December 18, 2009
Deb and I were having lunch today with Sue, our Chinese teacher, who is a senior student here. She said that students are so desperate to get into the library to study this time of the semester that they go out and start the line to get in as soon as the dorms open in the morning (I think that is either 6:00 or 6:30 A.M.). In prior discussions, we have learned that they doors are locked and lights to the whole building are cut off at 10:30 PM. Anyway, she said that there is huge line every morning. I asked how huge. She says very long. In fact someone videotaped it at the end of spring semester, and I can send you the link! So she did. Here it is:
Jumping ahead in time, here is a link showing this same scene – from a little different angle — in late December 2009:
Both of these videos are consistent with matter of fact stories other students have mentioned about getting up very early to get a place in the library.
Once in, the students don’t leave all day, and team with some other students to guard their stuff while they go to the bathroom or for lunch, etc. The library is highly valued. It is warm in winter and probably cool in summer, quiet, and you can get coffee or milk tea there for 1 yuan a cup!
Hope you enjoy — and that you understand the drive these students have to do a spectacular job in their studies! Even seeing it in person, it is hard to really realize it is their reality.
By the way, it snowed some yesterday and a lot more today, and it is very cold. "Fresh" students (males, that is, and remember “Fresh” students are freshman, here they are said to be "Grade 1") are pressed into snow removal work when it snows, so as we were leaving class this afternoon, they were out in large numbers clearing all the streets with hand scoops and so forth.
Christmas decorations are everywhere. Department stores have been decorated since Thanksgiving or earlier, and everywhere you go, there are Christmas carols on the loudspeakers in stores! Seems like home in the US!
December 19, 2009
We got a big surprise today. I was studying Chinese, and Deb had gone to HaiYue to buy some supplies and some White Elephant gifts for a foreigners’ Christmas party tomorrow night when my cell phone rang. It was Yvonne asking me if I were at home, as she, Lulu, and Eye Candy wanted to come to visit. I said we were, thinking that Deb would be back in a few minutes, which she was. Yvonne said they would be here within 30 minutes and that was about correct (I had just enough time to chase some dust bunnies and pick up a little bit.)
So, there came a knock on the door, and when I opened it, there they were, all dressed in Santa hats, carrying all sorts of stuff, and shouting, "Merry Christmas!". They each brought us a gift, plus together, they brought a 5 foot Christmas tree and all the decorations (not only for the tree but for the whole house). Immediately they began to assemble the tree, and they had us sit down to open our gifts!
In no time, thanks in large measure to my help by staying out of the way, (I sat on the sofa and took pictures) now we have a decorated house and more stuff! Plus, we have Santa hats to wear to the party tomorrow night!
After they left, we were trying to figure out how they knew what we had up as far as decorations and so forth. My theory is that Sue (our Chinese teacher) snitched on us, and Deb thinks maybe Zoe, our mom here (who is about 25 years younger that we are, go figure), mentioned that we weren’t planning anything special for Christmas — we are sure she has the remedy for that, however. Who knows, but we now have a seriously decorated house!
However it was determined — if in fact there was a scheme in it — it is just highly consistent with the attitude that Lulu and Yvonne have always told me: "Please stop thanking us for what we do. We love doing it, and it makes us feel bad when you thank us — feels like we aren’t close friends, like we really are!" They do so much for us that they must be really happy, and I hope that is the case!
and, …. Happy Birthday Kathy!
December 20, 2009.
Deb: Dinner with the foreigners. About 3 weeks ago Judy and Richard, the Canadians who teach English, invited us to a White Elephant Christmas Dinner party in their apartment. The dinner was held last Sunday right after our English Conversation session. We had purchased a “jelly of the month” gift — 12 little bottles of jam (“it’s the gift that keeps on giving, Clark” – said Eddie in Christmas Vacation) and a pencil sharpener that looks like a mouse for our white elephant gifts. There were two Chinese – Tom and Virginia, Judy and Richard, Barbara (the one other American) and us at the party. Judy had fixed a chicken and cashew casserole in her toaster oven, jello, and rolls. It tasted wonderful! We ate dinner, played a few games, did the white elephant gift thing, and had an apple-oatmeal dessert that was really good. (We all had received a box of apples in October, and we’ve been eating applesauce and apples and apple whatever since then. This is before the acquisition of more apples on December 24. ) It was warm in their apartment, the conversation was pleasant, and the food was really good. White elephant gifts received: I ended up with a purple scarf and Finnie ended up with a sand timer (3 minute??). Judy ended up with the 12 bottles of jam (unfortunately this crowd was not encyclopedic on movie lines as Finnie and our sons, Mike and Matt, so the joke surrounding the bottles of jam was lost). Tom got the mouse pencil sharpener and thought it would be perfect for his son. This dinner, however, put us in the Christmas spirit enough so that we ended up purchasing from iTunes 2 holiday movie favorites of ours: Christmas Story and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It was great watching – for the millionth time – both movies!
