Daily Life in China 2007 Part 2

Table of Contents – Part 2 – November 2007-December 25th
1. They Don’t Huddle – the Peculiar Chinese Student
2. Walking the Christian-Secular Line
3. Background of Religion in China
4. Meet Judah – (the mao)
5. The Underground Church pops up
6. Thanksgiving – Chinese Style
7. A Day Off
8. Why the Chinese are Called Inscrutable
9. 5 Days of Crisis
10. Stress on the Chinese Child
11. Have Yourself a Merry Buddhist Christmas
12. Saying Thanks at Christmas
13. For Unto Us a Son is Given
14. Big Christmas Party
China News # 9 – They Don’t Huddle 11/5/07

When I saw that Chinese teaching methods were going nowhere fast I decided to capitalize on the one constant in Chinese children – competition. This is not surprising in a nation of Only Children. Even though they are indulged and driven, at 17 they face The University Exam, the mother of all exams, and if they pass, the parents sigh with relief, and if they don’t they start thinking about how to get ON relief.

Since the One Child Policy has brought so many problems, social planners are changing things slightly. If you initially have a girl, you can try again for a – hopefully – boy 2nd child as an old age support system. (What Beijing planners do not realize is that siblings are actually a support system for each other as well.)

So I devised a number of word games which would test their English skills outside of the textbook. I divided them into teams of 4 or 5 and challenged them to find a variety of words using game pieces and a wild card – such as an
8-letter word, any word beginning with CH or TH, or ending in ING, and so on.

My games exposed a great weakness. Invariably they sat with their backs to each other facing the teacher’s desk. “Team” was not a word they could handle. (American kids hear “team” and they immediately huddle.)

After someone found a word invariably he came forward to the teachers desk leaving the team behind. Their word selections were good, fast and challenging, (One eight letter word was hospital and these are 11 year old Chinese children!)

This reaction – to leave the team behind – was consistent in all age groups – age 6 through 14, both male and female. But this is a homogeneous society so that is to be expected.

I watched to see if they organized their game pieces (most did not) since the key to speed was having the letters in order. I noticed the boys went faster but while the girls took longer they had better words: e.g. boys “anything” to girls “backpack.” The game was wildly popular but charges of unfair treatment (“we were first but you went to their table first”) were always complaining girls. It is true that girls are outnumbered in China and boys do get special treatment, but I had watched what I was doing. They were just poor sports.

Interestingly enough I had no prizes. American children would have insisted on at least a gum drop. So this crowd was competitive for its own sake and not the reward. Most of the teachers insisted the game was going to be w-a-y too hard for their group and yet all groups outperformed expectations. Now teachers are searching for colored 3×5 cards, an item virtually unknown in China, to make their own game pieces.

I go into detail on this to demonstrate that culture impacts not just what we learn but also how. Chinese children spend most of their academic years in high detail work, learning 6,000 characters or more, not just what they are but the specific strokes and the order they are to be written. The same rote learning applies to math. So they are all whizzes in this type of learning. None of their thinking is outside the box.

For that reason I have started teaching world geography and American history. I tell them they are not just citizens of China but also Citizens of the World, and they love it. The 14-year olds crowd around my desk so I can barely breathe, so starved are they for information and ideas about people and people systems.

A recent FBI report said that upwards of 3,000 industrial spies are in the USA for the express purpose of stealing technology. We might expect this from a communist country which owns, at least in theory, all things in common. So of course they own what we own too, right?

But American technology is a Trojan Horse, bringing into the Chinese way of life not just what we know but also how we know it, through team work as well an individual initiative. While stealing the product they may also be learning the process of new ideas and a free, diverse society.

China News #10 – Walking the Christian-Secular Line 10/10/07
We had our first snow – in name only. A few flakes that evaporated before hitting the ground and overall warm temperatures. We did have a week of hard freeze earlier in October, and the only reason I know this is that the restaurant nearby dumped its dishwater in an empty pond out front which froze solid. Other than that, this place is warmer than Westerner NC.
I’ve hesitated to say much about religion because I felt I knew too little about Inner Mongolia, originally thinking it was policed with much less vigor than parts of the main country to the south. But perhaps not. Recently we have had some more run-ins with the police. And of course there is no recourse to Law since what the police says IS law and to complain is futile, possibly even dangerous.
The system belongs to people with a badge or a gun and it is theirs to use as they see fit. Americans are welcome as long as they spend a lot of money and, packing their opinions and religion up as well, leave as soon as possible. As non-citizens we have fewer rights than the denizens of this poor land, which isn’t much.

The so-called threat of religion to the State is largely perception. Buddhism is a peaceful religion but treated as though it is militarily dangerous instead. Meanwhile, in a bad piece of judgment, China is trying to cooperate with extremist Islam which they think to be more military than religious. So they are wrong on both counts, over-valuing Buddhism’s opposition, and under-estimating rabid Islam.
Privately the government likes Christians because they are more law-abiding and good citizens. But when push comes to shove, the State is what is important, meaning “my” job with the state. In a poor society the bread and butter issues rule. Of course as the Chinese increase wealth they will become more and more disaffected by state policy.
I see it happening already – sly remarks, just a wee bit sarcastic. One man told me, “We are not owners, we are only tenants.” As an American, if I said that about my country I would be angry and bitter. He was merely wistful.
We are anxiously waiting for the next visit by our friendly police who expect their bribe, quaintly referred to as a fine. We are charging about 70 cents per hour for teaching so it takes a lot of tuition money to pay a bribe of $100 a month.

