiday is an ancient holiday that dates back to when China still worshipped the gods of the sun and moon. There are a few legends about why they celebrate it but basically it’s to signal the end of the harvest and harvest moon. I found out that the holiday is always the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese calendar, which happened to be September 12 on the regular calendar this year.
The same day I got the moon cakes, I also got a call from someone named Sally who invited me to dinner with the other teachers in Hefei from China Horizons. It turns out she is the contact that China Horizons uses to help place teachers. She first worked with the director of CH about 10 years ago when he first came to China to teach with his wife. I was delighted to meet her and make another friend in China. She invited us out for dinner on Saturday, which happened to be the official Teacher’s Day in China. This holiday was implemented in 1985 in order to instill more respect for teachers who had lost that respect during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) because they were intellectuals. It is a day when teachers all over China are recognized and given special treatment. We had a lovely dinner in a nice “hotel” restaurant with our own private room. It was good company and great food. The first dish they brought out was this cool looking green and white soup that was artfully plated to be a yin and yang symbol. They called it tai chi soup. It was truly a banquet.
Sanhe, Ancient Chinese Secret, part 1 15 September 2011
Okay, it’s not really a secret but that’s what I thought every time I read something about the small town of Sanhe before visiting it on Monday during the Mid-Autumn Festival because every time I found something about it in English the town’s name was followed by Ancient Chinese Town. What our little band of adventurers found out though is that Sanhe has sights not just important to ancient China but more recent China too. Sanhe is about an hour’s bus ride south of Hefei (12 Yuan each way). That’s where the adventure began, trying to find the bus depot. According to Google Maps it was supposed to be in one place that we were familiar with but really it wasn’t anywhere near there. After about an hour of walking around, asking people and getting mixed up Chinese directions, Melissa and I got in a taxi to take us to the depot where Aaron was already waiting. He decided a cab would be the best route much sooner than we did.
9/11 Ten Years Later Even with these two celebratory holidays over the weekend, my mind kept reflecting on the more somber occasion that undoubtedly occupied the thoughts of my family, friends and fellow Americans. I too remembered where I had been 10 years ago when I heard the news, and I remember vividly the rest of that day during my senior year of high school. My heart goes out to the thousands who were personally affected by the tragedy and my heart goes out to the thousands of American Muslims who have been scorned and scoffed at because of the shameless acts of terror carried out by someone espousing the same heritage. I read many stories about the raised security in NYC and DC and the many memorials. I read the words of religious leaders who spoke about turning to and trusting in God, and I read about the consequences of our actions from many different sources both good and bad that have been realized over the last ten years. I also thought about two years ago when I was in NYC and overlooking Ground Zero. I was there with a bunch of kids who couldn’t possibly remember that day since most were toddlers when it happened, a couple of them just newborns. At the time I thought about it and if they really understood the significance of what they were seeing that everything changed that day including travel, politics, international relationships and so much more. The one thing that didn’t change is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. God loves each of his children, always has and always will. He wants us to be happy and that’s why we have the gospel. That’s why there is a prophet. That’s why he sent his son. Anyway, the next day was the Mid-Autumn Festival. We decided to make an adventure of it so Aaron, Melissa and I made a trek to a fanciful little Chinese town not far from Hefei that I read about on a blog, but more about that in its own post. Of course we got stares from the onset. Even though there are signs in English at the sites in Sanhe and there are English websites telling you to visit it, not many foreigners make the trek to this little town. We got there easily enough and started wandering around. Soon we were attacked by pedi-cab drivers petitioning us to go with them. We found a map though that was in English and decided not to indulge them. That’s when we found the first of the three rivers (Sanhe means three rivers) with beautiful stone bridges arching over and a tall pagoda on the bank. It was beautiful. We decided to climb up this pagoda that was seven stories high with itty bitty steep stairs to get views of the whole town. This town isn’t only famous because of the bridges but because of the architecture that is unique to the buildings of Sanhe. As I hiked up the steep stairs, I noticed a sweet fragrance on the air. When I reached the top I found out where it came from. The top floor had several effigies of Buddha, and you could pay to burn incense or light candles.