December 21, 2009
Deb: School of Business Dinner. On Monday the 21st about 10 am I received a call from the Vice Dean of the School of Business, Dr. Luo, asking if Finnie and I could come to dinner that evening to celebrate the holiday season with the foreign teachers of the college, and to thank the foreign teachers for being a part of the school. Actually, there are only 3 foreign teachers in the college: me and two teachers from the University of Brittany, France, who teach economics students French in preparation of the students studying at the French university next year. So this was a very cool evening and certainly made me feel appreciated.
We said that we could join the dinner and I was told that Mr. Fan, the school office secretary, would pick us up in front of our apartment complex. Finnie suggested getting gifts for the three hosts and offered to go pick up some wine. So at the appointed time Mr. Fan picked us and our gifts up in his micro van. This actually was a feat in itself – we squeezed into the back seat and off we went. We arrived at the Mongolian restaurant that we had gone to before in October with the 4 visitors to UNK. We were directed to the dining room and found that this was going to be a dinner of 8: Dr. Luo, Mr. Fan, Ms. Yi (the student advisor to the graduate students), Yvonne, Lulu, Laurence (a French economics teacher), Finnie and me. We had a Mongolian dinner with fish, lamb, beef, noodles, jiaozis, vegetables, etc, etc. This was an official dinner so Dr. Luo was the primary host, Mr. Fan, the secondary host, and Ms. Yi, the tertiary host. That meant that we went through many toasts and it turned out that Ms. Yi was not reticent in drinking the toasts, as many women here are. Ms. Yi told me through Yvonne that she was pleased that I had forced the students to work by preparing semester projects, presentations, and class discussions. As we were finishing our dinner, a troupe of Mongolian singers came in the room and sang a Mongolian folk song. And after that I gave our gifts of wine to the hosts and then the group pictures were made. Mr. Fan took us home and it was then that we discovered that his apartment and ours are only 100 meters apart! His apartment window looks down on our building’s front door. Later in the week I went into Mr. Fan’s office and asked for Ms. Yi’s email address so I could write a thank you note and Mr. Fan said, “Oh, I am happy you are here – we wanted to give you this gift at the dinner.” It was a giant-sized highly decorated box with a rather large bottle of Chinese white “wine” in it. The dinner and special gift made me feel particularly appreciated! Wow!
December 22-27, 2009
Finnie: Amway. On Friday, December 18, I was returning from my Chinese lesson, and when I was approaching my area of the office, I noticed some boxes on the table. They had Amway labels. So, I asked where they (the people in the office) had gotten the Amway stuff – thinking that some American or Canadian partner must have sent them gifts. Yvonne looked back and said, Oh, that is gifts for the foreign teachers!” Then she looked shocked, and put her head on her desk, shaking it from side to side, and Eye Candy just clucked, “tsk!, tsk!, tsk!” Then Yvonne recovered and asked me not to spill the beans to Deb or the foreigners about the gifts. I agreed in amusement, but then went on to pursue my original question of where did these Amway products come from. They said that they are very popular throughout China, and so they are readily available. So, when on the next morning, I got the phone call from Yvonne and Lulu asking if we were home, I assumed that they were delivering our Amway stuff – but no that was when they came over with Eye Candy to bring us other gifts and a tree and decorations, etc., I couldn’t tell you about this at that time because I was involved in the conspiracy to surprise Deb with the Amway products, and since she reads what I write, obviously I wouldn’t have been very conspiratorial to mention it before! One more thing — obviously, I am no longer a foreigner in the International Office since Yvonne didn’t hesitate to tell me about the Amway gifts! Cool!