I estimate that each police official is able to generate ten times his income given the political jurisdictions available to them. It is as though a policeman in Western NC paid 30 thousand a year is actually taking in an unaccounted for-untaxed $300,000 per year. And this bribe has nothing to do with the church! This is just because we have 2 teachers over the age of 60, which is against the law. When Bob returns there will be three.
And new officials, more nervous about their positions, are more willing to solicit bribes to protect themselves from possible chicanery from those above them. Our policeman is a woman, and women have fewer rights and options than men in any job. We often forget that a police state is not just for some people – but for everyone at every level of jurisdiction and authority. Tomorrow if you go to church, thank God the only policeman who ever shows up is one who has his child in Sunday school.
People get saved anyway because the Bible says, “God added to the church daily such as would be saved.” But in doing so there is a hazard. We are supposed to adhere to the official religious line, for example, that atheists are going to heaven, plus many other Biblical contradictions which conflict with the all-powerful authority of the state. Or at least appear to do so.
I do not hesitate the teach the Bible as is but I never present Christianity as a threat to communism. I know it is of course, but not for the same reasons feared by Beijing. Christianity threatens the authority of the state because it offers Forgiveness, something no government can ever give, even for free.
In September I promised to take Kathy to the trains. It was darker then, and colder. We had a bowl of noodles at a seedy dive and tried to make our way into the train station through a mass of people while a light rain began. I had thought Kathy was overly nervous when she arrived. Now she confessed that news reports in Florida before she left said some house church Christians had been slaughtered. She relaxed around us when she found out things were quiet and orderly here. They may kill Chinese underground church members but Westerners they simply deport – or bribe. That is our life in China.

China News #11 – Some Plant, Some Water, Some Reap 11/16/07
For the past 2 months I’ve been teaching the Bible to a group of 8 adults every Tuesday morning. It’s hard to know where to start in a society that allows religion as a cultural option, but of course no one is supposed to take it seriously. The formal pledge for new initiates to the Communist Party requires them to raise their right fist and swear allegiance to communism and atheism. (I am always cautious about people who raise their fist.) But the Chinese people have traditionally been theists of some fashion and I reminded them that all people believe in God especially little children who require no explanation. Atheism is a political choice for a career path. Still Chinese society has been A-theistic for many years, that is, without God talk and customs so ingrained in Europe and the Americas.

So it is wrong to assume anyone knows anything. I went back to “before the beginning began” when God was contemplating His plan for the universe as He looked over the waters. I needed to prove His existence. The previous day three Chinese people and I made dumplings, a rather long process and I noted that not one of us was inside a dumpling, nor ever could be. And neither is any true God inside His creation. He was, is and always will be outside of creation save for the Son who arrived for a short time. So God is not competing with other gods who are inside. They got it.

Then we looked into the moral law written on the hearts of all men. You never need to explain why murder, rape, and theft is wrong to anyone, in any culture, and then I discussed His selection of the Jews to carry His message of forgiveness, health, and salvation to the world. But they refused to obey, off and on, for thousands of years. “If they had all that,” said Lydia, an elementary school teacher, “why didn’t they obey? ”What a great question I thought. Why do any of us disobey? I said recognition of the Truth forces us out of our comfort zone. It’s the same today. Revelation demands accountability. So God produced for them. As He does for us, the panic of loss and failure, driving us to seek answers and expose the lazy peace we make with the status quo when we are comfortable. They could all understand that. So God sent His Son. No more intermediaries or hirelings. Since David, a Chinese pastor, and Nelson had already told them who Jesus was and what he did I switched to His commissioning of the Church to take the good news to the world.

I pulled out a map of the whole world, showing all the Christian-friendly nations. Christianity covers almost 7/8ths of the globe, although it does not have the population majority. “Pretty good for 2,000 years,” I said. I did not want them to think God was white and spoke only English! In fact the largest language group of believers om earth speaks Spanish. Because He is the Only real God He is the God of the whole world. They then read John 14-16 in Mandarin where Jesus commands His disciples to make disciples in the world. That is why we Americans are here in your country, in obedience to that.

We can’t be The Church in China, I said, we can only show you the rule book and share our experience. It’s your job, if you will take it – Mission Possible. Each week I emphasized that God wanted to talk to them directly about His plan for their lives. If they hear from God I need do little more. Jeremiah 26:11ff “I have plans for you – a future and a hope. You’ll seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart.” The Yulong State Guest Hotel in the New City has a big, heated swimming pool so Nelson and David are baptizing four of them the day after Thanksgiving. (There may be two more coming as well –one is a closet Christian who worries about his family’s reaction. Please be praying these fence-sitters will join in.) I was invited to get into the water too, but turned it down. In China women are the leaders of the Underground Church and I didn’t want any questions asked about what I was doing. A public baptism is going to be controversial enough and there are always people watching.

China News #12 – Meet Judah 11/17/07

This Friday we were all in our places to start the movie, Snow Dogs, a favorite with the kids, and Cher, one of the teachers shows up holding a half dead 4 week old kitten, apparently tossed into the road. He was missing the skin on both legs. Who knows how long he had been out in the snow. We’ve had no break in the icey temperatures since we got 3 inches earlier this week.

I was overwhelmed. How do you find a veterinarian or an animal hospital when you speak no Chinese. Do they even have people like this? I determined the cat had few internal injuries, if any but don’t tell me God does not provide. One of the new teachers, Lindsey, called her brother who is a vet and within the hour he showed up for some emergency work in the bathroom.