As we wandered the small streets and alleyways, we found other sites including some Buddhist temples, homes of former Chinese dignitaries from many centuries ago to some dignitaries from Maoâ€™s time. However, you had to pay to go in and visit each of these sites, so we just admired from the outside. There was still plenty to see and experience. Anyway, we had already paid to go in the pagoda (10 Yuan). Three things stick out to me about this adventure; the Buddhist temple, the opera dinner boat and the restaurants. As I read about this town before we went, I found a repeated almost proverb that said something like â€œif you want to make a tour, go to Yellow Mountain. For food make a visit to Sanhe.â€? So we expected some good food. What we found is that if you want fresh seafood go to Sanhe. There were many little eateries throughout the town and most of them had little buckets in front with live fish, crawdads, turtles, eels and giant river oysters all to be eaten. None of us were in a fish mood but we did find a yummy little place with some good fried rice, noodles and dumplings and it was cheap too.
Sanhe, Ancient Chinese Secret, part 2 15 September 2011
continued from Sanhe, Ancient Chinese Secret, part 1
We saw the temple from the tower and decided to find it. It was worth the little effort and would have been worth more. It is a working monastery that we couldn’t really go in unless we wanted to pay to light some incense, but we could gaze in the front door. This is where a big happy Buddha sat (the happy Buddha is the fat one that smiles). On either side of this entrance hall were Goliath-sized guardians, each of a different color. Outside the front door were three large incense burners and a stone wall with some inscription on it. The temple doors were guarded by two kylin, mythical Chinese beasts made up of various animal parts. The temple was painted a brilliant golden yellow and other bright vibrant colors on the eaves and rafters.
As we were finishing our tour we walked along the river and heard singing. We investigated and found a dinner boat, similar to one in San Antonio on the river walk except this one was man-powered like a gondola. On the boat were two opera singers performing traditional Chinese opera in traditional costumes. It was a fun thing to see and added to the ambiance of this little town. It was a moment when we all said to ourselves, “hey, we’re in China!” We also found a giant Christian church under-construction and had the chance to let Melissa play dress up in some traditional Chinese robes for pictures. If this is what most of the little towns in China are like, I can’t wait to visit more. Our adventure wasn’t over yet. We still had to get back to Hefei. At the bus depot in Sanhe, we found tons of people and lots of commotion. There was a long line that meandered all the way around the parking lot waiting to get on buses back to Hefei. We watched as each bus was loaded far beyond capacity like sardines in a can. We feared that we would end up getting crammed into a bus with no seat and no moving air.
When our turn finally came, after a little more than an hour, we found out our tickets were for seats and we got to rest our achy feet. They still packed our bus though. It wasn’t as simple as that. Our bus driver seemed to have had a bad day because when our bus was loaded he got out and something happened we aren’t quite sure of. What we do know is that our driver was being chased around the bus and then we heard screaming and flesh hitting flesh and more screaming. Yeah, our driver got in a fight right when he should have been leaving with us. We didn’t really see anything but could feel the tension. After a few minutes, someone else got in the driver’s seat and drove while the driver played conductor with blood on his hand, literally. It was a little more than unnerving especially since there were a few women who decided to get into a very heated argument on our bus. I only wish I could have understood everything going on around me. Someday. We made it safely back to Hefei and decided McDonald’s would be a good ending to the Mid-Autumn Festival. Who knows what the next adventure will be? I did start teaching this week though and will share that with you soon. Until then, go have an adventure of your own. Like this old man we found fishing with a long bamboo pole in the town moat of Sanhe.
