Monday, December 25, 2006

Early birthday

On December 30, my birthday, I will be enroute to the U.S., so the Zhangs held my birthday early. The Happy Birthday song was rendered in both English and Chinese.

In Chinese culture, one eats long noodles on a birthday to insure longevity. There is also an egg pudding prepared which insures many promotions in the course of life. The crown, cake and birthday song have been appropriated from the West. Naturally, I consumed a lot of egg pudding. I go up for tenure in September. I bet someone could market it among junior faculty.

Can't have too much help

Lots of Christmas

Christmas is a very malleable holiday. It becomes part every Christian culture, but also blends with the practices of a secular Japan. Increasingly, it is being appropriated by atheist China. The government encourages the secular side of Christmas, for it promotes economic activity. Christmas is not a family holiday in China, but young people hold many concerts and parties (above). Hotel and department stores do magnificent decorations (below).

And more decoration...

The Chinese love Christmas decoration. Red symbolizes happiness in this culture; yellow or gold symbolize nobility. Few people decorate in their homes; mostly you see Christmas decorations in shops. But when Westerners are around, people have an excuse. The staff at the foreign teachers' residence put up more paraphernalia every day. Now, we not only have a tree in the lobby; we have flags, red bows, valentines, and Chinese lanterns. Above: The lobby of our residence, festooned with Christmas flags. Below: Red lanterns shining in the night.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


The climax of last weekend's Christmas was a party at the International Center's Karaoke Bar. A number of nationalities and dialect regions were represented. We were presented with a huge booklet listing popular and traditional songs in Korean, Chinese, and English. Complemented by videos and occasional strobe lights, we took turns singing to the recorded tunes (above).
When I participate in activities such as this, my children are deeply ashamed of me. However, since Ben, Mike, Emily and Steve were 16,000 miles away, I could participate with impunity. My rendition of "Blowing in the Wind" (don't laugh!) was particularly appreciated by the audience, which included the General Secretary of the local Communist Party. For my efforts, I was presented with a bouquet of artificial flowers (below).

Monday, December 18, 2006

Ping pong

Ping pong is a national sport here. It is played by people of all ages. Even I played it the other day. Children learn the game early, and in the middle class, they are often sent to special ping pong classes as we send children to baseball or soccer camp. Above, a professor close to my age plays ping-pong. Below, an elementary school child plays the game as his mother watches proudly.

Manger Scene?

The so-called "foreign experts" here were treated to dinner and an afternoon of entertainment at the international conference center in Weihai. In the lobby was an interesting construction, resembling a western manger scene. Only here, it was populated by Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

How are Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs associated with Christmas? A Chinese friend thinks the association is 'white,' as in White Christmas. In China, the Christmas story is not recounted much, but I gather it is viewed as something out of Walt Disney.

Recently, a student wrote that "Confucianism" is not a religion. As I prompted him to defend his ideas, I asked him why. His answer was interesting, "Because the teachings of Confucius are true. A religion must have elements which are not true." Like a princess and seven dwarves?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Korean Pizza

Occasionally, one can obtain pizza here in China, though along with the cheese, one is likely to find topings such as Chinese celery, sea weed or fish. Above: members of my house church at a recently opened pizza restaurant, run by Koreans.
All the tea in China

The Chinese make tea out of almost anything. I was recently served a tea made from dried flowers (above).
We wish you a merry Christmas!

I had bought a small Christmas tree for 30 yuen at the Liquin market by the university. I told myself this was for Joe's benefit-- he arrives in five days. Joe really gets into Christmas decoration. He does window treatments and lights, in addition to the tree. I didn't grow up with Christmas and seldom do any decorating at home. But here in China it is different. Looking at the little tree made me feel decidedly better in this season of strong winds and waning light.
Then today, two students came over with a much larger tree and oodles of ornaments (below). I was touched, and besides it was a great basis for an English lesson. I introduced words such as 'hang,' 'decorate,' 'ornament,' and 'electric outlet.' One of the students had never set up a Christmas tree before; the other had only done it at the hotel where he is the head chef. These guys really enjoy Christmas customs. But never mind the biblical meaning of the holiday. They wanted to know who Santa Claus was-- they'd seen his picture and wanted to know what we do Christmas Eve. We read The Night Before Christmas and set the two trees in the window. Then, we sang We Wish You a Merry Christmas.
The students understand Christmas as equivalent to their lunar new year, which occurs in late January or early February. This is China's major festival, a time for family gatherings and giving gifts. With students like these, I find discussions of religion out of place. Better to let people experience the holiday and gradually draw their own conclusions.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Chinglish Acquisition