The kitten was in terrible pain, shaking and occasionally whining. I dissolved a tablet of Percoset in a few drops of water and wiped his lips. After doing this for several hours off and on he fell asleep. I finally got to sleep at 2 a.m. and woke up to find the heat had been turned off, which means everyone in town is without heat too.

Nelson had a can of tuna fish and David said he would locate fresh milk. All we have in the house is yogurt which the cat refused. Of course when in pain people often don’t eat either. Because of the bad weather I’ve not been able to buy even people food. All we had was some bread which I crumbled in water but the cat refused that. He must be better though. Even though he is missing his left paw he used the right claws to climb up on my bed and I left for work with him napping quietly on my down comforter.

I enclose a picture of him – or at least what he thinks he is. He does not seem to be aware that he is 8 inches long, deformed and crippled! So I named him Judah, as in the Lion of Judah.


China News #13 – A Busy Week for the Church 11/23/07

This week I was taking a cab……….first I need to tell you that we had 4 inches of snow about 2 weeks ago and it is still on the ground and in the streets, now packed. Most nights have been in the teens so nothing melts and of course they have no heavy equipment to remove the ice from the streets. I turned my ankle last week and have been limping around ever since. Not only did I get some much needed sympathy, I got a few days off as well. And because of my foot, I started taking more cabs.

Anyway, as I got into the taxi I noticed the radio was playing a song that seemed familiar, possibly a Christian song, despite the Chinese language. So I started listening. My Chinese is more holes than words, but I still recognized ShangDi, the term for God. (ShangLi is the Holy Spirit and jhousus is of course Jesus.) So I brought out my New Testament and put it on my lap as we drove. The cabbie peeked at the cover repeatedly.

Of course I would not ask him about Christianity, even if I knew the words. It places too great a burden on the Chinese to answer questions like that. But I handed him the Bible when I left and said “Your book” in Chinese. He was dumb-struck.

Anyway, he knows where he left me off and the address of the Wise English School. Who knows, something might come of it. David, who lived in Beijing for a long time, was in the TV business said that the educated class in Beijing was heavily Christian, doctors, lawyers, and government officials who are not supposed to be theists. He is trying to appeal to them here in Chifeng.

Nelson, David, and Paul have been discipling a group so this Friday we had the first of two baptismal services. We expect the same number again next week because some were unavailable this time due to work interruptions and I will have photos available for you when they are emailed to me. The wildly over-priced Yulong Hotel allowed us the use of their pool and we had a nice American lunch where the new converts asked me what to do with things like giant soup spoons and forks.

“To poke your meimei” I said, meaning your little sister! They struggled with the tossed salad but loved the Monte Cristo sandwiches. These 4 men have been studying for several months along with 6 women. What surprised me most of all is that none of the women in the new convert classes have come forward.

This is strikingly different from Western churches which have a surplus of women. Of course, China has no extra women to begin with so that may be a factor.

I was asked to get in the water but refused saying I had no bathing suit but the real reason is that I have no intention of anyone seeing me in a bathing suit again on this side of the grave. Period!

Bible efforts have been particularly active these days thanks to some major donations from the States for 30,000 Bibles; the printer now waits for the emailing of the software. Printing is cheaper here, but more importantly Beijing is not opposed to Bibles if they are printed locally.

We have our order in for bi-lingual Old and New Testaments in a complete Bible, a rarity, Mongolian Bibles and of course the Butterfly New Testament which is a combination of Mandarin and the New International Version, known by its colorful cover. It is very light. Couriers are in place to get them distributed in the surrounding countryside. 65% of China still is rural.

This weekend David decorated the school with scenes from the Bible. In what would cost us an enormous amount of money is pennies here – huge replications of enlarged Bible story pictures he photocopied from some books. In spite of the enlargement the resolution is quite sharp. This is a rather daring departure for a school that does not pubvlicize that it is Christian in nature.

I recommended that we put up “grass” – plastic grass up along the walls to the height of a chair rail to humanize the cold walls. David is renting and does not want to paint anything. The rent is higher here than elsewhere in the city but having an elevator is a sales point to weary parents bringing their children in for classes.

I also instituted the Bushy Tail Club – picture attached, which we print out on sticky photo paper and attach to any kid who works very hard at English study. Usually the children are rewarded on the basis of how well they learn; we wanted to focus on how hard they tried instead. Everyone claps and cheers when someone earns their Bushy Tail.

The smallest children are especially excited over this. Clubs, other than sports events, are common with the Chinese as “associations” are frowned upon. But people do form lifelong contacts with classmates, unlike Americans who usually lose track of their peers after graduation. They like being “members” of something.

The holidays also allow us to use Christian images from America, such as Thanksgiving Day which honors God’s provision, and all the children are interested in American Life and Culture. I wish I could find some web sites on that topic, but Google blocks so much it is hard to find anything.

Next week, I will tell you about the 2nd Baptism and one new employee coming from the Philippines! This should be interesting. Nothing ere boring here folks.

China News #14 – Thanksgiving Chinese-Style 11/23/07
For Thanksgiving Mark, my Chinese tutor and my oldest friend in China, invited me to a giant feast at the Peking Duck, the restaurant directly in front of my building and a very popular place in town. In lieu of the traditional turkey we had duck, the largest fowl available.

30 million ducks are processed in this territory each year and shipped world wide, a fact I know because I edited an English paper this week written to introduce the duck industry to Wall Street so this company can go on the big board. If you follow stocks you can look for the Saigaia Duck Company, although it may have another name I know not of.

The duck is served with round wonton-like bread, similar to fajitas, and you spread soy or hoisin sauce on the small duck pieces, add shredded cucumber and onions and possibly a vegetable or two. Another dish holds pieces of duck fat which local people need in this cold climate.