18 September 2011 Who ever thought I would be a teacher? Yeah, it may be short-term and not a life-time career choice, but right now I’m not just a teacher but a college professor. I have officially started teaching and had all of my classes for the first time this last week. I have seven classes of about 30 freshmen each and focus on spoken English. Five classes are English majors and two are Teaching Chinese as a Second Language majors. I was so excited to finally start teaching. After sitting around for two weeks in Hefei, it was time, and it was great. My students were much more skilled at English than I feared. We can have basic conversations, and I can understand most everything they say. My goal is to grow their vocabulary and help them with their pronunciation and fluency. This last week we focused on introductions. I have each class for two consecutive 40 minute periods once a week (not enough to really learn a language). For the first half of the class I introduced myself. I told them where I am from and introduced some new words like maverick, mascot and Alamo as I talked about Dallas and Texas. I showed them a picture of my family, my nephew and half of my extended family and they were in awe. I think it’s because of something about not having more than one kid even though I have seen several two-child families. I can’t wait to show them pictures of my new nephew after he’s born in a few weeks. We also talked about some of my favorite things. I taught them the word symmetry as I told them my favorite animal is the giraffe (look at a giraffe’s face straight on and you can see it is symmetrical) and the words soundtrack and animation as I told them my favorite music and movie. After introducing myself, I turned the tables, after all this is an oral English class and they need to talk. I gave them a few criteria like “tell me something interesting about where you come from” and asked them questions like “Why are you an English major?” I had them write it all down first so they could process their thoughts and I could have something to take with me to get to know them a little better. Then, for the second half of the class, they got up one by one to introduce themselves. There are so many skill levels among the students. I also quickly learned how each one is so different from the others. Some students just read their papers to me while others adlibbed and tried to joke and ask me questions. At first they were hesitant to even get up, and I had to choose people. Eventually people started to volunteer. Some things I learned about my students: • They come from all over China not just Hefei or Anhui Province. • Chinese kids, especially boys, love the NBA. • They are just like American kids and love to watch movies, play computer games, hang out with friends and sleep. • My university freshmen are 17-18 years old. • They want to learn English because they want to learn about American culture, travel someday outside of China and watch American movies. One student wrote: “I major in English in my college just because I want to improve myself. As for me, English is my shortcoming. It is a challenge. And I am glad to face all the difficulties that I will meet.” I received several offers from my students to show me around their hometown as my tour guide. Some students gave very institutional answers and told me the place they come from is interesting because it is known for a specific industry like coal, tofu or tea or that their
favorite color is a certain color because of its meaning. Some students gave very thoughtful and insightful answers and some were calling out for help. I hope and pray that I can make my classes a bright spot in their week and do what I can to help those that need to be lifted up and taste a little bit of happiness in their lives. From what I understand, I will have these same students both semesters I’m here. It will be an exciting adventure.
One Month in China and Adventure Patches turns 100 22 September 2011
I’ve been in the land of the Orient for a month! It feels like so much longer and not necessarily in a bad way. I thought I would mark my 100th blog post on Adventure Patches with a post about my first month in China as told through numbers. Some of these will spur questions from you and will require longer posts later to explain, so get ready to share your questions and comments below. • 1 month in China • 2 boys peeing on a bus • 1 scorpion eaten off a stick • 4 floors up to my apartment • 7 classes of students • 210 about the number of students in my classes • 1 novel read (The Wizard of Oz) another being read (Uncle Tom’s Cabin) • 8 movies watched • 6 Yuan, the average cost of an everyday meal (not one from KFC or McDonalds) • 2 things checked off the bucket list (Great Wall and Forbidden City) • 3 more possible bucket list items while in China (see a Giant Panda, a heroic-sized Buddha and the Terracotta Warriors) • 8 foreign teachers at Anhui University (1 German, 1 French, 1 Japanese, 1 Russian, 2 English, 2 Spanish (coming soon)) • 3 American fast-food places I’ve partaken of in China (KFC, McDonalds, Pizza Hut (not fast-food here)) • 150 about the number of people who call in each week for church meetings • 5 super-stores from other countries that I’ve shopped at Things that are too numerous to count • People wanting pictures of me not necessarily with me • People stopping dead in their tracks when they see me • Chinese words I don’t know • People in China • Automobile accidents that should have occurred but by some miracle didn’t • Broken-down yellow bikes scattered across campus • How many times I’ve heard “Hello” from somewhere after I’ve walked past