As I look over the blog postings, I am delighted with what Dennis is doing, and I'm appalled by the grammatical errors. Is it just poor proofreading? Do I imagine it? Sometimes I think I'm make errors similar to those students make. In Cincinnati, I learned to say "please?" when I didn't understand what someone was saying; as a resident of East Tennessee, I've begun to say "you'all" for the first person plural. When I reread my postings, I wonder if I am acquiring the local English dialect, which is influenced by Chinese and nicknamed "Chinglish"!

I continue to be amazed by the difference between American and Chinese practices. The other day, I visited a yarn shop on campus. I thought I'd knit Joe a blue and gold scarf he can wear to the ETSU games he attends so faithfully. The man spun out the yarn on a hand operated spindle (above). Then, the woman tried to give me a refresher course in knitting (below). Trouble is, the Chinese method of knitting is totally different from ours, though the product is similar. It was so confusing. I gave up trying to do it her way. Somehow I've managed to recall how we knitted when I was in the Girl Scouts.

O, Christmas Tree

Here in China, the understanding of Christmas is quite unusual. My students understand Christmas to be about reindeer, decorated trees, and Snow White. The Chinese have appropriated the Western customs of hanging lights, decorating trees, and in some cases, giving gifts.
A Christmas tree has been erected in the lobby of the foreign teachers' residence where I live (above). As in America, one sees Christmas trees outside department stores (below).
I guess I'll get to see America's Christmas decorations this year. I am going home on my birthday, December 30th, and I arrive in the States December 31. My revised tickets came today!

The Dog

I saw this dog two weeks ago in an open air market. Just a puppy. Mostly Labrador retriever, I think. He'll grow to be huge. The owner wanted to sell it for 20 yuen-- $2.50; James Zhang could probably have bargained him down to $1.00 or so. The puppy was shivering with fright. I picked him up and cuddled him. I'd have loved to have bought the dog, but reason prevailed. He would have spent weeks in quarantine; Joe wouldn't have wanted him to join our family; nor would the cats. We're not home consistently. Our absences would be hard on a dog. Even our cats when we return from a trip, and cats are more independent.
Even you read the blog comments, John Quigley keeps saying I should buy the dog. At this point, I wouldn't know where to find this particular dog. An open air market is not a pet shop. Maybe we will get a dog after I return. I imagine the dog will have a happy life in China. Dogs do not care what political system they live under. And, while there is at least one dog restaurant in Weihai where dog meat is served as a delicacy, the odds are this dog will spend his life as somebody's pet.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


The Chinese show great deference to those they consider elderly and are always wanting to help them. In this culture, I qualify as elderly. When people even a tad younger go walking with me, they are inclined to grab me by the arm and guide me. This is supposed to connote protectiveness and respect. To me, it feels like they're shoving me around. The woman in the above picture tried to "guide" me through Yentai on a snowy day. Her English is limited-- she is the friend of a friend. She was helping me bargain in the downtown shops.

Older Chinese ladies walk in tandem with the person guiding them. Since I am American, I have not acquired this skill, nor do I want to. I was polite to the woman when she took my arm, though I did feel crowded. Then, as we moved across an ice patch, she upset my balance and nearly knocked me off my feet. I yelled at her. Her feelings were hurt. She got my friend on the phone, and we straightened out the misunderstanding.

People keep saying Americans are exceptionally independent. I have learned to agree. Then I tell I don't like to ask for help. "The day I ask, you'll know I am really in trouble." As a consequence, people jump out of their skins on the few occasions I ask for help. The lady in the international office who negotiated for my airline tickets seemed more upset about the problem than I was.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Objects of curiousity