While you and I eat fajitas with our hands, they manage with chopsticks, not using their hands for any foods. The better restaurants provide a wet cloth with your set of chopsticks so you can wash before and during the meal.

The table groaned with fried eggplant, boy choy, mushrooms fried in a thick sauce, a Mongolian hot pot (what we would call country cookin’) and a platter of fresh fruit. Dessert such as we have is unknown here. But he did provide a dessert pizza, though nothing at all Italian or even pizza about this. It was two very thin layers of skillet bread with flavorings inside, more like Indian fry bread than anything else, though not as greasy.

The piece de resistance to me was the french fried pumpkin strips dipped in a very light batter. Pumpkin is usually the last thing I want on a menu but this is worth copying. The batter was a little sweet. We also had many, many leftovers.

Mark invited an old friend, Mrs. Wong, the head of the English Department at Chifeng College, the same institution that had invited me to teach and then so ingloriously un-invited me. She was a little distant but I started in on my jokes and pretty soon everyone was laughing. She had many questions about America and my status (including a reference to my age) because that is the main reason I was not hired. No one is allowed to teach in a school if they are over
60 and I have that beat by a country mile.

Mrs. Wong explained why there was so much food on the table, very much more than any American household, even when we plan on a leftover weekend, as we do with our giant turkeys. She said that China has been so poor for so long, that not to have extra food means that you think less of your guests. She said it now had led to the practice of being wasteful and she hoped that China would leave that behind.

I knew she was right because another Chinese woman told me that government officials, using public money, have lavish banquets and leave piles of food, mostly because they don’t have to pay for it. (Corruption is on everyone’s mind here, so I was surprised that I, a foreigner was hearing such complaints.) But if you take the leftovers it is a public testimony that you are cheap or worse – poor.

Well, I introduced the term ”doggy bag” to my classes, which they thought pretty hysterical because so few people have doggies here, but now that is what they ask for. Personally, the food is so good I don’t want to waste any and I always ask for them which my uncle, an accountant, called not leftovers but “balance on hand.”

Mrs. Wong also asked me if I had a pleasant and prosperous retirement in the United States. I wondered privately why she asked that, and then recounted how unhappy I was at being retired only 7 months, that working was much more fun, that I had a nice job with people I loved in the States but this was 10 times more interesting.

The USA has a surplus of jobs, while China has forced retirement. This is apples vs. oranges discussion and it is hard for them to understand. I explained that having too many jobs had also led to our worst problem – illegal immigration. Since no one is allowed to become a Chinese citizen who is not born here, another cultural, hard to understand divide was under discussion. But I was glad to have an adult Chinese person talk to me about important issues and not just socializing.

Mark also brought his drop-dead gorgeous sister who teaches English at a local high school, another institution that would not hire me. She will be married in the spring and we talked about a Japanese carpet she ordered for her dowry.

Mark’s wife needed to stay home with their daughter who faces term-end exams. This whole education process in China frightens me. I see so many stressed children and Mrs. Wong agreed. She looks forward to her retirement and possibly taking on another career – teaching German.

I got a chance to explain how the 1st Thanksgiving was the result of a group of people who wanted, more than anything else, religious freedom – another cultural disconnect. But on the whole, despite our speaking about two different realities, I thought it was a super Thanksgiving for me. All I needed to make it perfect was pecan pie.
China News #15 – A Day or Two Off 11/27/07
Dan Pitillo says WNC mountain temperatures are in the 20s at nights and up to
45 during the day. Here we are some 3-5 degrees cooler, but when the wind is down it is quite pleasant.

Almost 2 weeks after the snow we still have snow clods on the ground. How do you have dry snow? These slabs remind me of the slate pieces we used to play skipping stones on Lake Erie. They are an inch thick, rectangular and flat. They are piled up against the trees, gray and black from the pollution but otherwise not a problem.

Downspouts drip into the walkways and then ice over and they must be side-stepped. Mark said the accidents caused by the ice and snow had cost them some clients. After they fall they are in no mood to buy products! I wish all the stores knew that. A few put out red carpets that were safe for walking. Everywhere in Chifeng there are stairs, even 3 and 4 steps up to the smallest tiendas. It is a handicapped unfriendly city.

I have a day off and a huge pile of things to do, the usual laundry, 2 batches this time, and since Laurence brought home a cheap keyboard I’ll try to get back into playing so we can sing at my party. When my printer is fixed I can download and print Christmas carols. The ironing board is the right size and I can lower it to proper playing levels. This is a party-type apartment.

My popular movie night, Friday, will soon stop. I have run out of American movies with English subtitles. Worse yet, I have run out of yellow popping corn. CK, my movie buff, wants me to show Saving Private Ryan and Schlinder’s List but they are both too depressing and bloody for this crowd, not to mention a lot of curse words which foreigners need not learn. And I’ll start on Christmas shopping. The bag Kathy gave me has developed holes serious enough that I can lose something so I ‘ll buy one of those popular shiny pocketbooks which cost $75 in the States and $10.00 here. I’ll get neck scarves for most of the women on my list. There are some very inexpensive little shops around the corner from where I live.

I’ve ordered Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” a beautiful book and truly my favorite poem for Laurence who says he does not understand American poetry. He majored in Chinese poetry. Of course he is right – a lot of poetry is not all that good, but this is our Poet Laureate and a stellar work which plows into the spiritual. Something Chinese minds need.

