Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Lynn Henrichsen, the BYU professor who taught us ESL (English as a Second Language) teaching skills at our BYU seminar,
came to visit. He was on a 4-week research assignment and spent a week on the campus here in Guangzhou.
He attended our classes, took videos and then had fun with us, especially Don who hiked him all over the city.
As it turns out, he is a good friend of Peggy Erickson Brown, and was excited to inform us about that after he returned home.
As we always say, "What a small world!"
This year has put me in contact with others that make us say, you know, "What a small world!"
Cathy Lewis, a BYU teacher from Las Vegas, is a Burgess who was raised in Vancouver.
She and her husband, Rex, are friends of our friends, Craig and Nancy Porter. When Cathy mentioned a hand bell choir,
I said, "That has got to be Nancy Porter." She has relations in Cherry Grove and a brother in Bow Island.
Andrea Pucket was raised in Glenwood and is a good friend of my cousin, Judy Davidson Burbank. There is always a bond with someone
from close to home. I think she may be the aunt of Devon Kutch.
Janet Stainton, our branch president's wife, has a sister in Calgary. They are from Yorkshire, England and they have a son who has just
been accepted into a PhD program at the University of Calgary.
Judy and Brent Harwood, also BYU China teachers, are good friends of one of the Brown boys from Taber.
Terri Ryan is a Beazer! What a surprise! She has been a good friend from another campus here in Guangzhou. Just last week she
mentioned that one of her grandfather's, or great grandfather's brothers, came to Canada and started a village called Beazer.
One of the owner chefs at a restaurant had just returned from looking at buffalo, to serve, in the Calgary area.
The owner of a favourite restaurant is from Afghanistan and Brad Hertz started speaking fluent Arabic with him.
A couple on the elevator were from Toronto.
When far away from home, these what-a-small-world-moments mean a lot.
Everyone asks where we are from, and we answer "ja-na-da," with the accent on "da," very proudly.
Peggy, here is Lynn with us on the second photo. (I just like this first one.)
The Dragon Boat Festival is a national holiday and people often watch the races on TV.
We were invited to go to the races with a foreign teacher from upstairs who is married to
a local Chinese girl. Sean said that he had done the research on the races.
It was a hot day and we left in the morning for the metro ride to the Pearl River. There were
many people on the site, but after about an hour we could tell that this wasn't the race venue.
We did see dozens of and maybe a few hundred dragon boats row up the river. Finally
it was concluded that this was a pre-race parade. It was fun to watch.
Every boat was a sleek, long boat in varying degrees of repair. Some were very fancy and others
must have come from nearby villages. Every boat had a large drum in the centre and a drummer or two.
It looked like there were 3 categories, depending on the length of the boat. Some of the crews
were in matching outfits and looked very fit. Others were just having a good time and were manned
by people of all ages. All the crews were enjoying this parade and were shooting off firecrackers held
in cages on long poles. Even though we didn't quite see the races, it was a fun time.
A certain kind of rice ball that is stuffed with nuts, fruit or meat and then all wrapped in bamboo leaves is the
traditional food for this festival. You steam the treat and everyone enjoys this. Don was given some
homemade morsels and the office staff gave us a bag of these steamed treats. (I don't really know
how to describe them. They could be called dumplings but that is not quite right.)
In some ways this experience represents the vagueness that is often found in China.
No one really knew where the races were or when. Even the office staff and students were
surprised the we knew. In the end, we didn't either.
The bullfrogs and cicadas at night make us feel like forest dwellers. The people that we see
regularly will be missed. They were a part of our lives even though our relationship consisted
of a morning or evening greeting. Our morning started with the sound of the woman sweeping
the walkway with a long broom. It is a relaxing, gentle sound.
China employs many people doing jobs that would be done at home with machinery. So, there
are many women and men on campus. Since the grounds are so well cared for, there are many
gardeners and grounds workers. Every building has security staff, and that employs hundreds.
