Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year's Eve in Shanghai

Walking into the baggage claim area at the Shanghai airport I collected my bags and made my way through the gate to where people congregate to meet the new arrivals. Right away I saw the sign I had hoped to see: Laird Magee. That means the young man holding is it Alex! (He has a similar job as Britannia at WUT) We traded our welcomes and he said to me, "Josephine gave us a copy of your passport photo, so I spotted you!" With a twinkle in my eye—thought I'd test his humor—I responded, "Well, there were three Westerners on the full 737 plane and only one that's another way!" We laughed. I knew we would get on well.

We talked our entire hour and 20 minute ride to the faculty housing in downtown Shanghai. Alex speaks very good English, including a peppering of American idioms. I remarked how well he spoke and applied jargon within context. He smiled broadly. He had taken 20 students to Saint Martin's University for 5 weeks in summer and knew the place well, I'm sure that experience had helped.

Arriving at the three story building, he grabbed my heaviest of two bags and quickly scaled the stairs as I lumbered after him. The apartment is a one room efficiency with a TV, phone, small fridge, coffee maker, toaster had an initial stocking of breakfast foods including: fruit, bread, Chinese breakfast cake and fresh cut flowers! A brand new toothbrush and toothpaste, towels and soap awaited me in my bathroom. What a treat!

It was 4:00 and Alex said he would return at 5:30 to pick me up for dinner. My hosts had planned a very nice New Year's dinner at one of the downtown restaurants where they often entertained foreign professors.

I quickly took a shower and dressed. Fortunately, I had consciously not worn one of my nicer pairs of pants for Shanghai and donned them. My neighbor, Paul, banged on the door when I emerged and we introduced ourselves. A Scott, I immediately felt a kinship with him and enjoyed his "accent." We sat and talked for about 30 minutes when the phone in my room rang, Alex said they were there early (5:15) was I ready? Of course! Paul and I agreed I'd let him know my hosts' plans for my next three days and we would work in time together with he and another teacher.

Whisked off to dinner I joined Dean Wang, his wife, Amelia who also runs the Students' Affairs Division at Shanghai Maritime University, Helen, Rebecca (who will go to St. Martin's on Jan 14), Alex and our driver. Like anywhere in a big city (18 million in Shanghai vs. Wuhan's 8 million) New Year's traffic—car, foot, motorcycle, bike—made the streets gridlocked. No matter where our driver tried to turn it was the same. As we sat Alex served as translator as we asked questions back and forth between Dean Wang and Mrs. Wang and me.

When we arrived at the huge multi-story shopping mall building we walked into the foyer and there it was: Starbucks. I remarked I hadn't smelled anything like that in over three weeks and it made me feel like I was at home. It's amazing the role scent and taste play in culture and memory. We made our way up three sets of escalators to the restaurant.

Like the restaurants in Wuhan, my hosts had reserved a small room where we could enjoy our dinner without noise. Amelia took command of the evening's menu and orchestrated a very, very nice celebration with many Shanghai favorites. As each appeared on the table before us, Alex explained why the dish she chose reflected Shanghai cuisine. I enjoyed every dish and the only item I had before was the closing desert of sticky rice soup, a sweet, warm soup where the sticky rice has been turned into powder and appears as marble sized white, round balls. The one difference—as I noted to my hosts between the Shanghai vs. Wuhan version—was in Wuhan they had added egg and here it was mango.

On the drive back to the faculty housing area Alex told me on New Year's Day at 9:30 the driver would come get me, and take Amelia, Rebecca and Helen to the old town shopping area to find the items Josephine had told Amelia I wanted to purchase. I am very spoiled. I fell asleep in a warm apartment and listened—and felt—the rumble of the city traffic.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Nee How Shanghai; Zaiuian Wuhan

Tomorrow--the last day of 2005--at 11:30 a.m. the driver will come for me from WUT along with my farewell committee: Zhang Ping, Yun Aiqing, and Brittania. Since they will report to work on Saturday, they've decided to see me off in force! It will be sad to leave them, but I know we will be reunited since I will teach again March 6 - 24, 2006.

In Shanghai I will be met by a representative from Shanghai Pudong Business Administration College, the other Chinese college Saint Martin's University has a relationship with. I will be their guest in faculty housing--it's somewhere in downtown--and am told from Josephine who set this all up for me (MANY THANKS!) that they will take me to some of the key tourist spots in Shanghai. So, assuming I have Internet access there, I'll pick up this adventure in year! :)

If I don't have a chance to say it tomorrow...I hope my family and friends have a great, relaxing New Year's Day!

Homeward bound,

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Living on campus provides a different cultural view between male and female friends...of all ages. One thing I've really noticed--as have my Western colleagues--is the close relationship among friends of the same gender.

It is very common to see women walk arm in arm and hand in hand. I see this with many female students in the classroom--this expression of closeness of their friendship is often displayed. It's also normal, but less common, to see male friends walk with one arm over the other's shoulder and sometimes hand in hand. And, I am told when it rains male friends share an umbrella and walk with each other's arms over the other's shoulders. Clearly, these represent different cultural behavior patterns than friends in the Western world.

