Days in Fuzhou

Day One: 3 July 2009

Arrived by flight from Hong Kong around noon (having arrived at the hotel in HK about 11:30 pm the night prior).  Before deplaning, we had to undergo a preliminary health screening.  Everyone had to remain seated while two members of the local health service  shot everyone in the forehead with what can best be described as a “temperature gun.”  Unfortunately, while this was going on, someone further back in the plane got sick and threw up, causing about a dozen other health workers and what looked like a Hazmat team to suddenly burst into the plane.  When they finally allowed most of us to deplane, about half our party were subjected to another check of body temperature.  Alex, whose temperature is always a bit on the high side, was taken aside for a third time and given a more thorough screening.  Yumiko had already proceededthrough customs, andwas understandably increasingly frantic that our son was being kept behind and inaccessible to her.  Fortunately, I hadn’t gotten as far, and so could keep an eye on him.  After what seemed like forever, they let Alex continue through customs, and we finally met up with Nell and Ada, our welcoming committee from Hwa Nan (something like an hour and a half late!).  Heavy downpours due to a typhoon moving through the area.  Very humid.

We were driven to our new lodgings … two apartments in a building about a five minute walk from campus.  The apartments are spartan, but big enough for the Guelchers (plus Greg) to share one while Adam and Jordan are in the other across the hall.  We have air conditioning.  We also have that great scourge of Asian living: large cockroaches!  Using the bathroom late at night has become akin to a great hunt!  The one that got onto our bed and crawled across our faces, however, deserved his precipitous demise.

Anyway, we’ve been welcomed nicely.  Nell, the FAO (Foreign Affairs Officer), has really gone out of her way to try and get the apartments ready for us and explain what she can in the limited time we’ve been here.

I met with several department chairs for a review of the latest “final” schedule.  They handed me class rosters … in Chinese! … for our use, and explained that they’ve had trouble recruiting students for the Spoken English classes due to the fact they’ve been targeting younger, non-HwaNanstudents, and with the swine flu scare parents are understandably leery of sending their kids to be with big groups and taught by foreigners.  So, there may be some team-teaching for a while.

Ironically, Hwa Nan’s current president, Zhang Xunjie, is currently under enforced quarantine for possible H1N1 flu, because she had the misfortune of sitting too near a New Zealander with a fever on a flight from Hong Kong.  So Hwa Nan’s past president filled in for the formal greeting, and took us all out for a superb dinner (featuring local seafoood delicacies such as mini-octopi and fungi).  Oh, and lots and lots of the local beer.

As we were all pretty jet-lagged, we turned in early.

Greg G.

Day 2: July 4

Ironic to be in the land of fireworks on July 4, and not to be able to find any fireworks anywhere with which to celebrate!  They must export them all to the U.S.

Started the day by taking Alex to the nearby public pool around 7 a.m. (opens at 5 a.m.).  A good number of swimmers were already there.  Not the best venue for swimming laps, as people were moving in all directions, just like they do on the street.  But for 6 yuan, it was good enough to get in a few laps.

Spent much of the rest of the day shopping for supplies for the apartment.  The ladies at the small “everyday goods” shop nearby got a real kick out of trying to guess what we were looking for, and trying to find it for us.  I think they also appreciated the business, frankly, as little shops like that seem to be everywhere.  One wonders how so many stores keep in business, especially as nobody seems too busy with customers.  Went into one stationary store to buy a notebook, for instance, only to find the proprietor asleep on a cot he’d put up between shelves.

The really interesting place to shop is “Student Street” in the “Student Town” area, so called because a good half dozen or so universities, colleges, and high schools are located in the area, and at night hordes of young Chinese descend on the area for food, drink, and shopping.  You can pretty much find anything there, from the latest fashions to live baby rabbits!  We even found some bootleg DVDs for about a $1.25 each.   Normally not my thing, but they had one with the Bollywood hit “Dhoom” and its two sequels.  I’d not been able to find a copy in India during my visit there, so it was nice to find one in China.

The group is holding up quite well.  The younger members have been out and about exploring the neighborhood (they were the ones to discover the way to “Student Street”).  They’ve also been game to try the new foods and drink provided us by Hwa Nan.  Yumiko, it seems, is having the rougher time, as everywhere we go people talk to her in Chinese, though I don’t think she looks anything like a Chinese.  What’s interesting is that when addressed in Chinese, Yumiko naturally responds in Japanese, so you end up with these somewhat bizarre conversations with Chinese and Japanese going back and forth, and no one really understanding what’s being said!

An  electrician finally fixed the air conditioner in the empty bedroom of our (the Guelchers’) apartment, so it looks like Greg A. will be moving in with us tonight.

Greg G.

Day 3:  July 5

In the morning Greg, Jordan, and I before breakfast went walking about Fuzhou to see what was available to experience.  To our surprise our neighborhood is larger than it first appeared. We found the main river of the city of Fuzhou and walked around the mountain at which Hwa Nan is located a top of. We started at our apartment and proceeded to the left of Hwa Nan campus, at the end of our walk we were on the right of Hwa Nan, thus obtaining knowledge of the city and the neighborhood where we are living. After breakfast we shared our knowledge with the rest of the group including Dr. Guelcher, and his children Alyssa and Alex. We proceeded to find a market located on the river containing many wholesale goods.

After lunch, Dr. Guelcher, his family, and I went down to Student Street. Student Street is an area of markets that many students of my age go to. We walked around, took in the sights and enjoyed a lazy Sunday. After this we proceed to organize our plans for teaching on the first day, which was tomorrow. As it turns out, I did not have a class to teach which frees up time for me to work on the documentary project and help with the other three classes of public speaking. After dinner we all relaxed around the apartment and enjoyed some Chinese television with a nine year old child singing Queen’s “We Will Rock You”.


Day 4:  July 6
China is a strange place. You can be walking down the street and bus will be hurtling towards you, showing no signs of stopping, yet all the people on the bus (and the bus driver) will be grinning at you. This is how it felt to walk into the classroom this morning. I’ve worked in the classroom before, but I really had no idea what to expect from such a different group of students. Thirty girls all smiled at me nervously, others looked down. You could tell they were hesitant about practicing their English in front of a native speaker. When I asked them to get up and do an activity, no one moved. I then had to motion with my hands “up!” as if they needed more explicit direction to move around. When I told them they could ask me questions about the activity, only a few of the braver ones did. I’m having hard time distinguishing between shyness and when they don’t understand me, but they are earnest and sweet.
I showed them pictures of Morningside, Sioux City and my family and I learned quickly they love pictures of anything cute. My dog Buster and my baby nephew were very popular with them. They were also astounded by the amount of snow that Sioux City gets; they looked at the pictures with a sort of childhood awe as if the pictures were fake. They also asked me to sing, which I did reluctantly (for some reason I chose to sang “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Thankfully I don’t think they realized how lame that song is). It was great to have people actually want to hear me sing.
After class at the behest of our colleague Jay we tried to find a local noodle shop. He assured us there was menu in English. We wandered to a little street and saw a restaurant and looked inside to see if it was the one he was talking about. We didn’t have much time to decide because the staff opened the door for us and waved us in like VIPs. The place turned out not to be the place Jay was telling us about and it didn’t have an English menu, but it was quite the happy accident. Dr. Guelcher went around and asked students to write down what they were eating and we showed that to the waitress to get our food. It was a bit spicier than what the school’s cook has been giving us and a nice change of pace. For seven people the bill came out to less than fifteen dollars for several courses.
Later the school staff took us to a German style supermarket which was more like a nicer version of Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club. The quality was better than what you see on the market streets, but it was very expensive there by Chinese standards. As soon as we left a pretty hard rain started. Our driver still drove like a madman through the storm, which was thrilling and terrifying. Hydroplaning was a real concern.
After dinner we got together as a group to do some more planning for classes, but some advice we got was to just “wing it” which is what we are going to have to do.
– Greg A.
Day 5:  July 7
For a group of second-year students who were only given their assignment yesterday, I was astounded today by how well they handled their speeches!  Nearly all 25 students had tried to memorize their speeches (only two read from their papers directly).  Their English was quite good, and they tended to speak with strong, clear voices and maintained good eye contact.   Three of the speeches were so polished that I really had nothing to offer in way of criticism. [The assignment, provided by Jordan, was for each student to bring in an object that best symbolized them, and explain precisely why].
I almost feel bad that we were given little if any direction on how to teach these classes on Public Speaking, as the girls are so attentive and earnest, I feel we’re likely to let them down.
Greg G.

