Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Campuses

The old campus has beautiful tree arched streets. We have only
noticed a few stumps, so they have been blessed by good
health. There are no parking lots, only underground parking
so it really has a cozy, comfortable feel to it.
Northwestern Polytechnical University Campus
We really like our neighborhood and community.  The campus is about 3 square miles and we live right in the middle. Whether we want to shop on or off campus, eat on or off campus, catch a bus or a taxi, go to a bank or an ATM, we really are located perfectly. It is more like a compact, stately, tree filled U of M campus than a new more spread out BYU campus. There is also a “new” campus about an hour away where we actually teach.
The old campus has lots of construction
both adding and replacing. This corner
of campus is getting new housing.

Old Campus
As mentioned, Northwestern Polytechnical University is a highly regarded university of astronomical and aeronautical engineering. Very interesting to see a building titled “Moon Exploration.” 

This wall pays tribute to many of the accomplishments of
the university.

They have 12,000+ plus graduate students and 12,000+ undergraduates. The campuses contain lots of dorms and apartments. The students are required to live in dorms their entire stay here - including doctorate and post-doctorate students. The university also provides housing for the faculty as well as the retired faculty. There is a 2000 student elementary school right next to our apartment (noisy!) and a kindergarten school just a block away. Plus there are all the classrooms, offices and research buildings. There are also several banks, shops, stores, restaurants, and cafeterias on the campus. 

The fields, gyms, stadiums, and basketball courts are constantly
full of activity. That would include these women doing their  daily

All in all it is very appealing. It makes a very compact, convenient, charming community. We enjoy that this community, while dominated by YSA students, has a full spectrum of ages from babies through the retired faculty. We really like it here.

The New Campus
It was built in 2007 and the building in still going on. (There is also lots of construction on the old campus both upgrading it and expanding it.) It is very modern looking. For sure I have never seen a library or gym looking anything as nice as these. It is really out in the countryside at the foot of the mountains and does not feel part of an 8 million population center. The air is much cleaner.

Pretty cool looking gym facilities. Full of courts for basketball
badminton, and ping pong.

The high-rise is one of several new
apartments under construction in a
new faculty village. Isolated.

This is the new library peeking through the trees. Still under

The mountains are attractive.

Student activity center between two very large cafeteria
buildings. Something interesting is always playing on the
huge monitor.

This is a connected set of 6 U shape buildings. We teach in
buildings C and  D

These are student dormitories on the
new campus. We also have a dorm
assigned to us for nights we have
to stay late. The lack of a western
bathroom pretty much assures we will
never stay overnight. We cannot miss
that last shuttle because there are
no taxis. But who ever thought we would
have two apartments in China!
All freshmen and sophomores are required to live in the dorms out on the new campus - totally removed from everything. Juniors and seniors in certain majors are also required to live on the new campus. English is one of those. All our classes are on the new campus. The other BYU couple, teaching non-majors, mostly teaches on the old campus.

Students can take a free shuttle into the old campus, and for sure they do on weekends. But the hour in and out pretty much makes it impossible during the week. The classrooms we teach in are new, modern, and nice. We have modern computers and projection monitors/screens in each of our classrooms. Now if only they included a set of English instructions or labels........ Or as Ann says, "Welcome to my world; this is China!"

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday in China

Bell Tower in the very center of the Old City.
Sunday in China
We have been asked to be circumspect regarding this topic. So we thought we would cover it as completely as we could for the entirety of the blog with this entry: some official Church links; a talk by Elder Dallin H. Oaks; an article about the branch in our city, Xi’an; and then some other stuff from church news sources. Pretty good reading!

No matter how public our sources or the fact we are publishing this itself, please do not quote, post, link, forward, paraphrase, etc any of this particular section (sharing our blog address as a whole,, is fine). Area Authority request.

In front of Drum Tower, next to the Muslim Quarter
Jacqueline is one of our student volunteers. She goes with
us wherever we need/desire to both guide and translate.

We take a taxi 30 minutes each way on Sunday to a hotel next to some BYU teachers’ housing on a different university campus. $3 taxi ride.