I’m getting used to China and living here. However, I will probably only stay here teaching for my current contract length. The people are mostly so friendly and willing to try and understand you as you play charades, and I am practicing a lot of patience as I try to understand some of them as they attempt English. Actually, most who are brave enough to speak to you in English are very good. My apartment is starting to feel more like home as I’ve dressed it up to feel a little more warm and friendly. It’s amazing what a couple of throw pillows and a plant will do to a room with dirty white walls, shiny grey industrial tiles and old dirty drapes. I am planning trips now that I’ve gotten the school calendar translated and I’m planning lessons that will be fun and engaging for my students. I’ve realized that some lessons should really be complete nonsense just so they can have fun. Next weekend, October 1, is National Day and will be the beginning of a week-long holiday. I’m trying to plan a trip to Hong Kong for a few days to see the sights and visit the temple. Of course I will share all with you, so keep in touch and please post comments, share this with your friends and send me emails. This marks the 100th post of Adventure Patches, brought to you from wherever Kevin may be. May adventure be with you this day and always. And remember, “Adventure is out there!”
A little out of place 23 September 2011
So, Hefei has a walking street just as any big city should. Last Saturday, Aaron and I met there for pizza at Pizza Hut and boy was it yummy. Anyway, this walking street is typical of any walking street with all sorts of shops and eateries and of course tons of people out enjoying themselves. Well, this walking street has two things that seem a bit misplaced, but here’s the rub, they were obviously there first. One is an old residence of a local official of the Qing Dynasty. It looks really cool and will be an upcoming adventure, but our first adventure was to the other destination that’s a little out of place on the walking street, the Mingjiao Temple. It is a small Buddhist temple that sits a few meters off street level as if it were floating over the street and looking down on it from a higher plane. Aaron and I saw it on Saturday and knew we wanted to go back and visit, so that’s what we did this week taking Melissa with us.
As I waited for the two of them to meet me at the temple, I couldn’t help but notice the ethereal sound of chanting or singing coming from the temple. It seemed even more out of place on this loud, bustling, commercial street. When we went up, we found the source of the singing and had a wonderful surprise awaiting us.
Before even paying our 10 Yuan entrance fee, we could see many worshipers seated all around the floor of the entrance hall in robes praying. We were intrigued. The entrance hall was similar to the entrance hall of the temple in Sanhe with the big Buddha statue in the middle and different colored guards on either side. Someday Iâ€™ll figure out who or what they are supposed to be. All around these, leaving only a small path for walking by them, were people praying or singing or chanting with someone we could only hear over a loud speaker leading them.
They all sat on their little cushions and most had robes. Some knew the recitations by heart while others read out of a book. We could quickly see that not just the entrance hall was full of people but there were people scattered everywhere around the temple, in the, buildings, under the trees, out in the open, doing the same thing. We asked and were assured that photography was allowed but still felt a little uneasy with a worship service in progress. We reverently walked around the courtyard where the large incense trough smoked letting off a sweet smell and where little red ribbons fluttered in the trees with prayers or hopes on them from the believers. We took a few pics and felt more comfortable as the people greeted us so warmly and smiled big when they saw us. Periodically, women would go around and hand out candies to these pilgrims. I don’t fully understand why, but it has something to do with giving to the poor. A couple of the ladies even gave us some handfuls of sweets. The singing or praying was intermittent going in little chunks with breaks in between sets that the people used for personal prayers or just chatting. This went on for a while when we were there and then finally, they started singing for the last time that afternoon. During this last set there were times when they would stand or bow down. After it was over, many of these parishioners, mostly older people and mostly women, bought incense to light. They would do a little prayer holding the incense at their forehead while turning to face all four directions then stick the incense in the trough. We wandered a little more and Melissa was coaxed into bowing a little to one of the Buddha statues and was almost coaxed into buying incense. It was a bit surreal being there with all of these believers singing and chanting and praying. I always enjoy seeing people practicing what their faith. If they hadn’t been there it would have been just another beautiful, colorful Buddhist temple, but with them it was more than a building with a bunch of statues, it was a way of life for these people. I don’t know if they do this daily or weekly or only once a month, but I am glad we visited when it was happening.