I find this practice heart warming. As I watch these friends walk very closely together it's clear to me they share a very strong bond...perhaps a result of living, schooling and as part of the collectivism of the Chinese culture. They are truly friends for life. I've also noticed this closeness in our Chinese friends at our International Education school. On our way back from lunch today, two women colleagues whom I've had the wonderful opportunity to work with walked arm in arm quietly talking with each other. As I looked back and remarked that clearly they enjoy each others' company, Brittania said, "Yes, they are very, very close."

Being an 'outsider' and 'foreigner' to this culture I wondered if at some point I might be afforded this same level of friendship. I'm amazed. I have been on three occasions with three different Chinese women's one story.

The woman who I posted a note about as the 'lady with the key' who opens my classroom door and liberates my PC from its wooden box is one person I refer to. This morning I arrived a bit earlier than normal with the intention of taking a few photos of my classroom. Entering the hall, I saw her and we exchanged our smiles. Then it hit me, why not ask if she would pose for a photo beside the sign I wanted to capture. Making hand motions with my camera and her and pointing to the sign she quickly understood my gestures. Total delight spread across her smiling face. I think if I had told her she just won a million RMB she couldn't have been more elated. After posing for the photo she ran up, grabbed my arm and escorted me, arm in arm, down the long hallway and stopped at my door.

She beamed. I beamed. Clearly, she and I have developed a special kind of friendship that transcends language.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

"It's a small world, after all" - Parts 1 & 2

Part 1: The lyrics of that familiar Disney song keep ringing in my does the phrase, "There are no coincidences." The day I met Bob and Lorraine I learned how "connected" we are to each other and thought I'd share that now.

It's interesting to talk with other Western teachers and discover how circumstances aligned to bring them to Wuhan. (Clearly it's the first question one asks as I've explained most of my colleagues' arrival paths in this blog) Such was the nature of my first conversation with Lorraine.

They came to Wuhan as a result of the President of their university, Spring Arbor University in Michigan, talking with his father (or is it father-in-law?), Dr. Haggan, also a professor, at none other than George Fox University. He provided the connection that gave them the opportunity to move to Wuhan and teach for a year. To my family and friends, you see the connection...George Fox is the university where I will begin my doctorate in management studies this coming May.

Another aspect to this 'connection' is that, unbeknown to me until I learned it from Lorraine here in Wuhan, the English Department at George Fox University has had a relationship with Wuhan University of Technology since 1997.

Part 2: Given the info above, add another fact: I spent Christmas Day with two George Fox University graduates.

One graduated some time ago—Marilyn, a native Newberg, Oregonian, taught in the North Slope Borough in Alaska for 19 years and has taught here 6 years. Becky, a GFU grad in International Studies, has taught here for three years. Both owe their introduction to China and reason for being in Wuhan to Dr. Haggan. In fact, Marilyn lives in the university apartment he and his wife vacated when they went to start a GFU program in...Kenya. It's my understanding he just returned to Newberg; I MUST meet this man!

"It's a small world after all."

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Post Office

Another four-some adventure spawned from my first outing with Bob, Lorraine and Shaw. On our cab ride back that evening I remarked I hadn't seen any post cards in Wuhan. "They're all at the Post Office," was the reply. Interesting. Bob offered to introduce me to the China Post, or the Chinese Post Office, and from that our Weds event of lunch and the Post Office adventure spawned.

Compelled to deliver on my promise to send my mother a post card from China, I have to go on record as saying, there is absolutely zero possibility that I would have accomplished this task by took all four of us: Bob, Lorraine, Shaw and me. Clearly, we've acclimated to the collectivist culture and realized one can't accomplish anything as an takes a group.

In our pre-Christmas visit, we were told--as had several of our colleagues--that the US Postal Service wasn't accepting any mail from overseas until after the Christmas rush. It's a good thing I'm not in a hurry! Arriving at the China Post building I wandered over to where a woman stood with a variety of post cards...they had New Year's greetings and featured a handful of Wuhan sites. After pushing my way to the counter, I learned I needed to grab and count what I wanted, never mind who is standing there. I did so and gave the postal worker the proper amount of RMB for the financial exchange.

Then, on to the stamp windows. After popping into all five of the open windows, with Shaw's help--and some time--we were able to figure out the proper window and how many stamps I needed--5 if you don't count the one already printed on the post card. Much discussion followed between the three of us--Shaw, the postal worker (them in Chinese) and me since I couldn't understand how much to shell out of my wallet. We finally figured it out and there's no way I would have had a successful China Post visit without Shaw's assistance.

Over lunch we--the 4 of us--examined the logistics of where to place the stamps. In China the options are more open vs. the US where they are more limited. We finally arrived--after trial and error--at a good place where Shaw felt the Chinese post office would accept my stamp design and where the the three of us Americans thought the US Post Office would too.

