Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Yantai Thanksgiving

"'Twas the night of Thanksgiving,
And all through the foreign teachers' building
Not a teacher was stirring
Except the four of us, who were killing time before our midnight train to Yantai."

So began our Thanksgiving weekend. We caught the night train and arrived in the beautiful city of Yantai on Friday morning, where our American friends greeted us with an American breakfast. Mmmm.

For lunch, we went to a place the Yantai team calls the "Happy Restaurant," which faces the sea and has American food. I think you can guess why it's so happy.

With Elizabeth, my host for the weekend and friend from training, enjoying the seaside behind the happiness restaurant

Now I will mention my only non-food-related item of the weekend: After lunch, we walked down the boardwalk to Yantai Hill, where the European embassies and settlements were located after the Opium War. Yantai became one of the port cities that was forced to open in the unequal treaties that followed the war, and many people from Germany, England, and other countries settled there. One highlight was seeing Hudson Taylor's former church.


Chinese rose, European building

Some of the explorers on the Holly Path

We went back to the campus. Sara and Jess and I peeled two dozen apples for the next day's pies. We only meant to peel 12, but we got carried away comparing our peeling techniques and pretty soon there was enough apple to fill a huge wash basin, or approximately three pies.

Excessive apple peeling in Liz's living room

For supper, we ate Joni's homemade chili.

The next day, we had more homemade delights for breakfast, including Liz's pumpkin-chocolate-chips, Alan & Connie's granola, and Tarah's banana bread.

Then came the big meal. We were all VERY happy that team Yantai had managed to secure turkey, because they are hard to find in China!

Sue with the turkey, baking to perfection in the restaurant oven

The restaurant kitchen where our two turkeys were baked, because their ovens were the only ones big enough. (My oven is the size of my microwave, and team Yantai's are no bigger.)

Elizabeth welcomes the group

Some of us walked off the meal by heading up the hill to the 80th anniversary park the school just built.

We had a Thanksgiving service together, played some cards, and ate more food. Then we had some cookies and went to bed.

On Sunday, we took our 8-hour bus ride home. All in all, it was a great weekend. I loved seeing friends and seeing a new part of Shandong Province. And the best part is, I'll never need to eat again.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thoughts on Thanksgiving Eve

It is less than an hour away from Thanksgiving here in China time. I think most Americans feel like holidays "sneak up" on us, which seems a little funny since most major holidays have a build-up of at least several weeks. But there's no build-up here -- I haven't yet seen any harvest decorations, Thanksgiving sales, or turkeys in the grocery stores -- so the "sneaking up" didn't really begin until just a few minutes ago when I realized that Thanksgiving is tomorrow. My teammates and I are planning a short trip to Yantai to feast with other American teacher friends.

This helpful tourist map shows a few destinations you might recognize: Qufu, where I live; TaiShan, where I climbed a mountain a couple weeks ago; Jinan, where I buy my cheese; Qingdao, where I visited a student last year, and Yantai, where I'm going for Thanksgiving!

Some of you might have heard about the stampede in Cambodia yesterday. I read some of the stories today and was horrified at the abrupt, scary, painful way that so many young lives were ended. Please be lifting up my organization's team in Phnom Penh as they help their city process this tragedy. One of them writes on her blog:
This year our Thanksgiving celebration will be juxtaposed with a National Day of Mourning here in Cambodia. As the country mourns for those lost, there are still many unanswered questions about how this could happen. Our friends and students have been unable to sleep for the last couple of nights, many scared by the thought of ghosts wandering the city and other superstitions. Even our house helper, who is a Sister, said today that she is afraid of the ghosts because she lives near the hospitals where many victims were brought. She said that 20 people in her own neighborhood died in the stampede, including a family of five. For us and our teammates, this is a time to listen to our Khmer friends and to speak truth and love.
Finally, thanks for the words of sympathy regarding my grandma's death. Losing a family member while abroad is exactly as you might imagine: hard, and a little surreal. As I sit here and think about it in light of this post ("Thoughts on Thanksgiving Eve"), I think the death of both of my grandmas this year has reminded me of how good the Good News actually is. They both had put their faith in Jesus and could approach their deaths with their eyes confidently fixed on heaven. It's a lot better than reaching the end of 8 or 9 decades of life and having the sudden panicky feeling that you lived for the wrong things or you never made your peace with God. So I'm thankful first for God's Good News, and second for my grandmothers' good examples.

