Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Christanity in China

China has changed a great deal in the last 25 years. Our first visit was in 1983, and at that time, China was closed to most things of the Western world. We heard many stories of the "persecuted church" and were amazed that there were so many believers after almost 35 years of atheistic rule. We had the opportunity to take a large suitcase of Bibles to some of the Christians there, which were gratefully received because they had not been available for many years.

Today's China has embraced the Western world, both the good and the bad and the most important thing I've learned after three additional visits is that people are people all over the world. They have the same desires and concerns for their families and the same hunger for God that everyone else has. We have been told that as many as 4% of China's population are Christians -- in a country that has been officially atheistic and with no foreign missionaries for over 60 years. God certainly is at work! However, we struggle to understand the current situation of the Church in China and the amount of freedom that Christians have to practice their faith. It seems that there are credible stories of persecution in recent years, but also there is clearly a strong vibrant Church growing very quickly in this part of the world.

The organization we have worked with the past two years (ESEC -- Educational Services Exchange with China) began working in China about 29 years ago and has been very careful to establish trust with the government by being above board and respectful of China's laws against proselytizing. We are told that today, the Chinese Education Department welcomes our program because they see its value to Chinese people, even though they are aware that all who come are Christians. We are very careful to avoid direct evangelism and will only discuss our faith as a result of direct questions from individuals.

My favorite phrase to describe our work in China is to "spread the love of Jesus everywhere, using words if necessary." We show the love of God to our students as we work with them day by day, and they definitely notice. The two most common questions are "Why are you bowing your head before you eat?" and "Why would you come all the way to China to help us?" Both are wide open doors to share our faith, which we do in a variety of ways.

This year, I had one student ask me some questions about my faith in God and I was able to explain to her that God's love is not something that we have to work for ... that we want to please him because He loves us. She was very interested in the concept that we give gifts to our children because we love them, not because they have done something to deserve it and asked if we could talk about it later. We set a time and then later in the day she asked if she could bring her friend. Of course! As we met the next day, we talked a little further about God's love and then I asked her friend (another of my students) what she thought about it. Her immediate response was "I want that! -- I want to be like have what you have." I was rather startled by her response, since I had not said anything to her about God before. To make sure she understood what we were talking about, I explained God's plan for salvation and after patiently listening, she again said "I want that!" What an honor and blessing to be able to pray with her as she accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior and Lord. I was able to give her a Chinese/English Bible (printed in China and purchased at the legal registered church we attended --not smuggled in!) and she explained that a neighbor of hers at home attends a Christian church. Please pray for Sally as she comes to mind, because I have no email for her or way to keep in touch.

Monday, August 3, 2009


In China it is common to translate English phrases directly from Chinese -- often resulting in nonsensical phrases called Chinglish. For example "We wish you much happy".

Americans consider this hilarious!

In an effort to help, we prepared some lessons to correct Chinglish phrases for our students. It turns out that in my class at least, everyone knew what was wrong with common phrases and how to correct them. Keep in mind that we were working with English teachers, who understood grammar and spelling better than many Americans. After three days of this, I asked them to tell ME some Chinglish phrases -- which was even more hilarious! Here are some samples:

I will give you color see see -- I will fight you

People mountain, people see -- Lots and lots of people

Today no see - tomorrow see -- If I don't see you today, I'll see you tomorrow.

He feels very boring -- He is bored.

Good good study, day day up. -- Study hard and make progress

Little cockroach -- a little stronger

Double face, no face -- If you behave badly, you will lose respect.

White Horse Prince -- Mr. Right

I give a leg to you -- I love you

One stone, two birds -- Kill two birds with one stone

If you want to see more, please go upstairs -- If you go higher, your view will be better

Sunshine boy (girl) -- very active, energetic, loves sports

Not three, not four -- double face, bad guy

7 up, 8 down -- worried about something

3 words, 2 sentences -- uses may words to explain something

Blow cows -- boastful

Don't care 3-7-21 -- It doesn't matter, life is like that. Or, so what, it doesn't make any difference, 3 x 7 will always equal 21.