Nelson gets a diary so he can keep track of things, and all of my gifts at home are being taken care of. So all I need to is to make a few Christmas cards, and to buy and decorate a tree. Nelson offered me his tree – no thanks – this thing would embarrass Charlie Brown.

Lily, Nelson’s wife, invited us to her father’s and mother’s place for dinner last month. (This was my first experience in a Chinese home since 2005.) They are retired and he did all the cooking while her sister-in-law helped. Like most Chinese meals there were many more dishes than table to serve on.

The apartment was very small maybe half again as large as my Cullowhee place which is cramped, with a galley kitchen, a bedroom, a living room with a wide sweep-around couch that seats 9. All the small apartments as well as mine are made livable by high ceilings and are not the “rabbit hutches” that inner city Asians complain about. Her parents spoke no English but the lack did not seem to bother anyone. 10-year old Rachel from a previous marriage interpreted. A stunning TV, high def I feel sure, was on one wall and we watched a glamorous celebration on the beginning of autumn.

We had an omelet with more garlic in it than eggs I suspect, very salty, potato pieces that had been fully cooked but were cold now, several dumplings which are little more than ravoli without any sauce. We also had a flash-fried fish; it was not fatty and no one offered me the eye to eat. Thank heavens. We sat on very small stools before a collapsible table, and after we were finished the rest of the adults ate and then all that was put away.

The Korean hot plate over coals is still my favorite. Most Chinese food is less than hot when it arrives, spicy yes, hot no. Grilling your own meat means you get it both hot and not overcooked. This piece of meat was so large I knew it was not Beagle – a favorite “beef” in Hong Kong. We found out why it is so effortlessly tender. The cattle are fed in the adjoining grasslands, not grain fed. The taste and texture are quite different. They provide milder sauces and a bowl of tahini for dipping. The waitress brought the meat slab and then cut it into pieces with garden shears over the hot grill. You fry the rest – paper thin sliced veggies, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, eggplant, carrots, onions, and mushrooms, including the skin. With a drink and some hot peanuts, $3.00 each.

Diane, who taught here in earlier in the year and is now on a mission adventure in Costa Rica, says she thinks Chifeng has the best food in the world. It is hard to disagree. Of course it is not the best American food, or the best French food, but Yuan for Yuan, the best Chinese food anywhere and very good no matter where you go.

My little kitten came home from the vet where he (now accurately identified as a she) had microsurgery. They did not charge me, as much I guess for the chance to do this more than anything. I now have a 2nd kitten named Jesse, a male, and they can grow up an play together. It was years before I realized that animals need one other for company, just as we do. The surgery fees are very small. I hope she is not totally crippled by her awful experience.

Armie arrived today from Beijing. She is a Filipina and about the size of not a minute, but 30 seconds. But she knows her English and some Chinese too and she will be a terrific asset to us all.

Meanwhile I am going to another school at a considerable loss in pay, but never mind. I was teaching 14-16 hours a week, plus travel and curriculum development. I’ve hardly had a chance to keep up with my own life – and tired all the time.

This school has the students and curricula I want and where I can do the best good and that is what counts. Nelson has many more students but they are much younger and in spite of many years of English, quite unable to speak any of it.

David Wong’s school has more professional types. We are going to put our heads together about curriculum for adults this next month. And if financing comes, a short radio program teaching English and offering a daily scripture verse.

So that’s my lazy day off. Thanks so much for all your encouraging emails.

China News #17 – Why the Chinese are called Inscrutable 11/30/07

Good news. My pleading for American movies is realized. I have Home Alone, While You Were Sleeping, and Air Bud coming soon for the kids this December. Right now we are showing The Sound of Music. To my surprise most of the children already know Edelweiss, Do-Re-Mi, and The Sound of Music. The public schools use this to teach English. The movie, however, has rather advanced vocabulary so we are developing lessons on it. It is quite long and should take one class through December.

DON’T TRUST YOUR EARS

This conversation actually happened. 10 year old Ruth is standing at the door of the Lighthouse Bookstore. It is 8 p.m. and we need to lock up. I am cautious because there are 3 computers inside and we do not want to leave them without assurance that all is well. I know her mother, headmistress of the school has already gone home. So I ask.

“Do you want me to lock up or do you want to do it?”
Ruth. “yes.”
Me: “Yes, what?”
Ruth: “yes.”
I said, “Do you want me to lock up.”

Ruth: “Yes.”
Me: “Do you want to close up instead?”
Ruth. “Yes.”
Me – clearly frustrated. “Well you can’t have it both ways. Are you waiting for your mother?”
Ruth: “Yes.”
I say, “Is she planning to lock up?”

(I happen to know she will not return, so this is a test question.)

By now a slight smile crosses her face.
Ruth. “Yes.” Well. I continue in faith, “Who is planning to lock up?” Ruth – finally, “Joanna will lock up.”

Now perhaps you think this bizarre conversation is what you would expect from a young person, but no – this is the pattern from every Chinese person regardless of age. Grown men and women respond this way routinely. Chinese with advanced degrees answer, or more accurately, fail to answer questions in this fashion.

No Westerner can have a clue as to what is going on. Consequently one must ask a series of questions to get at the truth. The only person not to do this is Laurence, my housemate – thank heavens. A straight answer is quite refreshing. Apparently all questions are answered by yes, perhaps meaning “Yes, I heard the question.” You start there, rephrasing until to have some semblance of order. And if you don’t re-question something will go wrong for sure.

