Friday, July 25, 2008

Post script -- Life in "Meiguo"

I happened to notice that we are still getting a lot of hits every day to the site....I am having trouble weaning myself from blogging , too....
I wanted to introduce our newest member of the family -- Merton the 7 week old Beagle..!!!

In an effort to really do this American culture thing right, we have gotten ourselves a dog -- well, Helen thinks its her dog! He is sooooo cute that it makes up for the housebreaking efforts which are akin to potty training a baby!

While he sleeps -- we have been reorganizing the house, getting bunk beds, having a yard sale, trying to walk to the supermarket instead of drive, searching for "real Chinese food", and looking forward to lots of visitors coming up....

In short, we are doing well -- the big kids are in day summer camp -- Thomas as a counselor-in-training and Helen as a camper. Sophia and I are reorganizing our lives and watching the puppy, Michael is finding his office again and all of us are enjoying speaking English and telling stories about China. Buffalo is beautiful in the summer time and helping me to put off thinking about the onset of winter.

Its the final week before the Olympics -- looking forward to hearing lots more from China in the weeks ahead.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The journey home

The journey home...for us, and for my mother, Barbara, who found her way to eternal life yesterday at 2 am, thankfully 18 hours after we made it to her bedside.

She was able to acknowledge that she knew us before she began to slip away, and died very peacefully surrounded by her family.

While we are profoundly saddened, I am taking comfort from her life and her faith, and feeling very blessed to have made it home to her.

This is a solemn postscript to a blog which has been about living life, and about living it to the fullest. My mother was the person whose abundant love made me capable of that.

I want to thank everyone who has been following along, my family and friends and people whom we have never met, for all your support and love.

This is my last post, I think. I am ready to begin the next stage of my journey with a little more privacy. But doing this blog has brought me a lot of insight and we have no regrets..My sister has done a beautiful blog about my mother's final weeks..the link to it on is above.

Blessings to all our readers...

Monday, June 30, 2008

Off we go

Of course it has just occurred to me that it is almost time to say goodbye to this blog and all of my readers! It has been an interesting exercise for me to try and capture some of our experiences this way, and we are amazed at the people who don't know us but who have been tuning in anyway. So thanks for your interest. I hope that some of you are crazy enough to give this a try. For the kids and certainly for ourselves, it has been a great ride, and none of us will ever see China, or the US fin the same way again. Now its time to figure out how to integrate it all into our "normal" lives, a daunting task from where I sit this morning..

I am sure I have at least one more post inside me...but 3 airplane rides, a night in a hotel and a 7 hour ride to my folks stand between me and access to the computer again. And I think I will find myself quite preoccupied when I arrive in Michigan to see my mom. So I guess it is time to sign off for now.....all the best! (Check back in a few days for a post script:)

The last day

This is actually from Saturday evening, when we went to dinner with some students who have been quite close to Michael this semester. We had a great meal in a Hunan-style restaurant...I am missing the food in China already..

After the kids went to bed Saturday night, I met my classmates for what turned out to be a very fun but very late night out. This is Melanie, me, Mike and Tom..

Last Sunday at church...I forgot to get Fr. John's photo today, but this is our Deacon Joseph who is waiting for ordination.

Looking at a philosophy book with the deacon..

And in front of the church...we will miss this little place terribly. I have been so spiritually lifted up by this community this year. It is really hard to put into words. I have gotten a feel for what it is like to be a Catholic in China today.

Back at the building, a goodbye to Sophia's favorite guard..

And checking out with the housekeeper, who has made our lives easier by her hard work.

Finally dinner with Vicky, our tutor and now good friend. The food was terrific, I just can't keep eating all these yummy dinners with friends.

And finally a very sad goodbye....

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Huan Huan's birthday party!

Helen will turn seven years old tomorrow, the day we leave Xiamen. Yesterday was her birthday party, a bilingual high-octane event in our apartment. Four classmates and 2 American friends (adopted from China) rounded out the guest list, and at least I had their Mom, Julia to talk to during the festivities. We made jewelry, ate pizza (with silverware -- very fun to watch the Chinese kids) ran wild in the apartment and played some games.

