Thursday, November 15, 2012

An Interesting Innovation

My gift to Ann today.
It's not the flowers, its lower body dress for mostly non-trained little kids. The cutest thing the Chinese do (well - maybe not so cute) is they dress the little ones in bummer exposing, split open pants. Then anytime the little one needs to go, well, they just squat and go. Anytime. Anywhere. Hmmmmm.... It has taught us to be careful of wet spots on the sidewalk when it is not raining.

It has made us wonder, though, about the logistics of just doing it while in mom or dad's arms. And now that colder weather is here, we have discovered that the little kids are all bundled up in very cute snow suits - with open bums flying in the breeze. They look cute and very chilly as they totter about outside. And of course, it begs the question if most people don't have clothes dryers, how do you deal with the accidents on both parents and kids.

We would love to post a picture, but we have never seen an opportune minute - and may not. So it came to me in a flash. Yesterday as we were riding on the bus, we observed the normal flow of women dressed more stylishly than you see walking around in Minnesota. Many in the style that I have labeled "Chinese Fou-Fou Flare." Just the shoes we see everywhere are so much fun. I would love to take some pictures to post and let you see what I mean. No drab Mao jackets like you might imagine. Just very high style Fou-Fou Flare.

So my great idea is for Ann to find a lapel camera with a hand clicker for me for Christmas. It would be so much fun! And for sure they would enliven these posts and give you an even better feel for China today. Lets see Santa.......

Do you like the flowers. Jumped on the bus this morning. Rode a couple of miles. Bargained hard and bought them, including the basket, for $11. Ann likes this  as much as the purple of the Bachmans' truck. For me, two 18 cent bus trips were well worth it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fall National Holiday

Ancient adobe village

Our once in a lifetime.

Over the fall holiday Paul and I took a trip to the northwest part of China. There were about 50 of the 80 of us BYU China Teachers doing a group tour. I must say it was an adventure! Our first stop was Urumqi (pronounced ur-rum-chi, kind of…). 

Some of the desert was oddly without sand or anything else.
just barren rock.
It was a 3 hour flight to one of the most desolate places we have ever been! It kind of rivals the remote parts of Zion’s National Park. Urumqi is apparently the place on earth most distant from an ocean, and of course, it is a desert which continues for hundreds of miles. 

It was very undeveloped and impoverished. Our accommodations (especially our accommodations!)  and everything about the trip made Xi’an look like the lap of luxury. During the trip, all the signage was in both Chinese and Arabic . This is the most heavily Muslim area of China, has a significant Arab influence, and has had separatist movements at various times. A very different world.

A very remote poor village. 

We made a trip to the local bazaar and went to a dinner show. The costuming and dance was very different from anything we have experienced and was an interesting combination of Chinese and Arabian. The next day bright and early we boarded a bus for a drive to Turpan. The drive was flat and straight and a lot like driving through Wyoming without any hills.

Miles of chili peppers and other colorful items stacked
on the desert to dry out.

On the way we saw lots of red hot chili peppers spread out on the sand to dry. Actually quite fascinating!  We have eaten them here and they don’t lose any heat out on the sand! We visited the Jiaohe Ancient City and it was an impressive ruin. The occupants built buildings out of homemade bricks and everything was the same color.  We could see where it could be incredibly hot there in the summer.

The big communal farms have been broken down to smaller
plots where individual families have been given individual 
government quotas to grow and give to the government. Once
the quota is met, they can eat or sell the rest. This family is out
harvesting their cotton. Notice their corn plot in the back
ground, and even further back, their grape vines.
Another family harvesting their cotton

Spices for sale

Our next mode of travel was by “soft” sleeper train to Dunhuang.  This was an adventure. Each couple was booked with another couple from the group to spend the night in a small sleeper compartment for four. Yup – we had bunk beds! Every time you nodded off we would pass another train and the bright lights would light up the room and of course they had to sound the horn. Looonnnngggg night!
Ahh, Dunhuang the home of many camels. We rode a camel and had a ball!  The weather was perfect and we rode for about an hour, up one hill and down the other. All the hills were pure sand – just like in the movies. It made for great pictures!

 During the trip we stopped at several ancient ruins, caves, cities, etc., different and unique from our previous experiences.Some relics were in amazing shape for being hundreds or thousands of years old.

Others we were told only had cave art and carvings in European museums from 19th century looters.  Anything left behind was badly defaced or destroyed by the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution of the 60’s.
. Life in general in all the areas we looked at appeared to be very simple and difficult for many of the inhabitants. Fortunately not for all.

Karla Thompson came with us. We had a great time. It was a once in a lifetime trip -  we are sure we only want to do it once in our lifetime. We were glad to get home. And it was nice to be comfortable enough to call our little apartment home. Just a little more knowledge and experience to put under our belt about the amazing country of China.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Update to the Medicine Lake Ward

Dear Medicine Lake Ward,

It all began so innocently when we saw a “senior couples needed in China” listing in the “Senior Missionary Opportunities Bulletin.” After an interview with the Bishop, another with the Stake President, the application form being submitted, and a little training at BYU, we find ourselves living in Xian China, a Chinese city of about 8 million people. Our living circumstances are modest, adequate, and the same as thousands of our Chinese neighbors –with one very important difference – a regular western toilet. While we don’t have an oven or a dryer, and while central heat does not come on for a few more days, we have a small fridge, 2 burners, and all the hot water we want.

