The ILP (International Language Programs) Selection Process

When Lisa and I decided that spending some time in China was what we wanted as our next adventure in life, we began the application process to be “accepted” by the International Language Programs organization as teachers.  As I mentioned in “Some background on our trip to China“, we were seeking positions as paid teachers at a school in Wuxi that contracted with ILP to provide teachers for their English program.  The application process involved writing essays about our background and experience, emphasizing the qualifications we had that would predict our being successful English teachers.  Soon after we submitted our applications to ILP, we were accepted.  We were told by the ILP administration that the Chinese government required that teachers entering the country have college degrees.  I met this requirement with an Associate of Science degree from Snow College that I had earned years before.  Lisa had enough credits to be considered a junior at BYU, but the school didn’t offer two-year degrees, so we had to figure out another means for obtaining some kind of college degree for her.

After some research into the various two-year programs in Utah, including UVSC, Snow College, the University of Utah, Utah State University, Southern Utah University, and Weber State University, we determined that Weber State’s program would be the best option.  The difficulty we faced was this:  Weber State required (as do most schools) that at least 20 credit hours towards their AA degree be taken through their school, and Lisa had to finish those credits by the end of the Spring Term in order to receive her diploma in time to apply for a Chinese Visa.  That meant we only had six weeks to get Lisa through Weber State’s general studies AA program.  At least two of Weber State’s counselors strongly recommended that we not even attempt such a feat.  One of them had the nerve to tell Lisa that the date by which all grades had to be turned in was two weeks before what we later discovered to be the actual deadline.  Despite the resistance from Weber State, we pushed forward with our plan.  Six weeks later, after many (literally) sleepless nights and countless hours dedicated to the busy work that is typical of most undergraduate degrees, Lisa finished the twenty credit hours.  She was then an official Weber State Wildcat.  Sadly, we erringly thought her graduation ceremony was a week later than it was actually scheduled, so we missed the opportunity to officially relish her accomplishment.  At least we had put behind us a task that had occupied so much of our time and attention that we were glad to be finished with it.

Upon our arrival in China, it quickly became evident that the college degree requirement was much more flexible than was let on to us by ILP.  At the school where we eventually became teachers, there were teaching recruits whose qualifications didn’t amount to any more than a high school diploma.  Because we didn’t speak Chinese, we missed large parts of the discussions held by our Chinese employer and our teaching assistants during which they discussed our credentials as teachers.  On one occasion during lunch, I remember catching on to their discussion of how they made the GED (or whatever it’s called in Canada) held by one of the Canadian teachers appear to be a more advanced certificate so that he could come to their school.  Ultimately we realized that the main requirement for teaching at a school in China is to appear like an American.  I’ll talk more about that later.

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An Introduction to Chinglish

While my wife and I lived in China, we had some very enlightening experiences discovering new ways to combine Chinese culture with the English language.  Some of the wordings we later realized were unusual to us because they were British, so we weren’t familiar with them.  Most of the time we were puzzled at what the author of the sign, pamphlet, or other literary medium was trying to convey.  For instance, it took us at least five minutes to figure out what was meant by “After first under on.  Do riding with civility!”, a message that was emphasized at most subway stops in Shanghai.  Reading a sign saying “Take care of the gap” while leaving the subway car reminded me of the instructions I got from my linebacker coach in high school when I missed my gap  assignment.  However, I don’t think that’s what it meant on the subway in Shanghai.  At least the “Don’t close with” and “Not Clamber” signs in front of the rock and water feature outside of our apartment were clarified by pictures.

I took some pictures of quite a few of the Chinglish sayings I found during my year in China.  I hope you enjoy them.  Here’s one to get us started.  I found this sign in the apartment building of one of the students I tutored.  I don’t read Chinese, so I can’t render a better interpretation of what’s written above the English version.  As far as I can interpret this saying, it means, “Please close the door like an animal that eats everything.”
 Please close the door omnivorously

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Letter home from China October 9,2004

Friday, October 9, 2004

Richard and I have had so much going on this week. First off, at the beginning of the week we had Mid Moon Day. During the three-hour lunch break (which we have everyday) on that day, we had a party with everyone in the company we work with. We made dumplings to eat, and had a large feast. It seemed like everyone gave us moon cakes. That night, we went to the park with some friends. We thought there would be some kind of celebration. But there were no fireworks or anything, we just hung out at the park. One of our American friends brought a guitar to play. After he started playing, we quickly had a whole crowd around listening. It was pretty funny because they all just wanted to hear the white man play. Richard thinks we should put a band together and charge people to hear us play. Even if we only knew one song, people would probably gladly come because they love anything American.