There are 13 of us from the BYU program, a family from Meridian, Idaho (he works for Micron; kids 8, 6, 3), a couple from Seattle (he works for Boeing), a doctor and her retired husband, a BYU student on scholarship to a Chinese university, a recent female American graduate from an American university in China seeking employment here, a 70 yr old Utah woman who is part of a different service program. Smaller than the branch talked about in the Church News article (the 2nd one listed above), but expats constantly come and go.

Another picture of the Bell Tower, better capturing the crazy
round-about and the impossible traffic - and still a park.
"Non-Chinese passport holders" (meaning Americans mostly) are allowed to meet for church. We may NOT actively or passively teach, preach, testify, give literature or do anything on any level to/with "Chinese  passport holders." That is a very sacred obligation we are reminded of constantly. The Church is adamant about adhering to the letter and spirit of their agreement with the Chinese government.

It would seem there are "Chinese passport holders" who joined the church in other parts of the world. We know nothing about their status - except for one thing - they may NOT attend our "non-Chinese passport holders" (like us Americans) meetings and we may NEVER interact with them in ANY way.

When you come as a tourist to China, in some of the big cities you may be able to go to church. Today Paul and I were sustained as Gospel Doctrine teachers and Paul was additionally sustained as Branch Mission Leader. And surprise of surprises, Karla Thompson is our new Branch Relief Society President.

A "non-Chinese passport holder" will be over to our apartment in a few hours for a formal discussion. We wonder how we can get our hands on a BofM in Farsi? PDF or paper.

Tender Mercies
Out our west apartment window. Fall is coming.
On a regular basis the Lord reaches out and solves situations for us and they always seem to end in the exact kind of conversations we want to be having with people. We have found so many people to be more than helpful and friendly.

Everywhere we turn someone will volunteer their services when they see we don’t speak Chinese. Even people who feel they don’t speak English very well have summoned courage and helped us by translating. Most of the time we get close to what we thought we ordered in a restaurant (+/- the spiciness) and taxi directions have not failed us yet.

The first time we went to the new campus, we went to where we thought we would catch the shuttle bus. A group of individuals got excited by our presence and tried to tell us something. Shortly a young woman stepped over and told us they were telling us we were in the wrong spot, and she offered to walk us the 6 blocks to where the actual bus stop for us was.

We had a wonderful conversation. Turns out she just graduated this spring in English and was now in graduate school in International Relations. Her favorite teachers during her undergraduate years were the couple we replaced. She is hoping to go to school in America in a year or two: BYU, Ohio State, or Georgetown. Without us offering any advice but just answering her questions about us and our kids, she is now more BYU inclined. And that can lead to all kinds of wonderful consequences. These types of experiences are happening so regularly. It is the greatest.

                                                                                       Please send us what we forgot
Out our south apartment window.
Hmmm. It is a bad sign of over packing when you  can say “Don’t need you to send anything.” Fortunately we feel pretty well set. Probably brought too many clothes. We brought a lot of supplies including our router and docking station. Seeing how well the technology end has operated for us, we are really glad we brought it all.

As our predecessors have said “You can get everything you need in China; maybe not all you want, but definitely all you need.” Another pithy truism is “Everything in the world may be made in China, but that does not mean it is reasonably accessible to a consumer in China.” That is ok. We are fine.

Actually, we do have a request
If you are really kind hearted and still want to send us something, we do have a request. How about a PowerPoint presentation? Or 2 or 3 or more? Our classes are full of learning activities building upon the particular English skill we are working on that day. But we need content to be the focus of the skill. We particularly like PowerPoint Presentations which teach some aspect of American life and/or culture at the same time. Makes the classes much more interesting. The first day we used a PowerPoint of Paul and his family sledding which led to discussions, etc. on the merits of various types of winters. We have used great ones from Laura, Jenny, and Lisa as well. It will be fun to have more FROM YOU. Our students will appreciate any change of pace you can add. Thanks!

Those of you who are YM or YW advisors – listen up
Brainstorm!! Those of you who are YM or YW advisors – listen up. Most of what our students know about American Culture they pick up from the garbage in raunchy movies and TV. Not too realistic.

Think about it. How do you answer a students question for the name of a movie or TV show that best portrays American culture and values?

