The last half of the Semester and Going Home!

Trip Start Jan 14, 2008
Trip End Jun 30, 2008

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The last of the semester, May-June

When we got back from Xi'an, we had about ˝ of the semester left. It turns out this part went really fast. The students were getting used to me and I was better at communicating with them. The whole picture of American history began to be clearer for them too. Now that the Spanish, French and British were gone, there were just Americans of all kinds to deal with! But the concepts are still difficult-a Supreme Court that makes judgements that alters the way things work-this is strange to them. The way the president accumulated power was also interesting. The processes that seem familiar to Americans are often strange to others. The fact that our nation and our government are so young is also hard to grasp at times. In the upper level class, we also struggled with Americans' view of land and the frontier as well as civil rights, gender and consumer culture-all took a lot of explaining-the influence of the Baby Boom on consumerism and culture alone took a lot of time to get through. But they worked hard and many really got it pretty well. They can see the influence of consumerism and advertising in China as well as differences in the way women and men are treated.

The week after we got back from Xi'an, the earthquake hit in Sichuan Province on May 12 at 2:28 pm-a huge quake. We were all in class at the time and didn't know a thing about it. My daughter in Shanghai found out right away because her students started getting text messages in class. At CIW, we didn't have many students from that far away so no one found out right away. The magnitude of this disaster dawned on everyone slowly as the news got out. I thought the response of the Chinese people and the government was amazing. The government had learned a lot, it seems to me, during the bad snowstorms of January and February. The Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was seen on tv a lot during that disaster, comforting people and watching workers struggle to restore electricity to a vast area. China is SO big and the population is widely dispersed in small villages in difficult terrain-all this makes for huge challenges. But the earthquake presented challenges that were unbelievable. The roads were gone, the bridges were down and the terrain was mountainous and inaccessible. I read reports of people riding bikes in as far as they could and then hiking over mountains to get there. The army troops who did the majority of the rescue work had to come down the rivers on rafts to get there.

The Chinese tv station carried a daily press conference in both English and Chinese which was very unusual. The government worked hard to be very transparent which is something that is new. They seemed to feel that with the amount of money flowing in and the concern worldwide, this was necessary. They also made clear that 100% of the money was to go to the victims and any office processing this money kept none of it for operating expenses. There were arrests almost immediately of people trying to cash in on the disaster that killed lover 70,000 people but the government seemed ready to handle things very quickly. The provincial governments, in contrast, are probably going to suffer a lot of backlash-so many schools collapsed killing 1000s of students while government buildings next to them survived. There have been parents protesting and demanding information and the national government has already sent engineers and archeologists to examine the ruins to explain this. The answer seems to be very shoddy workmanship on the schools which makes the tragedy so much worse for the parents. But it was so interesting to watch as the Chinese people stopped everything to give money, time and effort in a way that is new for them. The government allowed it too which is also new to a government which tends to view activism with suspicion. But the fast communication of cell phones, internet and tv kept the Chinese involved in a way they hadn't been before. The Olympic Torch Relay became a time of remembrance and donation of money as well as a celebration of the olympics. It was all very moving. The students wanted to talk about it and we did quite a bit.

We did not feel the quake in Zeng Cheng though they felt it in Hong Kong a little. That's all we missed experiencing in China, I think. The rest of May and about ˝ of June was abnormally cool and rainy. We didn't mind the lack of heat at all. The humidity was high but the rooms stayed some cooler because the temperatures stayed down. And the mosquitoes never got as bad as usual either. Travis and I began boxing stuff up to send home since I especially had WAY too much crap to go in my suitcases. We also both got extra classes as did Scott and Ann because the ESL teacher became ill and decided she must return to the states. So, I suddenly acquired a class in Listening! What is that you say? I have no idea. The Level 1 students who are just trying to get proficient in English take several different courses during the week-Conversational English, Listening, Writing, Grammar and probably others. So, they decided I could do the least damage in Listening-I felt completely inadequate the whole time in there but they did listen.