Finnie: English Conversations Sessions: Our English Conversations are fun, and we have a new member – a young women who just finished her Ph.D. in Ecology and who is working in the Marine Science College. I was leaving my class a couple of weeks ago, and she was coming up the stairs and as we passed she starting staring at me, then she couldn’t resist: She said, you are a foreigner teacher, right. I said, “right!” — thinking, “How did you guess?” She asked where I was from, and I said, “USA.” She asked why I was teaching English in the Biology building. I pointed out that I am teaching biology in the biology building, but in English. So, that took a while to sort out, since she had not heard about my teaching there. Anyway, the point is that she and her husband, who as it turns out, works for President Han, want to go to America to teach or study for a semester or two as soon as they can. So, she was really interested in speaking English with me for practice. So, I told her about our Sunday afternoon English conversations sessions, and she decided to join us. She has added an extra dimension to the Conversations in that her English is actually quite good and so she helps explain nuances about what the students are asking us to explain and what we are trying to explain to the students.
Well, a couple of weeks ago, the topic the students asked to discuss was American food. I prepared a PowerPoint show of various dishes and meals that Americans like (or at least the two Americans in the Conversation group like), and we talked about all of them – from Flying Fish catfish and hush puppies, to barbeque, to steak, to hamburgers and hotdogs, to pies, and so on. Well, after two hours of such serious discussion, everyone agreed that they were very hungry. As Deb and I peddled off to go home, we decided to try for American food. The first time we had actually decided to actively seek American food, other than our American Thanksgiving dinner we have described to you. So, we remembered that HaiYue Hotel (yes, next to our local supermarket/department store), is a five star hotel and they have a western restaurant. Sure enough, they had hamburgers on the menu. We each ordered a bacon cheeseburger and French fries. They were very thick, and at first tasted wonderful – just what we had psyched ourselves up for. We cleaned our plates. It was only in the wee hours of morning that I realized that there was too much of something on that plate and I took the last of our Alka-seltzer plus a bunch of tums and so forth, but I didn’t enjoy the rest of the night. Since then, we have been discussing how to ease into the American food scene gradually!
Last week in English conversation, we talked about sports – American and world wide. It was quite interesting. Today we were to discuss our favorite movies. We had “Shrek,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “KungFu Panda,“ “Ice Age,” “Fearless,” and of course Deb was planning to discuss “Hunt for the Red October,” and I was going to present “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” – I thought “My Cousin Vinny” might be a little dated for them, but they probably never heard of “Midnight …” Plus, it would require me to use my fluent Savannahian accent! But, we canceled due to the heavy snow that started about sunrise this morning. This was to have been our last English Conversation session until March, so it is too bad that we had to call it off.
Christmas decorations: For the past two weeks, ever increasing amounts of Christmas decorations have been going up everywhere you look. Lobbies of every hotel we have seen have really large Christmas trees (mostly the fake types, but 15-20 feet tall), and stores have them in abundance, too. Even our campus grocery store where we buy our roujiamo!
Hotels, department stores, restaurants are playing various kinds of Christmas season music from children’s favorites to carols, and so, it seemed pretty similar to America – except that signs are still in Chinese, of course! On Thursday at 5:15 PM, Yvonne asked me if Deb and I had any plans for dinner. I said no, so she said we were going to have pizza. At first, I thought she had in mind the pizza place downstairs at the lobby, but no, she had in mind a big pizza parlor in the downtown shopping area. (I’ll get back on point in a minute or 5, I promise!) I told her that I had to go to HaiYue Hotel before I could leave, so we set a time to be picked up at our house. I needed to stop by the hotel to pick up a gift that I had bought for Deb. So, I rushed to the hotel, and when I went in, there were Santas everywhere, a snow angel (I guess, because she was wearing a white evening gown), a major huge, fully decorated tree, kids and parents everywhere, and one or more children’s choirs ready to go. It appeared that there was a place for kids to speak with Santa about their Christmas wishes, and so forth. For once, I wanted to hang around to see what would happen, but I had to rush home so that Deb and I could meet Yvonne to go to have pizza.
Here is Deb’s description of the pizza party!