Of course, now I have to find a post box...which, I'm sure, will be another adventure!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Day in Wuhan

After listening to Christmas songs on my PC while I prepared for the day (thanks Geri!), I left my apartment and met Marilyn at 8:00 a.m. at the bus stop and we hopped on #804. It deposited us at an 'officially recognized' Protestant church in China: Thanksgiving Church. Walking up the cobble stone pathway through a line up of beggars with various crippling deformities, we paused here and there depositing money in outstretched cans as we wound our way to the front door.

A big, multi-story building stuck into a back alley, I was amazed at a relatively modern building compared to the other two churches I had visited the previous Sunday. I followed Marilyn as we climbed the stairs and she explained a Swedish investor had built the facility that also featured dormitories, to house about 100 seminarians who attended the school there, above the three levels used for church activities.

It was a half hour before the 9:00 – 11:00 service was to start, but the first floor of the sanctuary was already filled with parishioners who practiced singing Christmas songs. Hearing the notes, I remembered my friend, Karen Lafferty, who said on several occasions to me, "Music is the universal language." How true...I recognized the song: Joy to the World!

Looking down from the second story into the main sanctuary I was reminded of a similar layout at a Pilgrim-era church in Bennington, Vermont my husband and I had visited in the early '80s. Marilyn disappeared up the stairs to the third floor, since she works with the little kids, and I took a seat next to an old woman who signaled me to sit with her on the wood bench. It seemed to me she was an official of the church since she wore a name tag around her neck and passed out hymnals to people who entered behind us.

As the two leveled sanctuary filled, the choir, dressed in white robes and red or green choir ribbons around the neck, entered in single file procession singing the Doxology. Four pastors, three women and one man, dressed in black robes with a red ribbon took to the stage and the service began. From where I sat I could see two sets of screens on either side of the 2nd floor and the same below on the first floor where they flashed the words of the songs and scripture verses read responsively. From three scripture passages translated into English, I anticipated the sermon to be evangelistic. It was. One of the women on the platform delivered what appeared to be a good sermon that was very impassioned and garnered many affirmations from congregation members I took to be "Amen" in Chinese. At the end of the sermon the male pastor gave what I thought was an alter call (I confirmed this later) as about 40 people of all ages responded to the message and walked to the front platform.

Later, when the piano began to play "Count your many blessings" the congregation jumped to their feet and began milling around. Not really understanding what was going on I stood like a lump. My seat mate made a big push to get past me—I was a little slow—so she physically moved me aside (I was surprised at her strength!). I finally figured it out. A number of waist-level (to my size) wood boxes were spread throughout the church and parishioners made their way to them to deposit the offerings; my seat mate's job was to use a 3 inch metal device to ensure the money went down into the box. I smiled to her and she returned it as I signaled my understanding and made a contribution.

Since this was Christmas, a whole musical and dance program unfolded next. The line up featured every age group, males and females, and some impressive traditional Chinese dance that had been modified—from my perspective—to include a Christmas message. I wanted very badly to take photos of the two women's groups who did these dressed in beautifully matched Chinese outfits, but didn't, not wanting to accidentally be offensive. However, after church in the vestibule I spied two of the women, still dressed in their red and yellow traditional outfits and asked Marilyn if she thought they would let me take their photos. She inquired, of course! They hammed it up for me in front of a nativity scene, and then motioned that we should have our photos taken with them! None of us spoke the others' language but we had no problem communicating!

One thing I really noticed while at this church was the difference in the parishioners vs. residents I see on the streets of Wuhan. What's normal on the street is when I see a Chinese person passing me I look at them, smile and give a small bow of the head. If the person is a student, I have a 50% chance of having the person respond in kind; for adults the rate is 100% they either look way or stare blankly at me. Every single time at church my greeting was returned with warm, glowing eyes and delight, along with a "Merry Christmas!"... this was the best Christmas gift possible I could have received here in Wuhan! :)

Off to Christmas lunch...

Marilyn included me in her circle of friends and together we made five for Christmas lunch. After persuading the 3 Wuhan police officers standing outside of the church to let us take our photos with them (seriously!) we walked a few blocks and arrived at a Korean restaurant (another first for me!). Since two of the group had dined there previously we left our menu selection to them. Apparently, the food is brought to the table and cooked on site, so we watched our 'chef' take all the uncooked items in about 8 different plates cook them one by one. Unlike Chinese cooking preparations, Koreans don't use oil. All of the dishes were new to me and I especially liked the "salad" that consisted of cut up apples, watermelon and banana with some sort of yogurt sauce. Our chopsticks were made of metal, and we all stated they provided an extra level of dexterity to wield successfully...I was the slowest learner.

After lunch we parted our ways and Marilyn offered to take me to Wuhan's #1 landmark: Yellow Crane Tower. After a full exploration of this multi-level building originally built in AD 223 (rebuilt many times since then) we visited the 'old town' shopping area just below the site. Grabbing a bus back to the university, Marilyn and I parted ways. What a wonderful Christmas in Wuhan. My thanks to her hospitality, her friends and the congregation at Thanksgiving Church of Wuhan...they all contributed to ensure I had a great Christmas. Yet more new friends I've made in Wuhan!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Electronic Christmas card to family and friends

Merry Christmas, from Wuhan China!