These students are probably the most polite students I have ever met. Though it is only the second day of class, I am so impressed with the effort and ability these students put forth in their work. The students were asked to present a symbolism speech using an object that they treasure most. Over all, the students did an amazing job with most of them having their speeches memorized. Though there were a few mistakes and signs of nervousness, the speeches the students presented were a wonderful beginning to the class.

Jordan A.

Day 6:  July 8

Another grueling day of classes, not so much because of the students (who continue to impress us with their earnestness), but because of the heat and humidity.  What I wouldn’t give for a classroomwith air conditioning right now!  Our rooms each have an old ceiling fan, and we can open the windows.  But the heat just rolls in, and the sweat rolls right down!  The girls all have little fans and handkerchiefs.  After our three hours of teaching is up, we just wilt.  35 Celsius today, and blazing sun.

We received interesting news today.   Someone on the plane from HK with us reported a fever, so now we’re likely to be under greater surveillance.  Plus, Nell showed us an official document she’d received that orders a week-long quarantine for any foreigners arriving in China.   As we arrived just before the document was released, we’re mercifully spared having to hide in our apartments for a week.

Plus, access to Facebook and Twitterare both currently being blocked by the Chinese government due to the ethnic clashes in Xinjiang Province in China’s northwest.

Social crises aside, we had a nice visit to the old Hwa Nan campus(the one with the Lewis Hall look-alike), and the new campus out in Fuzhou’s university town.  Regarding the latter, I was surprised to discover that there’s still an awful lot of construction going on.  In fact, it seemed even messier than when we were last here in October.  There are still unfinished rooms in the Foreign Teacher’s Hostel, for instance, and much construction detritus lying about that building.  The good news is that the two trees Morningside donated outside the Hostel are both alive and well!

We also got to visit a nice temple complex near the downtown.  I wish we’d thought to ask Nell to write down the name.  Anyway, it was interesting to see lots of monks walking about, and the gift shop yielded quite a treasure trove of inexpensive Buddhist jewelry and trinkets … much, much cheaper than anything we could have bought at the tourist trap sites last May.

I have a new hero:  our van driver.  He’s like a vengeful god of the road, barreling down the narrowest alleyways, bursting into traffic without pause, loudly honking his horn to warn those on foot or in lesser vehicles that HE has the right of way, even if it’s on a sidewalk!  And the man can navigate through the tightest spaces, too.  We gasp in horror, but it’s all like a carnival ride where you know (or are at least pretty sure) you’ll be getting out safe and sound when it’s all over!

Tried a local noodle shop for dinner.  Ordered a couple of more exotic dishes, such as stir-fry frog and buffalo stomach lining, which strangely the rest of the group showed little interest in eating (other than my son Alex, that is).  Still, it’s quite exciting to pay only about $15 for dinner for seven people.

The sight of the day was an old wooden ladder placed precariously on an old wooden chair, giving it the extra foot or so needed to reach the roof of a storefront.  God protect the individual who used (or would use) that innovative trick!

Greg G.

Day 7: July 9

For some reason, yesterday we could not access the Morningside Portal…

Anyway, I think we’ve found a team motto for our trip:  “Yah, yah. OK?”  This comes courtesy of our intrepid cook, who brings in our dishes, explains them to us in rapid fire Chinese (knowing none of us can understand her), only to invariably conclude with the words “Yah, yah. OK?”  That seems to be the extent of her English.  Anyway, she’s been very solicitous of our food needs, and she’s just the cutest grandma around!

Our Spoken English students did their poetry or story readings today.  Again, they were impressive!  Jordan, Greg and I had all stressed that we were grading them on pronunciation, voice, and what we’ve been calling “smooth delivery.”  As such, they weren’t required to memorize their work.  Silly us.  Of course the vast majority of them tried to memorize their poem or story!  And out of thirty points, I think the lowest score among all three sections was a twenty-one.

One thing I’ve noticed is that theChinese do NOT seem to do well involves basic upkeep.  As I walk around Fuzhou, I’m noticing that pretty much everything looks rundown, with peeling paint, chipped tile, crumbling concrete, etc.  Take our apartment building, for instance.  There’s a main stairwell running up six floors.  Every floor has an electric light so you can see at night … except that none of them work!  Every other floor has a fire extinguisher set-up … except that none of the hoses are connected to anything, and they look pretty moth-eaten and filthy.  We also have a broken steel security gate.  The fact that people toss garbage directly on the street for the street sweepers to pick up doesn’t help matters any, either.  The dogs and cats (and rats) then tear into the garbage, which further exacerbates the problem.

However, you can buy a lemon ice for fifty cents, so it’s not all bad.

We’ve been going down to the entrance to student street at night, because they set up some arcade games there which Alex likes to play.  His favorite is a shooting game where you get twenty chances to turn off a series of lights on a board.  You must score at least eighteen to win, which very few people can do, and which Alex did on his third try.  Usually he’s one short of that mark.  Anyway, the prize for getting 18 out of 20 is a can of Pepsi!

Greg G.

Day 8: July 10

Our first week of teaching at the college is done!  It seems like we’ve been here forever, though that’s probably primarily the effects of the oppressive heat and humidity.  The students are great, and while the people at Hwa Nan normally leave us to our own devices, they will help out when asked.

Today in Public Speaking we had them begin their interview project, where they come up witha list of questions, interview a partner, and then present a summary of the interview orally in class.  I myself had stressed the need to come up with a shortlistof “interesting questions” to go with the usual “what is your name” and”how old are you” kind of stuff.  Again, they did not disappoint!  I got questions about hopes, dreams, conflict resolution, interpersonal relationships, and even how to avoid doing one’s homework.  Nearly all were thoughtful and grammatically correct.  Teaching such quick studies really isn’t too difficult.

Having received word yesterday that several of the group coming to Morningsidewere getting pretty anxious, I agreed to meet withthose who could make it after class today.  Five showed Up, and fortunately the guys stayed behind as well to help me field some questions.  The girls really seem like a nice, capable group.  We’ll meet with them again on Sunday as part of a pizza party sponsored by Hwa Nan’s president.

Now, here’s why we Americans should be scared of China … After lunch, Yumiko and I headed into Student Street to do some window shopping.  While there, we ran into one of Yumiko’s students from her Japanese class (Rosie), and one of mine from Public Speaking (Alice).  They immediately, and graciously, attached themselves to us, and helped us figure out many of the foods and such to be found in the area.  But when I first met Yumiko’s student, my first thought was only that I’d now have to speak Japanese, and I was just too tired and not in the mood.  Fortunately for me, Rosie happened to be an Applied English major, and so spoke English quite well.  So, here we had two students who between them spoke or were seriously studying at least three different languages, and who were willing to leap at the chance to practice the foreign ones with native speakers.  Meanwhile, several other girls from Yumiko’s Japanese class had taken Alyssa and the guys out for lunch and a tour of the downtown, so they, too, could practice English with native speakers.  Back home, we get nervous just asking students to take a semester or two of watered-down foreign language classes in high school or college.  The way the world economy is trending these days, we’d probably be smart learning some Chinese soon!

We also have a star among us:  Jordan Aggen!  The girls in his class just love him.  Apparently he’s been compared to Ross on “Friends.”  He gets invited out constantly, and his class even pressured him into giving his own speech on his idea of the perfect girlfriend on Monday.  If we stayed here long enough, I’ve no doubt we’d be planning a wedding.  My own star, alas, dimmed considerably when they learned just how old I was and that I was already married (though they seem to share my conviction that I chose well in the wife department).

Yumiko, Alex and I went to a Japanese-style restaurant for a Japanese cuisine fix.  A bit pricey, but the food was good, and they actually had eel (a summer delicacy in Japan).  Our students tried to convinced Yumiko and me to try pickled chicken’s feet, but even I’m not quite ready for that.