We are assigned to Northwestern Polytechnical University, one of China’s top aeronautical, astronautical, and marine engineering research universities. The university has about 12,000 undergraduates and about 12,000 graduate students. About half the students take classes on the campus we live on.  It is more like a compact, stately, tree filled University of Minnesota campus than a new more spread out BYU campus. Besides the academic & administrative buildings, the campus also contains housing for all the students, the entire faculty and their families, and all the retired faculty. The university also has the top elementary school and the top middle/high school in Xian – each with about 2,000 students. It is more than interesting living in the midst of buildings with names such as Moon Exploration Building, Combustion and Thermal Structure Building, and National Laboratory of Solid Rockets.

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. There is also a “new” campus about an hour away where we actually teach. The fall weather has been beautiful. About as perfect of fall days as possible. The sun is shining beautifully. It is especially nice seeing the mountains out by the new campus – we take the bus an hour to teach our classes there.

We love what we are doing. In a general sense, it is exactly what BYU prepared us for. In a specific sense, it could not be more different. Every day is truly a new adventure and we awake every morning wondering what our new Chinese adventure will be today. When things get a little dicey, as they sometimes do, we always are so gratefully amazed by the tender mercies that are provided to move us forward. Thank heavens those mercies always appear.

Our teaching schedule is regular, demanding, and rewarding. We could not be more stretched nor blessed in the process. One big surprise is we are required to have a twice a semester, out of class, 6 person English interaction with each student in the freshmen, sophomore, and senior classes of the English department. It is a ton of work. Last night, for example, we had groups of 6 & 7 students over for a home cooked American meal at 3, 5, & 7 PM. We had some over Friday night as well. What an interesting pleasure. It is so great expanding the relationships outside the classroom. Besides loving our students, the Chinese in general have been wonderful and helpful. Unlike the big coastal cities, there is little English spoken in Xian. But the people are delightful and do all they can to help us – and we do need help. We are making wonderful friends.

Here is an interesting one. We only teach English majors. The first day of their freshman year they are put into a class of about 22 students. They take EVERY college course over the next 4 years with the exact same students – the 22 go as a group from class to class. As a result they are very much like a family with a tremendous loyalty and affection for each other. They behave toward each other much more like a large BYU FHE group or a great Mormon family than the kind of squabbling disjointed group you might expect in America. Great students, great kids, great human beings.

We are amazed at the unusual things constantly coming up. This past week, for example, we were asked to interview 20 professors and 30 advanced degree candidates who want to attend professional conferences, primarily in America. The University wanted us to ascertain if their English is good enough to justify the university covering their expenses. It was interesting to say the least.

We walk 3-5 miles every day just to do our regular routine. Some days it jumps up to 7 or 8. We might grab breakfast from the cafeteria food cart out front of our apartment and spend 45 cents. We might eat in the student cafeteria for any meal and spend 90 cents. We might get really extravagant and spend as much as $1.25. If we eat fancy at a restaurant off campus we will spend more like $2-4 dollars. If we decide to do Subway, McDonalds, or KFC, it will be $4. At those prices, it is hard to cook a meal when the cafeterias are so close. The only complication is the food is generally very spicy but we are adjusting. Between the price of food and the university providing housing, the cost of being here is very modest.

Chinese politics constantly enter into daily life. Last month we were restricted to campus, or even to our apartment, at various times because of protests going on related to the Japanese actions regarding a contested Chinese island. Our originally bullet proof, wonderful internet and IT connectivity of the first weeks has also been a huge complication the past month. The government has throttled back the internet leading up to the current leadership meetings. 

There are 22 American Mormons here in Xian and we are organized into a small branch. Chinese citizens MAY NOT attend our services and we are prohibited from actively or passively proselyting. But for sure, this is a country very close to being ready to be opened. It will be an amazing event. This is a very family oriented society where love of family is much more widespread, deep, and open than you see in America. It is very touching to hear about it from our students and observe so obviously in daily life.

We are far from home and like most senior missionaries miss our parents, kids, and grandkids. Yet our lives are incredibly fulfilling as blessings are being poured out upon us. We are so grateful for our experiences and for the obvious hand of the Lord in our lives.

Love, Ann & Paul

PS           Come visit us. We have an extra bedroom and would love to show you around.
PPS        As I listen to the piano being played in the apartment above us right now, I am reminded of how much we enjoy the girl upstairs practicing her piano, practicing her basketball dribbling, or practicing her jump roping in the room above our office.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Our Address

A very typical "Chinese picture" in one of our on campus
parks near the elementary school

We really are not sure how the mail system works here. Since our campus is a small city with perhaps 20,000 people living on it, there must be a full postal system. We do have a post office right next door to us and we have successfully sent letters and packages to the states. But we don't have a clue about how letters and bills get delivered to our neighbors - or us for that matter.