Out our north facing kitchen window.
How about at least helping us solve the problem in class? How about a class service project? These would be wonderful PowerPoints to receive from you:
  • “Life of an LDS teen” 
  • “Friday night HS football and all” 
  • “HS in America” 
  • “Seminary, School, Sports and a part time job” 
  • “Marching Band and music”
How about some of the same stuff
  • On a college level 
  • A young married level
  •  Starting a career as a college grad
  • An FHE activity for the whole family
  • "Church and Church activities for a YSA" (which is what all these students are)

    These could be the basis of lots of great learning activities and our students would love the content. How about passing this along to someone you think might be willing/interested/to help. Thanks again.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Zhang Yi, our English Department Chair

Professor Zhang Yi, English Department Chair
Zhang Yi. English Department Chair
She is our boss, our friend, our guardian angel. She is the deliverer of the answers to many of your prayers on our behalf. We really like her and really appreciate her. Here are some examples of things she has done for us.

She sent one of her Chinese English professors, Maggie, to the airport to accompany the “official” university party. As soon as we got dropped off at our apartment,  Maggie, under Zhang Yi’s direction, took over and spent 2 days helping us get all the needed things done. 

Professor Maggie A great friend and help.

Maggie said, “Zhang Yi wants me to take you shopping for 2 days’ supply of food, but no more.” Actually 2 days of food was about all we want to carry several blocks from a store and up our 75 stairs at one time!

Zhang Yi called the next evening and said, “Meet me downstairs.” She gave us a personal walking tour of campus which introduced us to several places we had not yet discovered. She then drove us across town to “Metro”, an oversized “Costco type” store full of almost impossible to find items. Very civilized to buy things like a Betty Crocker cake mix!

A typical bag full from the market.
Including $0.32 worth or noodles.

Saturday she took all the English Department Professors, including us, to a 5 star hotel for a fabulous buffet and an orientation meeting. (The other professors love anything with us because it normally involves better food than they typically get. And man, do they pack away the food at a buffet!) 

Gotta wash those items.
There were 14 of us: the 2 of us, an older Australian lady who has been teaching in China for 8 years, a 30ish guy who has been teaching in China 3 years and is marrying a Chinese woman in the spring, and 10 Chinese natives – 2 men and 8 women who all spoke reasonable but not fabulous English. 2 were missing: a woman who was taking her freshman daughter to start college in Hong Kong, and a fellow who is teaching in America this year.
These 3 doves have been outside our kitchen window every

The orientation was interesting. Her expectations seemed what you would expect from a traditional faculty appointment. Quite a bit higher than what the BYU training was preparing people for. 

(Just tonight we were looking at an online PowerPoint of some of our BYU training. It included: "None of you will teach just pronunciation; most of you will have it as part of what you do in Oral English." Guess what? Ann has 2 sections of "just pronunciation."). 

Most BYU teachers are teaching non-English majors straight Oral English, and it takes place in somewhat different ways. Additionally, BYU continually emphasized, "Be ready for anything; you will be in China." It was wonderful for us to have it all spelled out so clearly since it is so different from the BYU version.

On another evening Zhang Yi called and said, “Let’s go for a walk.” Turned out to be about a 5 mile walk all over campus and all along the shops on the west and south outside the campus. She showed Ann where and how to get her hair cut (walking by many other beauty shops in the process). She also showed Ann where she shops for clothes and pointed out their prices, styles, sizes and quality are right for Ann.
Every kitchen should have its own washer!

Later Ann sent her an email asking if she had any ideas on locating a cleaning lady. While the apartment is small, the piling on of dust from the environment is awesome and apparently gets even more so when the coal plants fire up in the winter. 

Zhang Yi called Ann a short while later, had it all arranged (“I have had the same person for 15 years”), and she has arranged for Professor Maggie to be here the first time to help Ann get it all set up. a few hours a week, $3/hr.
East Gate Market. Just outside the campus walls.

This has been SOOOO helpful. We are especially grateful for Zhang Yi in our situation. We have been extra blessed by the white glove treatment we have received from her.
Market Cart

I want my present!
We have been told small gifts are very important in this culture. Especially with those we work closely with. In that light, we came a bit prepared. At the department meeting we had a small refrigerator magnet of Minnesota for everyone except Zhang Yi. 