Then, cleaning staff in the main teaching building are always visible. This is like a little city. When
you leave campus, the usual street vendors and bustle assault you and you are in a different world.
We have marvelled at the architecture of the main teaching building where we teach most of the time.
This university is well known for subtropical architecture, and the building represents that. It is open with
many breeze ways. There is no air conditioning or heat in the building, and except on the hottest days, like
today, it isn't necessary. It is a beautiful building.
Of course I am looking forward to home. First and foremost I have missed family.
Friends and the familiar rhythm of daily life come next. As far as things, this is what I have missed:
- my piano
- my sewing machine
- my vacuum (you can't imagine how a vacuum helps)
- hot water for the washing machine
- a dryer
Here are some pictures of the campus.
The women workers. The grandmothers tending toddlers on the plaza in front of the main teaching building.
The main teaching building from outside and in.
Sunday, 16 June 2013
China is magnificent.
This is how I describe to my students my assessment of China, and then
I add that I know what magnificence is because Canada is a magnificent country also.
The grandeur of the landscape is unsurpassed. There is even a Chinese Grand Canyon
here. There are flat open prairies that some undiscerning people find dull. But there
are also more mountainous areas than you would expect. China has great natural beauty.
"There are no beggars in China."
This is the official statement but it isn't true.
There are beggars but they are limited to certain areas and are not usually aggressive. A
visitor would not be accosted by beggars. However, those begging are in a terrible state
of physical deformity and it is sad to see. There are always a few men "living" in a warm passage
at the East Guangzhou Railroad Station.
Chinese are curious about what we think about China.
Chinese students are extremely curious about Western culture and how it differs from theirs. They
want to know the what, how and whys of their college counterparts. They have all watched English
TV shows and Hollywood movies, yet they are quite sheltered from the world, in general. It reminds
me of the 1950's when students were comparatively innocent. This makes for an extremely pleasant
teaching situation. At the same time, China is a very self-confident country. The crown of 6000 years
of history is worn proudly, as it should be. But, since China is the place of many paradoxes, the students
still want to assured that they are modern and good enough. They often want to talk about the One-Child
policy and are open about it. No student has ever brought up Tiananmen Square. I think that they are
largely in the dark about it. Also, many students want to know if we are Christian, and want to talk. When
we explain that our contract doesn't allow this beyond a very superficial conversation, they are surprised.
There are few foreigners in China.
Of course there are thousands of foreigners in China on any given day, but usually Don and I are the only
visible foreigners in sight. This is true for about 95% of the time. This has actually been a big surprise since
Guangzhou would have as many foreigners as any place in China. Some areas in the city have a foreign
presence. One is the wholesale fashion district where you see African and Middle Eastern foreigners. Many
are permanent residents. Then in the tourist areas, such as the famous shopping street Beijing Lu, you will
see North Americans and Europeans. But on the metro, we are almost always the only ones in sight. People stare
out of curiosity and we are used to that. Just for your information, the only time I was shoved over on
the metro was by a Middle Eastern man. The Chinese would never do that. But they would rush in front of
you to get in first. The metro system is working on that with lines drawn on the floor, and security guards trying to
queue people up.
China is a land of paradoxes.
A Gucci/Rolex brand name mall can be right beside, or near, an alley where people draw water from a cement cistern.
There is obvious extreme wealth alongside abject poverty. There is a rising middle class and many of the students
come from middle class families. At the same time, many come from poor agricultural villages. The mix of students is
encouraging. As an example, one student was raised in the mountains where his family owned a factory that makes
periscopes for the navy. His family has provided the workers in this isolated mountain village with all the community
services. He was educated at a boarding school. Other students are probably the only educated person from their village.
One boy talked about his mother going from house to house to solicit money because she couldn't pay his tuition.
Many have fathers who are taxi drivers or small restaurant owners. Most of the students would classify themselves as "traditional"
even though many have expectations and relationships that would not be considered traditional.
The Chinese language.
Forget it! It is just impossible!
We have learned to recognize a few words, but it is so difficult.