Travis and I had to take one more trip to Hong Kong for my multiple entry visa. We were lucky in that one more holiday popped up-The Dragonboat Festival. Lots of dragon boat races and Monday off! Whoo hoo. But we were both tired of traveling and both getting into going home mode. So, we decided to just take a day trip to Hong Kong. We left on Sunday, June 15 and went to Shilong to catch the train. This time no accidents on they way! YAY. We got to Shenzhen just fine and into Hong Kong fine-it was weird since when we travel together, disasters follow. We had a nice lunch at a little outdoor café and then went to the Museum of History. That's a really nice museum too-well planned, good exhibits. Then we went back to the train station, back to Shenzhen and back to Shilong. The taxi was bit late because of LOTS of rain but other than that, the trip went fine-strange!

The rain though continued-another typhoon bore down on Hong Kong and the Guangdong province after hitting the Philippines. This typhoon was probably not as strong as the last one but moved more slowly and brought lots more rain. The last two weeks of school saw the heaviest rains yet-buckets of it for ˝ an hour or more-straight down. Hong Kong had flooding, Shenzhen had flooding, Guangzhou had flooding. Zeng Cheng-high and sort of dry! But boy, it made the wait for the bus a drag and we got home wet and squishy a lot!

The last week of school was very busy. On Monday we had the Honors Convocation where we recognized the hard work of the students and also gave some joke prizes-I got to present Best Tattoo-only one student, Abby, has a tattoo-they are still new to China. I was also the only professor with one so it was a natural-the students loved it. After that, we went to the Student Union dinner at the same restaurant we ate at my first night in China-it was a lovely dinner. We gave finals on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday we had to administer the TOEFL to all the students and then grade all the tests. Meantime, I am obsessively packing and wondering how much overweight my bags are. And getting more and more fidgety. And anxious to leave!

Saturday was graduation and I left soon after that! ACK! We had to be at the school at 10 but Hua Li didn't want to send a bus for us so we were stuck with trying to wrangle our regalia out into the rain and we were thinking of catching the city bus-then we came to our senses and took the cab. DUH. It was still bad-we were wet when we got there and in our nice clothes. But we helped clean up the office and get it ready to close up for the summer and then went to the reception for the students and their parents. At 1:30, graduation started and was over about 2-maybe sooner! There were only 5 students and no long speeches! WHOO HOO. Then the picture taking began. Lots of lots of them-with everyone and their mother, literally. I am immortalized in a zillion pictures in China, I am pretty sure. Then home.

I threw off my clothes and jammed, them, literally, into the suitcases and then after what seemed forever, the van came to take me to the airport. YAY! I got there fine, wrangled my enormously heavy bags onto the conveyor belt-one was overweight and I did NOT want to rearrange it to the consternation of the young lady at the desk-I paid the overage and went to get through security where I was also worried about weight. I'd been warned and warned that China Southern always weighed carry on and charged you-mine was heavy empty. So, I was worried and didn't have to-it got through just fine. Finally at 9:30 pm, I took off for California! YAY! Goodbye to China. It had been a wonderful experience but I was glad it was over and my husband would be waiting for me in Los Angeles where we would begin the long trip home-5 weeks with our trailer, birds, dog and cat-up the coast of California and Oregon, over to Wyoming, down to Colorado and back to Texas just in time to get ready to start teaching again. That story will be in the next blog that I am starting now.

A couple of notes-I have posted pictures here of the signs they have all over China-no trumpets-it even says no trumpets on the fuzzy one. Not No Honking-No Trumpets. And no one pays the least bit of attention to them so Travis decided it meant No Soft Jazz. Winton Marsalis better never come to China. I also got a great deal of amusement out of the often iffy translation of business names in China-especially in the little towns. On the way to Shilong, I saw one called "Hua Long Paslics Priducls-The Factry." Oh my! Probably only the name of the town spelled correctly. There is a business in ZengCheng called the "Normative Exclusive Agency" which intrigued us all almost as much as the Imperial Boid Metting Club. We all wondered what the Chinese think when they see some of our goofy use of Chinese in tattoos and things! But I have to say that the Chinese are the nicest people-they do stare at foreigners a lot-but they are sweet and kind. The students all made books for all of us where they all wrote notes to us and thanked us for what we did. It was a lovely touch. I find myself talking a lot about China now that I am back-the lack of horn honking and incredibly chaotic traffic is still shocking. I am glad I did it but I am SO done with airports for awhile!
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