250 -- stupid, foolish person

colorful wolf -- sexy man, and one who plays around

Don't tiger me, I have twice. If you tiger me, I'll mountain you. -- Don't try to trick me. I'm very smart and if you try, I'll hit you.

And the very best genuine Chinglish: Long time no see

A little about Chinese customs and lifestyle

Pictures: 1. Some of Susan's class at the Old Summer Palace Park. 2. Class at Mutton Stick restaurant. 3. Mutton Sticks!

Chinese people live and work in community. I think Communism was easily accepted because for centuries the culture had been to work together for the common good rather than individual success. In our program, the first thing we tried to do was to build our class into a team. In just a day or two we were all family -- even if we couldn't remember every one's name. We had 28 students (Paul had 22) and the evening we first met, most of my class decided to go out for Mutton Sticks. The "English only" environment began the next morning and it would be the last time the students could leave the campus for three weeks. Since mutton sticks are a regional minority speciality, most of the students had never heard of them.

Mutton sticks are prepared on a bamboo skewer by threading two thin strips of mutton (mature lamb) with a small chunk of fat between. They are then seasoned with a spicy rub and grilled over charcoal. Bread is seasoned and grilled in the same way and it is very delicious. It would not be unusual to eat 10-12 mutton sticks along with bread, boiled peanuts and edamame (immature soybeans) for a meal.

In addition to a sense of community, there is a very different sense of space in China. Personal space as we know it in America is unknown in China. Instead of about 18 inches, People in China are comfortable as close as 6 inches apart. This means that people feel comfortable squeezing past in very confined spaces. If you want to get off a bus/subway car, pushing is perfectly acceptable -- and sometimes the only way to get off. One time a group of Americans was going to church when three of us got off and waved good-bye to Ray, who didn't make it because he waited for a lady to get out of his way. The Shanghai subway at rush hour is difficult to imagine. The way cars are packed make sardines seem comfortable. It is almost difficult to breathe and more than once we saw a briefcase stuck in the door as one last person tried to get smashed in.

In addition, physical contact between women and sometimes between men is normal. Women walk arm in arm or hold hands regularly. It was amusing to see two younger American team mates walk hand in hand down the street while shopping, which in China, it has no meaning other than a sign of affection. I felt honored when my students took my hand or arm while walking on campus.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

What about construction in China?

Pictures (in reverse order): 1-2-3 Removing windows to be replaced. 4-5-6 show some of the remodel process of adding a bathroom. Notice the scafolding in picture 5!

We had the opportunity to observe China construction techniques up close and personal. It gives new meaning to the term "custom built". Everything is done from scratch - they bring in a load of 16' pipe and create whatever they want in the size they need. They cut it, thread it, weld it and paint it...or whatever else needs to be done for the project.

This would be the work order for replacing windows:

Tools needed: hammer, blowtorch, electric saw (with the tiniest blade I've ever seen, about 3"), electric drill, bicycle cart, broom, newspapers

Manpower: at least 8-10

Task order:

1. Inform residents at noon by placing a sticky on the door that windows will be replaced at 3:30pm.
2. At 3:30, move aside remaining possessions and furniture before covering floor with newspaper.
3. Begin breaking glass of old windows.
4. When all glass is broken, begin tearing apart aluminum frames with hammer and bare hands.
5. Cut phone line which has been threaded through a hole in the aluminum frame.
6. Use blow torch to cut iron frames, pushing aside curtains to reach corners. Use power saw if that is handier.
7. Squat on ledge and use broom to sweep up glass and crud.
8. Replace window with a beautiful vinyl framed dual-paned window & caulk frames.
9. Remove newspaper from floors and pile frame pieces onto a bicycle cart.
10. Move on to the next window.