It's Christmas Eve morning here in Wuhan as I post this...and to my family and friends who are completing Friday afternoon as I type, I thought I'd send a electronic "Christmas card" of greetings to those I've temporarily left in America. Although there's no photo—can't afford the bandwidth to post--in keeping with the traditional Christmas card, I've written my message below as the "inside" the virtual card you're reading.

I've been drawn to Luke's account of Christ's birth and how the true meaning of Christmas began with the message the angels gave to the shepherds:

"Don't be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord...Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angels, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2: 10 -14 NIV)

Regardless of where we are in the world today, Christmas remains the same: it's all about Christ's birth. So, my heart felt wishes to all as we embrace this Christmas time spent in spirit with family and friends, no matter how far apart we may be.



Christmas Eve at Mr. Mai's

About a block from West Campus, fronting the busy road that cuts through WUT, is a well known place for Westerners and students alike called Mr. Mai's Coffee House & Foreign Language Club. That's where I had my Christmas Eve lunch/dinner.

Jon had recommended it to me (many thanks!) before I arrived and so I had put it on my agenda early into my trip. This was my third visit there and today I enjoyed my third helping and major food treat: beef tacos!! WAHOO!!! And, I followed it up with coffee and a piece of apple pie a la mode! This may seem strange, but let me explain.

Mr. Mai's is owned and operated by an American couple who moved to China 6 years ago; they opened Mr. Mai's in 2003 as a place for Westerners to get 'familiar food' and coffee and for students who want to practice their English with the Westerners. Many, many university students and Western teachers congregate there during its hours of operation: 2:00 pm. - 10:00 pm.

Today I arrived at 3:00 to order my tacos and the young, affable Chinese man behind the counter--Freddie, whom I'd met my two previous times before--was so entertaining I told him I was now going to call him "Mr. Personality!" He was very pleased. His command of the English language--both speaking and understanding, even idioms--is excellent. As I waited for my meal, a friendly Chinese student engaged me in conversation. He sat with another Chinese student, eager to practice English. Two Western women sat at the same table. After a rousing conversation lead by the Chinese students, us Westerners had a chance to connect.

Both graduated and took English teaching jobs in Wuhan, one has been here 3 years and the other, along with her husband, have been here 9 months. Through the course of our conversation we discovered similiar interests and they offered to take me to a shop where they had just made several purchases. (I had inquired about their bundles and was very excited when I saw the contents)

Oddly enough, Mr. Personality owns this store! He had just opened it this week several blocks down the street. So, they walked me there--I would have had trouble finding it myself I do believe--and they stayed while I made my purchases. Between their shopping and mine, we did some damage to his stock! In fact, the woman who helped me was so excited about the number of items I was buying, she called Freddie/Mr. Personality, who walked down to the store to oversee my "discount" for the volume purchase. What fun!

After we left the store, my new friends took off for a bookstore and I opted to return home to my apartment. I had originally thought I would stay at Mr. Mai's throughout the evening, since they are having a big event for all the students, but decided a quite, still evening away from all the hub bub of the evening (all the store stay open late--opposite of America!--and the traffic turns into a nightmare) is how I really wanted to spend the evening.

Perhaps the reason for my change in plans rests in a question one of the Chinese students I spoke with asked me, "Tell me, how would you be spending tonight if you were in America?" Here's what I told him: My husband, my cat and I would be enjoying a nice fire in the fireplace at our home. I would be curled up on our couch with my cat listening to Christmas music while my husband would be sitting in his chair reading a book. I will go to bed tonight with that image...have a good Christmas Eve...Jim & Cody.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas Recital

A tradition in Hubei Province during the Christmas season is to present as a gift to the foreign experts (teachers who are living here from other countries) a wonderful evening of music as a way to express their thanks for teaching in Hubei Province's many universities located in Wuhan.

Included in this group, I joined Tyler, Katy and Marilyn on the small bus from WUT that transported us to a large, modern auditorium that looked like it could have been plucked from anywhere in the Western world. With program in hand--printed in Chinese and English--we joined with other non-Chinese folks (it looked like a gathering of the United Nations) to enjoy a well organized, varied and incredibly impressing evening of music, dance and singing.

A variety of groups performed starting with what I believe was a Hubei provincial orchestra that had many instruments I recognized and many I did not. A woman, dressed in a red and yellow flowing evening gown that was some sort of Chinese traditional looking design entered and exited to introduce each group, first in Chinese and then in English. Like the student talent nite, the floor manager kept the on stage/off stage perfectly timed. Among the entertainment we heard Opera singers, special solos on two traditional Chinese stringed instruments, a men's choral (red pants and white embroidered shirts looked very sharp!) and they were joined with a women's choral in long flowing light blue traditionally-looking dresses that touched the floor.

The last to perform were 16 incredibly fit and agile young men who performed to music overhead with ballet-like precision as they did flips and rolls and in perfect choreography joined together and parted in wonderful designs.

