December 24, 2006

Early morning heavy fog, snow and ice covered streets, and bitter cold weather made our journey to church in the city a treacherous one. Buses, cars, bicycles and people everywhere were sliding or crawling along the roads.  I am always amazed how little accidents or fender benders there are with the maddening street congestions here.  The morning sermon started with Psalm 145 stressing the need for a complete commitment to the Lord followed by the message out of Luke 1:26-28 foretelling the birth of Jesus.  The songs wereLong before the Universe Was Formed”,Have Thine Own Way Lord”,Blessed Assurance “and “My Soul Extols the Lord”. As usual, we hung around for a while talking and socializing with the local people answering questions as to how Westerners perceive the Chinese church services.  An older gentleman, whose name I yet have to find out, came up to me asking if I could sing in Chinese and accompany him during the special Christmas Eve performance on Monday night.  Through James I told him politely that was not possible but that we would come tomorrow evening to enjoy the special service.

Monday evening Harry, James and I went back to church for the Christmas Eve service, which was a beautiful, orchestrated mix of sermon, singing and musical performances from inside members of the church as well as groups from other churches.  Since we were a little early it didn’t take very long and the older gentleman from yesterday found us again. Forcing himself to sit between James and myself he started to asked me a slew of questions of how churches in America are handling issues such as homosexual people infiltrating the church, how we handle and treat guy and lesbians attending church, if cohabitation of unmarried people was acceptable, if we practice male and female circumcisions, and what the churches viewpoint was about executions as a capital punishment.  Wow and all this questions on Christmas Eve!  As the service began and the old man continued his inquiries an Usher finally came and asked him to leave, as his talking was disturbing to the people around us.

The evening service started with the reading of Psalm 45 and the message centered on the theme of John 12: 12-23, 20-23 supplemented by the songs of “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne”, “Joy to the World!”The Lord Is Come, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel “and “Angels We Have Heard on High”. Immediately following the service a musical program began which lasted for 3 hours with non-stop activities presented  by various adult choir groups, dance groups, youth groups, a family group and solo performances.  To our surprise, the old gentleman who earlier in the evening asked all these strange questions closed out the evening programs all dressed in a white suite by singing a long tenor version of a Chinese opera piece which was outstanding.  I recorded some of the programs on my video cam and of others I took still photos.  It was a beautiful evening of multi talented performances.  On the way home we all laughed remembering the old man asking us the day before if I could accompany him singing. Yes, in my wildest dreams or perhaps when we meet in Heaven.

Tuesday evening the Foreign English Department Christmas party took place organized by the English Major students.  All three of us foreign teachers were invited as honored guests to participate in the festivities.  Sitting at the head table with University officials, Department heads and Chinese teachers we enjoyed various skit performances put on by the freshman and sophomore students ranging from fashion shows to singing performances. The six year old boy of the Foreign Language Laboratory Manager gave a solo performance on an accordion which was almost as big as the kid himself. He played two beautiful pieces with hardly ever looking at the notes in front of him.

Before the evening program ended we foreign teachers also had to give a presentation. Romeo and Jenny both sang a song in Chinese.  I was asked to give a Christmas speech on behalf of the foreign teachers.  Here are the remarks I prepared and delivered:

Honored Officials, Colleagues, Students, Friends and Shijiazhuangren:

It is an honor to be asked to speak to you this evening. It is an honor for all of us foreign teachers to be invited to celebrate with you the most important holiday of the year among Westerners.  And it is an honor to share this special evening with our good friends – the students of the Shijiazhuang Railway Institute.

This evening’s Christmas celebration shows that the spirit of China’s Opening Up policy is making good progress not only in Beijing or Shanghai, but also in Shijiazhuang.  It shows that we have entered into an era of mutual understanding and mutual exchange.  Let us all hope that we can continue on this encouraging path of freedom for a long time to come.

In the west, we like to say that Christmas is and should be a time of peace and goodwill toward all men and women. We hope that this wish for peace and goodwill among all men and women extends to every day of every year and not just on Christmas Day.

We foreign teachers have come to Shijiazhuang out of our love for teaching and our interest in promoting inter cultural communication.  Most of us are teaching your students the English language and the cultural ways of foreigners. Western culture and Chinese culture are very different.   And one of our duties is to introduce those differences to your students. It is only when you begin to understand the underlying culture of Nations that you can truly build bridges between them.

Language learning and cultural understanding helps students become proficient and prepared for the academic and social challenges in college and beyond.  That is the lesson that we foreign teachers hope to impart to all of you.   And that is a lesson that Romeo, Jenny and I can honestly say, we have learned in our own lives here in China.  As we live in Shijiazhuang teaching your students, we have ourselves become students of your culture.  For we have quickly discovered that China, as the oldest civilization on earth, has much to teach us Westerners.