A week or so after we were finished with our quarantine, we had to move out of all of the rooms on the 1st floor -- except the four apartments the "older folks" called home. That meant we were in the midst of the work for our remaining time there. They were renovating 16 ancient dorm rooms into suites for the TIP staff that will be living there year round. The work needed to be done by August 6th, so they used China's most abundant resource -- workers -- to get the job done. They began jack hammering cement floors promptly at 6:30 each morning and they worked until about 7:30 each night with a two hour break each afternoon. The TIP office and our meeting room was directly above this chaos so we quickly learned to schedule meetings between noon and 2pm! I certainly hope the year-round staff appreciate their beautiful new rooms.

The living situation was a bit of a challenge, but we've lived through remodeling in our own home and realize that it is only temporary. However, it certainly is wonderful to sleep in our own bed in a nice quiet room!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

What do we do in China?

Pictures: 1. A class performance at the Talent Show. 2. A bridge in the Old Summer Palace Park. 3. A classroom activity. 4. The July 2009 Summer Facilitators.

For the last two years we have been in China for about six weeks with an organization called TeachOverseas. We have volunteered with a program called TIP -- Total Immersion Program -- which is designed to help Chinese English teachers improve their spoken English. We have discovered that most English teachers in China have never spoken with a native speaker and have never been taught conversational English. As a result, they lack confidence and are fearful of speaking out and making a mistake. I can identify with that because, even with traveling to many parts of the world, I have never had enough confidence to speak the few phrases I know in a foreign language.

The concept behind TIP is to cloister these Chinese teachers in an English environment for a period of time, currently about three weeks, where they will be constantly exposed to English only, NO Chinese. This year there were about 350 English teachers, along with about 40 American volunteer facilitators. They were broken into 13 classes of 25-30 each with 1 - 2 Americans per class.

The typical student day began with breakfast on their own in the cafeteria at 7 am, then classroom time at 8am for two hours with their small group facilitators. During that time we used discussions, projects, games and other activities to get them to bond as a group and practice their English. They next spent two hours in a large group meeting where they had diction lessons and Morning Motivation time. MoMo time was mentioned frequently as their favorite part of TIP because they were inspired with a moral lesson and challenged to change their thinking about themselves and their lives. Some of the lessons included "Being the right person", "Never give up", "Have a positive attitude" and similar concepts. After large group time, they had lunch as a class with their facilitators and were required to stay for a full 30 minutes of conversation. They were given "conversation starters" with questions and vocabulary words to discuss, but of course they also wanted to know anything and everything about our lives in America. After lunch was a 90 minute break for a nap and personal time, then an hour in the reading room. Each American is encouraged to bring at least 10 magazines to stock the reading room, so there is much to choose from. The students are required to write a summary of an article each day as well as keep a vocabulary notebook of 20 new words they have learned that day. After reading time, they have a one hour large group meeting for "Famous speeches and Fairy Tales". Included are a variety of well known American speakers, such as Martin Luther King, Ronald Regan, Barbara Bush and Bobby Kennedy. The fairy tales are also ones with a good moral lesson. After this large group class, they are divided into different small groups for an hour of "clubs". Clubs are classes with specific topics such as cooking, sports, travel, holidays, drama and music. They changed their club every three days so they had an opportunity to learn about a variety of subjects in English. They had dinner with their club to give them a greater variety of people to talk with.

The last group activity of the day was at 7pm, when they had one hour of game time with their class. This could be physical activity such as basketball, card games, word games, etc. but they especially enjoyed the occasional opportunity to go to the park next to the campus and just walk and talk. The park area was the ancient Summer Palace that had been destroyed in the mid-1800's by European armies and kept as a memorial to the lost culture. Most of the students felt it was a sad place (sort of like a Holocaust memorial) but they loved to visit.

Throughout the day, there was also a rotating schedule for language lab when they used the computers and specialized software to continue practicing their pronunciation. After game time, they had an hour of personal time to write in their required daily journal and take showers before bed at 10pm. As you can see, it was a busy day with both students and facilitators working very hard.