Don is able to tell taxi drivers how to get up home. If we ever came
again I would make more of an effort to speak more phrases. I would
especially try to learn a few characters so the writing could be understood, a little. That
might be possible.
I like the following picture because it illustrates one of the paradoxes in China.
You never really know what people truly think. (Politeness hides a lot.)
These two students were party boys. One missed a quiz altogether and both
came an hour late for another. ( Unusual, and "modern.") Yet they had great presentations, since you
can see they have charisma. Then, for their interviews they surprised me with
real concern for their country, etc. Then they wanted a photo with me.
OK, I know that the final grade hasn't been issued yet.
They remain a paradox.
Friday, 14 June 2013
Thursday, 13 June 2013
The temperature is warm year round and much of the living is done outdoors.
Perhaps the sidewalk food culture exists everywhere in China, but I have no
experience with other places. In Guangzhou, the street vendors selling snacks
and meals are everywhere. These ubiquitous vendors are besides the tiny eating
establishments. In one block you can pass four or five
small family restaurants with room for a dozen patrons. Much of the Chinese
economy is made up of very humble family businesses.
Street vendors supply all kinds of food: whole fruit, cut fruit, fresh juice from the fruit,
kabobs, Middle Eastern bread, omelettes cooked on the spot, little sponge cakes cooked
in semi-circluar tins, sugar cane, juice from sugar cane, steamed rice wrapped in bamboo leaves,
tofu, and many unfamiliar morsels.
It is fun to see it all. They do a good business near metro stations and schools.
We have loved the bread and the fresh orange juice. It is interesting to see the vendors wheel their
cooking equipment up and start cooking. There must be thousands in Guangzhou.
Sunday, 9 June 2013
There is the belief that all bathrooms in China are bad.
This isn't true.
Most are not 'bad,' but the ones that are, are very bad indeed.
Most places have the single hole in the floor, but the hole is made of
porcelain or stainless steel. In the newer restaurants, malls, or
hotels, there is usually a choice between this style and the Western
throne style. If a bathroom is old at all, there is no choice. Old means
only 5 years.
There is always a bathroom attendant that keeps things clean and
they do a good job. The 'bad' comes in places like truck stops or
remote tourist stops where the attendant can not keep up with demand,
or there isn't one. There is usually a bucket sitting in a corner and I
have seen women fill it and swosh it into the stall. People just take care
of things. This happened yesterday in a good mall washroom, and I just
assumed that this was a standard practice for this woman.
It is customary that every Western woman will have one unfortunate
experience while learning to navigate the demands of the bathrooms.
Believe me when I say, it will only take one experience to learn how
things work. After months, however, I did have a surprise. While turning about,
I stepped into the hole with one foot and since I am not flat footed, my foot
went down the hole up to my ankle. Yes, only a few know that I
am that uncoordinated. After the initial shock and the rush to rinse off
my shoe, I joined Don and we had a good laugh. All you can say, standing
there with a wet shoe and a wet pant leg, is, "The funniest thing just happened
Last week we spent a few hours at Shamian Island. We had visited the site earlier, but wanted
to see the area again.
This is the island, really a sandbar, that the British used as a permanent trading and residential base.
It is west of the original site where foreign traders were first allowed to set up shop. This sandbar was
leased from the Chinese government in the late 1850's and became the base for mainly British traders
with a small space for the French. Other foreign traders remained at an old site to the east, but within
20 years, the island had 10 consulates and many European nationals living there. It was a gated island where
the gates were locked at 9PM and the old, walled city of Canton was off limits.
The island itself is small, only 900 metres long. The fairly narrow canal, with the two old bridges, still
show how vulnerable the foreigners must have felt living in this "European refuge." Or perhaps, the
traders didn't feel vulnerable at all, which would have been a blissfully ignorant assumption.
The island today has 3 long streets and truly is a little bit of Europe. There is an old Anglican church and
a Roman Catholic church that is still in use. Now, the island is home to elegant hotels and very nice gift shops.