Even Mark, the best educated Chinese I know responded yes when asked to dinner on Tuesday and then told me no, he was not available then. Of all the adjustments to China this may be the worst of all, never knowing if the answer is correct. One can surmise all sorts of things – that generations of living under Communist rule has made them cautious about responses but the problem is much too deep seated for that. Surely they know Americans have no political ambition and seek none. We have neither the power of the sword nor the pen in their lives.

But my study of Chinese may have an explanation. Chinese questions use the same verb twice – They will say, for example, “Do you hate or do you not hate your mother in law?” One surmises that one should answer I do not hate my mother in law. But the opposite option is also open.

Since in English we use the verb only once, and expect a yes or no answer, perhaps that is the reason for the uniform confusion.

I have learned to get around this by asking the same question in many different ways, and then finally capping it off with a concrete remark, such as – I will pick you up on Tuesday at 4 p.m.

Now if they say no, I can’t make it, well we start all over. Other than this, I have found no way around this.

It gives new meaning to the scripture, “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no!”

Amen.
China News #18 – 5 Days of Crisis 12/5/07

It’s only been a few days days but we’ve had the week of our lives. On Saturday I got into some poison – or an allergy – because my tongue was so painful I could not chew or swallow very much. It was swollen the size of a saucer and I culd eat only with much pain.

By Monday we had the balance of the money from TBN to start the daily TV program, the ads were taped, and for me to start the voice overs. In addition we wrote the template for 100 radio scripts. I also lost my laundry in a taxi, which had an unusual ending, my 2nd cat died, and I got another rasping cough which hampers my voice in addition to the swollen mouth so we postponed the taping.

On Tuesday we had another baptism of the Mongolian man who prints our Bibles for us, David formally registered his American School, he was asked to be a member of the Religion Bureau, and we were given the go-ahead to build a church for 500 on some as not-yet-specified public land.

We must act quickly as Beijing is no doubt putting on a pretty face, then after the games, business as usual. Apparently that was too much Good News for the devil so the Big Event was the Police Showed Up looking for me and asking questions. The issue is this: My visa identifies me as an “investor” in China, I can give lectures, but not teach. However, David does not pay me a single Yuan so we are totally within the law. Of course the policewoman did not believe him. China feeds on Greed like an all day sucker and the idea that anyone would volunteer is absurd to them.

But Nelson has already paid the protection money ($100 a month) to this same policewoman for my being here, and David should not need to pay the same fee. Besides my standing arrangement with David from Day One was that I would be paid nothing. (He does feed me occasionally and pay for other things, like my transportation.) He is the Chinese pastor-teacher and he is the one who must be protected, not necessarily Nelson, myself, or the other Americans.

David was angry because he thought another private school person had ratted to the cops, and they know intimate details about my schedule which I’d not mentioned to anyone, especially in emails, so I don’t think that is the problem, but apparently I am being followed.

It frightened four of David’s five employees but the children were spared as the police had planned to show up last Wednesday. Chinese children do not grow up reading about Dick and Jane and the Friendly Policeman. So David brought a camcorder to class and waited from them to return. He coached me on what to say. The Bible says, “There is no defense against the truth,” and the “Righteous are as bold as a Lion” in Proverbs 28:1. So I was calm knowing I could tell the truth, and pose as a harmless little old lady.

The teachers nevertheless were shaken, and in some respects I am glad they had this challenge because we have no business presenting Christianity as a walk in the park. One of the women decided she would be baptized next week – anyway – that is the type of convert I want – someone who knows the risk and makes a concrete decision.

The policewoman did not appear, but we are primed should this happen. The lost laundry had a happy ending as well. Within 10 minutes of our broadcasting on the air about the loss, the cabby called David for a joyous reunion of laundry and me. (After all I am too big to buy local clothes any time I want.) But it confirmed to us which radio station we were to use for our radio program, the choice of the taxi drivers. That means we not only get the cabbies, but also their fares.

Finally, at my class of 9 and 10 year olds I told the story of Jesus being born in a stable, Luke 2 with dramatic action, the terrified shepherds, the giant angel, the guiding Star, wicked King Herod trying to kill the baby, and the wise men draped in jewels and robes with camels and servants coming to a barn with gifts. Finally father Joseph sneaks off to Egypt, using the gold to finance the trip. I taught them to sing Away in a Manger, but now they want the Chinese lyrics.

The kids squealed over everything. They know about Santa so I had to tell them that was a fairy story even though a real Saint Nick existed once. I can’t promise any fat man delivering presents to these children on December 25th! Then we learned some vocabulary, the tree, the presents, the gingerbread men. Mistake. They all want gingerbread cookies, but I have no oven. Perhaps I can find some in town.

David is planning a Christmas party on December 25th, because everyone in town will be working all the other days.
China News #19 – Stress on a Chinese Child 12/9/07

It’s snowing again today – I dread it, falling on slimy patches of soot and grease from the coal fired plants belching into the air. Walking will be treacherous. But this gives me time for my friends at home.

One of the major reasons I moved from Nelson’s school was to rid myself of a particularly annoying client. It was not the child but the mother. Little Linda had a personality change around her. When her grandfather or father was in attendance, this did not happen. Her letters are usually textbook perfect. In fact I wondered if she might not have real talent for art somewhere. But when mother showed up, well . . . I attach a scanned picture of her writing. Begging and pleading to let this client go fell on deaf ears. Perhaps as an American I am too sensitive about child abuse but I felt as though I was contributing to the child’s distress and could not in good conscience continue.