26 September 2011
When I came to China, I expected the university life for the students to be very different from what I had experienced. I was told that Chinese students are in class or studying 24/6.5 and that they didn’t have time for extra-curricular activities. Well, I was misinformed, at least for my school. Two Saturdays ago, I was in one of the main squares of the campus meeting a student to get some help on understanding a few things. In the square, there were many canopies set up each with a different student organization trying to recruit new members by showing off what they are all about. There were clubs for kung fu, ping pong, theater, traditional Chinese opera, calligraphy and painting, Japanese cartoons and so much more. I also found out that the student I was meeting was in two different student organizations like these neither having anything to do with her course of study but purely for fun and personal interest.
So, Chinese students do have a little more free time than I ever imagined. However, they do have a ton more classes each semester than most American university students and study a lot more diligently than most American students. One of these organizations is the Spoken English Association or SEA. Each week they host what’s called English Corner. It’s a chance for students to get together and practice speaking English. Teachers and foreign students generally show up to have native speakers for the students to speak with. Many schools in China have an English Corner, but the Anhui University event is considered the best in all of Hefei and students will come from other schools to participate. Last Friday was the opening ceremony for the semester. A couple hundred students gathered in the square where they had a projector and some sound equipment set up for the festivities. When Melissa and I arrived, we were swarmed by people wanting to talk to the foreigners. We received a little respite only to be invited to participate in the ceremony. I helped welcome everybody and then later we played a game like $10,000 Pyramid. The ceremony consisted of a short explanation of the SEA’s mission, some games and some performances by students. Some of them sang in English while some sang in Chinese. One boy played the flute and some girls did a little bit of some Chinese opera. After the official ceremony it was time to just talk. I was surrounded by 15 or more people each with a question. I fielded questions about me like where I’m from and what I like about China and so on, but I also got questions about American politics like Obama and the upcoming election and the recession. Some common questions and my answers are: Do you like Chinese food? I like some Chinese food … I don’t like all American food. Some of what I’ve had I like a lot some not so much. Where have you been in China? Beijing, Hefei and Sanhe Where are you from? America, the state of Texas, Dallas, home of the Mavericks Do you like the NBA? I don’t really watch that much basketball, but I come from Dallas so I like the Mavericks because they are the world champions Do you know _____? No, I don’t. (Generally, they are asking about a former English teacher, a Chinese person of interest such as a great philosopher, artist, poet or musician, or they are asking about a basketball player.) I plan on going each week when I’m not traveling for a holiday or over the weekend. I expect my students to go, if they can, to practice speaking. I was very happy that some showed up last Friday. I’ll close this post with perhaps the most memorable question of that night. One boy boldly yet nervously approached through the crowd and stumbled over the words as he told me that I was the first foreigner he had ever met and he wanted to tell his family but they wouldn’t believe unless he told them my name and where I am from. He asked me to say it slowly so he could remember. As he stumbled and struggled over his English tongue, the other students encouraged him and clapped for him after he was done.