The most rewarding part of TIP was the love and appreciation of the students. They came from all over China and many never imagined ever meeting a foreigner. Many times they had unpleasant ideas of what an American would be like and were amazed that we were loving kind people there to help them. One day a student asked if Americans hated Muslims, and since he was a Muslim from a persecuted area, it wasn't a casual question. I have already received an email from this teacher and I know his idea of Americans has been changed forever. Yes, it was an exciting and rewarding experience!

Living on campus in China

The first pictures are of the facilitator dorm and bathroom facilities. The beautiful green trees were from last year's campus and the concrete buildings are from this year's campus.

This year, the TIP program was moved to another campus of Peking University. The former campus was about one hour out of Beijing and quite isolated. There was a lot of green space with trees everywhere, but the University decided to use the campus as a research center and there was no room for our program.

The University offered us the Yang Ming Yang campus in the city of Beijing, which had some advantages but several disadvantages. First of all, it was very small and had very little grass or trees. We felt a little like we were in a concrete jungle (last picture). Most important, because it was in the city, an inviting world was right outside the gate and it was very difficult to maintain an English Only environment. The most important element of our Total Immersion Program was NO CHINESE as much as possible for the entire three weeks. Since there were other students on campus, the guards didn't know who was allowed out and who wasn't, so many did leave at various times.

The dorms were better for the students since they had AC if they chose to use it, but many of the women weren't excited about using public showers. At least at the beginning, many took showers in their underwear and my favorite comment was from a student who was afraid others would look at her and think "too many dumplings". Actually, the other campus had similar shower facilities with fewer "hot water" hours, so apparently this is normal for a University campus.

The facilitators shared four western style bathrooms, so showers weren't so much of a problem, but with as many as 40 people sharing four showers, it was a challenge to find one available! (The shower schedule broke down very quickly as more and more people were included)

In general, however the dorms were spartan, but adequate for our short term use.

Actually arriving in China

Health is a very important topic and concern in China. Because we were working with teachers from all over the country and on a campus with students from all over, everyone was VERY concerned that the "foreigners" not bring in the H1N1 virus (Swine flu). The precautions taken were almost unbelievable!

1st of all, we were not allowed to have any physical contact (handshakes, hugs) with anyone who already was in the country. In addition, a record was kept of the taxis we rode in, any hotels we stayed in, etc. Before we were allowed off the plane, people in white uniforms and hospital masks boarded and took our temperature. One of our teammates (on a different plane) had a temperature and spent the next week in isolation in a hospital. His only other symptom was a runny nose, but he tested positive for H1N1. The three other teammates on his plane were sent to a hotel and isolated in separate rooms for 7 days. They weren't allowed to have the AC on because the ventilation system might spread any germs they were bringing into the country.

After we arrived on campus (at 1 AM), we could do nothing until we took a shower to remove any surface contamination. We then were confined to our building for seven days from when the last person arrived -- that meant eight or nine days for some people. We were completely confined and only allowed to use a covered patio outside one door, We set up tables on the patio and had meals brought in for the whole time. I'm sure the cafeteria workers who delivered the food in masks were very concerned for themselves! They had fenced off any access to our building to make sure we didn't "escape" and no one accidently wandered into our area.

While in quarantine, we had to take our temperature twice a day to begin with, but eventually only once a day. I was in charge of making sure all 35-40 of us got recorded each day, which was quite a challenge. We also had to have our bathrooms "sanitized" twice a day, along with all doorknobs, etc. and for the first day or two we even had to wear hospital masks. For most of the week, we were in good humor and greeted each other with "Dzong" or "unclean", but as you can imagine, we had quite a celebration on "release day"!