What we have noticed is "package dumps" near the south entrance to the campus. As best we can tell, the various delivery services bring packages there and then the "driver" gets on the phone and tells people to walk on over and get the package. At the new campus, we have seen a similar "package dump" just outside the east gate and it always has piles of packages for the students and lots of activity of sorting and picking up the packages.

A few of the other American teachers have had very interesting experiences getting, or not getting, things from home, so our wiban gave us an address she wants us to use. She says things need to come to her because the delivery guys don't speak English. So here is the address that should work for us, if you are so inclined. Just cut and paste and you can use the whole thing - BOTH the English and the Chinese version - IF YOU ONLY USE ONE, USE THE CHINESE ONE but do include our name and the numbers (so it actually gets to us) as well as "PRC CHINA" so the American post office knows how to get it out of America.

Han Yushuo 13488141373 (Wilsons)
Yizi Building 721
Department of Foreign Experts Affairs
Northwestern Polytechnical University
127 Youyi Xilu
Xi'an, 710072, Shaanxi, PRC China


13488141373 - Wilson's
毅字楼721   韩宇烁  PRC China

This is Han, our Wiban. Her responsibility is to attend to the needs of the
"foreign experts" (us) at the university. Nice!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

John & Patty Donohoe

The Donohoe's
Donohoe's are converts from New England, living most recently in Cape Cod. They have both been school teachers for their careers. Patty is a music teacher and John a PE teacher. Two of their sons live in Utah and one in Colorado. It really is a blessing to have them here with us!

John and Patty are the other BYU China Teach couple at our university. They are wonderful people and we depend on them heavily for friendship and to jointly navigate everything. The 4 of us are very mutually dependent (also very convenient to be each other’s home and visiting teachers – normally we have 1st visits covered by the 1st day of each month). It is a great thing BYU places more than one couple per university.  
John and Patty Donohoe at BYU; now in Xi'an, China
In the joint letter the 4 of us got from the university, we were told what groups of 4 throughout the BYU program are told: “ Wilson's are assigned to teach English majors; Donohoe's are assigned to teach non-English majors.” Little did we understand the difference between teaching majors and non-majors. Maybe it is because our training was such an overload, but it seems BYU did not highlight the huge differences.
At our university there has been a large difference in the way our department has welcomed us and helped us while the Donohoe's have been more isolated. You have read what we have experienced with Zhang Yi. So kind and so helpful. The Donohoe's, working for the College of Humanities teaching non-English majors have had little such contact or help. But even more interesting is the status of their teaching assignments.
With no contact from their college for the first week, their foreign office facilitator arranged for them to teach at a different university on Fridays. Then finally the second week we were here, they received a general schedule but not the specific one. From what Zhang Yi has told us, that makes sense. All the non-majors get tested in English once they arrive on campus. If they don’t score high enough for their level of education, they are then assigned to an English class. But the decisions are not made until after the semester starts. From a BYU China Teacher perspective, it is a long, long wait not knowing. We have had the luxury of lots of early information while Donohoe's have needed to patiently wait.
It is late fall; it is getting colder; the leaves are changing; and
it is still very attractive on campus
One constant difference is in course content. Our classes are similar in that they are each 1 hour and 40 minute long and only meet weekly. This is what we have generally heard from other teachers at other universities and cities as well. Typically non-majors teachers teach the same “Oral English” lesson during a week to all the different classes they have. The spouses might even share the exact same lesson plan. That is the case for Donohoe's and others in Xi’an. For our English majors, Ann has 4 separate subjects and Paul has 3. Besides the additional preparation, majors are expected to have much more corrected homework (constant essays, etc.). But majors have classes normally only have about 20-30 students (we average 22) and non-majors average around 50-60 students; we have heard of BYU teachers with 400 students this semester.
I was talking to a BYU English major teacher at another university here in Xi’an. He has 7 classes of sophomore oral English, so he just has one preparation and it is the same for his wife. They make no homework assignments so no correcting. BYU has told us not to compare anything because there is no baseline of “fairness” and everyone will be different. So very interesting. And I must add, constantly changing. Many BYU teachers are working with PhD candidates on thesis issues in English, and in the entirety of the 80 of us, there are so many “exceptions to the rules.”

Ann busy working in her office.

We also get asked to do lots of unusual things. For the last few weeks, John Donohoe has been mentoring the PE teachers in how to teach the foreign students (primarily Iran, Pakistan, and Africa). The common language is English but the communication is very difficult. Sunday Patty and John were interviewed for a couple of hours about the election and other American issues. Today Ann and I have interviewed 20 professors and 30 masters/PhD candidates to determine if their English is sufficient for the University to pay their way to various international conferences. China does not lack for variety. Not one day in China lacks for variety. It is amazing knowing something very new will be part of tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after, and…..

Zhang Yi just brought over this newspaper article with the photo of the Donohoes. I wonder what it says?