The fact that Chinese love Americans and anything American is pretty apparent around here. We have had several people ask to take pictures with us. Since they don’t know any English, at first we thought they were asking us to take a picture for them. But we soon learned that everyone wants pictures with the Americans. I am not sure why, I guess it is because we are so different. I have never been so flattered as I am here. People tell me on a daily basis I’m beautiful. They especially like my eyes. I have even had someone ask me if my eyelashes are fake, they just can’t believe how long they are. Not everything is good though. I have had a few children tell me in English that my nose is very long or very pointy. I just tell them they have a very short nose. All the Chinese people have small noses and black eyes and hair. Richard showed his students some of the pictures from Ginny’s wedding the other day in class to teach family relations and they were in awe. They loved how our nieces and nephews have such blue eyes. The picture on our website with Robby and Jennie’s kids in the carriage shows Autumn’s blue eyes really well (I think it is called “SavannahAndrewAutumn” under the family folder). Richard showed that picture on the overhead in class. When the picture can up the students were breathless, then they started saying “Such pretty eyes”. They just love American features.

From October 1 to October 8 was a national holiday for national day. We only had the 1st through the 5th off though because we had to make Saturday and Sunday classes up that were missed during the holiday. The first two days off, we took a vacation with other teachers to Wutai, which is a mountain range where there are many Buddhist temples. Wutai is actually one of the four best Buddhist temple sites to visit in China. We took a bus there with some other people; which was actually quite interesting. There were some Buddhist monks on our bus that were traveling to Wutai to live. We also had a tour guide who directed several games on the trip and talked a lot in Chinese about the historical significance of where we were going. We did not realize at first that she was the tour guide. We just thought she was the self-appointed entertainer and wondered why she thought she always had to be at the microphone.

Much of our trip was spent on winding mountain roads that seemed to climb endlessly higher. At one point along the trip we had to stop because somehow there was a heavy-duty coal truck across the road. On one side of the road there was a large cliff, on the other side was about eight feet of level ground before the mountain continued upward. I am not sure how the driver got himself into such a predicament because the only problem with his car was that the battery was dead. While we sat in our bus waiting for something to be done we saw several cars squeeze around the truck on either side. For a minute, it looked like our crazy driver was going to try to go around on the side by the cliff. If he had done so, I would have gotten out to walk around the accident, it was too close. So anyway, the battery had gone out on the truck, but someone decided it would be a good time to jack the car up and change a tire. Sometimes I wonder about the logic. If a wheel was not off of the truck, the men standing around could have just pushed it to the side of the road opposite the cliff. Finally they did put the wheel back on the truck and jumped it so we were able to get around it. As we continued to climb up the mountain, I looked down and saw that somehow the truck was back across the road with people standing all around it, and a line of cars was waiting for the truck to once again be moved.

The trip was very fun, but for Richard it was also very frustrating. We fried the battery charger for our camera before the trip, so we bought regular batteries for our camera to use until we could get another one. We did not realize that even though many good companies make their batteries in China, the batteries that are made FOR China are worthless. We bought about twenty-six batteries over the course of the trip and none of them worked. We even bought some Toshiba batteries because we recognized the brand and thought at least they would work, but no, they were just some random cheap batteries with the Toshiba brand on them. We have a new battery charger now that works great, but unfortunately, we don’t have many pictures from our trip. Luckily, some nice people that went with us took pictures for us so we do have some.

The temples were really interesting to see. There were several temples, but they were all very similar. They each had one or more courtyards with indoor shrines on each side where there were gaudy statues made of gold, ivory, or other fine materials. Each shrine had at least three gods in it and some had anywhere from twenty to fifty protectors for the gods. People who were either superstitious or of the Buddhist faith bowed three times before each god while burning sticks of incense. At each place they worshipped, they were expected to give money to the gods equal to the amount of benefit they wanted to receive. For example, when they bowed to the god of talents, if they gave a little money he might help they a little with one talent. If they gave generously, the god might strengthen their talents and bless them with added talents.

Most of the people in China are not religious; they are just superstitious. They bow to the gods and give them money just in case they are real. At one of the temples they also had a place where you could give food or drink to the gods as an offering. We saw some food such as apples and bananas, and tons and tons of Pepsi. It was pretty funny to see all the Pepsi given to the gods. Western culture really does have a big affect all around the world.

All the temples also had an alter outside where you could burn incense to the gods. People paid a ton of money to buy the incense to burn. I felt bad for some of the people here. They make so little money, and yet they give so much money to these temples. Our cook, Mrs. Lee, who has a daughter and probably only makes 1000 Yuan a month, was very generous throughout our trip. I think she really is religious and believes in the Buddhist gods.