When it became apparent she was not getting one she very disappointingly asked where hers was. Surprise. Instead we had a nice little stuffed loon for her which made the famous loon call. It was fun giving them. Glad we did.
I am not buying. But if I do, Ann is not cooking. And if she
does, I am not eating! 

How does this $$$ work
When we went to pay at Metro, my credit card would not work and I had not loaded up on cash yet. Talk about mortifying. Fortunately Zhang Yi just pulled out her credit card and paid for us. The first week was full of money, credit card, and ATM snafus. Challenging and frustrating to say the least - especially as we wondered what would happen next. Fortunately we seem to have things worked out now and are in the groove, but what a poor start. I guess the American credit cards will only work in the main tourist areas. Thank heavens for the ever present ATM.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

We Survived Our First Day of Teaching!

We survived our first day of teaching!
Our first day of teaching went well and we both enjoyed it. While I absolutely signed on for this, I must admit I have carried around a load of dread and fear for several months knowing I would ultimately have to teach on a university level.  Those of you who are somewhat familiar with my temperament will immediately relate to this...Jenny has always been very good at getting to the heart of my stress and telling me to just breathe. Well Jenny, I am just sayin, it worked this time!

Left half of class. 
Right half of same class. Typical class of 22 English majors.
I think the one major fear I have had with coming here is knowing I will be a teacher on a university level and having students calling me a professor. Wait, Me?  I may teach seminary but college?  From what we learned at our training much of what is taught by thousands in China is more of a glorified primary/seminary class. I felt I could handle that, maybe.  But our first Saturday here we went to a department meeting with the head of the English department and the rest of the faculty. This little woman is about 5'2"and maybe 98 lbs. She has a little pixie haircut, is just as cute as a button and we have spent several enjoyable hours with her so far. But you get her in her element, talking about her department and her students, and she leaves no doubt about what her expectations are and how she wants her classes taught.

We have office hours, we have English free chat, we have finals, and grading and forms to fill out and we are not to move class times around and we are to make sure we teach so the sophomores and senior are able to pass their big national exams (because at our university, while nationally the percentage of students passing these exams is 45% after multiple tries, our school is normally 100% on the first try). Oh man, what am I going to do now? Oh and we are not teaching lots of hours because she expects extra hours of preparation and grading/correcting for every hour we teach.

All our classrooms are identical - and nice. Computer in the
podium; projector in the ceiling.
 That is how we ended up staying up until after 2am Monday night preparing for our first classes Tuesday. If it had not been for your amazing father I could never have pulled it off.  But we did! And we enjoyed it.  We actually taught the same kids in our own classes. We just traded classes. At 8:30 I taught Movies to a senior section in one building and Dad taught writing to sophomores. It ended at 10:10. At 10:30 Dad moved over to the classroom next to me (he got lost - another great story for another time) and taught the seniors Public Speaking while I taught the sophomores Oral English.

Only Sophomores & Seniors so Far; Freshmen Start After 3 Weeks of Military Training
The sophomore class was the most outgoing and fun to interact with.  Most everyone has an English name so it is possible to learn their names and remember them. There is a Jenny. She is pleased I have a daughter with that name. I had a PowerPoint for my Oral class with all of our family on it and it was a great success. (Did I mention all the instructions to run the computer, etc. are in Chinese?) Fortunately there is an official monitor for each class who is an IT specialist and if they aren't there is someone who is.
We have enjoyed buying Cherokee brands in Target here.

Oh wait. For sure this is Cherokee. For sure there is no Target.
Oh, that is right - we are in China!
Family PowerPoint for Content as the Basis for the English Learning and Talking
I had the students watch a PPT and then they had to each get up and make several statements about our family that they had learned.  They loved all the blue eyes, they think the red hair must have something to do with DNA, wow we are tall! Paul must be at least 2 meters tall, Mary lived in Hong Kong? Cool!, Professor Paul has young and active grandchildren. Will is so busy he goes to sleep on rocks. Laura has lovely yellow hair. Lisa is very pretty and they would like to meet her, Jenny is holding the cutest baby and they would like to hold her too, and it went on and on. They were really fun and happy kids. The seniors were a more quiet group and I had great success with them because I had a movie. We started Groundhog Day and they liked it. It was comforting to see them laugh at the right parts. I did get the feeling their English was not quite as good as the younger group.