This whole thing sounds quite bizarre -- and it was -- however, it provided an amazing bonding experience for the team and several "returnees" recommended a period of isolation be included in future trainings. Since the program is now located in the city, it is very easy -- and fun -- for the facilitators to go off campus regularly. I don't believe we would have developed such a close team without that time spent together. It reminds me of the Bible story of Joseph and his brothers. The brothers meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Arrival instructions have arrived

Arriving at an airport in another country -- especially one that speaks a foreign language -- is always an adventure. You just never know what is going to happen! This trip holds special promise because of the concern over the H1N1 virus. I've heard of an entire plane being quarantined because of someone coughing. Maybe a rumor, but you get can an idea of the level of concern. Here are some of our instructions, based on government requests:

For the first 7 days, we will take these measures of precaution by staying together as a team, living and holding training in 2 buildings (attached with interior access) on campus. We will keep ourselves from coming into contact with the other students on campus (these are Peking University students, not our TIP students. Our TIP students will arrive after the 7 day isolation period). We won’t do any site-seeing or city exploration until after these 7 days, as we want to stay away from crowds. If we do need to leave the campus for any special reason, we will go as organized and planned groups, but when we are out of our isolated area, we should keep a distance from others outside our group of about 5 feet.

Also, some specific practices that we will be encouraging each other to do in those 7 days are the following:

  • get lots of rest after travel
  • take vitamins and drink lots of fluid
  • exercise
  • wash hands at least 6 times a day (2 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon, 2 in the evening)
  • use paper towels on public doors and faucets
  • bring your own tissue supply
  • don’t touch your eyes or nose
  • don’t shake hands
  • do not sneeze without covering your mouth
  • wash your hands right away after sneezing
  • use disposable plates and utensils
  • keep record of body temperature
  • report any cough or discomfort immediately, and go to hospital/doctor
  • wear mask when in doubt
  • sterilize the dorm twice a day

That is, if we get out of the airport without being quarantined.

We will be leaving home about noon today. Our first stop is in LA to pick up 5 cases of Uno cards, then on to Irvine, where we will be staying tonight. Our flight leaves LAX about 1pm tomorrow. We are flying All Nippon Airpines and will have a very short stop in Tokyo -- just enough time to change planes. I think I can add Japan as a country I've visited, though.

Getting the Uno cards have been quite an adventure, too. I know our students will appreciate the cards, even if they don't realize the effort to get them there.

Next stop -- Beijing!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

We are getting ready to make our next trip to Beijing and will be flying out of LAX on June 21st. We decided to fly Nippon Airlines this year so we will be making a short stop in Tokyo -- just enough time to find our outgoing gate! We will be part of a team of about 50 Americans, Canadians and Dutch who will be working with about 500 Chinese to help them improve their English skills. We did this last year and had an amazing experience, so decided to go back again this summer. The program is called TIP -- Total Immersion Program. This means that for three weeks, our "students" will speak, listen, read and hopefully think in English only.

We will be at a different campus this summer, the Yang Ming Yang campus of the University of Peking and will be in Beijing itself, right next to the Summer Palace. The living facilities will be quite different from last year and most of us will be housed in Chinese-style dorms. We have been told that the dorm rooms are air conditioned, which will be helpful in the heat and humidity, but the bathroom facilities will be typical Chinese dorm. Meaning "squatty potties" and open showers. There are a few apartments with western-style facilities, and rumor has it that they will go the married couples and older teammates. Since that's us, we are hopeful!

One of the things we discovered last year is that Chinese people love to play UNO (one of the TIP activities) but Uno cards aren't available in China. We therefore thought that UNO cards would be a great gift for our students. The only problem is that there will be 20-30 students per class, and the cards cost $5-$6 per deck. After investigating lots of possibilities, we found a guy on Craig's list who had what we needed and was willing to sell 10 cases (12 decks per case) for $100 -- but we had to find a way to get them from Phoenix, without paying postage if possible. After much prayer and many Facebook postings, we found some friends of friends who are make the trip from Phoenix to LA at the end of this week and are willing to bring the Uno cards. The Craig's List guy was even willing to deliver to the people in Phoenix. We delight in a God of creative solutions!

We expect to have internet connection while in China, but there is some question about whether we will have access to Blogspot because of censorship. If possible, I hope to update while we are there. But if not, I will post a report when we return.