Friday, March 29, 2013

An Amazing Grace

Meet Julie, our banker. She loves to keep us in her office to practice her English as well as her French.

In a very typical Chinese way, she graduated from college 2 years ago and has dreams of becoming an investment banker. She just got accepted into the university MPA program. It will be ALL day Saturday and Sunday for a few years. She will have to work extra weekday hours to make up for missing work on Saturday.

With an MPA she will not be able to go the private investment banking route. but since the government owns part of her bank, she will end out managing money for the government. She is pleased.

She mentioned today she makes 5000 RMB per month or about $800 a month, which makes her very middle class. She was bemoaning the fact that she and everyone else spends a full months salary to buy their smartphones.

Kitty corner from our apartment is our bank, the one Julie works in. It used to be 2 blocks away, but they just built and opened this one a couple of months ago. It is about 150 yards from our apartment window.

Now that it is spring/summer, our windows are open and I have made an annoying discovery. I have been hearing a doorbell ringing constantly these last few days.

I just figured it out a couple of hours ago. It is the bell that rings in the bank every time the number advances on who gets served next. Since nothing has a closed door over here, we hear it quite well. China.

We were in the bank today taking care of a couple of things with Julie. (What is going on now? It is 9:22 PM and I am hearing a ton of noise outside our window. I just looked out and there is a big traffic jam on our little street. It is all jammed up behind several large trucks. I wonder what it is tonight?) Julie had grabbed a couple of #s for us because when she was finished with us, we would need to go wait our turn with one of the women behind the glass dividers.

As we were standing, chatting, in a lobby full of maybe 20 people, I realized the music I was hearing was "Amazing Grace." I asked Julie if she knew the song and I recited some of it for her, explaining it was a very religious song about the love of God for us. She said she had picked it to play. She had wanted to play some upbeat music but her boss said "Play some really calming music so people will wait more patiently " She said this was really good calming music. Get them ready for church.....

What is going on here?

"What is going on here?" is our standard mantra.

With little English on signs and not a lot of ready English speakers around, and with us having no Chinese skills, we are constantly wondering what we are seeing and hearing.

Yesterday around 3:30 where hear buses or trucks outside our window. We look out and watch as about 2 dozen coach buses pull up.

All of a sudden they start disgorging middle school age students. They walk around our apartment and enter the elementary school out our back window.

1,200 kids?

What are they up to? Ann decided to go over to the dry-cleaners where she would have a view of the situation. Not a student in sight. So what is going on. Where did they all go to? We have no idea. The school certainly could not hold them. Makes no sense  Sure would be nice to know once in a while.

Then there are the trucks. Suddenly one night a couple of weeks ago huge over-sized dump trucks start driving up and down our street ALL night. LOTS OF NOISE. What is this. We are counting dozens of trucks (instead of sheep).

Turns out they have quickly taken down several apartment buildings and removed the rubble from the north side of the campus. Inside the "2nd Ring Road" where we live constructions trucks are not allowed during daylight hours. Smart law. No room for them anyhow.

Last night Ann and I went for a walk to the back of the campus. An area about 3 apartment building wide by 3 buildings deep has all the apartments gone and a cement wall surrounding it to control the construction of the new apartment buildings.

Funny what happens while you are sleeping. You cannot imagine all the construction over here of apartments, office buildings, universities, shopping malls. It is amazing!

Transportation totally adjusted to the situation

To feed, clothe, and shelter 1.4 billion people takes a lot of transportation. It comes in every variety over here.

Even though we see huge trucks on the roads, it is absolutely true that you almost never see a vehicle over-sized for its load. Under-powered, yes; over-sized, no.

With 2 recycling photos, I also need to comment on China's recycling.

Garbage in China is a large problem because of the scale of the population. Pollution from it is significant. But recycling is huge.

Our apartment building has only 2 small garbage cans - one on either end. Within minutes of anything being put in a garbage can, a recycler has come by and taken it. Instant Goodwill Industries.

In Beijing alone there are 160,000 licensed recyclers and an estimated 40,000 unlicensed ones. It is one of the bottom steps in earning enough money for tuition for your children to move them ahead in the world. Fascinating topic to Google  Fascinating to watch in all its aspects that surround us.

Chinese Fashion

We were walking to lunch the other day and since I had my phone out I snapped this photo.

We did not see what this not untypically dressed woman did next. Most likely she was soon to hop on the back of a motorcycle which would carry her to a bus or train station for a trip somewhere.

The suitcase made it a little unlikely she would hop on the back of a bicycle but not out of the question. Her clothing is very typical for riding on a bike or motorcycle - Chinese style.

How does it happen?

Actually we know how it happens. Still we are moved by it every time. And as we have said so frequently, we daily look forward to our new, unexpected, and unexplained Chinese experience of the day; each day; every day.

While they are mostly challenges of some sort, not all are. But the resolutions are always quite uplifting. Here is an example. Not of the challenging type.

Meet Claire, our new 19 year old friend. We met her the other day in Starbucks. Turns out she spent her junior year of HS in Utah. Amazing English and westernization for a Chinese in Xi'an.