Riding back on the bus with my colleagues to our apartment I couldn't help but reflect what an incredible experience to see this collection of Chinese talent, culture and entertainment. My thanks to the Hubei Province for this tradition and for allowing me to experience this.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

My 4th floor neighbors

Our foreign faculty apartment building is a little enclave of non-Chinese speaking folks that has three apartments on each of its four levels. The building stairs terminate at our fourth floor doors. The three of us--my fourth floor neighbors--teach with me in the same department but we all teach different subjects and hail from different parts of the world.

On my right, Katy, is my wonderful neighbor who introduced me to the West Campus cafeteria--forget the first level since we don't speak Chinese, go to the 2nd level where you can see and pick up plates of food. A Canadian from the Niagara Falls area, this is Katy's first experience teaching English as second language after her post grad studies. Following my electrical issue earlier in the week she was also my saving grace when it came to heating my bedroom.

Hearing her climb the granite steps at 8:30 that evening, I popped out and inquired if she could figure out how to get my bedroom heater to work, since the temperature was dropping and I was considering my options for sleeping on the floor of my office (where the other heater is). This is where not knowing Chinese is a problem since all the buttons on the remote control make zero sense to us. Since we couldn't figure it out, she descended the stairs to Tyler's appt on the 3rd floor and borrowed his extra space heater. What a life saver...both of them!

My neighbor on the left is Serge. He and his family immigrated from Russia to America when he was 9. He's teaching International Economics and MIS. He is the final person who was key in gaining my Internet access, after we finally got a cable he sat down and configured my lap top with the IP info so I could gain access. He also confirmed the reason I couldn't reach my Comcast email.

Without the help and support of my neighbors on the 4th floor--and the 3rd and 2nd--my life Here would be so very, very different and much more difficult.

Thank you neighbors!

Tyler #402

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Tailor Shop

Tailor row in Wuhan, China is filled with independent proprietors sandwiched between other merchants—fish, meat, vegetables, soda, etc.—selling their wares. To say it's much different than a shopping mall is an understatement. For clothing, it's all custom. From a marketer's perspective, it's the ultimate in 1:1 marketing. And I got to watch it all in action.

As part of the Bob, Lorraine and Shaw party on Sunday evening, Bob wanted to check in on the business suit he had ordered the previous week. A wool, blue pin striped jacket and matching slacks, he told me that with the keen knowledge and negotiation skills of Shaw (whose sister is a tailor, so he knows his fabric) a great business suit was in the making for him for the sum of $75.

Entering through the plastic strips that hang from the ceiling in most stores here—good for both hot and cold weather it appears, since I'm told Wuhan only has two seasons—the owner immediately welcomed us and motioned for us to sit while a woman hurried to pull us hot cups of Chinese green tea. Warming my gloved hands around the steaming brew I looked at all the varieties of silk, wool and other materials hanging from the walls. A rather sharp, traditional Chinese woman's jacket stood at attention on a tailor's dummy about three feet from me. Incredibly pretty fabric, I thought. As I examined all the tailor's wares, my eyes kept returning to the jacket's material.

While Bob and Shaw attended to Bob's suit details and subsequent order for a second set of slacks, Lorraine and I discussed her earlier purchase of two custom silk blouses for the equivalent of $20. As we sat and sipped our tea another woman came up to the two of us and presented us with about a yard or so of very pretty silk fabric as a "Christmas gift." It's then it hit me...gee, while I'm not interested in clothing, I could buy some of that pretty green silk fabric and take it home. My mother might like to make a pillow.

Negotiations began. With Shaw's help we figured out where the bold of cloth sat, and after much back and forth translation to understand what I wanted, I learned the equivalent of about 3 yards of material and purchased it for 70 RMB (about $4 yard). This was my first purchase here in Wuhan of anything other than food or apartment supplies. Since Wuhan isn't a tourist destination, my next shopping will no doubt occur in Shanghai as I return home.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Reflection - the path chosen

One of the cultural models I've taught in class is Individualism vs. Collectivism; this model articulates one of the differences between cultures. Cultures that are more individualist-centric (e.g. USA) and promote individual effort are Individualistic. Those cultures that don't focus on individual effort but rather on the group and the harmony within the group are said to be Collectivistic (e.g. Asan cultures).

My students and I have fun with this and other cultural models we are learning together and I look for every opportunity in my normal day to identify these in action with them. It's a chance for fun learning between our cultures. Today on my walk back to my apartment between classes I had occasion to reflect on Individualism/Collectivism and 'the paths chosen.'

I've walked the path between campus many times with both Chinese and Western colleagues. It's interesting to notice how we all chose our paths. With my American colleagues the path is one where few people travel and it is quite and tranquil away from the action; when I walk with my Chinese collegues the path chosen is where most people travel and it's very busy with lots of people, cars, motorcycles, bicycles and construction workers.