Greg G.

Day 9:  July 11

Saturday, and no classes!  HwaNan was thoughtfulenough to set up a half day excursion for us, with Nell as our guide.  First, we visited Yongquan Temple on Gushan Mountain outside town.  This is the temple set atop the mountain, with large Buddhist sayings carved into the rock and highlighted in red.  There’s also one of the largest and most serene statues of Guanyin I’ve ever come across.  That, and dozens of robed monks running around.  The mountain scenery is beautiful, and the ambiance (with monks, incense, Buddhist icons everywhere) is downright exotic!  In the gift shop, I bought myself a good luck amulet … with Chairman Mao’s smiling visage emblazoned on it!  Considering what he thought of Buddhism, and what he did to Buddhist monks at the height of his power, I was somewhat taken aback to see something, well, worshipful, in the monastery.  Just goes to show how popular perceptions can change as time passes.  Nell told me that the amulet I bought is especially popular with taxi drivers andothers who drive vehicles a lot.  Mao, the god of vehicle safety!  Anyway, the other interesting happening was that we were there when the call to eat went out to the monks, who all hurried into a large room.  After being served, but before eating, they all sang a number of songs (sutras?) in unison.  Really cool.

Our driver added to the excitement of the morning with his aggressive driving tactics up and down the mountain.  Our favorite was when he decided to pass a slower car on a narrow blind curve … with no railing between us and a precipitous drop into thin air!  I seem to recall a collective gasp in the back of the van.

After spending most of the morning at the temple, we were taken to a maritime museum in Mawei, a port district of Fuzhou.  Turns out that Fuzhou holds a very important place in modern China’s naval history, as a naval military school was established there in 1866.  Fuzhou therefore claims to be the birthplace of the modern Chinese navy.  Displays also claimed a number of other firsts for Mawei, such as being the birthplace of modern style education in China, and sending students abroad to study.  Many of the displays were in English, so we could follow along well enough.  One of many important persons featured in the history of establishing the modern Chinese navy was the guy whom “General Tso’s Chicken,” that staple on the menu of every Chinese restaurent in the U.S., is named after.  I took a photo standing next to the general’s towering bronze statue.  My favorite display featured Fuzhou naval officers who in 1949 rebelled and brought their ships and forces over to the Communist side during China’s civil war.  The other thing I noticed was the complete lack throughout the six floors of displays of any mention of the horrible showing China’s navy put up against its foes.  There was, for instance, a huge, Socialist-realist mural on one wall depicting what appeared to be a mass celebration of troops preparing for battle against the Japanese in 1894, with absolutely no mention of the complete defeat that soon followed.  Yet there were ample mentions of the nasty ways in which the imperial powers mistreated China in the 19th Century.  Probably a good study could be made of the nationalistic slant the museum shows in its treatment of history.

We followed the museum with another of those overwhelming banquets for lunch.  More food than we ever could have hoped to eat.  I think the Chinese would be mortified if ever only clean dishes were left behind on the table, being seen as poor hosts!  Between the heat and too much food, we all took long naps upon our return to the apartments.

Greg G.

Chinese students: teacher’s dream?

I am genuinely impressed with the 31 students in my Japanese class. It is a 2-week-long, Monday-Friday, 8:30-11:30, intensive Japanese language class in 90 to 100 degree temperatures with 60-95% humidity on the 3rd floor. We have a few fans on the ceiling. When I go to my classroom around 8:20, almost everyone is already seated & many are studying. I take 2 ten minutes breaks every day. When I say, “O.K., let’s take a break!”… No one gets up. They just keep reviewing what I have taught that day. I’ve also tried to dismiss my class a little bit early, but no one leaves until 11:30 anyway. They just keep studying. During the break, students would bring a notebook full of questions. It reminded me of my high school in Japan, but our classes were 50 minutes, not 180 min. Somehow they can stay focused for 3 hours in that heat & humidity. What would happen in the U.S. in the same situation?

The last day of Week 1 (Friday), I gave a test on speaking & listening. By then, I had only taught them for 4 days, but they excelled in the test. Being used to the system in the U.S. & not knowing how much they can master within 4 days, I gave some bonus questions, which I learned that they didn’t really need. They could introduce each other, answer simple questions about themselves in complete sentences, & memorized over 20 useful phrases (greeting words & phrases); many of them spoke quite fluently which is very challenging as the sounds in Chinese language are quite different from those in Japanese. 11 students out of 31 scored 120% out of 120, and many scored above 110%!

Power of China, the county of 1.3 billion people!!!

Since I came to China, I almost feel this country is threatening in positive way … how do I explain? Japan went through a similar period of rapid economic development in 1960-1980. Here in China, it is at least 10 times as powerful with her large land and population! People are so hard working, determined, diligent, and well disciplined. The Chinese people still hold the great values that many people in developed countries are losing, such as respect for their elders and strong family ties. I hope they will not lose them! Students are so competent! Look at my students. They speak Chinese & English already, & are very eager to learn a 3rd language! It is almost scary to imagine a well developed country like my home, Japan, but one 10 times as big and powerful!

Yumiko G.

Day 10: July 12

I guess I have to write a blog this time. What do I like about China? All the different stores they haveoneverystreetand how everything here is so cheap!  It’s incredible how much stuff you can get here with just 5 dollars. A coffee drink for 90 cents and two loafs of bread also for 90 cents . You can have a very tasty breakfast for under 2 dollars! Back home it would’ve cost me all of my 5 dollars just for breakfast, while I could almost pay for breakfast, lunch and dinner here for the same amount. Plus, there’s clothing, pirated dvd’s, and toys and even pet shops every other store! It is a great time just to go and walk around the street all day and look at all the different things you can find.  So far I’m having a great time in Fuzhou China but I’m also looking foward to an awesome 2 weeks in Japan.

One other thing … is how hard it is to get a good work out at a public swimming pool here. Even though the pool opens at 5:30, and I get there around 7, the pool is already overcrowded. There is no set time for lap swimming. Instead, I have to weave around all the people swimming in whatever direction they feel like. It is a very hard thing to do. I’ve been watching swimming lessons for little kids, too. It is amusing the stretching exercises they do while the instructor blows his whistle in cadence.

Alex G.

Day 11:  July 13

A sad day.  A certain male progeny of mine, who shall remain nameless, accidentally erased the last week’s worth of photos from my camera!  Gone are the temple photos, and pretty much any photos from any of the sites we’ve toured.  Right now, I’m kind of missing the old rolls of film.

One thing we’ve noticed is the, for want of a better word, indifference with which we’ve been treated while here.  It’s not that they haven’t paid any attention to us — Nell has arranged a trip to a large grocery and this past weekend’s trip to the mountain, and the previous president took us out for dinner — but with the exception of the lady who cooks for us and the woman who does our laundry, we have had no real sustained contact with much of anyoneconnected with Hwa Nan.  In particular I had expected some guidance regarding our courses, but that’s not been the case.  We’ve been forced to be pretty self-sufficient, ransacking the teacher’s resource room for teaching materials and supplies, puzzling out the computers and copier, and adopting and adapting assignments to match our students.  In this final week of the first set of courses, we don’t yet know how they grade at Hwa Nan (e.g.- letter grades, number grades, etc.), when final grades must be submitted, or even to whom to submit grades!  As far as I know, we could base the entire final grade on attendance.  Another question I’ve wondered about is whether or not we’re allowed/encouraged/expected to provide students with feedback on how they’re doing during the course.  We’re still waiting to hear whether the second English Camp course will be a go, too.  Nor has anyone recommended restaurants close by, shopping venues, bus routes, etc.  (I’ve suggested to the president that they try to provide such information in the future).  I guess we’re living the life of intrepid explorers as predicted!  Fortunately, I recruited three Morningside students who are very easy-going and willing to adopt a Daoist(“go with the flow”) attitude towards life in China.