It isn't really like the rest of the city of Guangzhou, but it has a European charm. The history of the place makes
We sat along the wide Pearl River and had our supper at an open air restaurant. It was easy to imagine steamers
docking next to us and unloading their wares. The great grandfather of Brad Hertz, another BYU teacher, had lived
in Canton for 8 months in the 1870's. He was a trader from Hong Kong with a German export company. His journal says
that he lived across the river from Shamian Island and that the living conditions were very poor. We assumed that
"across the river" meant across the canal, into the city, which would have been just a stone's throw away. When the
city of Canton was finally opened for free access by foreign residents, most commented that the city
was chaotic, bedlam. The island, however artificial, would have been their "European refuge."
After the 1860's. Canton lost its prime importance as a trading centre, as more trading ports in China were opened to the world.
Visiting Shamian Island left me with a very emotional feeling and I can't tell what the feeling is.
It is part pride in the adventurous spirit of the British and other adventurers. It is part heart ache when I see the
little churches and realizing how far from home they were. It is part disgust at the arrogance of their demands.
It is part curiosity at how the Chinese dealt with these 'barbarians." It is part fascination about the 'waltz' that all were
The day we were on the island, we saw dozens of brides taking official wedding photos.
The place makes a good, unusual backdrop for the pictures. The architecture is definitely European.
And as always, the brides were fun to watch. Every Chinese girl that I have seen takes a good photo.
They pose, and it is something that we could do better.
Thursday, 6 June 2013
While walking back from class a few minutes ago, I was thinking about how the students this
semester really need elocution lessons more than anything else in their oral English class.Then, a falling mango nearly hit my head.Can you imagine that?A mango!Don and I have commented how leaving this beautiful campus will bring tears to our eyes.Luckily, the last time we will leave by van. Walking out would be too emotional.It is simply a beautiful place to live.Here are a few photos from our campus.One is of the lane where the mangos grow.Another shows a grandfather with his grandson posing on their bike.Another is of a fellow fishing at the West Lake, right by the campus hotel.PS. The loud frog noises at night are from bull frogs. They actuallysound like a trapped, bellowing bulls.
Tuesday, 4 June 2013
He and Lee Ann had a good time and he came back overwhelmed with the outpouring of gratitude for the
Canadian military from the Dutch people. We are proud of his example of service in World War ll. (I will try
to attach the Lethbridge Herald article)
The people of Dad's generation are interesting to watch here in China.
Actually, not many ninety year olds are out and about, although we were able to enjoy family
scenes during the spring festival time. The elderly, just younger, are about and we can see
a generational difference. There is often an awkwardness when passing me on the street. It
is a shyness perhaps, and it takes effort to get them to say "hello." Most likely it is an
unfamiliar situation because most, but not all, will respond when they realize my intent.
The generation that went through the 50's and 60's is respected for the difficult times they had to
endure. Quite a few student presentations speak of grandparents, especially grandfathers, loosing
everything after the "liberation," and being sent to work sites in the mountains. They also speak of
a terrible famine in 1942. The students see their grandparents as optimistic and resilient,
because of these experiences.
The metro (subway) highlights a generation gap. The older citizens are always quiet and take up very little space.
The younger riders are more extroverted and are talking on cell phones, just like at home. From a few
elderly head shakes and frowns, I can tell that the older people don't like to see affectionate displays on the metro
or the young not offering their seat to someone in need. Someone in need would be: first, an extremely old person,
then an expectant mother, then a mother with a child, and then anyone who looks the next oldest. Seats are not
automatically offered, except with the extremely elderly or the expectant mother. The older generation would be
more willing to do this. Unfortunately, the older people do not know English. I have had many conversations on the
metro, but the older people would have the best memories and stories.
Sunday, 2 June 2013
Here is the Ramada Pearl Hotel, which is an older hotel near the Pearl River.
Our branch rents a few rooms on the third floor and it works out well.
Yesterday, there was a congregation of about 100.