We asked her if she was LDS. "Not yet." While we were unable to pursue that topic, we had a wonderful conversation
 with her and have had a couple of additional enjoyable interactions. She and Ann are going shopping tomorrow.

But how in the world do we meet a former Utah HS exchange student who lives 40 minutes away in a city of 8 million people? We know exactly how. We know exactly why. And these types of events literally repeat themselves on a daily basis. China is a very special place.


Regardless of their general economic circumstances, most Chinese young women have a budget for shoes with a flair. It is a rare day when Ann & I don't comment on shoes we see. We need to figure out a way to photograph and share just what our classrooms are full of. Ann took this picture yesterday in class.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sleep - a true Chinese passion

Sleep seems to play a different role in Chinese culture than it does in America.

Take for example that everyday our university has a midday break so everyone can go nap.

Our university has even provided us with a 2nd apartment (more like a dorm suite at Helaman Halls at BYU) on the New Campus so we can nap  on days we travel out there.

Many of our students are incredulous that we do not nap.

The end result is that you find people napping in some amazing places. Not resting. Napping. Sleeping. Soundly. Deep, deep breathing.

The other day as we were walking into the mall, this 6' door guard was deeply asleep just standing there.

If you go into a fast food restaurant anytime other than right at meal time, you will find half the tables occupied by nappers. I need to add more photos to this, but these 2 are so typical.

The woman was already asleep in McDonalds when we got there. She woke up and left just as we finished eating. From her makeup and dress, she looked late 20s to mid 30s, middle class, well dressed and groomed. And of course, fully refreshed from her nap!

My knees are killing me!

We noticed the "Chinese squat" in groups of men during our tour of China in 2005. But it has only been during this stay that we have noticed how broad and popular this position is.

You see people squatting to rest, converse, or read anywhere. Anywhere. It certainly does not look like anything we are use to or could even think about doing. Try it for a minute.

How can they do it? Obviously they have stretched and flexible tendons and ligaments and muscles that westerners have never dreamed of.

It likely relates to the rarity of western type restroom facility. Take our "New Campus" of about 15,000 students with all the housing for them and the faculty. Built from scratch in 2007. Not one single western restroom. Observing that makes the position a little more explainable. But it surely is unusual to our eyes. (Side note - I really wish they had at least one western restroom on the new campus.....).

Larry & Lynda in Hong Kong

Over the Chinese New Year ("Happy Year of the Snake!"), all the BYU teachers went to Hong Kong for a group conference. Fun to see all our friends and to renew acquaintances and exchange stories. Even better were our sessions of sharing best practices and teaching ideas. Most wonderful of all was attending the Hong Kong Temple. Not much opportunity for that in China.

While we were there we had the opportunity to visit my cousin Elder Larry Wilson and his wife Lynda. It was really fun seeing them, catching up on their life in Hong Kong and learning more about their church service. They are living in the church's area office building on Hong Kong Island. This is a photo off their balcony. Great view of Hong Kong Harbor. Notice the reflection in the building over Lynda's shoulder - it is the area building itself with the steeple on the top. The building contains many chapels for various congregations on the island.

A Unique Christmas - Confessions of Paul

Here we are the end of March and our Christmas Day post is not posted. I have often wondered how the blogs I follow can go weeks, sometimes even months, without a post. I now know and now with full empathy. Life does go on. Can you hear my sweet Ann saying, "Paul, lets just get it finished"; "Just post what you have done"; "Anything will be OK"; "Better something short rather than nothing"; "Come on, lets remember that 80/20 Rule." All of it very kindly patient, but wanting the post. Finally, here it is. My New Year's "Almost April Resolution" is "less is more." I am committed to merely proofing this (basically finished the day after Christmas) and publishing absolutely before March turns to April. Hope you enjoy. We sure are enjoying living it. If pictures are not here yet, they are still being added to this post.

One of the true joys of Christmas is that no matter where you are and no matter who you are with, the Spirit of Christmas, rejoicing over Christ's birth and having His Spirit of love, and peace and hope in our hearts, can be with you. It is true in China. So while we have missed being around our families, we have had a wonderful Christmas day and a wonderful Christmas season.

For us, Christmas actually began on Dec. 20, 2012 at about 2:30 in the afternoon. Beautiful Ethan Darl Flake arrived directly from the presence of Heavenly Father to Jane and Darl.  He weighed in at 8 lbs. 6 oz. and is 21 inches long. While it is still early it is quite possible that he has the same great red hair as the rest of the family! How blessed we feel!  Mary is spending the holiday in Baltimore with Jane and Darl and is having a great time. Hmmm… Ann will just have to wait to see him later. Thanks to Mary they are in great hands.

One of our preparations included a schedule of when we could talk to the kids. It is very complicated when you live, according to our grandson Peter, "in the future." Between having a full schedule here and needing somewhat normal sleeping hours, here is what we offered the kids as available times: Sun: 1am-3am, Sun: 6pm -11pm,                              Mon: 7am-9am, Tue: 2am-9am, Tue: 6pm until Wed: 9am, Wed: 6pm-11pm. Of course all that gets complicated by their very busy schedules and the realities of their young families.  But in fact it all worked out and we had some wonderful visits - albeit quite challenged by internet connectivity issues.

