LETTERS FROM CHINA 1 - November 17, 2005
The column this week is taken from a
letter I received from a “sister”, Millicent Agnor, who
just returned from China. Mil works with the Amish in
Millersburg, Ohio, helping them market their quilts. Her
interest in China developed five years ago when her
son’s family adopted a one-year-old little girl, who
they named Rene. She decided, at that time, to go back
to learn about the child’s Chinese heritage.
I am using her two letters to inform us
of positive things Americans are doing in other nations
and to show how we are accepted. The second letter will
be used in the Nov. 24 issue.
Living in China for a short period is
proving to be a fantastic experience. One week into my
four week stint and of course I’m still very much a
green horn and can hardly say I’ve figured much of
anything out but I’m learning.
Jet lag lingered for some time but the
days were so full and exciting I didn’t feel tired then
. . . just at night when I couldn’t sleep. Sunday, the
first full day here, was orientation, getting acquainted
and getting our school assignment. There are 18 in our
Global Volunteer group and 12 with Elderhostel. It is
one and the same program. The only difference is that
Elderhostel are two-weekers and we are three. We
introduced ourselves at some length (those that chose
to). It was clear that there is a wealth of experiences
within this group. Several have been here in Xi’an with
GV before and many have had other experiences with GV in
Poland, Hungary, Vietnam, Italy, etc.
Sunday afternoon, we met our school
representatives in quite a formal setting. Like,
“Chairman Mao” sat at the head table with several
assistants and the three GV staff (six Chinese and one
American). We 30 sat in a big U and school reps sat
behind us. We had been assigned to 16 different schools.
Everyone was asked to speak after the formal welcome!
Needless to say, we were mighty excited and in no small
way nervous. At least I was.
Monday morning, our school reps met us
in the hotel lobby and we were off to our schools for
the first day of teaching. I had hoped to be assigned to
elementary school; instead, I was to teach 16-year-olds,
third year of high school in our country. Oh, boy! How
do I handle that! I met Mr. Zu, teacher of my first
class. I can’t tell you enough how welcoming absolutely
everyone is in this country to us who have come to help
them learn English. The Chinese teachers of English have
varying degrees of skill. Those who are recent graduates
of college speak by far the best. Mr. Zu is a long-time
So to the first 40-minute class. I walk
in to a loud enthusiastic round of applause. I bow in my
best Chinese fashion and face 75 beaming Chinese faces.
From then on, it was pure joy. I had a wonderful time
telling them about my family, showing large photos off
the computer, where I live. We ask questions back and
forth about foods, cultures, teenagers, family, sports
and music. In every class they ask me to sing a song. We
were told to be prepared. So I was. I sang and taught
them the Hokey Pokey and they thought it was about the
funniest thing they every saw . . . me wiggling my
“whole self.” We all did it together.
Although I say this was my first class,
it was also class 2-15. I have three 40-minute periods a
day with 70 to 90 students in a class. They are
extremely well behaved and polite and always I have
70-90 pairs of eyes on me . . . except for one class who
were the slow learners. Unbelievable! Anyway, you can
see, I’m having a lot of fun.
This school has 5,000 students and I
have all the juniors, 20 classes of them. About 2,000
students live in the dormitory here. Probably most of
those come from the farm country nearby and cannot go
home. They come to school about 7:15, have dinner break
at 12 that lasts till 2:30 (yes, that’s really true) and
then back to school until about 5 p.m.
However, Wednesday, GV took us out from
the hotel to experience “hot pot,” a traditional food in
this area. Thursday night, we went to a dumpling
restaurant, another traditional food. Also noodles, many
kinds are traditional in this area.
Starley, my GV peer, also teaching in
this school, and I are finished at 12.
Each day we have walked to the hotel
with some of the teachers and been treated to a two-hour
banquet, more food than is possible to eat! Then at 2
p.m., our driver takes us back to the hotel, a one-hour
For the first few days, we had time to
do nothing else besides teach, collapse and eat and
sleep. However, yesterday after school, my friend
Bronson, GV, took me to a Tao Temple, very much out of
the tourist circuit. This is Bronson’s fourth stint in
Xi’an and he knows his way around. The area is out of
the modern loop, feels like what old China must have
been like . . . markets lining our way to the Temple,
old men and women in the old dress. In the temple we saw
almost no foreigners, monks (if that’s what they are) in
religious dress. We were fortunate to observe their
ceremony and many non-western instruments. Back to the
hotel. Then Bronson showed me how to catch a bus (1 yuan
= 12 cents) and off we were to the old town to eat
Peking duck and stroll the streets. Just wonderful.
Today was the tour to the terracotta
warriors. Unbelievable! Also to Banpo Museum. Banpo is
an area where 6,000 years ago there was a community and
early civilization. Shaanxi Province, where Xi’an is, is
home to the oldest archaeological findings in China.
Xi’an itself was the first capital of China, in the Qin
dynasty on through the Tang, a very long and proud
history. It is about at the end of the Silk Road also.
So my friends, I think of you on the other side of
the world. You know, it’s not such a big place after
all! And more and more, I see how alike we are and our
differences make us unique and dear to each other.