Deb: Christmas Eve Pizza Party. Finnie and I ended our classes earlier than usual on Christmas Eve Day. Not only are we are winding the classes down and but the weather is cold and the days are very short – it gets dark about 4PM now. So we were both in the International Office completing some projects that we had been working on for the office. About 5:30 when the office officially closes Yvonne started organizing a Pizza Party. She invited us and we said sure – Pizza in Weihai?? Sounds great! She and Bruce picked us up at our house and we went downtown to a very large restaurant that serves pizzas and other foods in a buffet. As it turned out there were 6 of us at the party: Bruce, Yvonne, Lulu, Sue, and us. We learned on the way that Christmas eve is a time when people go out to eat because it is the Day of the Night of Peace. There were throngs of people there so we had to wait about 30 minutes for a table. We arrived at our table and went through the buffet – slightly chaotic in that it wasn’t one long line of stuff, but rather several tables of stuff. It reminded me of the slow motion dance of car, people, dogs, carts, bicycles in the streets: this was a slow motion dance of the buffet tables with people methodically loading up their plates to their holding capacities with chicken on a stick, taro balls, French fries, vegetables, and fruit. But at the pizza table it turned into a Piranha-like feeding frenzy whenever a new pizza arrived on the table, or a new batch of boiled shrimp arrived. We ate quite a bit – it was the first cheese we have had in four months, but even so Finnie and I had a hard time getting through our 1 and a half plates of stuff; meanwhile the other four devoured at least 3 plates of food each. For example, Sue is size minus 1, possibly 0, and as I watched her joyfully eat fruit, pizza, and other goodies, I wondered where it was all going. Yvonne told us that when she is hungry, she and Bruce go to this restaurant so she can get her fill – and she’s still very skinny. We saw 2 girls there having dinner together and they consumed at least 5 overfilled plates of food between them. There were Christmas decorations everywhere, Christmas songs being played in the background, lots of kids running around eating and playing with the free balloons they had received as gifts from the restaurant. We had a great time trading stories, singing Christmas songs, eating, and enjoying each other’s company. We came home feeling stuffed and the next day didn’t eat anything until the Christmas Day dinner that Finnie is writing about. Note: Because Sue and I were across the table from each other, I asked her if celebrating Christmas Eve had always been done. She said no, that only since 1980 had people been celebrating this day. Before 1980, it was absolutely forbidden to celebrate the day, which explains maybe why the younger generation started the tradition giving apples to others on this day which will be explained in the section on Christmas apples. (sorry, no pictures of the pizza Party – dead batteries.)
Deb: Christmas Eve Apples. Early on December 24 Finnie received a text message from Sue explaining the tradition of giving apples on Christmas eve day. As it turns out the Chinese word for Christmas eve means “Night of Peace” and starts with the same word as the word for apple. So the younger generation – the 20-30 year olds have started a tradition of giving apples to their friends to wish them happiness, safety and peace. Finnie told me about this tradition at lunch – over roujiamo’s . He said that Sue had given him two beautiful red delicious apples, one for each of us, in the morning when he went into the office. She said that even though they are beautiful, they are called Snake Apples here because they are gorgeous on the outside, but taste terrible on the inside. That afternoon we both had our classes. I was giving an exam in my class but before we started, two very small female students came up with a gift for me and they said it contained an apple each from them to me. Pretty soon all the students in the class had gathered around the two girls and as I was thanking them each student extended their arms and each had an apple in their hand. How absolutely amazing! I was overwhelmed and they put their apples in a great big pile on the desk. I asked if anybody had a cell phone camera and yes one did. Someone went out and rounded up another student who took some group pictures of us. I wished them all a happy and peaceful holiday season and thanked them for the apples. The Wednesday class had surprised me with a beautiful card that each of them had signed. It is beautiful and I was deeply touched by their giving me such a great gift.
Deb: New office furniture. I know I have written about the office furniture before, but we were waiting for the desk and chair, which arrived this past week. All of us like this new office. It is warmer, cozier and better equipped than the first office. We have a nice desk with a bigger chair, a round conference table with four bigger chairs, a bookcase, a sofa with a pretty glass tea table (coffee table), the de-rigueur water dispenser and a large plant. All the furniture matches, is un-dented, and looks nice in the room. We use the room for Sunday afternoon English conversations, Chinese classes, and Finnie will use it more in the spring as a way to work uninterrupted on projects. As I said before this was not anything we wanted them to do for us, but Dean Xu wanted to do for us, presumably so that the office will look nice for students and visitors from other countries, as well as being a comfortable and attractive place for us to use.
