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LETTERS FROM CHINA 2 - November 23, 2005

The following is a second letter from Millicent Agnor, who just returned from China. The first letter was published last week.

Dear Friends,

How true it is that one must walk in the other’s moccasins to know their experience. We have come to know something of the Chinese people that could never be experienced as a tourist . . . our lives are spent with the Chinese people. In describing the Chinese people, what adjectives come to your mind? Were “friendly, warm hearted, generous” among the adjectives? In recent years, I believed that Millersburg and Holmes County was the friendliest place I had ever been. Now, easily, China is tops on the list.

I learned to take a bus into the city center early in my experience here. One day I had a short time available and decided to walk the city wall by myself. It was delightful, toward the end of the day and good for photography. The present city wall was built during the Ming Dynasty (about 1400 A.D. I believe), about 40 feet wide on the walking top and it circles the city for about 7 miles. I took a bus back to my hotel and after boarding #6, tried to converse with my seatmate. Only one person on the bus spoke English. I believe they were all trying to tell me that I was on the wrong bus. I realized this when it turned north instead of proceeding east. There was more conversation and when I left to get the correct bus the young man who spoke a few words of English got off with me. He and his girl friend insisted on walking with me to the correct bus stop. They actually changed their plans in order to take care of me! This is the common experience!

Teaching has been a wonderful joy. I looked forward to going to my school every morning. I met such friendly warm teachers who are delighted to have me work with their students. The students are so receptive and work hard for me. We laugh and have a wonderful time together. We have created so many new friends in my school. Each day at noon, Button, our teacher host, takes us to dinner at the local hotel. Different teachers, students and parents accompany us. We have eaten many delicious foods. Food in Shaanxi province is quite spicy . . . some hot pepper dishes I taste and say, “No, thank you.” Noodles and dumplings are some of their favorite foods, prepared in so many ways and flavors.

Our drive to and from school each day is one hour each way. Each ride to the school gives us a spinal adjustment (potholes) and just in case we are sleeping as we near the school, the final railroad track crossing seems as if they neglected to put down boards for cars. We wake with a severe jolt!

We travel through fertile farmland. Crops are growing in small plots, as we would say. They have two crops a year basically . . . corn and winter wheat. They grow many apples, pomegranates, persimmons and green leafy vegetables. We also pass through pretty dirty city streets. Street cleaners, persons with brooms and dustpans, are always visible and occasionally a truck washing the streets will also spray our van. We see corn drying everywhere, sometimes hanging in dozens of ears together. Shelled corn is spread on the broad edges of the highway and people continuously are raking, turning, shelling more corn to dry on the road. When it rains, it is covered with tarps.

Xianyang, the small city where our school is located, is also very famous in Chinese history, as is Xi’an. Xianyang was the center city of 12 dynasties. We pass in the distance several emperors tombs that have yet to be excavated. While we have been here, Xi’an hosted the International Conference of Preservation of Monuments and Sites. Some 1,200 representatives attended from all over the world.

Last weekend, my team packed in two full days of seeing the sights of the city. We visited the Big Wild Goose Pagoda built in the Qin Dynasty, Little Wild Goose Pagoda and Tang Pavilion. Unbelievable . . . all this. We saw the very old and the very new. Tang Pavilion just opened last year, acres and acres of beautiful park and trees and lake in the middle of the city with all kinds of entertainment . . . the best acrobats I have ever seen performed on an open square and a large variety of other acts too.

On Sunday, four of us took a taxi to Huashan Mountains, one of five sacred mountain areas of China. These mountains rise absolutely vertical out of the plain! Some choose to climb them and at least a half dozen lose their lives each year. A cable car took us near the top of one lower peak and we walked cement steps the rest of the way . . . a spectacular view. It was the first good day after many rainy ones. Such good luck.

Shopping in the Muslim Market is a unique experience. Many good buys and one must bargain to get them. They will often come down double . . . from 150 yuan to 50 yuan. It pays to shop around and they expect you to bargain. There are about 60-70,000 Muslims in this city of 6,700,000 people. This is the largest Muslim population in China.

Tomorrow, I will start the next part of my journey in China. We will go to Wuhan and Han Chuan to visit the place of Renee’s origin and speak with the persons there who may remember her. We will deliver a very special scrapbook. This scrapbook contains photos and letters from the Agnor family and the family of five other girls who were also adopted from the Han Chuan Social Welfare Institute. Everything is in English and Chinese. It was created by my dear artistic friend, Jann Glove. It will be exciting!

I have a day and a half to make the transition. Little did I imagine how meaningful these three weeks would be. I am very nostalgic in leaving good friends on our Global Volunteer team, but also for all the dear Chinese friends, I have made among the students and teachers. I wholeheartedly support the Global Volunteer mission and philosophy. I would love to have another Global Volunteer experience. They are in many countries all over the world, but I would like to return to China.

Many persons asked me or thought to themselves, “What good can you possibly do, teaching English for three weeks?” I confess, I rather wondered myself, but I now am a believer! It is not so much the English that we teach, but it is the friendships that we make, it is the motivation the students get from us. The Chinese people view us as wonderful friends. I truly value their friendship.

Perhaps we make a small contribution to world peace by building such friendships. I value this and it is my wish for every person to know those who are much different in cultures and appearance. So many times, we hear that all people have more in common than differences . . . I hope you will take every opportunity to find the truth in this, in your heart as well as in your head. If I had this experience much earlier in my life, I would have chosen to spend more time building bridges where possible.

I’m sure you must be getting tired of reading this, wondering if I’ve lost my bearings or have become brainwashed. Neither, my friends, just so very grateful for this opportunity in my lifetime. People ask me if I miss my friends and family. Of course, I do . . . very much. I show them photos of you. But while I miss you, I am staying in the moment and taking it all in here. I’ll be back in little more than a week.

Lots of love,

Mil

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