While it's not a scientific study by any stretch of the imagination it's at least an interesting observation as I walk both routes and think about the cultural models and notice nuances along the way.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Maslow pays a visit

The concept of Maslow's Hierarchy of Need is one I've mentioned to my Western colleagues several times thus far as we share our experiences living in China. If you don't recall this from school, the model says that as humans the basic, first level of need is food, shelter, clothing; if you don't have those, the other four steps up the chart to "self-actualization" really don't matter.

I was reminded of Maslow's wisdom again today.

Returning from class to my apartment this morning I sat down at my laptop to work on adjusting my presentation for the next day. After a few hours I noticed my battery wasn't charging, so I adjusted the transformer and cord a bit, as I have learned it prefers, but couldn't seem to get it to work. Hum. Did the transformer blow? I took my curling iron and used the transformer to test it in another outlet. Nothing.

Since the sun flooded my apartment there was no need to hit the light switch, but remembering my experience of a circuit breaker blowing on Tuesday (and having to get ready for my first class using my flashlight) I inspected the circuit breaker. All looked right.

It's then I missed something: the heater. Neither heater belched out hot hair and my apartment was growing colder. Uh, oh. No electricity! Clearly, it didn't occur to me electricity could just as easily disappear as my hot water had the same time last week.

My best recourse: Brittania! I bundled up and tramped down the four flights of stairs, across West Campus, across the busy street dividing the campuses, across the East Campus, up six flights of stairs and into the Dept. office I strode to tell Brittania my woes. Quietly she listened. Then she took out a post it note and began writing in Chinese. After filling two note with these characters she told me to take this back to my apartment and hand it to the manager (who had been asleep in front of his TV when I left...he speaks no English and I no Chinese so I didn't see the point).

With a half hour before my next class and not wanting to leave this to the afternoon I double timed it back to my apartment...found the manager, handed him the note and assured myself he was taking action. I retraced my steps in triple-time since I now had 15 minutes to make a 20 minute commute. On my way back to class—exerting more local walking characteristics than I had exhibited thus far in my stay—I couldn't help but ponder good old Maslow. He really knew what he was talking, shelter, clothing. This adventure serves as an example that brings me back to this level of focus on almost a daily basis. Sometimes it's just the basics that matter.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

A Christmas Request to family & friends

Since I'm not yet able to access email, it would be really nice if my family and friends who may be reading this blog would take a moment to leave a comment on one of my's currently the only way to know if I'm not alone out here in cyberspace.

Consider this a Christmas present to me.



Sunday Service

Earlier this week I met Bob and Lorraine, an American couple who are here teaching in another Department at WUT for one year. Both were professors in the states, but Bob had been an attorney for nearly 30 years prior. (We remarked how our 'flipping careers' was similar). He is teaching in the PhD program here and Lorraine in the undergraduate.

During our initial conversation—they live on the 2nd floor—I had remarked that I figured if President Bush could find a church in Beijing when he was here, it was possible I could find one in Wuhan for Christmas, since it is on Sunday.

There are no coincidences. Both are Catholic and they invited me to join them for the 4:00 mass at their Catholic church. Delighted, I said yes! This excursion resulted in three "firsts" for me: Attending a Catholic church, a church in China and riding on a Chinese public bus.

Bob has a teaching assistant, Shaw, who is an affable young Chinese man originally from the country who is now teaching English at the university; he accompanied us and served as translator. Our afternoon and evening together as a four-some (and later for dinner his finance joined us) was nothing short of miraculous.

I could never trace our bus trip and subsequent walk through the winding and narrow streets of old time Wuhan. We seemed transported back in time, a striking and sharp contrast to the modernized shopping area of Wuhan I experienced the day before. Shaw said this part of Wuhan dated back 1000 years and explained as we walked through this old, old neighborhood—reminded me of some scenes in the poor sections of Mexico and Spain—how the poor people here lived. Coal and wood, burned in small tin cans, is the primary source of heat and cooking. Some apartments and streets were well kept and others in shambles. Shaw indicated that's how you can tell the difference between owners vs. renters.

As we wound our way through and up and down stairs between streets Bob spied a Protestant Church. A small red cross on the outside, we entered to find three women who smiled broadly as we entered. Shaw translated that we were on our way to church and saw this one and wanted to send our greetings. The woman explained a man from the United Kingdom had arrived 141 years ago and built this church. During the Cultural Revolution it was turned into a factory. Five years ago they turned it back into a church. Spartan and cold, the warmth of the women in their greeting and statement that "God had sent you to visit us" was very overwhelming as they asked us to sign their visitors' book.

About 10 minutes' walk from this church we arrived at the Catholic church, which also serves as a seminary with 100 men who are in the process of becoming priests. Also without heat, this church had a few stained glass windows, a nice alter and as we entered we heard the congregation--about 30 or so--singing. This was a bi-lingual service. The Chinese priest lead the service and three different attendees read responsively in English; all three were English as a second language speakers. It was interesting since one was a high school boy from the Ukrane, a woman from a country in Africa where French was the primary language, and another woman whose country of origin I didn't know.