We did meet seven of the eight Hwa Nan students who will soon be leaving for Morningside College.  They seem excited, eager, and a little nervous.  They also seem to be a very capable group.  They asked good questions, especially of the guys.  Above all, they seemed most concerned about food (as in, “Can we buy rice in Sioux City?”).  After we had a pizza party sponsored by the president with the girls, two of them took us downtown to see Wui Square(with the large Mao statue overlooking it), and a shopping place called “New Asia Street,” which was built to look like an old Chinese street.  We had ice cream at Dairy Queen, and I paid about the same amount for my family as we’d paid to feed all seven of us dinner recently!  Dairy Queen ain’t cheap in China!

Greg G.

Day 12:  July 14

Fuzhou Bars

College students have a sixth sense for finding bars. So far with our group, this has proven true. Somehow through some sort of mystical intervention we have been able to decode Chinese characters by intuition and find ourselves some bars in Fuzhou. We’ve realized quickly though that bars in Fuzhou are not exactly what you find back home.

When you enter a bar in the states, no one cares. Someone might turn their head slightly, but that’s about the most you’ll get. In Fuzhou, about seven young people dressed sharply in head to toe black hold the doors open for you and smile at you bigger than you thought possible. When you get to your seat, you notice it’s very dark and every table has a small candle and some cup and dice game you can’t figure out how to play. This is not an isolated incident as all the bars we have been to follow this theme. Quickly, a boy who looks about twelve comes over with a large plate of free food; vegetables, watermelon, peanuts, and squid jerky. You don’t have to flag anyone down for service; they come to you quicker than you want them to. I know that most of it is because we are foreigners that we get such good service, but it’s hard not to feel like a celebrity here.

The beer is incredibly light, cheap and in my opinion, terrible (though Adam would disagree with me.). Its alcohol content is much lower than beers in the United States, so you can find yourself drinking a lot of it. As soon as you are finished with a bottle, someone comes by and scoops it up. They also clean the table while you are still seated. You can’t get that kind of service in America or frankly anywhere else.

People are either intrigued or amused by us. A table of young Chinese the other night invited us over to their table even though only one of them spoke good English. Somehow, we still had an excellent time with them. The first thing a young Chinese girl said to me when I sat down to her was, “You are very handsome!” Normally I would take this as a compliment, but I am pretty sure this was one of the few phrases she knew how to say. Another person sitting with us was a Kung Fu master. He drank beer with the lightening speed you would expect. They kept buying us a ridiculous amount of beer until the point where I was pretending to sip three beers at the same time. They were also keen on offering us cigarettes and seemed rather sad when we kept refusing them.

The bars also seem to want to display us like we are some sort of exhibit at a petting zoo. When we go to the bars, they usually switch from their Chinese pop music to American rap from 2004. They also handed out cards to us with coupons for free beer, something unheard of in the states. Needless to say, I think we’ll be going back.

Greg Anderson

Day 13:  July 15

Yesterday, Nell took us shopping for jade after work.  We ended up in a multi-story building with what seemed like hundreds of shops selling jade, Shoushan stone carvings, and other local handicrafts.  One could literally have spent  an entire week checking out each and every shop!  Sadly, the shops seemed to outnumber the customers.  A good number of shopkeepers were asleep on cots outside their shops.  Others pestered us mercilessly out of desperation to maybe make a sale.  Overwhelmed almost immediately, we settled on a small shop tucked way in the back, one owned by the parents of one of Nell’s old school friends.  She was certainly pleasant, and although she didn’t dicker on prices much, it seemed she quoted us good prices on quality items.  And after we’d bought our fill of jade, the owner even locked up her shop (I guess we helped her meet quota), and escorted us down the street several blocks to a section of town lined with antique shops, as we’d expressed interest in picking up some Mao stuff from the Cultural Revolution years.  Jordan and Greg both came away with original copies  of Mao’s little red book of sayings from 1969 (with his smiling visage on the cover!) for a measly 30 yuan (about $3.50).  Greg picked up a small Mao pin, and Jordan bought several really cool old coins dating back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).  I bought myself several new Mao pins for my collection (now numbering some 200 or so pins), including two of the largest and nicest condition ones I’ve ever seen.  One runs about six inches in size, and the other closer to seven inches.  Still a steal (assuming they’re real) at 260 yuan (about $40 U.S.).

Greg G.

Day 14:  July 16

It’s nice to have students like you. As someone studying to become a teacher, I don’t think this is necessary all the time, but it is nice. However, here at HwaNan, some students really like us. One teacher in particular seems to be attracting quite a bit of attention from his students, but I won’t name him, he’d be embarrassed (Hint-his name rhymes with Schmorden).

In truth, it has been a real pleasure working with these girls and getting to know them. In public speaking today I held conferences with the girls about their final speeches (they are teaching the class how to do something) and have been pleasantly surprised at how hard they work. They came with their speeches almost completely done and in decent shape besides a few grammar mistakes. They’ve also picked fascinating subjects for their speeches, such as traditional tea pouring, making fried jellyfish and how to make a music video. I’m excited to hear all their speeches tomorrow.

Later in the day, Hwa Nan took the foreign teachers and a few students to a museum in Fuzhou and West Lake Park. The museum was good and had an exceptional exhibit by the Scottish photographer John Thompson

and several exhibits on traditional Chinese operas, crafts and artifacts. The museum also had a not quite so great natural history exhibition which looked like children in animal costumes from the 1980’s. The English translations on exhibit cards also seemed to peter out on the natural history side, as if they just got tired of writing in English.

West Lake Park was very scenic with many families taking electric motor boats and paddle boats out onto the lake. We chose to take an electric motor boat out on the water with our students. For six of us it only cost 50 Yuan, which is about $7.50. That’s a steal for renting a boat for a half-hour! Even though the boat only went about 3 miles an hour, I can now say I’ve driven a boat in China. After the lake, Hwa Nan took us out for yet another great meal and kept us eating until we gained back the weight we had lost in sweat earlier in the day.

Greg A.

At dinner, I’m told, a certain lively Hwa Nan student wearing a smiley face button confessed her more-than-academic interest in one of my Morningside students (hint: his name rhymes with Shmorden).  On the way out, she asked to take a photo with him(several, actually).  In one, she suddenly reached behind, grabbed both his ears, and pulled.  I wonder if that’s not some local way of laying claim to a guy …

Seriously, I’m getting close to the point where the next driver who honks his horn at me to get out of the way — even if I’m on the sidewalk — will cause me to lose it.  In almost any other situation, I’ve found the people of Fuzhou to be unfailingly polite and helpful.  But put someone behind the wheel of any moving vehicle, and they turn into the Driver From Hell.  The other day, our van driver almost took out two guys on a moped … who were speeding down a clearly-marked one-way street the wrong way!  Both vehicles stopped inches apart (maybe an inch, really), and both drivers proceeded to engage in a withering stare-down contest.  In other words, the idiots on the moped were actually irate someone turning into the one-way street and headed in the proper direction (our van) had had the temerity to get in their way.  Weird stuff!

On another note, I got shaken down for cash by a monkey the other day.  Admittedly, it was a trained monkey, and kinda cute.  Yumiko and I had taken the bus downtown to watch the synchronized dancing in Wui Square (more about that later), when a somewhat scruffy Chinese beggar with a trained monkey noticed me sitting by the central fountain, and made a beeline for me.  The monkey rolled over, hopped and skipped, and thrust his hand out pretty insistently.  I gave him a 1 yuan coin, which he kissed, bounced on the ground (presumably to check its genuineness), and handed to the beggar.  A decent enough act, so I gave him another coin.  All in all, I was surprised to come across a trained animal show of any sort in Fuzhou.

I’d have to second Greg’s assessment above of our trip to the museum.  As a historian, I’m very sensitive to how museum’s present information.  The photography exhibit in the first building we entered was first-rate!  Very nicely-exhibited and informative, with great translations in English.  The second exhibit on local folk arts was also worthwhile.  But the natural history building stuff just had to be leftovers from the early 1970s.  The animal diorama was particularly sad, with poor lighting, moth-eaten models, and a series of push-button boards that once allowed visitors to make the animals light up, move, or cry out.  Most buttons seemed to no longer work.  Then again, the rows and rows of  specimens in formaldehyde filled jars, like some mad scientist’s lab, might have been creepier.  No wait, the fire-engine red statue in a fountain between the two buildings of a nude boy twisting and hiding his genitals with his hands … that was really, really, REALLY creepy (but made for a great photo)!