30 September 2011 Here in China I’m considered a foreign expert. In fact, I have a card that says as much and couldn’t get my residency permit unless I was considered a foreign expert. I guess since I’ve been speaking, reading and writing the language for at least 25 years then I’m an expert right. With being a foreign expert, comes great expectations. That’s why the last two days have been filled with engagements that only came because of this professional designation. Yesterday, I was a guest judge for the local finals of a national English speech competition, and today, I attended a special awards dinner and National Day celebration for foreign experts hosted by the Anhui provincial government. Speech Competition I was told I could be a judge for the English competition just a week or so after I got here. I didn’t know exactly what to expect from the competition, the competitors or my job as a judge. It was actually a great experience. This was the finals of the regional competition. Next will be the provincial level or state level then the national level. Hopefully, some of our students can make it all the way to the national finals. I arrived and had the rules and my job explained to me and finally met some other English teachers, Chinese teachers that have been teaching here several years, a few of them acting as deans of the Foreign Language Department. They were also judges making a total of six. There were 18 competitors who gave speeches in two rounds. The first round was a prepared speech with the topic of “A word that changed the world.” The speeches focused on various words such as volunteer, awe, window, discovery, passion and eco-friendly. Many of the speeches were very well written and presented. Some students had excellent public speaking skills and organization while others stumbled a bit and showed visual nervousness. The second round was two-fold in nature. First the contestants gave an impromptu speech. They were given a topic with only 15 minutes to prepare. The topics, chosen by the national organization that organizes the contest, were so disparate. Some questions were very serious, deep topics like “Should euthanasia be prohibited,” “How to stop the brain drain,” “Is society better off when many people question authority,” and “What caused the food safety crisis today?” Some questions were not so serious like “Do you want to sign up for TV talent shows,” “My view on material girls,” and “TV dating: a plus or minus.” After the impromptu speeches, each competitor was given two questions, one on their prepared speech from one of the Chinese professors and one on their impromptu speech from either myself or Melissa. This was not easy. The questions were supposed to challenge their English comprehension and ability to think quickly. When all were done, there was a brief pause to tally the scores before announcing the winners. During this time, because we were foreign experts, we were asked to say a few words about the competition. There ended up being four tied for first place, but only two will go on to the
next round. After, the competition, we were invited to go to dinner with the other judges. This was great to get to know these other teachers and assistant deans. Huangshan Friendship Awards Each year just before the National Day holiday, October 1, the provincial government hosts a special awards ceremony for foreign experts living and working in Anhui Province. There were about 16 recipients from all over the world with a good chunk of them from Germany, Korea (ROK) and Japan. Since I and my fellow foreign teachers at Anhui University are foreign experts, we were also invited to attend the event that is also a National Day celebration for foreign experts in the province. I had no idea how big this thing was before I got there and wish I had worn a suit, but alas, it was too late for that. Our host for the evening was the equivalent of a lieutenant governor for the province. After the awards were presented and a few speeches made by a few recipients, our host spoke about the growth of the province’s economy and how foreign experts help immensely in its progress. We were then treated to a dinner of specialties from the area and a wonderful selection of musical performances from the Anhui Folk Orchestra. These performances featured many soloists performing on the flute or violin or singing. There were even a couple of foreign experts who shared their folk traditions such as a couple from Australia, one of the award recipients, that sang Waltzing Matilda for us. Throughout the dinner, our host and the deputy manager of the Anhui Department of Education visited each table offering a toast of thanks and well being for each attendee. It was a very enjoyable evening. I loved the entertainment, the food was good and I got to meet some great people including some new friends. It was an honor to be a part of this event. Now time to get ready for the week-long National Day holiday. I’ll share my adventures in Guangzhou and Hong Kong with you probably after I get back to Hefei. Before I leave though I’ll share with you some of my students’ thoughts of China and why they love their country. Hope you all have wonderful adventures.
Act 1 of my time teaching at Anhui University in Hefei, China from August 2011 to June 2012. This section covers sites in Beijing like the F...
Published on Mar 12, 2014
Act 1 of my time teaching at Anhui University in Hefei, China from August 2011 to June 2012. This section covers sites in Beijing like the F...