Eating out in restaurants seems to be the primary social, recreational and cultural activity in Weihai. The chef at a major restaurant, a friend of a student, asked if I would help him with English. He needs English to advance professionally because his is an international restaurant. While I do not give English lessons, I told him he could come over and show me how he cooks (see above), and we'd speak English as we worked. This man could discriminate between a dozen varieties of mushrooms and knew their English names, but had not acquired English verbs. After he and I talked and cooked, we continued speaking simplified English over a dinner at my apartment (see below).
When Westerners eat in restaurants, we can be an object of curiosity. Servers stifle their amusement over our awkwardness with chopsticks. Other night, I had dinner with several people from church. After eating, we got to talking about our faith journeys. Now this group always says grace in public,but I had never seen them do longer prayers in public. In effect, we had a short prayer meeting. We closed our eyes, bowed our heads, and made requests of God on each other's behalf. Very moving.
Then I looked up. Four servers ringed our table, and were scrutinizing us as if we had just performed an exotic ritual. From their point of view, we had. Another four servers came out to watch. One of my fellow worshippers wondered aloud if the restaurant staff knew what we were doing-- China has been atheist for awhile, and many people don't relate to prayer. But I think they knew.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A Matter of Guanxi

Sorry-- No picture on this one. Only one of my three email addresses is unblocked, and I cannot send attachments on the one I am using to relay this posting to Dennis. Information Control is apparently very busy. I am told sites go down when they are being electronically copied. There is said to be a vast data base of email in Beijing.
The airline ticket problem is being addressed. I hit a brick wall when I tried to change the date of my flight back to the US. Turns out I was doing it wrong. I had presumed there were uniform procedures for such things as in the US. Wrong! In China, guanxi or "relationship" is the necessary ingredient in all but the simplest business transactions. To get anything done, you have to have pull with someone.
Northwest Airlines was giving us a hard time about changing my flight. They said I had to visit their office in Beijing personally. But I needed my ticket changed before I made the flight. The airlines was totally inflexible.
A woman in the university's international office had a solution: she has a friend who works in the building where Northwest Airlines is housed in Beijing. The friend will personally represent me. This seems to be satisfactory to all concerned.
It seems a convoluted way of doing things in an age of computers. But, as I keep reminding myself, this is China.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Awesome Sea

Rereading my last entry, I note at least three serious English errors. Funny thing-- they sound like errors my students make. I must be acquiring the dialect (or interlanguage) some people call "Chinglish."

I know it's still autumn, but it feels like winter here. America has the Gulf Stream; Weihai has the Siberian current. The wind is fierce. More than in the summer, one is aware that the university is at the tip of a penninsula. This city is called Weihai, and its name means awesome sea.
Christmas Festivities

Except in the churches, Christmas here is secular, but in these increasingly prosperous times, it has become popular both with merchants and consumers. The officially atheist government does not mind, since the Christmas story is viewed here as myth.

Last Saturday, we foreign teachers performed Christmas carols at Weihai's premier seaside hotel. Two choirs of local children also sang at the Golden Bay; carols such as Silent Night and Come All Ye Faithful were rendered sweetly in Chinese. Very touching. The hotel lobby was decorated with Christmas trees, colored lights, reindeer, and smiling pigs. Santa was present, along with another character associated with Christmas in this country: Snow White.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Tickets Home

The exam schedule has been revised. Finals are now scheduled for Christmas week, which means I can leave shortly after New Year's. There's no point staying an extra week, once exam are over. I need time to rest and reacclimate to America, after all these months away. The ETSU term begins January 16. Before the schedule change, I was planned to come home January 12, which left no time for recuperation.

I was prepared to pay a penalty for the changed my ticket, but I was stunned by the complexity of the process. The American travel agency says the ticket should be changed in China, and the Chinese say the ticket can only be altered in America. Airline personnel say that to do anything, I must personally visit their office in Beijing. The international office is not sure its travel agent can help. It would seem that tickets could be changed over the phone, but in China it seems to take an act of God.

I could stay here after finals on the empty campus, and it's a bad time of year to do touristy things. I could fly standby, that's not a wise option for so long a trip.

A colleague who has changed tickets in the past is helping me work on the problem. Meanwhile, I am asking that anyone so inclined PRAY!!!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Practical English

My students have taken English since elementary school. They are wonderful at grammar exercises, but have trouble using the language. So we find ways to use it. Several students came to my apartment Monday evening and showed me how to make bowdza, a delicious steamed bun with a meat or vegetable filling (above). The rule was that they had to speak English. People become much more fluent when they're doing something practical. Their English is appreciably better at the end of one of these sessions. And when I'm around the students and we do activities like this, I pick up some more Chinese words.

Too bad that with 286 students, I can only do such activities with a small fraction of those I teach.