Greg G.

Day 15: July 17

Greg made a very perceptive observation today, about it being safer to drink beer here than drink the water.

The first set of classes we contracted to teach are completed.  From what everyone has been saying, the final speeches in our Public Speaking sections all went well.  The students seemed genuinely sad that the courses had come to an end, and many of them would not be seeing us again.  So we were held over for a mad flurry of photos, students posing with teachers.  Even Alex, who hasn’t yet participated in any teaching, got in on the act, and seemed to attract quite a lot of attention from the girls.  Hopefully, someone will think to tell us about the procedure for submitting final grades.

I took the group out for a celebratory lunch at a nearby hole-in-the-wall noodle shop.  They seemed tickled pink to have us there, and tried to rearrange tables for us, brought us tissues to use while eating, etc.  We had big bowls of noodles with pork, some greens, some spicy potato strips (a distant cousin of french fries), and four huge bottles of beer, all for about $10 U.S.

Adam was set to interview the President of Hwa Nan Women’sCollege this afternoon, with Alex assisting.  He’d already interviewed about seventeen students this week, and done interviews with the past president and a teacher earlier.  The interviews seem to be going well (the girls have proven lively subjects!), so I’m very hopeful about our final product.

Greg G.

On July 17, we successfully completed Session 1! Yeah!!!

I structured my 10-day- intensive Japanese class in a way students can earn good grades through 4 homework assignments, 1 mini project (“Let’s go to Japan”: each student did a mini research project on one place in Japan she wants to go & did the presentation on the last day), 1 vocabulary quiz, 2 Oral exams, 1 final Exam & attendance. That’s a lot in 10 day days, but all of my 30 students diligently completed all the requirements! I also taught two Japanese songs. Alyssa, my daughter, who was my assistant, put together two nice Power Point presentations on Japanese clothes and the places in which our students expressed interest. I did one presentation on Japanese foods. It has been both a challenging & rewarding 2 weeks for everyone!

Yumiko G.

Day 16: July 18

Hell, I now know, is walking two hours in an unfamiliar city in 100 degree plus heat in search of a street of antique shops.  Today, Jordan, Adam, and I set off in what should have been a half hour-long trip to some stores we’d visited a few days ealier(by college van).  Somehow, we got turned around.  Imagine a large rectangle, with our destination located in the lower right-hand corner.  We started out in the lower left-hand corner, and pretty much completed the rectangle travelling left to right!  The fact that Chinese streets go in pretty much any direction didn’t help matters any, either.  Somehow we did stumble upon our destination, andgot in a bit of antiquing before catching a taxi back to school (for 10 yuan, about $1.50).  Jordan bought two Qing Dynasty blue-and-white plates at bargain-basement prices (boy, does he know how to haggle!), Adam bought the coolest men’s bracelet I’ve ever seen, and I got a porcelain Mao pin andan old Chinese coin.  Unfortunately, the arduous journey pretty much left me with no energy left to do anything else, and I had to beg off a trip later that evening to the guy’s favorite bar.

I did meet with a postdoctoral student at Fuzhou Normal University named Terry Broad (Chinese, but he likes to use an English name), who is trying to research the architect who built Lewis Hall and Payne Hall (the lookalike building on the old Hwa Nan campus).  I had no answers for his questions at the time (as I’d warned him), but I’ve emailed our library requesting some assistance getting information.

A typhoon blew through, and we had a brief but heavy downpour around dinner time.

Greg G.

Day 17:  July 19

OK. I’m usually more than willing to accept certain cultural oddities. After all, it’s helped preserve my sanity in many a foreign country.  Sashimi from a fish still moving on the plate or pickled grasshoppers in Japan?  Why not!  Cows given the right of way on Indian streets?  Hey, it’s their country.   Smoking in theaters in Taiwan?  Well, a bit creepy, but maybe they’ve taken care of that since I last visited.

But what the heck is up with traffic in Fuzhou?!!  Geez, these people seem hell-bent on killing each other.  Pedestrians have absolutely no right of way hereabouts, even when on the sidewalk!  If a moped or car can get a jump on the other traffic by hopping the curb and dodging pedestrians, then they’ll do so, rudely beeping their horn as they bear down on you from behind.  Today, Yumiko had to yank me back from stepping in front of a taxi that was plowing ahead into my crosswalk, while on a neon-lit sign across the street I could plainly see a green walking man beckoning me to cross.  Actually, I’d planned to dare the guy to run into me, but Yumiko thinks provoking the locals is bad form. Meanwhile, I keep reassuring her that the paperwork involved in hitting a foreigner discourages such behavior.

Another interesting observation:  asking a merchant for a receipt is a sure party stopper.  You ask, and faces immediately cloud over as if you’d just asked to sleep with their mother.  I’d heard rumor that cheating on taxes is practically the national sport here, and I’m beginning to wonder if that’s not true.

Another torrential downpour this afternoon … lasting all of five minutes.  I’m beginning to like that aspect of Fuzhou’s weather in July.  Quick and dirty rainfalls.  Not like the dreary week-long soakings I grew up with in Erie, PA.

Went back to Nell’s friend’s jade shop to buy more jade.  Apparently Yumiko felt it wasn’t too early to buy her a birthday present (jade necklace; her birthday’s in mid-September), or an anniversary gift (a bracelet; our anniversary is in mid-December).  We then sought out a coin shop I’d seen last outing, which had some Mao pins from the Cultural Revolution visible through the window of the closed shop.  Today, blessedly, it was open, and the young guy who owned the shop had boththe knowledge and the merchandise to please me.  After tea and lots of questions conveyed via Yumiko’s Japanese kanji (there’s much carryover between kanji andChinese characters), I came away with an original Cultural Revolution armband, plastic stand-up Mao plaque, and twenty Mao pins of various hues and sizes for 100 yuan (about $15).  Needless to say, I spent quite a bit less than my wife today.

Duck & sweet and sour fish for dinner tonight.  Heavenly!  Hwa Nan provides us meals, if we want them.  Our cook is sweat, but there’s not always a lot of variety, so we occasionally go out for more adventurous fare.  One of the regular teachers warned us before he left that we’d be lucky to get anything spicy served, as our cook was used to cooking for the older retirees who normally grace our table.  Right now, it seems everyone who is normally on staff is home visiting friends and family (not that any of them said good-bye before leaving, except Jay), so we’re trying to drop hints.

Greg G.

My walk to the jade shop

It was a long walk even without getting lost and even for jade shopping; 45 min. one way in the heat.  Was it worth it?  Yes, it was:)

Pollution & trash…

Conscience for a clean society is yet to develop in China.  Pollution & trash all over the street bother me the most in China.  I feel like I might lose my limbs or come out like a total monster if I ever fell into one of the rivers here; they look so polluted.  Trash is all over the streets, and I have to hold my breath sometimes when the smell is too powerful.  Babies wear nothing on the bottom or pants with slits across so they can conviniently go to the bathroom anywhere, anytime.

Yumiko G.

So I know I’ve been the one to write about the bars before and writing about them again will make me seem either like I have a one-track mind or am an alcoholic, but I have to again. The past two nights at the bars have just been too bizarre not to write about.

The first night our professor went along with us to see the spectacle we had been talking about. For some reason when he came with us, the place transformed from a friendly, almost wholesome place to a den of creepiness. Drunk men who could only speak about five words of English bombarded us with business cards (in Chinese) and unwarranted touching. Girls also came over and talked to us, or rather said “I don’t speak English.” then proceeded to stand next to us and smile. They also looked thirteen and knowing China, quite possibly could have been thirteen. Needless to say, we made our exit quickly.

We came back to the bar the next night, but only because we had a coupon for twelve free beers. It couldn’t have been a more different place. Rather than a den of creepiness, it was more like a child’s birthday party. There was a girl singing Chinese pop songs and even a clown. I’ve been in bars around the world before and seen some strange things, but a clown in a bar takes the cake. The man walked around in full clown regalia and made balloon animals for everyone in the bar. He even made an octopus, which looked to be the most complicated balloon animal ever conceived.