It was a wonderful experience and I hope that I will find another church to attend next Sunday--Christmas--since Bob and Lorraine will be in Beijing and there's no way I could find either church by myself.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

"Bloody Noun"

Saturday afternoon Ms. Zhang took Josephine and me "out on the town." We visited the Hubei Provincial Museum and all the ancient artifacts dating back 2,000+ years and then our driver took us to a nice restaurant. It was the first time I had a menu that offered English translations. But as I said to both of them, "just because it offers English translation, doesn't mean I know what it means!"

That's what we all found so funny: one food translation.

As I flipped through the extensive menu I kept going back to one line item: "Beef Bloody Noun." I inquired of my luncheon partners, "What exactly is a "bloody noun" I thought it a noun was a part of speech and does it mean a Brit is 'bloody well' upset with it?."

We all exploded into laughter. Clearly, the translation wasn't very good. This, of course, prompted my two Chinese speaking lunch partners to begin analyzing other dining option translations...none proved as funny as this one though.

This translation humor not only served as one of our inside—the 3 of us—jokes for the day, but will serve as Monday's example to my students when we discuss marketing research and the 3 major ways to address the challenging issue of translation. Talk about a timely example!

Friday, December 16, 2005

The right decision

Josephine arrived! It was so wonderful to see her pop into the office Friday between my two classes. (She is the Director of the International Education Studies program at Saint Martin's University.) After my students completed their first exam (they confessed to being scared of it...more later) we hailed a cab and took off to her hotel.

The Mayflower hotel is a Best Western (although it seemed like a Hilton) and as we entered the doorway I started to feel a little culture shock. That feeling continued as we arrived at Josephine's room and she ordered coffee—my first since leaving America—via room service.

Standing on the 10th floor looking down from this hotel room I saw Wuhan, China. Turning around looking at Josephine's hotel room, we could have been anywhere in the Western world. I thought to myself, "You made the right decision."

This decision was whether to live on campus and walk to class or stay in this hotel and take a taxi to and from school. As I told Josephine as we sipped our wonderful coffee my experience here in Wuhan would have been totally different. With my campus apartment I know I'm living in China, or as Josephine put it, "Central China is very Chinese!" After flying all this way, I'd rather know I'm in China!

Reflection - last nite's event

In my Teaching blog I talked about the Student Talent nite we foreign teachers attended and were invited to particpate in. One interesting thing that happened to me is worthy of note since it's related to travel and culture.

Last nite we (Tyler, Serg, Katy and I) walked into the bustling student union and as we entered the large auditorium a student walked up to us and said, "Welcome, are you ready with your song or skit?"

For nearly 10 seconds I thought to myself, "How did he know we were the teachers who were going to particpate in this event?" It may sound stupid, but clearly I had totally forgotten we were the only 4 Westerners there and, therefore, we were easy to pick out of a crowd. The thing that's interesting is, I didn't feel out of place. Because of the warm welcome, inclusion, appreciation and continuous dialog and rapport that has grown through my time here with the staff and students I didn't feel like an "foreigner". I think that best describes the hospitality of the Chinese hosts here at the International Education Department at Wuhan University of Technology.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Note to family & friends

I'm having difficulty accessing my Comcast email. Comcast has a very big page load with all their stupid streaming media and it is very difficult to get logged into email before it times out on my side. Bandwidth here is limited.

I will keep trying.


The Tale of Two Tylers

Two Tylers teach in Wuhan!

Yes, I've met my male counterpart here in Wuhan. On the ride in the night of my arrival here Ms. Ping mentioned they had a "boy Tyler" as well.

Boy and girl Tyler met on Monday. What a hoot!

My counterpart Tyler is from Bethesda, MD, graduated in '04 with a degree in Biology and is here through the Princeton In Asia program for one year teaching English. Known by all of us teachers as the adventurous eater, his enthusiasm and mantra, "if the Chinese can eat it, I can eat it" is why he can discuss the pros and cons of, as one example only, chicken feet preparation. As I understand from Tyler, the BBQ version is best and it's key to bite at the joints.

He has a full litany of dining options as he has explored many--he is quick to note, more await discovery--and will be guiding me on some of these adventures in dining.

His parents and brother will be arriving to spend Christmas here in his apartment, so I am looking forward to meeting more of his family. It will be interesting to see what Chef Tyler whips up for Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


You never know how much you appreciate something until you don't have it...take hot water, for example.

My apartment has all the amenities needed, but the water heater was having a bad day when I arrived on Sunday evening. It refused to work and in this weather a cold shower wasn't on my list of items to experience. Thank goodness for the pile of wet and dry towelettes I hauled with me for my "spot baths."

Through the course of Monday and Tuesday, it was looking bleak. But, Brittania prevailed and I returned Tuesday evening...whispered a short prayer, and flipped the handle to on. WHAOO...there was hot water. It took no time for me to maximize this lost resource and I emerged a changed person: my first shower and clean hair since leaving Portland on Saturday!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Lotus soup

Today I had my second meal of lotus soup, this time at the small restaurant adjacent to the East Campus cafeteria. A Hubei Province specialty only served here in the province and not during summer, lotus soup has big and small chunks of lotus root, pork and a very light colored broth. Known as the area of 1,000 lakes, the lotus plant grows in the marshy area of the lakes. A big bowl is served and in traditional fashion, everyone dips a ladel of soup into the bowls set in front of us.