Anyway, it was a fun but exhausting day and we are ready to go back and do it again. But right now we are headed to bed!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

English in Xi'an airport? Not so much.

Our campus boulevards are lined with beautiful arching trees

Anyone in the Xi’an airport speak English? No. Anyone here to pick us up? No.
It is amazing how fast the world turns when you are tired and combating a healthy case of jet lag. 5 PM Saturday to 10 AM Monday is still pretty grueling  Going through immigration and customs in Xi’an was a breeze which we had unnecessarily worried about (things like taking a year’s worth of medicine, etc.). 

We don't know if its just a Xi'an thing or what, but there are
walnut carts everywhere. We have not tasted them yet.
We finally arrived Monday morning at the Xi’an airport. We quickly cleared customs and immigration and entered the greeting hall. 

Where were our greeters? No where to be seen. Can anyone help us? Oops. No one speaks English. 
As the one looking out for us, Paul felt like it took at least an hour for the University to show up. He was concerned.  Ann, who was passively waiting on Paul, says it was only a few minutes. Paul counters with "but it was long enough to walk the entire airport as well as find an ATM and get some Chinese money." 

In any case, our ride finally showed up. We were picked up by a teacher from our department at the University as well as a student and the driver. We were driven to our apartment by van. It was a sight to see considering the van had to carry 3 greeters, the four of us BYU teachers, 8 very large, heavy suitcases and lots of over-sized carry-ons.

The 10 flights of stairs are a true "joy" - or not.....
75 Stairs, Oh my...
Our apartment is on the 5th floor which is just fine – a better view – but there is no elevator!  It took quite a sweaty effort to take our 4 extra heavy suitcases all the way up the small un-air-conditioned stairs on a 90+ degree very humid day.

We now reside in a 2 bedroom apartment with a nice office and view of the tops of the sycamore trees that line the street. We have made so many trips up the stairs with a varied assortment of food, drink, and other items that any time we go up empty handed it is almost easy.

Our Apartment
In walking us around campus, Zhang Yi showed us a hotel about 2 blocks from where we live that the China Teachers lived in until about 5 years ago. She said they did not like it. Too small and run down. We, however, are in comfortable circumstances in the apartments they now use for the BYU teachers.

Our apartment could not be in a better location. All that we need is so very close. Although it is a 50-60 minute bus ride
to the "new campus" where we teach, at least the bus stop is close. We like that they have us living on the old campus.
Our apartment is in the ideal location. It is in an older 6 story building with a number of stairwells having 2 apartments on each floor. No elevators and 75 stairs up to our 5th floor apartment. Modern security. Pergo type flooring. Lovely, heavy, traditional Chinese dark deep red doors and frames. Small but adequate kitchen with a small full size refrigerator, microwave, toaster oven, 2 burner stove, sink (without hot water or enough water pressure to use), clothes washer, small table and 4 chairs. 

The only 2 items missing are an oven and a clothes dryer. Running hot water in the kitchen would also be ok. It is tight but fine. 2 bedrooms (one for your visit). Queen+ beds. We are sleeping well so the beds measure up. An office (could be a 3rd bedroom) with 2 nice desks. A small living room with a couch, 2 chairs, and a TV. Small western bathroom (meaning real toilet) with plenty of hot water. The shower is small, but larger than a cruise ship one. We are happy and comfortable here.

The shower window in the kitchen makes it great if you want
a snack while you are showering! Interesting water heater.
2,000 student elementary school right next to our apartment
Oops…no power or hot water
To get settled we needed start the gas, electricity and water. The first night the electricity went out about 9pm and leaving us in the dark. Unpacking by flash light was more than unique. Since the gas was not turned on, cold showers were the order of the next three days.  Scout camp!  We are now settled in and the utilities are working just fine. We have a washing machine in the apartment but no dryer. Sheets and articles of clothing are gracefully draped on our porch to dry and with only so much space, clothes are being washed all the time.
Making flower design in front of school

Elementary SchoolRight behind our apartment is the campus elementary school. All the faculty kids go there plus others.
View of the flower arranging at the school
from our apartment window.