It’s become a cliché to say that China is a land of contrasts. Going to the same bar twice in a row and having such different experiences in a way exemplifies China. It’s a land of differences where you can rarely do the same thing twice.

Greg A.


Day 18:  July 20

Beware what you wish for!  I’d asked the grad student I’d met for a tour of nearby Fuzhou Normal University.  Today, I got one …  lasting three hours!  Geez, the place is big!  Andon a hill.  We did take a brief respite, wherein Terry got some student he’d just met to brew us various teas to try (tea is a famous product of Fujian Province, and they drink it even on the hottest days, in a multi-step process that is quite amazing to watch).  Terry somehow also got the same student to try andtrack down a university t-shirt for me, as I’d expressed interest in buying one.  The consensus was that Fuzhou Normal U t-shirts aren’t actually for sale anywhere (which strikes me as odd in a school with tens of thousands of students), but various departments print them up for their own students.  So, if I understood correctly, the tea-brewing student, whom I’d just met, promised to call around his friends and find me a t-shirt, new or used.  Gotta love these people (when they’re not driving, of course!).  I did discover during my tour that Fuzhou Normal U has an outdoor swimming pool, which the public can use as well for 8 yuan a visit.  This may be a better option for Alex than the mass chaos of the public pool.

Adam, Greg and Jordan began their American Culture courses.  Fewer students (12-15 per class), which is good, but pretty much all freshman with less facility in English than our previous classes, which is bad.  Jordan seemed particularly distraught, having been spoiled by such a lively and appreciative classthe first time around.   I sat in on Adam’s class, and he did reasonably well, having learned to speak up, speak more slowly, and enunciate.  Greg, meanwhile, has impressed both Yumiko and I with his determination to revamp the American culture class and make it work for everyone.  All in all, I’m seeing some great collaboration from the guys on this.  As for me, my Summer Camp class apparently has been cancelled (though nobody has said so directly), so I’ll assist and supervise the other courses.  Alyssa will assist Yumiko with her second Japanese class; Yumiko again has the largest number of students of us all.

Greg G.

Day 19:  July 21


There was a tiny kitten, Mimi, in a nearby shop where we buy daily necessities.  I started calling the store “Mimi’s store.”  Mimi was the tiniest, cutest kitten I’ve ever seen in my life.  She looked to me 2 or 3 weeks old.  We stopped by the store in the morning & in the evening to adore her & play with her.  She looked so helpless.  Tonight, we learned that Mimi was hit by a car & died.  I am so heart broken.  The rule of “the survival of the fittest” is much tougher here in China!

Yumiko G. 

Today we were all taken to Fuzhou Panda World.  Yippee!  Ok, there were three pandas there … very tired pandas gasping in the heat.  Nothing beats seeing Pandas in real life.  But this site is supposed to be a really big deal, andyet the operative word we all came up with to describe the place was “shabby.”  The introductory exhibit in the much-touted museum is a tableau and painting depicting an old story that first mentions Pandas in Chinese history.  Yet it looked as though they hadn’t dusted in years (the Panda’s white fur looked less than white), and paint on the wall was peeling off in many spots.  Upstairs, an exhibit meant to compare the gestation period of a panda and a human, so help me, had formaldehyde jars withwhat looked to be real human fetuses from one month through ten months.  Much of the rest of the exhibit consisted of enlarged (andslightly out of focus) photos of various pandas with their celebrity visitors.  In another building (where we had to ask the person in charge to turn on the lights for us) there was an entire room devoted to what has to be the most amateurish display of stamps from around the world depicting pandas (speaking I am as a former stamp collector andexhibitor).  There was also a trained bear (brown bears) show that pretty impressive technically.  We all just wanted to go back to the apartments after our visit.

That night after dinner, Yumiko, Alex and I walked thirty minutes to the Fuzhou Normal University pool, hoping it might be less crowded.  Sadly, that wasn’t the case.  Moreover, due to the fact they seem uninterested in chlorine there, the water felt very “sticky,” and Alex got distracted from his workout by the chance to catch frogs in the pool.   I got kind of grossed out by all the poolside spitting and spent cigarette butts.  So it’s back to the public pool for us!

Greg G.


Day 20:  July 22

This afternoon was the day of the big swim race between Alex and Josh.  Josh is a fifteen year-old Chinese boy, about the same size as Alex, who had noticed Alex swimming, and struck up a conversation with his passable English.  Josh swims the Fly and some Freestyle, and apparently had attended a special swim school program.  So, a challenge was issued, in good fun, and they made arrangements to meet just after noon on Wednesday (the pool is almost deserted at that time, Josh explained, because nobody wants to get too tanned here).  Anyway, today the lifeguards took down the ropes dividing the pool into two, cleared the few other swimmers off to the side, handed me a whistle, and cheered on the two competitors.  Everyone seemed to have great fun!  Alex and Josh swam a 100 Fly, a 50 Fly, and a 50 free, with Alex winning all three times.  We’ve taken a real liking to Josh, who is terribly polite, and haveinvited him to come swim with the Mariners in Sioux City next summer.  Josh has good form, but needs some more pool time (especially where there’s no need to constantly dodge others while swimming laps).

The other big event of the day was a trip to see the new Harry Potter movie, arranged for us by one of Jordan’s students.  The movie was in English with Chinese subtitles, the theater air-conditioned, and there was even coke to drink and popcorn (kettle corn-style) to eat.  A welcome taste of home!  We were somewhat surprised to see that a ticket cost about $10 U.S., which seemed a bit steep for China.

While the guys set to work on their handouts and Powerpoint for tomorrow (very serious, this group), Yumikoand I went on a long hike searching for a rumored local supermarket to do some shopping for everyone.  We did find it finally, and it was an exhilarating chaotic mass of people and goods!  We bought all the essentials:  beer, candy, gum, beer, coffee, beer andeven black sugar for Jordan who’s become addicted to the stuff (he puts it on everything, even fruit). 

Greg G.


Day 21: July 23 (Day 4 of the 2nd session) 

I have 30 students registered in my Japanese class again, but on average 26 students have been showing up.  Same diligent, hard working students, mostly Freshman just like my previous group, but some students’  English is not as strong, which compromises their class performance a bit.  Both classes loved learning a song from the film “My Neighbor Totoro.”  They’ll take the first Oral Exam tomorrow. 

“Let’s meet aroundnoon” in Chinese:  Additional comment on Alex & Josh’s swimming race yesterday.  I  set up the plan & went to the pool on the day of the race “around noon” as Josh suggested. Actually, we got there right at 12:00.  Alex started warming up and 10 minutes passed by, then 20 min…yet no sign of Josh.  I began to worry and wonder if we miscommunicatedor if Josh could not come for some reason, but there was no way to reach us.  By 12:30,  I was half convinced he might not show up … then here was Josh!  He kept apologizing for being late; when he foundout that we came at noon, he said, ” I am sorry, I haven’t explained to you yet…when we say ‘around noon’ in China, it means sometime between 12:00 & 1:00.”  Now I know.  Well, the two boys had great races & got to know each other a little bit better, so all’s well that ends well.

Yumiko G.


Day 22: July 24

Chinese college girls are quiet and shy.  My second Japanese class is worse.  While they’re talkative amongst themselves, try to get them to volunteer answers in class and it’s like they become mute!  I’m curious to ask them to lunch sometime, to see if any of them will actually take me up on my offer!  I think Frances and Willing might.  I don’t know if the blog has mentioned them yet.  Frances and Willing are sisters.  Willing is almost completely blind, so Frances takes care of her and brings her to class everyday.  It’s a beautiful thing to witness.  They’re both hardworking students. 

P.S. Dad is cheap

Alyssa, Daddy’s Soon-to-be-disowned Daughter

Random thought of the day:  It’s kind of nice to be living in an area that, unlike Shanghai or Beijing, is NOT overrun with foreigners.  With few exceptions, shopkeepers, especially the college kids who man many of the small shops near here (this area is absolutely chock-full of schools of all types!), seem to enjoy playing the game “What does the foreigner really want?”   Years of little used English language study get dredged up from memory, and eyes literally light up when a transaction is completed!  It makes one feel wanted.