The Chinese have a saying, “A teacher is the engineer of a person’s soul.” “LAOSHI SHI RENLEI LINGHUN DE GONGCHENGSHI”.  There is also a western saying that “To know a second language, to know another culture, is to gain a second soul”.  I believe both of these sayings to be true.   Here at the Shijiazhuang Railway Institute is the first place that most of us foreign teachers have lived in China.  It is the place where we began to learn about the culture and people of China.  I myself traveled quite a bit around China and I can report to you that nowhere did I find the students more warm-hearted, more helpful than here at the Shijiazhuang Railway Institute.

As Romeo, Jenny and I have learned more and more about your culture, we have gained our second soul.   And you, the students of Shijiazhuang Railway Institute have been our teachers of the Chinese culture. So I say today, Shijiazhuang Railway Institute has become the engineer of our second soul. “SHIJIAZHUANG SHI WOMEN DIER LINGHUN DE GONGCHENGSHI”.  We are here as teachers, and we have, ourselves become your students.  China has given us a second soul.   And Shijiazhuang Railway Institute has become our second home.

Most of us will be leaving next year to return to our homelands.  But Shijiazhuang Railway Institute will always be like our second home. We hope to return here again someday and be able to say “WO YOU DAOSHI SHIJIAZHUANG JIA LE” (I am returning to visit my Shijiazhuang home). None of us will ever forget the Shijiazhuang Railway Institute as long as we live.   And we will tell people all around the world of the wonderful times and the warm-hearted students and officials of the Shijiazhuang Railway Institute.  You have become a part of our hearts and souls forever.

We, of course, miss our families and friends back home especially at this time of year.  But you, with your warm hearts, have made it a little easier for us during this time of year.  And so we join you this evening in celebrating Christmas as a time to spend with friends and family.   And I truly speak for Romeo and Jenny when I say that we are happy and honored to celebrate this Holiday with our new friends and second family, the students of the Shijiazhuang Railway Institute.  So, from our Western hearts to our Shijiazhuangren hearts, we wish you a blessed Merry Christmas and a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.

On the teaching side this was final exam week for us foreign teachers. All my students gave excellent oral retirement speeches. Most of the contents were incredible imaginative and many students gave the 3 minute speech from memory. I am in the process of collecting those speeches in written form and put them into a book format to share with the University administration as library reference material. My class schedule this semester ends January 7tth.  Then there is a long break (“holiday”) for the Chinese New Year and Spring Festival. The spring term begins March 5th and runs through the middle of July. All week long I received Greeting and Best Wishes text messages on my mobile phone or via email from students to let me know that they were looking forward to my return in March and to remind me to be very careful as I travel, as they are very concerned that I stay healthy, eat well and be safe on my journey home.

Oh yes, and before I forget, I also need to tell all my family and friends Hello from my students and that YOU should remember them (the students).  As to why YOU should remember them I have the idea that in their thinking this could translate into connection opportunities in the future to go to America!!!  By the way, there is not one day going by when I am not asked if I could help someone going to the USA.  I even got a marriage proposal the other day from a female student!  When I asked her what I should do with my lovely wife of almost 35 years she politely, with a smile on her face, suggested that maybe I need a younger one!  Well, for all my single friends at home (Darin, are you reading this?) if you are seriously looking to get hitched give me a holler.  You won’t regret it, I promise.

Thursday afternoon was the highlight moment of the week as Harry came by, Bible under his arm, wanting to pray today to receive Christ as his personal Savior and Lord. We went step by step through the promise of eternal salvation and his desire to have a personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe. After talking with God Harry gave me a huge hug, lifting me of the floor and spinning around all the while yelling, “you are my brother now, you are my brother now”.  I have not seen anyone in a long time as excited as Harry in his new found faith.  As he left he turned around one more time with a grin on his face from ear to ear proclaiming, “I see you Sunday.”

In the evening I was invited by Joseph and his wife to attend a dinner celebration with colleagues from work in honor of two Chinese students returning home from the USA for Christmas break. I was seated between He Peng (Mark) studying at Texas A&M University and Song Liu at Northwestern University in Chicago.  Both of them working on their doctorate and were happy to show off their English oral skills in front of their families and friends. While the men as usual drank and toasted each other, and everyone around the table with Bai Jiu, a Chinese white alcohol liquor made from Sorghum and Wheat tasting like liquefied burnt rubber, and also can double as paint thinner and jet fuel in a pinch.  Mark, Song and I sipped on our never empty tea cups and exchanged Campus war stories and making arrangements to get together in America when we are all back on U.S. soil.  After endless “Ganbei’s”, the equivalent of Cheers or Bottoms Up, a Chinese toast which requires all present to empty their glasses in one gulp, everyone will begin a Confucian debate as to whether the glass was half empty or half full, and then they start all over again. After taking an endless number of photo combinations the party was over and I was escorted to a taxi and sent home by Joseph giving the driver my final destination for the evening.

The rest of the week was uneventful and I was able to work on grading the paperwork piling up in my office and preparing final exam results for the Administration.  And by the way, I almost forgot:

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Sheng Dan Kuai Le, Xin Nian Kuai Le, Guo Nian Hao!

“There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same”. Chinese Proverb

Until next week…

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