Finnie: Christmas Dinner. Deb told you about our fine Christmas Eve (Ping’anye) dinner at the pizza place. Well, Amy had invited us to her house for a big dinner on Christmas day (since we don’t know anybody here in Weihai, and she doesn’t want us to feel alone), but she got sick during the week and wasn’t able to cook on Christmas Day, though she is improving. However, her buddies, Pian and Zoe (who were going to be at the dinner anyway), picked up the banner and charged forward. Except that Zoe’s husband, Leo, had to work later, and he couldn’t cook, so we went to a restaurant for Christmas dinner. (We were on orders from Yvonne and Lulu not to eat anything after the pizza party until Christmas dinner. Good thing!) We made two new friends from Zoe and Pian’s department – James (a faculty member is on schedule to spend next fall semester at UNK) and Daniel (the vice-dean of the college – who did a masters degree in Johnson City, Tennessee, sometime back). James and Daniel are from Inner Mongolia (and were suitably impressed that I had visited the capital city of Hohhot), so we went to a Mongolian restaurant that is associated with a hotel near a part of the beach we had not visited before. The part of the restaurant where we dined was a series of yurts, and we had one just to ourselves. This was a Weighur restaurant, so no pork! The meal was delicious. Many different kinds of mutton, lamb, beef, and chicken, chopped-up noodles, potatoes, and many others I can’t remember – except for the fried lamb baozi’s (dumplings, which were more delicious, yet!) We also had kabobs of barbequed chicken and lamb, spicy and non-spicy and a huge variety of soups. We drank a few toasts with fermented mare’s milk (it was quite good, no matter what Deb says!)
Although there was a big heat pump in the yurt, it didn’t keep it very warm. (But, at least we didn’t have to sit on the floor and eat at the official Mongolian table (about 10 inches off the floor), which would have been even colder. I have visited yurts at several places before – including in Hohhot, and a yurt is basically a teepee — they are moveable round houses. The side walls, in contrast to a teepee, are made of a lattice of thinly split saplings with the outside covered with a water-proof set of skins, and the inside covered with thick furs (for winter), but ours were synthetic coverings, I think, over the lattice work. I wondered a lot during the meal how tough the Mongolians must be to live out on the steppes without heat pumps! We all had cold feet (not the emotional kind, the real kind) by the time we departed for the trek back to the parking lot. The conversation was lively, recalling visits to Kearney, talking about American and Chinese traditions, what kind of foods are good, etc. For example, when I mentioned that “dragon meat is the best thing to eat in heaven, but on Earth, donkey is the best available,” the Chinese picked up the saying and were appreciative that we knew about the idea! Pian reviewed the hilarity of my purchase of the bathroom scales back in September, I think it was! So, it was a good time for me to ask what all the observers’ comments were about while I was trying out the scales. She said, aside from finding out how much I weighed (a juicy morsel, by itself), they were impressed that I was able to get around at all upon learning my age … sigh… Anyway, what a cool, pun intended, Christmas dinner!
Christmas Cards and gifts. On Christmas Eve day, and continuing through Christmas Day, we have received Christmas cards and often gifts from almost every Chinese person we know throughout China and America! It is heart-warming to be remembered on such a special time as Christmas by people who for the most part do not themselves celebrate it. However, they clearly understand the significance to us and they respect the fact that it is so important to us. What was a bit of a surprise is that we learned on the 24th that the younger generation of Chinese celebrate Christmas Eve as Ping’anye (the Peaceful Night), by giving and eating apples. So, that day, I stopped at a friendly neighborhood fruit stand (yes, they are still out there unless it is snowing, then knowing they’ll get no business, they stay home), to get apples for everyone in the office. They were received with good hearted chuckles, and Sue (who told me of the tradition) had brought an apple for me and for Deb. Meanwhile in Deb’s class, every single student brought her an apple and some brought card! The students asked that we take photos when we opened gifts, so they could have an idea about what Americans do. So, of course, we were pleased to do so. We have the same request about New Year’s eve. But our New Year’s eve photos will be at Zoe’s house for a big dinner and games (we gather until midnight.)
Deb and Finnie: We have been so very blessed in so many ways this year. We hope you are, too!