In case I haven’t mentioned it yet, Hwa Nan provides us free laundry service.  This is something the folks at Hwa Nan had kept mentioning time and again during our pre-departure correspondence, which I always found a little funny.  “Room and board” made sense to mention, but why always throw in “laundry service” in the same sentence?  Well, it makes sense now.  HwaNanemploys a woman who’s sole apparent job is wash the foreign teachers’ laundry.  And with all but one of the regular staff on vacation, we’re getting great service!  We drop our stuff off in the morning, and its clean and folded and waiting for us when we show up for dinner that same evening.  This means we can survive on a pretty limited wardrobe.

The nearby mom and pop grocery we frequent got itself another cat, to replace Mimi who was hit by a car the other day.  Apparently, the new cat is also named Mimi.  They’ve got this one tied up, however, which should increase its chances of survival (though with mopeds and cars driving on the sidewalk…).

The guys showed the film “To Kill A Mockingbird” for the American Culture class today.  Unfortunately, the room only had fans and no air conditioner, and everyone got a little restless well before the movie ended.  The one question that seemed most popular with the Chinese students had to do with the “Mockingbird” of the title.  The girls wanted to read that literally rather than symbolically.  Symbolism, by the way, is not an easy concept to explain in English to non-native speakers!

Jordan bought a new basketball on Student Street last night, and tonight the guys rather ingeneously set up a “bowling alley” in their apartment, using masking tape to mark off the lane, empty water bottles for pins, and, of course, the new basketball as their bowling ball.  Adam trounced Greg and Jordan.  Afterwards, they set off to try and use the courts at Fuzhou Normal University.

Greg G.


Day 23 & Day 24:  July 25 & 26

Weekend trip to Xiamen, supposedly billed as one of China’s most livable cities, although I found it one of China’s most litter-strewn cities.  Anyway, Nell accompanied us on a guided tour for the weekend.  [Note to self: The guided tour was at the President’s insistance; she felt a guided tour would be “safer.”  Need to try and convince her that guided tours, while safer, provide all the excitment and enjoyment of an annual physical].

I think our tour guide must have gotten paid by the word, as she just would not shut up.   Incessant pratter is even worse when it’s in a high-pitched tonal language one doesn’t understand (although I’ll give her credit for always making sure we foreign guests were on the bus before departing for the next stop).

One highlight of the trip is that we got to meet and spend some time with Ben, who is Nell’s husband.  Ben is a computer programmer in Xiamen for a Belgian company, friendly, and speaks good English.  He was a real help, and took some of the pressure off Nell.

One thing I find especially bothersome about Chinese package tours is that they force everyone to make required visits to factory showrooms as part of the tour.  We got to visit one such place each day:  Saturday was the Taifu Knife Company and Sunday was a tea company.  I’m guessing the tour company gets a “subsidy” for these visits.  You’re not required to spend any money, but you’re also not discouraged from spending.  So, after a forced demo routine, they unleash you in the factory showroom.  I came away with some nifty toe nail clippers at the first shop (about $1), and some tea at the other shop (Yumiko really fell for the “first ten customers who buy the set also get the following items absolutely free!” come on; then again, so did Jordan, although HE may have been most interested in the anatomically correct urinating pig statuete).

We did manage to take in some interesting sights, however, such as Hulishan Fortress (a turn-of-century coastal fort that boasts an 1893 manufacture Krupp canon acknowledged as the biggest and oldest such gun extant worlwide), the Jimei Kah Kee Park (dedicated to the memory of Singaporean businessman Tan Kah Kee, whom I’d never heard of but he seems a big deal to the locals), Gulangyu Island (with a beach, a real beach!) which is pedestrian traffic only, and a kick-arse temple complex known as South Putuo Temple.  We also took an hour-long ferry ride that crossed into Taiwanese territorial waters at the Kinmen Islands before turning back; for this they even checked passports before departure.  My complaint about the latter was that once on ship, they offered to let us on the upper deck IF we paid an additional 150 yuan (over $20) to rent a table.  I get really offended with such bait and switch tactics.  The guys went in on a table, though, and probably had a better experience for it.  On the lower deck, nobody sat for the longest time, but rushed over to see each sight as it was announced, jostling each other for position.  makes one wonder about any sense of the good of the collective…  

We also got to be stars for a while, as visiting Chinese tourists came up asking to take pictures with us.  Alyssa and Alex proved especially popular, with Alyssa sitting at one site for individual photos one after another with a group of women who seemed to be in their thirties.  One neat, unanticipated benefit of being in a part of China not yet overrun with foreigners like Shanghai or Beijing.

One thing I found I really appreciate about China:  Chinese optical shops will clean glasses and make minor repairs for free!  One of the nose rest pads on my glasses broke off, and so Nell led me to a nearby glasses store, where they carefully replaced both pads (so they’d match up) and cleaned my glasses, without complaint or recompense.  So, what could have been a miserable rest of the trip for me was saved.

Greg G.


Day 25:  July 27

I have found a new favorite food in China:  the “Bunny Burger!”  We discovered a fast-food chain that goes by the name “Ruibite,” which, in Chinese, is pronounced something like the English word “rabbit.”  They serve burgers made of rabbit.  And boy are they tasty!  In fact, rabbit burgers taste quite a bit like McChicken burgers, but softer and jucier.  If Americans weren’t so squemish about eating bunnies (and seriously, what has any of the bunnies in your yard done for you lately?), I think this chain would be a big hit in the States, too!

Greg G.

The worst thing that can happen in China is to get sick … lucky me. After two days of my throat hurting so bad that it was hard to swallow, Nell took me to see a doctor at a nearby hospital. After getting there at 1 and being told that the nose and throat doctor would be there at 2, we waited on some benches with a nice Chinese family. When two o’clock came and passed Nell asked the janitor about it and found out they actually don’t open until 3! So we had to wait for another grueling hour at the hospital. When they did finally open there’s a mad rush into the office because the doctor looks at patients according to the order of a hospital log you are to put on his desk, and you can only submit the log after the doctor arrives.  The hospital room was not very impressive,  run down and old, and I wasn’t feeling very optimistic about this whole thing. After telling the doctor that I had a sore throat ( translated into Chinese by Nell), he immediatly asked if I had a fever and checked my temperature.  He was probably nervous I had Swine Flu. Luckily, I didn’t. After getting a  blood test after my mom’s persistent questioning to make sure they still don’t reuse needles, the doctor told me it was nothing serious and I  just needed to take some antibiotics and I would be fine. I was glad I wasn’t contagious and didn’t have anything serious like Strep Throat that would’ve been bad considering that we were going to be leaving in 5 days. Seeing the doctor and getting drugs cost only 83 yuan without insurance ( roughly 12 dollars). Two days later, I was feeling  a lot better and am almost back to normal. It was quite the experience.

Alex G.

Additional words from Alex’s mom about his hospital visit…

Nell was our savior, what could we have done without her at a local hospital in China.  She spent a whole afternoon in the hospital with us.  She knew how everything works, had skills to effectively navigate our way without being pushy but not being pushed around either.  She assured me that drawing blood was safe although “everyone does it” did not comfort me.

One thing that was weird was there was very little privacy in the hospital.  Two desks of the doctors were right in front of the waiting chairs where everyone sat & we observed other patients being examined as we waited.  Many patients come with the whole family & the family members surround the patient as she/he sees the doctor.  The test results that patients did not pick up right away are left on the counter for all to see.  However, we only waited 8 minutes to get Alex’s blood test results.

All’s well that ends well…I must say!  Overall, the hospital visit helped Alex.  However, I am hoping that no one else need to go there!

Yumiko G.