A clip from an email to a daughter pretty much sums up the feelings of our missing some of the everyday things that we just can’t get here in China.  Luckily we were rescued.

“Hi naughty (better be careful or you might get coal in your stocking for taunting your father by eating fudge in front of him on Skype) daughter Lisa." Actually, thanks to an amazing Christmas present from Mary of two jars of Marshmallow cream (it does not exist in China) and some very complicated efforts of Ann to locate some Italian chocolate chips and some Dutch evaporated milk, Paul is now the possessor of some delicious homemade fudge! Ann was so generous in leaving so much in the bowls to lick out!!!!

(As we wrote about the marshmallow cream we just stopped to talk about what, if we had more suitcase space, would we have additionally brought now that we have been here for awhile.The list includes clothing and food: marshmallow cream, vanilla,  Lipton soup, a few spices; a couple more sweaters for Paul; and for Ann, more clothes period, different shoes, winter boots, zip up sweatshirt. We are pretty sure this cannot be the case in all of China and we are seeing enough big people here there must be a set of stores we are missing  But we are both bigger than the largest shoes and most of the largest clothes they sell in the stores (China XXXL seems to equal American M). We have no idea what big men do. Women with large feet wear men's shoes which must be very painful style-wise since shoes are such a key part of Chinese fashion.

It’s been a really unique and pleasant Christmas Day. We finally got to bed at 1 AM on Christmas Eve as we finished preparing for a Christmas Day of teaching in the morning. Got up at 5:30 AM to prepare to leave for school – an earlier day than most Christmases; no chance for Paul to set everyone’s clock back an hour or two here. Then on to the 7 AM bus to get out to campus.

Ann administered an oral final to her sophomores. They gave a speech on “Their Gift of The Magi.” Can you guess what they read to get ready for that?  She said she heard some fascinating speech content, including one girl who laid out her heart to one of the boys in the class. Family is extremely important to these students and their speeches were quite tender. For her Senior Movie class she showed Santa Claus 2.

Paul's classes today received “Cultural and Historical Perspectives on Christmas.” "Culture" and "History" make many somewhat off-limit subjects carefully approachable. I talked about the common Abrahamic roots of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (we have a couple of Chinese Muslim students – Xi’an has a large traditional Muslim quarter). Then showed a PowerPoint of the nativity with Silent Night as the music. The lyrics were superimposed on the slides. It was nice. 

Then I talked about Santa and read The Night Before Christmas. I had accompanying slides of the story along with lots of different Santa pictures. Then I showed a PowerPoint with the Carpenters singing I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas. Had great slides which effectively conveyed a "Currier and Ives"/"Norman Rockwell" portrait of traditional Christmas in America. I then showed Mr. Krueger’s Christmas as “typifying the Spirit of Christmas we personally feel as Americans and try to live at least during the season.” I skipped just a few parts. Then I went onto "Wilson Family Traditions." I showed them a 36 year collage of movie clips of our "Wilson Christmas Eve FHE" focusing on us singing "The 12 Days of Christmas." They were entertained and amused. It was a nice few hours.

At 12:30 we hosted a party for all 170 of the English majors: the 125 whom we teach and the 45 Juniors we do not teach. We thought we had about 140 (every seat in our 104 student language lab was filled and we had about 30-40 standing). Pretty much every one of our students came plus a handful of Juniors. Did we have a rocking, rollicking party! Santa came, gifts for everyone, and lots of Rock/Scissors/Paper for a bunch of special gifts we had. The kids love it. It was so much fun. Everyone wanted their picture with Santa. Santa let all the seniors come up individually to get their gifts and pictures. The rest of the gifts he had to distribute by walking the aisles of the classroom.

So I have no idea which is more amazing – you tell me. Is it that I, me, stogy dad, etc., 1) actually agreed to be Santa or 2) that I had the time of my life. I could do that again. It was so fun. And not to leave Mom out, this could not have occurred without her preparation, participation, and party management. And like me, she was very reluctant and was equally surprised by how much fun it was. For all morning and then during the party, our students were so gracious, so happy, so appreciative, so..everything positive. It was too totally great!

Everyone had class at 2 PM so we had to wrap it up by 1:45. And surprises of surprises, we made the 2 PM bus and were home by three. Took a very nice nap, had a wonderful Christmas dinner, enjoyed our Christmas music, opened some gifts (all from family in America with all but one having the label "made in China), and then we waited for the best part of the day – Skyping with the kids and family. And guess what? The internet is currently down. Hope it comes up.

One big advantage here is that the mail service is up and running on Christmas afternoon –phone rings; “we have a package for you”; Our Christmas cards just arrived. Nice that everyone is also working when you are waiting for a package. How interesting Christmas in China is.

Though we are not near you and we are not in a Christian land, we are still surrounded by the blessings of Christmas and Christ’s love for us. How blessed we are. How grateful we are for our testimonies and our membership in His church and Kingdom.