Barbie, another Lighthouse teacher, agrees that the children are being harmed by too much time in the classroom. She is using movies more and more while developing a genuine curriculum around them. We sent home a paper to all parents explaining the value of movies and since then have heard few complaints. She says most of these kids are exhausted when they arrive in class, homework and tests determining the majority of their week spilling into their free time, such as it is. Only the very brightest look alive. Parents demand weekend schooling in something like a panic.

Barbie says the movies are relaxing and still teach language, which we reinforce with vocabulary and background material. Her favorite is Snow Dogs, which is mostly action comedy and very simple vocabulary. I prefer Beethoven because it shows more of American family life.

After 6 weeks I had to take drastic measures last month in one classroom. Because Crystal had repeatedly refused to translate, I walked out. First time I’ve ever done this. I said, “We are supposed to team teach. If you can’t do this then this is your class.” Well, nothing could be worse. They charge parents an extra free for having a native American speaker in the classroom. If I leave, so does some money. I then asked Barbie to join my class. She asked me if this wasn’t rude? I said yes, but refusing to help me was rude and I am just trying to manage.

Barbie went to Lily the employee who runs the school in Nelson’s absence. Within a few minutes Crystal magically returned to the classroom acting civil. Soon after this Mark told me about a nasty little practice of public school teachers also teaching privately on the weekend. The bottom line is this: “If you attend my weekend classes, I will give you better grades during the week.” This would explain why most of Crystal’s students appear to be comatose, and only willing to deal with her.

Mark explained that he wanted move his daughter Catherine to The Lighthouse for classes except for this extortion. It shows why so many children refuse to cooperate – they only have one goal – to keep one teacher happy. And this one does not appear to demand anything of them in any event.

David Wong has solved this problem by refusing to hire any public school teachers, and he requires his employees to be full time employees, trained by him. China does not have any teacher education curriculum so the smallest point of classroom management is not available to them without some instruction. Consequently David has a better, more loyal team.

All the things I want to see in a school he has put in place. The walls are decorated with colored paper. At the floor boards, they pasted a row of green and yellow grass, with mushrooms, bugs, flowers and animals tucked in. A walrus is identified as an “elephant seal” a new term to me but something they must have in a Chinese textbook. There are fish and whales swimming about and from the ceiling long plastic ferns are attached to a ceiling grid of green leaves. Pumpkin shapes, eggplant, beans and an occasional monkey or red fox peeps out. This is the first classroom I have seen in China with anything other than sleep-inducing white walls.

The acoustics are better too. The noise at most schools is deafening. David maintains a high level of discipline, and he allows no more than 10 students per class, in stark contrast to other schools of 20 or more children. Screaming is verboten. Of course this cuts into profits but I assured him that God would honor him for not compromising his standards – that the process was just as important to God as the product.

I have only one more weekend at The Lighthouse and then I will be full time with David. Of course both schools will work together to promote the church. But I have a more stable, predictable curriculum and hence more time for TV taping. Since we have paid for the TV time slot we must start work on that immediately.

China News #20 – Have Yourself a Merry Buddhist Christmas 12/13/07
This year I’ve decided to be naughty and save Santa the trip.

It is against the law in China to teach children below a certain age about Christian things but we are permitted to demonstrate American holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. David and I found a Christmas tree, 9 feet tall, a little scrawny, but only in comparison to the nice fat ones we see in America and of which they know nothing in any event. It looks quite grand to them. I agreed to buy the whole thing – decorations, lights, and a group of toy drums for decor partly because I wanted to be sure nothing was tacky – then I had to explain to David what tacky meant. He picked up a box of Elf hats, red with white cuffs, like small Santa hats which he will give to every student at the Christmas Party.

I spent about $30 on the project and David was so grateful he took me out for lunch at a lamb hot pot. This is the standard Mongolian cooking method where everyone has his own individual pot of boiling broth. They brought 2 platters of fresh lamb and beef shaved thin, vegetables, and huge mild tasting radishes, spinach, Chinese cabbage, and many little sauces, some Mongolian and some Chinese. It was a treat for $3.00 each! David knows how to get special attention wherever he goes. He introduced me to the owner as an American and magically a few items appeared on the table for which we were not charged. Also free was some Mongolian milk – watered down with added boiling water and sugar. UGH. I told David I wasn’t too keen on horse milk and he seemed surprised to know that I knew the source.

We did not find any ornaments (balls and such), so we put the ten-year olds to making them by coloring printouts I found online from ABC Teach which has many activity pages for holidays. I had some narrow ribbon for hanging them on the tree. They also had to learn the spelling and pronunciation for all words as well.

The girls wanted to learn to sing Jingle Bells so I provided the words minus the verse which was too complicated. After class, another parent signed up his child for the school. Our happy students are our best advertisement. Next weekend we will have a party for them at New City.

I was especially glad because one child left the school after my dramatic rendition of Jesus’ birth night. This particular area of Chifeng is populated mostly by well-heeled Communist Party faithful and we half expected a little backlash. But David is determined to be Christian and work totally within the law as well. It’s a tightrope. But we remind ourselves that we are certainly allowed to discuss history, and Western festivals.

The children gave me a few gifts too, some silver bells, an orange and brown teddy bear, and a small mascot for the Olympic games. I told them I didn’t need anything but hugs and they gave them too, extra.

Around the corner from my building I found a copy place where I laminated a group of Christmas carol sheet music, all in easy keys, copied from the Internet so we can play them for our party here, and possibly also at the school. Many good songs are still under copyright but all the oldies were there. And I do have the words in Chinese in local hymn books. It is helpful to remember that China was not always closed to the gospel!