Day 26: July 28

After work, Nell took us in the school bus with some fifteen or so students to tour a very expansive and very relaxing Daoist temple complex on what I believe is called “Black Mountain.”  Basically, it’s in downtown Fuzhou next to the famous Black Pagoda.  Greg joined in with a friendly group of Chinese practicing Tai Chi, and did a passable job of it.  The students took way more photos of us and withus than they took of the temple itself.  Yep, it’s great to be popular!  We concluded the evening with a dinner at a famous snack restaurant (“fish balls” was a specialty of the House), and a walk through the section of downtown Fuzhou that has been recreated as an old merchants’ street.  We ran across one store that sold matching his & hers t-shirts, and my wife “tricked” me into buying a set that reads (in Chinese):  “I eat but don’t clean dishes” for the woman and ” “I clean dishes but don’t eat.” for the man.  Sounds suspiciously like a put-down of males to me.

It amazes me how much walking we’ve done this month!  We all should be in great shape for the start of school.

Greg G.


Day 27:  July 29

Alex went out with Josh and his family for dinner, while most of the rest of us tried a nearby Korean restaurant.  The latter featured real, authentic kimchi!

Mostly, today seemed a good day to shop for last-minute gifts.  Yumiko and the guys all took taxis back to Nell’s friend’s jade shop.  Myself, I figured it’d be easier on me not to go, and not worry about how much Yumiko might spend on yet more jade (remember, this would be her THIRD visit to the same jade shop!).


Day 28:  July 30

The highlight of today was a Farewell Dinner given us by Hwa Nan.  We went tonight becuase Greg leaves tomorrow afternoon by train to Beijing for a brief visit before flying home.  Anyway, HwaNan’s past president chose an out-of-the-way restaurant frequented by local artists, where art decorated all the rooms, and you don’t actually order any specific food, you just tell them your budget and they prepare and surprise you with appropriate dishes.  Judging from what we got, Hwa Nan must havereally splurged on us!  We had at least twenty courses, with such unusual delicacies as snake (which Adam, Alex and I had been craving), sea slug, duck, oysters in the shell, and crab.  Everything was supremely delicious, and we all stuffed ourselves.  I may never be able to eat again!  I noticed Alex somehow again got himself seated next to the former president, who has a tendency to pour beer for everyone within arm’s reach, no matter their actual age!  Thank heavens the local brews  are all lower alcohol content (generally in the 2.0-3.1 percent alcohol range).

Earlier in the day, Yumiko and I braved a Chinese post office in order to mail her Japanese textbooks home (and save the necessity of packing heavy books in our luggage).  What an ordeal!  First, we arrived at 12:35 to discover that post offices here close completely for a long lunch hour.  Second, when we returned later, we found that the prospect of mailing books confused the people on duty, and we had to wait while they called a supervisor elsewhere to get instructions.  Then, they had to reopen the padded envelope I was using, take out and inspect all the contents, presumably to ascertain we were only sending books and not something else (though one has to wonder who in their right mind would try to sneak in a letter or something similar when it takes two months to reach the States).  Finally, we had to sit through a presentation of the various means to ship the books, which featured a very expensive-seeming airmail option that we finally learned wasn’t even available (why the clerk even bothered with this escaped us).  An hour later we left exhausted.

Yumiko wanted to buy a cheap umbrella to protect one that Alex broke the other day (umbrellas help block the sun), and so we headed into Student Street where the rest of the group had disappeared earlier.  I’ve noticed Yumiko is always really popular in these shops; they initially mistake her for a Chinese and try to speak to her in Chinese, and then are amazed with her English ability.  I wonder if that doesn’t havesomething to do with the fact that Student Street shops are full of student employees who are themselves struggling to master English at school.  Anyway, once they’ve ascertained that Yumiko is not in fact Chinese, a guessing game usually ensues to try and figure out what nationality she does possess.  Rarely has anyone correctly guessed Japanese (usually they try American or British, which I guess is a testament to her English ability).  In addition to an unbrella, Yumiko got roped into buying some new underwear solely due to the fact that she was enjoying the group of sales girls at the shop so much.

Speaking of enjoying shop help, we all ate lunch at our favorite “Bunny Burger” fast food restaurant.  The people there seem genuinely excited when we happen in, and they even try to figure out the best food combinations to save us money.   Yumiko got them to put up the “How a bunny becomes a burger” video (which didn’t stop any of the guys from chowing down), and Yumiko later got the staff to pose for photos with her.  They do make a mean slushy there (which is what Yumiko orders).

For the second to last day of classes, Adam taught the girls poker, while Jordan and Greg combined their classes to teach football and Red Rover.  Jordan instructed in football, and it was a real hoot!  Jordan used a basketball in lieu of a football.  unfortunately, he hasn’t yet learned that when teaching non-native speakers, one must be very precise with one’s instructions!  Jordan designated a girl as Center, and explained how one hikes the ball between one’s legs, except for the fact that the Center should wait for a signal from the Quarterback before hiking the ball.  Jordan handed his Center the ball, and before he could crouch down in position, she threw the ball between her legs and caught him right where it counts.  Jordan doubled up in pain, while the girls doubled up with laughter.  At least it broke the ice a bit.  Shortly thereafter, while trying to demonstrate a passing route, Jordan got beaned in the head by his over-excited Quarterback.  Can’t fault the guy for trying!

Greg G.


Day 29:  July 31

Geez, where did this month go?  Last day of classes, and everyone seemed sad to be finishing, teachers and students alike.  The girls bought gifts:  a nice bracelet for Yumiko, a framed piece of artwork for Jordan, Chinese stone name stamps for Adam and Greg (which they engraved with their initials), a local handicraft for Alyssa.

Greg left at 3:30 for the train station to catch his train to Beijing (after Yumiko sewed up several holes in his shorts so he’d have something decent to wear).

The family and I joined Josh (he writes it as Jochi) and his parents for dinner.  Turns out the “older brother” I thought he’d been swimming with was actually his rather young looking 41 year-old father!  They live on the eighth floor of an apartment building still very much under construction down near Student Street.  When we arrived, the elevator was out of commission.  So we climbed the stairs.  Not much fun in temps over 100 degrees!  We then discovered that they were going to take us out to dinner, as the gas to their oven had been shut off for some inexplicable reason.  The parents insisted we had to wait for the elevator to be fixed before leaving for the restaurant, however, which took some time, and left me thinking perhaps the stairs would be safer, all things considered.  So, off to a nice restaurentwe went, where we were treated to another more-than-anyone-could-ever-hope-to-eat meal … duck, crab, prawns, squid, mussels, etc.  I felt so spoiled!  Then, it was back to the apartment for ice cream and tea, and another long trip up eight flights of stairs as the elevator was again inoperative!  [Interestingly, they couldn’t give us a mailing address as one hasn’t been assigned them yet!].  Alex and Josh played video games happily, Yumikoand I “conversed” withthe parents through Japanese kanji characters and her amazing electronic dictionary, while Alyssa literally hovered beside us encouraging us to take some photos and depart (so she could make one last trip to the club).  I wonder if it’s illegal to sell one’s first-born on the internet in China …  Anyway, we were very impressed withJosh; not only is his English quite good for a Middle School student, but he is amazingly polite and disciplined.  Oh yeah, and Josh’s dad presented me with a cool Mao pin that his own father had personally collected during the Cultural Revolution.

Greg G.


Day 30: August 1

Our last full day in Fuzhou, spent mainly packing.  Jordan spent the day withJulia (aka “Smiley Face Button Girl”) at Gushan Mountain, while the rest of us took a late break from packing to head downtown to WuiSquare for one last face-to-face with Mao (his statue, that is).  We ate dinner in a Japanese ramen shop (good, but pricey), bought Yumikoa calligraphy brush and Alex a Dragon carving from the local stone, and later in the square ran into the same beggar with performing monkey as before.

It’ll be hard to leave Fuzhou, especially now that we’ve gotten to know the area well enough to get around, and the locals have gotten to know us well enough to ask for photos as we’re preparing to leave.  I can’t speak for the rest of the group (they’re usually too busy to blog), but some of the things I’ll miss for sure will include:  bunny burgers, cheap local beer, lemon ice slushies (for 50 cents), Mao pins, students who actually do their homework ahead of time, good seafood, the cat at the corner grocery store, and the young students at the city pool who always tried to practice their English when we showed up.

Greg G.