At some of the temples, the monks seemed greedy. On the way home from our trip, we stopped at one secluded temple where all the most honored monks go to sit in seclusion for years to meditate. I should mention that at this temple, several motorcycles belonging to the monks were parked outside. One monk took our group through the temple. At each shrine, he told our group about the gods there and told them to pay money for the blessings they offer. At one point he explained how if they bought the large sticks of incense, which were branches wrapped in decorative paper, to burn to the gods they would be given protection and good luck. The branches they sold were anywhere from 200 to 300 hundred Yuan a piece. Some of the people in our group did in fact buy these sticks to burn to the gods. For people who only make 1000 Yuan a month, which is hard to live on, this was a great sacrifice. To give you an idea, to rent an apartment costs at least 500 Yuan a month, and a person who makes 1000 Yuan a month has a hard time affording their own apartment.

The monk then took our group to a room where none of the Canadians or Americans were allowed since we are Christians. There he told the people in our group that if they wanted their own guardian angles to protect them, and if they really wanted good luck and protection they had to pay another 100 Yuan for a sticker that would be burned at the alter to the gods. 10 people in our group bought the sticker, but some, like Mrs. Lee were out of money because they had already given so generously throughout the trip. I wonder what they thought at that time when they were told that all the money they spent so far would not be very useful because they were not able to give in the sacred room. Richard and I think a good business idea would be to have people pay us like that and we will guard them ourselves. Mrs. Lee probably spent her life savings on the trip. I think it is a good thing people here don’t have credit cards or some of them would probably be paying for the trip for a long time to come as well.

Even though we do not believe in the Buddhist faith, Richard and I agree that we think people like Mrs. Lee will be blessed in heaven for their generosity and for trying to be faithful even though they do not have the gospel in their lives. If they knew about Jesus Christ, many would likely accept him as their savior and be as dedicated to following him as they are to their gods now. It will surely be a blessing to the people here when their country opens up to freedom of religion, and when Christian religious are given permission to teach.

One fun experience we had on the trip was riding mules up to a temple on the side of a mountain. There were over a thousand steps that led up to the temple, but we decided riding mules would be more exciting. All the Americans and Canadians rode the mules. There were five of us. My mule was leading the pack up the side of the mountain, and was doing a great job, but one of the guides did not think he was going fast enough so he kept throwing rocks at him. The mule would jump a little when he was hit and speed up. I, of course, was a little scared that rocks were flying at us, particularly because the mountain was steep, and I did not want my mule getting spooked. I just kept patting his neck and telling him “Good Boy”. Regardless, we did make it up safely.

Richard and his mule were right behind me. With every step he took Richard’s mule passed gas loudly. It was pretty funny because all the people behind him were complaining about the smell. I was glad to be in front. At several points up the mountain people sold corn to feed the mules. None of us bought any, but we laughed about it because our mules did not need any corn in the middle of the trip, especially Richard’s mule. How did they expect to sell corn to us when Richard’s mule had apparently had plenty to eat? Maybe we would have bought some at the top of the mountain when our trip was over, but no one was there to sell to us then. Someone needs to help these people with their marketing strategies.

At the top of the mountain, the local news channel was interviewing people about their experience at Wutai. So of course they interviewed Richard and me. They also filmed us talking with our friends. We thought it would be nice to get a copy of the news with us on it, so we paid them to send us a copy. Hopefully we will get that soon to be able to share with everyone back home. Oh, that reminds me. The Shanxi Province News recorded me teaching last week and interviewed some of my students for the news. We are supposed to get a copy of that as well.

The other day at the market, we saw someone trying to sell two puppies on the street. They looked so cute, and we just couldn’t resist, so we bought them. The man was asking 80 Yuan for one puppy but Nick talked him down to 50 Yuan for both of them. That means they were less than three American dollars apiece. They are supposedly brothers, but they look so different so they are probably mutts or not related. We named them Ping and Pong. When we first brought them home we realized they had worms, so we had to take them to the vet. We were amazed at how cheap it was. The vet only cost 6 Yuan for the medicine; which is less than a taxi ride, so while we were there we bought some food, leashes, a bed, and some other things. Since it was so inexpensive to go there we did not mind buying a few things even if they were a little overpriced to keep a place like that in business. The puppies were sick before we took them to the vet, but now they are doing great and their worms are gone. We are still being cautious until we are sure though because we don’t want to catch anything.