And I'm also thankful for all the good food I plan to eat in the next three days. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Goodbye, Grandma L

My Grandma Lentz passed away yesterday after a short bout with a very bad pneumonia.

At age 95, she still lived in the house where she and my Grandpa had raised five children. My Grandpa died about 15 years ago, and Grandma lived alone since then. She had an active garden, cooked great meals whenever we visited, and was always working on a craft project or a crossword puzzle. She lived so long and so well that I always thought she'd make it to at least 100.

Checking out the garden before I left for China

In many ways, Grandma Lentz reminds me of the woman in Proverbs 31:

She "set about her work vigorously... She watched over the affairs of her household and did not eat the bread of idleness." (v. 17, 27). I'm amazed at the productivity of her life. She went to Iowa Normal School (now UNI), and later put in time as a one-room school teacher and telephone switchboard operator. She worked as a county auditor for many years, probably one of the few working moms in local government back then. She saved the ballot bags from election day and was known for turning them into everything from clothes to quilts. She baked pies, canned tomatoes, and made awesome pickles... She painted, quilted, and embroidered. She taught me how to crochet. Even in her 90s, she would go out and rake the leaves if the yard guy didn't get there fast enough.

Presenting me with hand-embroidered dish towels

1990: Painting wooden ducks with the grandkids

"She opened her arms to the poor and extended her hands to the needy." (v. 20) My favorite example of her willingness to volunteer is Meals on Wheels. We got a kick out of the fact that she delivered meals to shut-ins who were years younger than she was. I think she continued driving around these meals until she was almost 90. She was a faithful church member and a good neighbor.

"Her children (and grandchildren) arise and call her blessed." (v. 28). I think all of Grandma's relatives are guilty of bragging about her at one time or another. In the twenty-six years I knew her, she changed very little. She was always working on projects, managing an active social calendar, staying involved with the church, and maintaining her sharp wit. She seemed to age about one year every decade. And somehow she managed to raise these yahoos, which only a truly blessed woman could do and maintain her sanity:

It's hard to know which memories to share here because so many of them are flooding my mind. Most visits to see Grandma in New Hampton shared a few elements: Playing cards or Skunk, rummaging around in the closets for some childhood memory of my dad and his brothers, firing a few rounds on the potato gun out back (which always worried Grandma), and being fed until we burst. When I was really little, a visit to Grandma's also meant that we could go down to the table in the basement and pick out a toy or decoration that Grandma and Grandpa had made together.

At Christmastime, the house always looked the same: the nativity scene and the small artificial Christmas tree sat on the same tables where they sat 50 years ago when my dad was growing up. I spent almost every Easter morning of my life hunting for eggs and candy in Grandma's house, sometimes getting the grand prize of a dollar for the win (or settling for the 25 cent consolation prize).

Every visit ended with Grandma stepping out the back door and raising her arm in the signature Lentz wave to see us off when we left her house. I will miss her, and I will miss the things I never had a chance to learn from her.

Goodbye, Grandma L.

Friday, November 12, 2010

What my Campus Looks Like Today

I took a little stroll around campus today to enjoy the changing leaves and slanting afternoon sunshine.

It has been a nice fall in Qufu this year. I remember last year's fall as one giant, two-month-long sniffle. We had cold temperatures, a rare early snow, and swine flu precautions at every turn. My students kept missing class because of quarantines and colds. And I don't remember having any of these warm, golden days. So it's nice to have a pretty fall this year -- thank you, God!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Climbing Mount Tai

This weekend I checked an important thing off my list: Climbing Mount Tai! I've been living just an hour away from this famous mountain for over a year, so it was high time to check it out.

Mount Tai is called Tai Shan in Chinese; shan means mountain and is the same character in the name of my province: ShanDong (east of the mountains).

Anyway, Tai Shan is one of China's five holy mountains. The path is paved all the way to the summit -- over 6000 stairs! -- and there are shops and temples the whole way up. We were fortunate to visit on a cool, sunny day without many crowds.

In ancient times, new emperors climbed to the top of Tai Shan to pray to the gods. Many people who climb it these days still consider it sort of a religious pilgrimage and will stop into the small temples to make a wish for their families, burn some incense, or hang a symbolic padlock to wish for long romantic relationships or future health and safety. My tutor just told me today that if you make a wish on Tai Shan and it comes true, you have to go back to offer incense at that temple. (For this reason, she chose not to make any wishes when she went.)