It certainly is an international branch with members from China, North America,
Spain, Brazil, Nigeria, Great Britain, and other African countries. At the moment,
there is an investigator from the Ukraine. There is another branch where
the nationals (Chinese) meet. Government regulations limit our branch to
foreign passport holders.
We'll want a doorman in Canada now!
We were lucky to have two authentic Cantonese meals, and both
were delicious affairs, with a dozen or more of us sitting around
a large, round "spinner" table. A Cantonese dinner is always a
very sociable party.
Jerry, our guide, explained some of the Cantonese customs. We had
learned of some, but are certain that we commit many a faux pas.
At the start, some hot tea was poured into a cup. Jerry explained that
you should swirl the tea around the other cups and bowls, to make sure
things are clean. Of course, it all looked very clean, but this is the
custom. Then a pitcher was available for us to pour out the water/tea.
Then the dishes start arriving, and there must have been at least 10 or 12.
They come when they are ready, and not all together. This takes about a
half hour or more. Near the start, the waitress brings a large bowl of
soup and ladles a cup of soup for everyone. The Cantonese soup is
usually a bland broth.
The dishes are wonderful vegetables, whole fish prepared in a beautiful
way with what I would call a sweet and sour sauce over it, duck, pork, chicken,
beef and the yummy stuffed tofu (Hakka) dish. Jerry explained
that he always likes a small bowl of plain rice at the end of every meal.
Dessert is something very small, often a plate of fruit.
At the evening meal, we were served some delicate green pastry, that looked
beautiful. Inside was durian fruit, which I didn't realize until the first bite.
Honestly, you either have to love it or hate it. It is so distinctive. I don't
We ate "Panyu style," which means that the waitresses leave the diners alone
and only come when asked for something. Jerry had to leave to ask for
something a few times. In Guangzhou, there is often a waitress nearby
Some of the photos are of the durian pastry and fried milk, which is very good.
The second stop on our day trip was the Nansha Wetlands Park, another 60 km. south,
We passed more vegetable and fish farms on our route to this park, which is locatedwhere the Pearl River and the ocean water meet.This wetlands park is a good example of the many tourist sites that the countryhas recently developed. They are always very well designed and built.Our group took a pleasant boat ride through the wetlands, which reminded meof the Florida everglades, even though I have never been there. The mangrove treeswere especially interesting, as were the snow-white egrets (birds) that winter there en routefrom Siberia and Australia. This is a bird watcher's paradise.Then our group biked around the park. This was the first time I have been nervous in China.First, the bike was difficult to steer. But mainly, I was nervous cycling with so many people allaround me. It was a crash waiting to happen, so I cut the fun short. As I thought about it, I realizedthat I am not a great cyclist, but mainly, the number of people on the road simply made me frightened.Then I thought, "I have only ever cycled on a country, prairie road, and by myself, never in a city."There was a cultural disconnect happening here.Next to the park was a fish market, since the place is next to the fishing piers. The variety of fish wasamazing, and not all looked delicious, but some of the office girls vouched for it.
It was a hot day (34 C), with high humidity, but a rare breeze saved the day.
We were bused south of the city to two sites. The area was considered
countryside, and we saw many fish ponds, sugar cane fields, corn
fields and other market garden crops. All the fields are tiny by Canadian
standards, and we never felt as though we were in real country.
The first stop was Baomo Garden. This is a lovely, renovated park with carved
bridges and even trees that date from the Song Dynasty. One famous tree
is 1000 years old. The park celebrated the memory of a "perfect" soldier, from
Chinese history. The park is reminiscent of the famous Summer Palace near
Beijing with covered walkways and a charming, open feeling. There were
expansive rose gardens and lotus ponds. The Chinese have a wonderful
sense of artistry and beauty.
June 1 is always Children's Day in China and there were hundreds of children
enjoying the park. It was a perfect day for the fun swimming pool. The wading
fish pond, where toddlers were trying to catch fish in nets, looked even more fun.
Notice the rare blue sky.