Thomas and Kate (no not the other Kate -- she is back in the US already) hung out and tried to act cool at the little kid's party. But really they were as wild as anyone else.

Played a popular children's game -- like "drop the handkerchief"..I forget the name in Chinese but Helen can sing the song.

Also an American-style relay race, which deteriorated into an "every man for himself" event.

And a Hello Kitty cake..sure will miss the elaborately decorated cakes you can get for $5-10.

Huan Huan with Xiao Mei Mei and her twin brother.

And one last good bye to Rouwen on the way out. Helen was happy to distribute some toys to her friends, but her beloved pink bike went to Rouwen. Her mom and I could not hold back our tears over our two girls and their international friendship...I think Helen is starting to get it that I am tearful at these times because I realize that things will never be quite the same, even if keeping in touch is an option thanks to the computer age.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Friday' s events and thoughts

Schedule for Friday...last tutoring session with Vicky, during which we learned no Chinese but shed a few tears (still seeing her on Sunday for dinner), lunch with classmate who I got to cut class to go shopping...we had the Xiamen version of spring rolls off a no frills lunch counter (see above). These lunch counters are the Chinese equivalent to the diner, usually a one woman operation (but the food sits out so a good idea to eat early, as we did!)
Afternoon -- pack and sort through 8000 tiny slips of paper in every drawer of the apartment -- did we really only live here 1 year?!?! Congratulate the kids on their last day of school (check back to the graduation post -- I posted Helen's "cap and gown" photo...

Dinner with Vivian, Helen's tutor, and her parents. Her mother is the principal of the Kindergarten where the girls attended. (Note to my readers in Philadelphia and Illinois -- I told her to expect some more American kids! Her reply " their mothers want to teach the kids some English?!?!") Vivian's father is a professor in the Education department.

They showered the kids with presents and brought Huan Huan a birthday cake.

It was a very pleasant way to send the evening...but a Chinese banquet every night for a week!...anyone here can relate to how tiring that is! And the food is so tempting, hard not to overdo it! Finally some good byes, until Vivian decided that the dress she gave Sophia was too small and she would have to exchange it and come over tomorrow afternoon!

Vivian's friendship has been very significant for Helen, hard to put into words...I like that she got to know such a smart and enthusiastic young woman on her own terms, and learned some Chinese in the bargain, although they did more playing than studying!

So we are now at the 48 hours to departure point. I am constantly thinking about things I would like to blog about, but too busy to sit and write them! I am working on finding some things to look forward to in the US..little things such as Mexican food, knowing what everything says, having a yard I can send the kids out to on their own, etc. Of course looking forward to seeing my friends and family, especially my mom...

Also looking forward to some other things, such as a free press (which I will never take for granted again!) and atmosphere of openness and even the argumentative nature of Americans..I am longing for it! The focus in the public sphere in China is social harmony by whatever means necessary...and while we get irritated in the US with polarization in the political sphere, I am really looking forward to hearing more than one point of view on the nightly news. The fact that Americans political figures can vehemently disagree with each other, but everyone assumes that power will be wielded peacefully -- this is a very, very big deal. I really get that now. Which is good since the presidential campaign is in full swing and you all are probably sick of it already.

One thing about leaving China, even though we are hoping to return, is that China changes so fast that we might not recognize it by the time we come back! It will be so interesting to watch and see what the effect of the development of the Chinese economy will have on the daily lives and political life of the country and the people I have come to know. As I have portrayed quite consistently in the blog, I am awed by energetic and hard-working nature of the Chinese people, and by the amazing transformation of China in the past 20 curious about where it will lead....I guess we will just have to come back...

OK -- back to packing and Saturday's social agenda, which includes a birthday party for 6 little girls and another farewell dinner in addition to MORE PACKING (is it all going to fit...hmmmmm?)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Huan Huan's graduation and Ann finishes school

Graduation portrait -- check out the lipstick!