You can get almost anything you want in an outdoor Chinese market. I picked up some wonderfully warm wool socks for two yuen (25 cents) a pair. There was all manner of produce, including 6 inch turnips and mushrooms which were 5 inches in diameter. You could purchase live scorpions (above), which are an important ingredient in Chinese medicine. A man tried to sell me a beautiful baby Labrador retriever for 20 yuen ($2.50), and I probably could have talked him down to half that. Alas! Considerations of what my cats would think, what my husband would think, and what the puppy himself would think during the weeks of quarantine, prevented me from making the purchase.

Below: James Zhang bargains for a better price on sesame seeds.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Growing Old

I don't think of myself as old. After all, I don't have tenure at ETSU yet, and being untenured is a sign of youth. Besides, I just travelled to the other side of the world from home. So of course I'm not old. My students think I'm ancient, of course. They like to take me by the arm when we walk together so they can guide me. It's both touching and annoying.

For the Chinese, women are old at 50, which is when they retire. Men retire at 55. The other day, a cab driver told me I should quit working and enjoy my money. (I'm starting to understand what the locals say to me. There was a student with me to help.) The cab driver figured I was very rich. By his standards, I suppose I am.

There's no choice about retirement here-- it is mandatory. In a nation with high unemployment, retirees do not work. People live off savings, and according to Chinese custom, children help. The ladies in this picture do the traditional fan dance every night. It's line dance, and the movements are gentle. It's supposed to keep people limber. Personally, I'd rather walk, travel and teach.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Shopping Trip

I am told that workers at the Liquin Market (above) are paid very little-- perhaps 800 yuen a month. This is technically $100 in our money, though its purchasing power is about three times that. Still it's very little. Liquin is an upscale place. No way these women can afford to wear the clothing they sell. Their uniforms are provided by their employer.

The other day, I spent 500 yuen (about $65) on pullover sweaters at Liquin. The ones I brought from America are much too baggy. The fitting room was so tiny, I wondered if I could fit inside. I gathered I was expected buy any item that fit. But I shop like an American, so I tried on over a dozen sweaters while the salespeople hovered about. It took awhile to make my selections. Chinese women prefer clothing decorated with feathers, rhinestones, and bows, and I had to find styles I could live with. Size was not as much of a problem as in the past. I now wear a Chinese size large-- the equivalent of our medium. There were lot of things in my size. I selected four pretty wool sweaters. The sales people seemed shocked to see someone spending 500 yuen at one clip. Half a dozen sales people came out to watch when the ticket was written up.

My Chinese is better these days, so I understood the question one of the workers asked: Ni Lao-shi ma? (Are you a teacher?) When I nodded, she asked if I worked at "Shandong da-shi"-- Shandong University. I am beginning to get the hang of this!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Different Flute

A peddler was selling wood flutes near the Liquin Market, by the university
gate. Its melody was haunting. Only cost a few yuen, so I bought one.
Usually I can figure flutes out, so I thought I'd be able to play it.
Wrong! Not only are the instrument's holes calibrated to a different scale
from ours; its curving mouthpiece seems to work differently from a Western
flute or recorder. It's sort of like an oboe with no reed. I can only get
a droning noise from it, and I can't change tones whatever I do with my
fingers. Maybe I'll hang it on the wall when I return to America.

Monday, November 20, 2006


My borrowed bicycle needed air in its tires, and the wheel had to be realigned. Students led me to the outdoor bicycle repair by the university's East gate (above). The repairman knew his business and fixed the bike in short order. But before he would release it, he wanted to know what I was doing with Professor Zhang's bicycle. The repairman fixes them all and knows who should be riding them.
Strange Fruit

Alyssa and I ate the sweet fruit (above), wondering what it was. A citrus fruit, it was smaller than a tangerine and much sweeter. A miniature tangerine? We ate and we pondered. Alyssa figured it out: Mandarin oranges! The real thing. We had not recognized them because we had always seen them in cans.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Dogs are increasingly popular in China. Maybe this is because the government limits family size so severely. Traditionally, the Chinese ate dogs and raised them as livestock, but today the practice is frowned on by many, though still occurring. Old people walk beloved canines in the park and doll them up with hair ribbons. In cities, dogs may not legally exceed a height of 14 inches, though I am told this law is often violated. Just as married couples are limited to a single child, there is a limit of one dog to a household. Everything is regulated, it seems.

