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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 teacher.

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 trip.

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.

This Week's Editorial:

By Helen Morris:

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