November 26, 2006

John couldn’t join James and me for church, as he had to go home to Harbin, Heilongjiang Province (a 13 hour train ride), to take care of his sick son. In anticipation of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday celebration the service on Sunday began with the congregational reading of the “Royal Thanksgiving for Victory” as recorded in Psalm 18. The message continued in Matthew 7:21-29 concerning self-deception, wise and foolish builders, and hearers and doers who do not live out their lives on the words of Jesus, his teachings and servant leadership.  This week’s hymnals were “The Church’s One Foundation”, followed by “Trust and Obey”,A Shelter in the Time of Storm” and concluding with “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”. After the service James and I befriended Wu Jian Yong, a young 23-year-old man who wanted to talk about our faith and practice at the same time his broken English.

We later had lunch at Origus Pizza Works, a Chinese Pizza Buffet place serving gourmet style combos of various pizzas and pasta specialties. One of the menu highlights was Spaghetti with 2 pieces of Fried Chicken Wings and French Fries. Since when do the Italians mix their pasta food with Freedom Fries from France? Yak!!  Here are some pizza delights I never heard of: Boss Pizza, Greek Classical Pizza, Double Flavor Pizza, Western Scenery Pizza, Strong Affection Pizza, Sunshine Pizza, Indian Pizza and Heart Pizza, whatever that means.  Also, according to the brochure leaflet they are open Mundi to Fridy in addition to Saturday and Sunday. The “all you can eat” buffet price came to 39 Yuan ($5).

All week I gave written Midterm Exam to students to test their English comprehension, vocabulary and lesson understanding.  In addition they were informed of the Final Oral Exam requirements for the 1st Semester ending the week of January 7th. The lesson objective is to write a speech about their Retirement Party.  The speech guidelines are to imagine that the year is 2050. They are required to give a speech at their retirement party to a large audience. The speech will look back over their life, including details about their personal and professional accomplishments and contributions to the world during their lifetime. The speech should be written and rehearsed before the test. Reading is acceptable, but not encouraged. They should try to speak naturally. They must speak for 3 minutes, with margins of no less than 2 minutes 50 seconds and no more than 3 minutes and 10 seconds. Anything outside these time limits will be considered disqualified, resulting in a failed grade.  They can also use supporting props if required (pictures etc). Students must correctly use specific vocabulary such as names of professions, correct sentence structure should be used throughout, and the speech should use the correct tense when focusing on the past. The main aim of the test is to identify any problems with pronunciation.  After each student has spoken they will be given feedback on their pronunciation.

The temperature got really cold this week with piercing winds hauling through the campus. Tuesday and Wednesday we had our first snowfall for the year. It came steadily down without sticking to the ground making riding the bicycle a slippery challenge on the slushy streets. I was glad I had bought a few weeks ago warm gloves and a woolen stocking cap!  On Wednesday evening my Chinese Teacher class arranged a Thanksgiving Dinner for me.  We went to an upscale restaurant in the city where we enjoyed a delicious hot pot meal and great fellowship. As we sat around the table, they asked why I had come to China and what did I hope to accomplish here. I told them that China had long held a fascination with me and when I was offered to teach here, China was really the only place I ever considered. For the last ten weeks I tried to teach them many things, oral English, a little American history, some U.S. geography, and most of all, cultural differences. I also told them that I have learned so many things in the past few months here that “I have been as much of a student in China, as you have been students of mine”.  As they watched me wield my chopsticks across the different dishes they said, “You indeed HAVE learned a lot about China.” After dinner we visited a private Karaoke club singing and dancing to English and Chinese songs.  Most of the Chinese love to sing and they even got me to sing Roy Orbison’s song “Pretty Women“. Towards the end of the evening Anna gave a solo performance by singing a beautiful Chinese opera song.

Today, Thursday, all across America Thanksgiving is being celebrated; a day to give thanks for the good things that has passed through our lives this year. My Chinese American Dictionary defines “Pilgrimage” as “A journey made to a place as a mark of respect”. In 1620, a ship called the Mayflower sailed west from England and landed in the “New World” and the passengers, the “Pilgrims”, disembarked into a strange and vastly different land.  The following November, they celebrated their successful 1st year by giving thanks to all who had helped them.  Chinese literature is vast and fascinating. It claims 4 famous classics that all Chinese students read and study. One of these classics is “Xi Yu Chi”.  Literally translated, its title is “Pilgrimage to the West”. It is an allegorical story of one man’s journey to a new land.  It is funny and informative and was first published in 1592.  In China, the closest celebration to Thanksgiving is the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival that occurs in early to mid-October. It is a time to give thanks and celebrate the harvest as well as a time to gaze at the full moon, eat moon cakes and remember family and friends in other places.

This year I have made a “pilgrimage” of some sorts myself. I ventured to a place I have long found interesting. And along the way of this fascinating journey, I have much to be thankful for and many to thank. This has been, hands down, the most interesting few months in my life. Each day, truly, is a new opportunity to learn new things. I told all these bright, hard-working and talented people this week that five, ten or twenty years from now, when they look back, that “the best lesson I hope I have taught you is this: Never stop learning. Never become complacent. Never lose your desire to learn new things – to try something new.” I also said I hope you remember me as the man who, at 62, traveled halfway around the world and landed in a totally different culture, and learned to eat quite capably with chopsticks and otherwise survive.” Each of the students promised me that they would always keep alive the desire to learn new things. And so on this day and in this way, I want to thank many people who have helped make my “Pilgrimage” to China a dream come true. Some are east, some are west, but all are remembered on this Thanksgiving Day:

  • My God, who is my counselor, protector, provider and teacher.
  • My wife, who is at home, holding up the Fort.
  • My family and friends in the States who keep my e-mailbox full even when I get buried and am slow to reply.
  • Bill, Carl and Patricia: you are the best friends a person could have.
  • My students here in China: You are exceedingly hard working, kind, and friendly, wonderful, interesting. You are the best and I hope it all comes true for each of you and more.
  • My very good Chinese friends living all over China.
  • The staffs in the Foreign Affairs Office, the Foreign Language Department and the Foreign Language Laboratory at the Shijiazhuang Railway Institute University who try make life in China easier for us foreigners, even as we all make life more difficult for each other.

Thanksgiving Day is solely an American holiday; nevertheless, I pause today to give thanks to those near and far; those East and West who have helped make my venture to China so worthwhile. I have remembered each of you today on this day of giving thanks. So as my pilgrimage in China continues, this pilgrim pauses to thank you all, and wishes you all a Happy Thanksgiving.

Earlier in the week I got a phone call from Zhao Zhilin (Joseph) informing me that he had to give on Friday afternoon an hour and a half talk about Construction & Building techniques for the Hebei Provincial Government for whom he is working. He thought that if I would be free on Friday this would be a good opportunity to accompany him and compliment his talk afterwards with how people in America acquire and finance home purchases.  At his invitation I gave Friday afternoon a lecture on U.S Economics with special emphasis on real estate investments and mortgage financing to post-graduate students at the Shijiazhuang Economics University across town. Because of the heavy traffic situation I almost didn’t make it back in time to teach my Friday evening class.  To make matters worse I went all day without eating and by the time I got back to my apartment at 10:00PM I was starving.

“If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people”. Chinese Proverb

Until next week…

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