We had a great day climbing, in spite of wearing way too many clothes (on the advice of our students) and nursing sore legs from all the stairs. Enjoy the pictures!

Writing on the Red Gate, our starting point

Brandishing our walking sticks

Fall foliage

My teammates Chip & Mallary with Megann at the money tree. Must be another good luck thing.

Praying at a small temple

Tarah and me

Lucky locks

The famous Tai Shan "guest-welcoming tree"

Looking up at the South Heavenly Gate, which sits close to the summit above a gruelling 1600-step climb known as "Eighteen Bends"

On Eighteen Bends

One of many photos with Chinese tourists who stopped us for "photo shoot with the foreigners."

Buildings by the South Heavenly Gate, where many people spend the night and wait to see the sunrise.


The sign in the foreground shows that we are on one of the five holy mountains, and the building in the background is a hotel for tourists awaiting sunrise.

The summit, 1545 meters above sea level

Post Edit:  Travel details, for the curious
How we got there:  Arranged a private driver and van from our base in Qufu
Time to climb:  All day (morning until sunset), with a slow pace and lots of stops
Getting down:  A few people took the cable car, some of us clumsily climbed down in the dark.  That got us to halfway, where we tried to have our driver meet us.  But apparently that's not allowed, so eventually we somehow got on a bus that took us to the town below, where our driver met us.  Would have been hard to arrange without our Chinese-speaking friend.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

China's Changing Countryside

China’s Changing Countryside
By a junior English major

China’s countryside has been changing quickly and hugely in every aspect.

Ten years ago, there were few electric appliances in villiager’s house, except for the TV. However, recently years many villiagers in China’s countryside have computers, refrigerators in their homes besides the TV. Ten years ago, people in countryside use public telephone to communicate with relatives, but now villiagers have their own mobilephones. That is more convenient.

When you walk into a countryside in China, you’ll no longer see the muddy streets. Instead, you probably will see electrical bicycles or even cars driving on the road. Most villiagers have apartment in city. Villiagers, especially women, started to decorate themselves. They make up, and dress as the way city people do.

What’s more, villiagers pay more attention to their children’s education. They send their children to good schools to learn knowledge, in order to reduce the gap between their children and city children.

Besides, villiagers try to live their life in a more healthy way. They gradually know how to absorb nutrition from foods. There are more dicilous food in villiagers dinner table.

As the society develop, the countryside in china will be changing more.

China’s Changing Countryside

By a junior English major

I choose this article because I was born in the countryside and I have been living there for almost 21 years. I saw the changings and felt the changings. Let me tell you what did the countryside look like several years ago.

People living in countryside 15 years ago were poor. They lived a hard life. Women, old people did farming in the fields and men went out to find ways to make money. There was no tar coated road in my village and car was rare to see. Once I remembered that my grandma took me to see cars because I wanted to draw one. We walked almost about miles of mud road, then I saw many trucks.

I didn’t know how, but after I going to the school, things have changed a lot. Lots of men and women made a tar coated road in my village. They even build storied house. My family also moved to a new house. It was a two storied building. They year before last year, we moved to a higher building. My father even bought a Ford car. Yes, people now are living a happy life. The life does not means too hard to us. Besides working, people now learn entertainment. They have walk in the park, go to supermarket, go to library and watch movies.

Years before, the colour of China’s countryside was gray. But now, you can see the colourful countryside. China’s economy is growing fast and the government are paying much attention to the countryside. As a result, China’s countryside changed a lot. I hope the countryside as also as China would be better and better.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

China's Changing Families

China’s Changing Families
By a junior English major

Families are quite different now in China from those decades ago, due to China’s changing economy, policies, and culture.

In 1980s or early 1990s, family members usually lived together in the same big yard. They shared the kitchen, the bathroom, and the dinning-room, and when it was time for meals, all the family members would sit at the same table, eating and chating. Often, there were more than ten people in a family, including grandparents, parents, and grandchildren. So dinner time could be a good chance for families to get together and communicate. It was probably the liveliest time of the day, with children playing games together happily.

All the family members living together has its advantages, but at the same time, there are many inconvenience. As the values and life styles of elder people and young people are different, sometimes even opposite, an increasing number of families choose to live separately. Young couples prefer to live in apartment with their children. Because of the Family Policy in China, most couples can only have one child. As a result, children become lonely without friends playing together after dinner. However, they can enjoy the quiet time to read or do their own things. What’s more, parents can make flexible plans with fewer family members living together.