In some communities, there is growing concern about rabies, since most dogs have not been vaccinated. In a centralized authoritarian system, such problems are addressed with dispatch. I have read that in Beijing, dogs are being rounded up en masse and killed as a public safety message

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Coffee anyone?

Coffee shops are springing up all over China. Unlike tea, coffee is not grown in China, so it's luxury. Coffee is Western and considered trendy; it is marketed as "the drink of achievers." The Chinese drink coffee in tiny cups with delicate handles. They take their tea straight, but coffee they lace with cream, and they dump in lots of sugar, stirring with tiny spoons. The beverage tastes like candy.
There is a pretty coffee shop on the first floor of the foreign teachers' residence (above). Often, when students stop by to see me, I invite them to have tea or coffee. They always choose coffee, which they profess to like. As we talk, my students smell coffee; they stir the coffee; and they cup their hands around the delicate coffee cups. Seldom however, do they actually drink the coffee.
Fact and Opinion

In the Chinese system, much emphasis is placed on the difference between "right" and "wrong" ideas. My students (above), seniors in the school of interpretation and translation, did not know the difference between fact and opinion. We spent time discussing this distinction, which they found to be quite a revelation. It is at times like these that I am truly glad to be a teacher.
Below: The knot of China

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Open Minds

More than ever, I appreciate Cherokee Church (below).

There's a reason why I am a United Methodist.
House churches abound in this community. I attend one, and we occasionally go to a larger church downtown. The latter is heavily regulated by the government.

I miss my Sunday School class, where we carefully reflect on the issues of the day rather than seeking over-simplified solutions from the Bible. I miss David's thoughtful preaching. Most of the church-goers I know here are Fundamentalists. Though flexible enough to deal with China, they are theologically right wing. Generally, we respect each other, though the differences sometimes make for awkwardness.
Every time I open the Cherokee website, I am touched by this slogan: Open Doors, Open Minds, Warm Hearts


Generally, the calculator has replaced the abacus in Chinese shops, but I saw one in use the other day while shopping for slacks with a colleague.
It's very hard for me to get fitted-- though my weight has dropped, I'm not built like a Chinese woman. My friend and colleague Han, a professor of computer science, knew just where to go. I purchased three pairs of slacks, very trendy, for just over 200 yuen (about $25). The pants had to be shortened, but alterations were done on the spot at no extra charge.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The True Foundation

James Madison High School from which I graduated in 1965 has been featured in the news lately. As of January, three of its graduates all from different parties will be sitting members of the US senate: Chuck Schumer (NY), Norman Coleman (MN), Bernie Sanders (VT). Ruth Bader Ginsburg and several Nobel Prize Winners also graduated from our school. Overcrowded and even shabby, Madison has always been an excellent high school for ordinary kids from not-so-priveleged families. Over the main entrance is an archway (above) into which were carved the words "Education is the true foundation of Civil Liberty"-- James Madison.

I fervently hope that teaching people to use their minds creates an atmosphere of freedom. In just two months I will leave behind students and friends who do not enjoy the blessings of liberty. In class, I try very hard to encourage divergent thinking-- looking at things in new ways, thinking "outside the box" so to speak. For those raised in the disciplined but authoritarian Chinese system, it is difficult to examine problems in new ways.

Madison was a large, competitive and frequently impersonal place.In my time, there were 5,000 students crammed into that 5 story Brooklyn building. It must have been a tough place to teach. I wonder if our teachers suspected how successful many of their students would be. As I work here, I think of them, and I remember this poem which I learned in an English class many years ago.

Gratitude to the Unknown Instructors

WHAT they undertook to do
brought to pass;
All things hang like a drop of dew
Upon a blade of grass.

-- WB Yeats

Hymnal Online

At the house church I attend, we do plenty of singing, but not the hymns I know best. Last week, they sang one that began “I may never march in the infantry...” I knew the tune from camp, but the words I’d learned were completely different: “Great green globs of greasy, grimy gopher guts; mutilated monkey meat, little birdies’ dirty feet…”

Back in the US, the only time I ever looked at the United Methodist hymnal was at church. In an offhand way, I always liked it especially since its revision, but it was never a big part of my live. Now, I listen to the Methodist Hymnal online just about every day.

At one time wondered what sort of dorky person would actually listen to hymns online. Things look different over here.

What does tomorrow mean? It is 5:30 pm here, but at home it’s 5:00 in the morning. I leave Weihai tomorrow and make a stop in Beijing. ...