I don’ t know much about Buddhism but they certainly don’t know how to have a Merry Christmas!
China News #21 – Saying Thanks this Christmas 12/19/07
To Kara Kelley, Shirley Pounds, Susie Ray, The Clouds, Carolyn Rauch, Pelham Thomas, David Reeves, David Lile, Mary Ellen, Kathryn and Penny Graham, thanks for so many words of encouragement. To Dan Pitillo for keeping me abreast of things at Cullowhee, including photographs.

To Lin Bostic and Pat Carr for the Christmas gifts which I will use well at the school – Hopefully all the packages will locate Inner Mongolia, finally. Pat – your huge goody box came today, everything for 2 great Christmas parties, candy, snacks, tuna, cheese, tiny pecan pies, Oreos, and life savers and much much more.

To Gussie Gammon-Johnson for some extra cash, and to Cornell McGee for handling my truck and business issues. To Patty Boyd for all the forwarded humor, to Cathie Koenig for the graphics sites, and to Jenny and Nancy for all the prayers.

To Karen Arias for handling some Christmas presents in absentia and for the coffee (I am nearly out), and to Glory of Zion Church in Texas for good advice. And to Betty Budd for all the political scuttlebutt. To Betty and Jack Galvin for helping me with my bank problems in Waynesville, and for sending some movies too.

And finally to Jan and Bill Van Wyhe for sending a huge box of gifts for the people at The Lighthouse, plus new movies for us all, and a Chinese character workbook for me – much needed. Bill – your box came today – thanks so much. I will use it for taking everyone out for supper Christmas Eve including a new teacher we found from Ohio.

Meanwhile as you make travel plans, go too many places, have trouble with parking spaces, eat too much and spend too much, we are living ordinary lives here. I’m preparing for a one hour plus Chinese exam.

We have increased our teaching load. A new class of adults will meet 3 nights a week. I have 3 classes to teach on Christmas Day, but we will take other portions of the week to celebrate.

David suggested a maid for me, Paula, who is a Christian learner. Well folks she might need to learn cleaning first. Quel dommage!

She did the dishes in cold water (common in China) even after I requested the hot water, and of course the sugary ones were stuck together, so I had to rewash them all. She left a piece of Laurence’s fruit to rot on top of the refrig and sure enough, the sugar melted into the appliance and the doors stuck together. The mud on the floor is still there, where it was 2 weeks ago. I won’t describe the dinner she prepared.

I’m settled in with a genuine routine. I’ve lost enough weight to need my coat taken up 2 inches – it is still at ankle length. I found some XL size clothes locally, but they were old people styles. I may BE a dowager but I hardly want to look like one.

I have a “personal shopper”- one of the teachers who comes from a middle class family – her father prepares animal feeds and he and his son are both veterinarians. Her English is superior to the others’. She helps me buy and find places to get chores done, like mending and this week a permanent for my hair. If it fails I still have 12 hats.

My housemate, Laurence, does not live here for all intents and purposes. It’s OK because he likes Chinese Opera and Karen Carpenter and with him gone I have Christmas Internet music on all day – right now Gene Autry singing “Ferry Christmas from Texas You-All.”

Meanwhile we need to plan on a winter camp in Harbin in January, and if you’ll check the Internet you’ll find it is one of the coldest cities on the planet.
China News # 22 – For Unto Us a Son is Given 12/22/07

A Perfect Christmas Story

David Wong’s sister-in-law abandoned her baby boy born over 4 months ago.

The parents live and work in separate cities, common in China, and neither one was interested in continuing the marriage nor keeping the child so David and his wife Rose are adopting him.

“Do you have a name for him yet?” I asked. No, David said, “Well, I have one for you.”

“What is that,” David wanted to know. “Michael,” I said. David said, “Why?”

I replied “Because he’s an angel.”

David was very quiet and said no more but within the three weeks, little Sheng Michael David Wong was brought home and will be dedicated soon to the Lord. Sheng is Chinese for holy. I think that China is going to need many, many Christian angels in the decades to come.

Merry Christmas to All from China
China News #25 – Party, Party 12/31/08

I was dumbfounded by the size and number of packages that came from Pat and Ted Carr in Waynesville, and then the contents. I spent one morning putting the gingerbread tree kit together. I ran out of icing and went to town coming home with something that ended up looking more like sludge than snow. I was pretty disgusted with my effort, but put it all on a large cutting board, and David and I got all of the goodies into a taxi and we took everything to the school.

Well – the teachers were besides themselves with delight. They thought it was the mostly magnificent thing they had ever seen. I was comparing my work with the gingerbread houses at the Grove Park Inn and they had never seen one in their lives.

A bushel of mandarin oranges, bananas, and pears plus the American goodies fed about 70 people. Two youngsters played the horse hair harp, a two stringed instrument, and 2 others played a very small accordion. Three girls did acrobatics or dances.

A professional artist demonstrated his craft with his big fat ink brushes and he created 2 large ink drawings which looked like Chinese characters growing as plants. He had some red and orange paint too and added a few flowers and then signed the work in Chinese calligraphy.

David told the story of the baby being born in a barn, the wise men, and the star that guided them. He gave out red and white elf caps to all the kids with the name of the school on the cuff in ink.

And such a horrid mess the kids made – it filled 6 bags. Then we took the food and the gingerbread house to his second school at 5 p.m. where everyone learned to sing both chorus and verse to Jingle Bells. They could not manage Silent Night, but no matter. We had about 16 at that party but the room is much smaller.

The New Year’s Eve Party was nearly the same as the Christmas party with more students singing and playing instruments. David also gave out prizes for talent so I include more pictures than usual.

Thanks Pat and Ted.

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