We rounded out our meal today with a cooked green vegetable that reminded me of cabbage, spicy fish and rice.

Lunch here is from noon - 2:00. Everyone takes a long lunch time and then we resume our normal activities at 2:00...when my next class starts!

More later on my eating adventures!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Settling in to Appt #402

Awoke on Monday morning feeling pretty normal. I dined upon my dried aprocots and almonds, with black tea.

Around 10:30 a.m. Brittania came by and she showed me around campus and then we went down the street a few blocks to the IGA so I could do some shopping for my appartment. I acquired a broom, dish soap, cleaning soap, bannanas and a fruit she recommended that is very large--yellow--and she says is very good, like Oranges.

The International Education group took me to lunch as a way to welcome me to the university. The six of us dined in a separate room at the restaurant and I had the opportunity to enjoy their hospitality and talk with the Vice Dean of the school, Huang Xiaoyong. They clearly enjoy each other's company and have a wonderful and engaging dialog with a lot of laughing...that they let me in on.

I had remarked that this was my first, official experience eating real Chinese food, since the Chinese food in America is, what we--Xiaoyong and I-- called, "regionalized". Either way, this meal brought back memories of my childhood when I could pick for my birthday any place to go out to eat. It was always for Chinese food because I enjoyed the Lazy-Susan at the center of the I did for this meal. There were so many dishes to choose from. The most artful was the local fish, or as Xiaoyong put it, "Chinese food is also art." This is so very true.

After lunch I returned to my appartment with the remainder of the closing or dessert of the meal, a tasty sticky rice and two sided pancakes the size of silver dollars with a few raisins in them--all made with rice flower. That served as dinner...yum, yum!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

"Professor Magee"

Stepping off the airplane at my final destination of Wuhan, China Sunday evening at 10:30 p.m. I looked past the passengers to the lobby and saw the most wonderful sight possible...a sign with two words: "Professor Magee."

A smiling Ms. Ping from Wuhan University of Technology met my plane--the plane was 30 minutes late. It was very exciting to see her, know that my transport to my apartment on campus was complete...and to just all in all, be very welcomed by her to my new home for the next 3 weeks.

As we talked in the ride over to campus she indicated they had cancelled my Monday class to let me get my apartment set up and become oriented in my new surroundings. This was very nice.

We arrived at West Campus and I joined other foreign teachers in the housing unit. Jon, I believe I have your former abode: 402? You had said you left 3 rolls of toilet paper...well, they were still there and thanks for the "starter set."

Beijing airport

Landed okay in Beijing. Temperature Sunday nite was 15 degrees F. Reminded me of Alaska! Took me some time to wind my way through the process of getting my bags, lugging my bags through more security and finding someone who I could converse with to determine how I could get my ticket turned into a boarding pass. After three different windows we were able to solve this situation.

We had landed 30 min early so I didn't feel rushed trying to figure this all out. When I finally determined the right direction to go I found myself with enough time to actually sit down and rest. In one way, the Beijing airport reminded me of landing in Munich, Germany. The gates all queue up and busses run from the gates to ferry the passengers out to the planes that are some distance away from the lobby. By now the well heated terminal had me pealing off my layers of clothes, so it was quite a shock to get out to the unheated busses, and sit while we all piled in.

Once out to the plane we all stood in what I can only describe was a flash back memory of my Alaska days with a near chill factor of (best guess of the winds) of -20 F. By the time we all clamored aboard the plane I had lost feelings in my fingers.

The flight to Wuhan was, as my husband Jim would say, "filled with involuntary naps" on my part. By the time I landed in Wuhan I felt semi-human again.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Nee how China; Good-by USA

On Dec 10 I took off for Wuhan and the trip from San Francisco to Beijing my seat partner was a very nice Chinese man who was returning from CA to China for a week's business trip; this was his first time home in six years. He had a Canadian passport and told me he had completed his MS and PhD in California and worked for Google.

During our conversation through the 12 hour flight, he offered a unique view on learning English since he learned I was on my way to teach in Wuhan. He said it's easist to read English, next write it, but most difficult to speak. By living in the states he had learned to speak English much more and said there are two tests of one's ability to learn a language.

If you can start to think in English rather than Chinese that's when you really know the language, but if you start dreaming in it--as he had done recently--then you really knew you had learned the language. Although he said, there were always cultural issues that he was continually learning.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Early Wuhan weather report

It's winter in Wuhan! Received a local weather report from an American teacher there, via Jon (thanks!) who just returned from a teaching assignment for Saint Martin's University. The temperature is hovering between 0 and +5 degrees (I'm assuming C vs. F) with rain.

It's a good thing I'm coming from the Pacific Northwest and lived 8 years in Anchorage, Alaska. Dressing in layers is normal for me!

Saturday morning approaches quickly!