Monday, September 10, 2012

We are in China & doing well.

We are here! Adjusting well. Very much enjoying ourselves and our new circumstances. Now we will try to get the blog updated (seems like that is the most common blog tag line, isn’t it).
Hotel by apartment. Not where we are staying! Very "Chinese"

Travel Day(s)
For those who have not flown to Asia, it is a long process. We left our home in Plymouth Saturday, August 25th at 3:30 PM and finally arrived at our new apartment on campus around noon on Monday.
Before we left Plymouth
Two days earlier we had mostly moved out of our home and were staying at a local Marriott, using a couple of expiring free night certificates. That was a nice start. From all appearances, we had properly allocated the right amount of time for packing, final details, and final good-byes so we would comfortably be ready for Paul to take us to the airport. (Actually without a lot of help from the kids over the last couple of days we never would have been ready).
Paul in apartment living room. Kitchen over shoulder.
But…..Murphy’s Law
Our time budgeting did not allow for the operation of Murphy’s Law. In as untimely a way as possible, Paul’s laptop got a nasty virus. Lots of unbudgeted time on his part, and most importantly on our son’s part, finally got things back together and reinstalled. But that really tightened up the timeline and had us worried about our timetable. It is also a continuing issue as we are having difficulties finding all our “indispensable” files.
Shout out to Delta
Packing was interesting. What do you bring for a year in China? How much does it weigh? Do you haul all your electronics over which your son has so graciously and expertly set up? Or do you trust the local marketplace and your limited technical abilities? How Spartan or how comfortably do you want to live for the year? We sorted through those questions and elected to bring the technology and be comfortable. We considered sending/mailing/shipping a couple of boxes ahead. Ultimately decided it was cheaper to simply pay the excess baggage charge at the airport.
The "shirt roll-up" is how men cool off 
on a hot day
So we trudged to the airport with 4 huge, heavy suitcases to check, two heavy carry-ons, and two overloaded backpacks. It was ridiculous (but so nice now we are here)! One carry-on was actually heavier than any suitcase we had previously travelled with. So what did Delta charge us? Oh, the potential was high. But the agents asked why our tickets were one way and what we were up to. When they heard, they said “Cool”, “No charge”, “Have a great year.” Very sweet. Go Delta!
Update From Seoul Korea
It is 6am Monday, August 27th. We are sitting at the gate of the Seoul airport waiting for the final leg to Xi'an. The sun is just coming up and it looks beautiful here. Mary was right; the airport is gorgeous.

I am in a state of amazement that this day finally arrived. I hardly imagined really leaving and being on our way for this great adventure. With Paul's computer issues, and having them extend into Saturday, I was not sure we would actually make it to the airport. Saturday was kind of surreal. I have never spent so much time on the phone with Mom & all the kids.  Thank you again sooo much for all of your PowerPoints, computer help, errands, and just being there when we needed you. Now you might have just a taste of how Dad and I felt whenever we sent a missionary away.

We are not buying here yet! Scary..... This street market is
outside our campus a couple of blocks from our apartment. 
We have been through security 3 times so far. In Mpls it was a breeze. We got the line where you don't take off your shoes or take out your laptop, no questions and we were on our way. As we went through in LAX we had to dismantle our carry-on suitcases, ugh.... Mine wasn't too bad; they just wanted to see the refrigerator magnets I had. Paul’s however, was full of electronics and they kept running various items through and then he had to totally repack. Fun. Same when we arrived in Seoul although they weren't interested in me, just Paul again. He is getting really fast at repacking.
The flights so far have been good. We got upgraded from Mpls to LA which was nice. Not true for our ride to Seoul which was crowded and warm. The flight was almost all Asians. We sat next to a young Chinese girl who got her BA in Beijing and is now getting a PhD at the University of California San Diego in electrical engineering. Fun conversing.

We are traveling with several other BYU teachers. Everyone is a little nervous and super excited.