With the development of the various aspects of Chinese people’s life, families have been changing in the past and will go on changing in the future.

China’s Changing Families
By a junior English major

China’s families have been changing since the open policy in 1978. We Chinese people witness the big change during the past 30 years.

Our parents’ generation had a big family. Just take my father as an example, my dad had five younger brothers. It’s unbelieveable for us that my grandparents had 6 sons to raise. It was a tradition that if you had more children you would lead a happier life when you were old. But it was not true. Children didn’t have enough food to eat, enough clothes to wear What’s worse, children couldn’t go to school because their parents can’t afford the food let alone the education. Going to school is every child’s dream. Most of them would become peasants and worked in the fields the whole life.

It is different now. As our economy develops rapidly, our families have been changing a lot. Due to the one-child policy, most of China’s families are nuclear family. Only father, mother and child. Since parents have only one child to raise, so they can give their kid a happier and better life. Parents will try their best to make money to meet children’s need. Better and healthier food, fancy and good-quality clothes. The happiest thing is that every child can go to school. It is such a big progress.

Although different generations have different problems, we are leading a better life now. We should treasure this happiness.

In a word, China’s families have had big changes.

Clean Water for Haiti

Just a quick reminder that Haiti is in need of some assistance these days. Water Missions International is working to provide clean water to stem the spread of cholera. Check it out.

China's Changing Values

China’s Changing Values
By a junior English major

Thanks to the two fundamental state policies in China – the economic-reform and opening-up policy, China’s economy has increased drastically with people’s values changed. Before 1978, China is backward and lacks contact and communication with the world, so people tend to be reserved and traditional. For example, several decades ago, people didn’t want to have daughters, because in their view, daughters will marry someone one day and leave home to live with her husband. Also, they think girls are less stronger than boys, girls can’t help a lot in farming. So at that time, a lot of parents would be so cruel as to desert the baby, just because she was a girl. But now things have changed. People begin to like girls, because they think girls are sweet, adorable, and filial, they can bring happiness to the family. Thus even the baby the parents have was a girl nowadays, the parents will treat her as precious pearls.

I also noticed that people holds a more open attitude towards new things. They begin to accept new things naturally, because they realize the world is making progress everyday, if you refuse to accept the changes in the world and don’t try to keep up with the pace, you will be left behind. Just like the Opium War, the Qing Dynasty government were immersed in what they have at that time and refust to accept the new technologies, so the imperialist can conquer China so easily. People learned the importance of opening-up and developing. That’s why nowadays people focused on education so much. They would like to pursue a higher education abroad and study the latest technology.

China’s Changing Values

By a junior English major

In 1978, Deng Xiaoping, one of the greatest designer for China’s development, carried out the “Open and Reform” policy. Since then, China has gone through a course of transitions. Changes, and innovations have been taken in many fields.
Thus, people’s values become more diversified.

The biggest change takes place in the economic field. In the past, our government followed the Soviet policy and took a dominant role in the economy. Compared with those follow-suit complements, the new doctrine Chinese government adopted, which takes base in both market and government, makes China a strong economy.
Ensuing the changing economic values comes the altered political attitudes. In old days, China was closed to the majority, only associated with few communist countries. Nowadays, China entertains flexible political policies. Still, there are no eternal enemies, neither friends.

Apart from these two main changing values, Chinese citizens have varied values. People get a more progressive attitude towards life and work. Cities take on new appearances. You can never imagine what it would be like in another 35 years! China is in motion!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

China is Changing!

When I did my teacher training last year, a presenter introduced the concept of "China Speed" -- China changes four times faster than Western countries.

I'm not sure you can really put a number on it, but China does change fast. Here's a small example: You can buy a juice at your favorite little convenience store one day, and return the next day to find that it has vanished. A month later there's a new store.

At the beginning of the year, I assigned my students to write a short composition about one of these topics:
  • China's changing values
  • China's changing traditions
  • China's changing family
  • China's changing economy
  • China's changing educational system
  • China's changing countryside
  • China's changing cities
I've been wanting to share some of these with you, and given the questions raised in the comments of my last point, this seems like a great time. It's gonna be an "In Their Own Words" week here on the blog... Enjoy!