Here is Helen with her "graduating" class of 2008. At the school there are four classes this size graduating this week -- wisely they were not all at the same time!

The show they put together for the parents featured some singing...

hilariously macho dancing by the boys..

some lovely dancing by the girls...

and some fun. The children played musical chairs in front of the parents...and guess who was the big winner....!?!?! Our Huan Huan! She loves being first in anything!

Then the teachers asked me to lead the children in some of our favorite English songs, and the teachers surprised me with a gift.. a glass music box in the shape of a piano, the symbol of Gulanyu ("the piano island").. Quite beautiful, but necessitating the re-packing of an entire suitcase!

Huan Huan with her best friend Rouwen...If you look back to the September archives and compare..they look quite grown up!

With some of the "better" English speakers...some of them were also my students off campus last semester, and one girl had lived in Canada for a year. Some of them sat at Helen's table this year..

And Xiao Mei Mei, another good friend, and a boy (Helen knows the girls' names, but not all the boys)

The hardworking and dedicated teachers, Cai laoshi, Pan laoshi and Wang laoshi. I have enjoyed getting to know them so much...and I know that Huan Huan will not forget them. They worked very hard to make her feel included and try to teach her Chinese.

Here is our sweet girl on her special day....

After lunch I went to class, for the last time today, I am just too busy to go fact you may be wondering, how do they do any packing with all the special meals and events going on ? Wang laoshi, in the black dress, is explaining something to Martin, an American who just finished high school last year. Its our break time, and people are moving about a bit.

Here's Mike, from Nebraska by way of 2 years in Taiwan, and my role model for spoken Chinese along with some of the girls form Indonesia, who make up most of the class..

And here is Melanie from the Philippines, who is learning Chinese to complement her PhD work in anthropology. She is my best friend in the class, and I am going to miss her!

And here we are..Yi Nian Shang 一年上"E" Ban : 1st year beginning class, section E. Missing is Tom from Colorado, Kahder from Jordan , and my Japanese class mate.

But Khader had just skipped our class so I caught him on the way in to his next class. Here we are in front of the Overseas College building. It was strange to say good bye and leave class, because I have spend a lot of time this semester with these folks, struggling through Chinese (although I struggle more than many do). It seems a shame to miss the final, but you can't control everything, and studying would have been hard for me with the kids done with school anyway. Still hoping to see some classmates Saturday night, when we have some tentative plans to go out and have a drink.

Now back to packing and organizing this place...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Farewell Party for Students and Colleagues

The final exam for my American Philosophy course was actually back on June 12. While I had as many as 25-30 people attending at the height of the semester, there were only a handful of students actually registered for the course - only a handful of students brave enough to risk being graded on their English abilities as well as their philosophy.

Here you can see how seriously they are approaching this test.

The following Sunday we had invited the students and faculty from the year to one of our favorite restaurants - a Buddhist vegetarian place called Da Fang that used to be on Siming Nan Lu but moved during construction to Nan Hua Lu, still very close to campus and the temple. In their new location they have also given themselves the English name: Generous Vegetarian Museum [!!!].

While there were no wax statues of Gandhi inside, there were these three philosophy professors - next to me Zhou Jianzhang, Chen Jiaming, and Cao Jianbo. They are the "foreign philosophy" or "western philosophy" faculty members of the department.

Besides the faculty and family table, there were two tables of students. This was the quiet table posing with me.

And this was the loud table.

Here we see the quiet table in action. They didn't eat as much. The loud table cleaned all the plates and ordered more beer.

Of course Sophia was a big hit. Here she is with her dinner partner Chen Jin Dong. He is actually a Finance student but sat in on the classes all year.

And here she is on the lap of Yuan Xueyan - the only student who was registered for all the courses that I offered at Xiamen University.

Here is the group photo - about 30 people in all.

It was a very lovely evening. I received several presents, including a traditional fan, Fujian tea, Yunnan tea, a scarf, postcards in a handmade paper booklet, and two stamp books - one of which took six years for the student to collect all the stamps!

Well, that's it. The classroom is empty and the teacher is leaving for America.