We have decided the puppies seem too young to be away from their mother. They are probably only one month old. They sleep all the time and require a lot of attention. They follow us around and always want to be near us. Sometimes they sleep in my shoes or lay on my feet. I think they think I am their mom. Ping is the crazy one. He is very smart and has a lot of energy. This morning we trapped them in small area to go to the bathroom and he was not happy. He started climbing on Pong’s back so he could climb over the barrier we had made. If we had not caught him in time he would have probably made it. Pong is our cuddly one. He almost seems more like a cat. He just wants to be held. He is pretty calm, and when Ping starts biting him or picking on him, he just sits there like it is no big deal. Pong is fun to hold because he just molds to you.

As we were warned before we came, the government here is very whimsical. Over the holiday, they decided that school would now end at 4:00 instead of six and that no classes could be offered in school that parents had to pay extra for. That means our English program is out. Our classes are going to start right after school instead starting today from 4:30 to 6:30. So now we will only have two classes a day instead of four. This decision means a big change for the company we teach for. Students will only have half as many English classes now, so our company is trying to work out how to cope with the change. It will be interesting to see how things work out. This change is also hard for the parents. There are no after school programs or day cares for the kids to go to after school since there has not been a need for them in the past, and most parents work until 6:00. If this sort of change happened in America, there would be more than a couple days notice of the change, and the new policy would probably start at the beginning of a new school year. My, how things are different in China.

Richard bought a bike today and rode it to school to pick me up. He brought the puppies with him in the front basket, but decided that was probably not the best idea because the puppies were scared to death. It is actually a pretty nice bike. On the way home we all rode on it. The bike has a ledge on the back for a second person to sit sidesaddle. I bet we would look pretty funny on our bike to Americans. Richard was pedaling and had a backpack on with a laptop inside. I was riding on the back holding our two puppies in my purse. I put them in my purse instead of the basket because it was chilly outside and because the ride is smoother. So anyway, I was sitting on the back with two puppies poking their heads out of my purse. Here in China we look perfectly normal traveling this way. The only reason people stare is because we are white.

I have checked on a few facts about China. Here they are. People in the country are allowed to have only one child, unless the first is a girl. If their first child is a girl they can have one more. After that, regardless of whether they have had a boy or not, they cannot have any more children. In the city, only one child is allowed per family period. If a person breaks the law and has more children than they are supported to, they are punished either by heavy fines, losing their job, or imprisonment, depending on the situation. I have asked several people what they think about the family laws. The most common response I get is that they don’t like the laws, but that is just the way it is. Some even think it is necessary. There is plenty of land to live on in China. That is evident when driving through the small towns in the countryside. But most people want to live in the city because the value of life is better.

Well, that is about all that is going on right now. Each time I write I think I have written all I possibly can and that I will have nothing to write the next week. But somehow, I always have a ton to say every week. I hope our letters are not overdone. We love y’all.


Richard and Lisa

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Letter home from China September 28,2004

Wednesday, September 28, 2004

Last night, Richard and I went to a Mid Moon Day, or Mid Autumn Day, Festival. Today is actually Mid Autumn Day, but there were many celebrations last night to celebrate the coming of the holiday. We actually went to two parties. First, we were invited to a party one of Richard’s classes was having. There we ate moon cake, which is a dessert the Chinese east before and during Mid Autumn Day. We also heard many poems and songs in Chinese’ which we really did not understand. Richard and I were asked to sings some songs for the class about the moon, and to share some thoughts about America and China being under the same moon.

One story we had interpreted for us was the legend about how there used to be ten suns in the sky, but the great king called in the strongest man to shoot one of the suns down (I am not sure why). The strong man accidentally shot down nine of the suns, which made the king very angry. So, the strong man was banished to the moon forever. While on the moon, he met the most beautiful lady ever. So I guess they live on the moon happily now.

After that party, we went to a festival the nearby college was putting on. The program there consisted of different departments of the school performing all kinds of dances, music, and poems. The program was complete with traditional Chinese shows, a fashion show, hip-hop, ballroom dancing, and yes, even a Chinese version of the Cotton-Eye Joe. Richard can’t wait until he gets a chance to perform something here in China. Already he dances in class and his kids love it. You can tell how much fun they have with Richard.

Anyway, I wish we were able to get some pictures of the festival, but unfortunately that is not a possibility right now. When we first got here, Richard and Nick went to the store to get an adapter for our electronic stuff. Apparently, instead of an adapter, they got a power strip. Luckily, for our computer it does not matter, but our camera battery charger is likely fried along with the palm pilot charger. Hopefully we will be able to get the situation fixed soon so we can send more videos and pictures. If nothing else, we can buy new batteries and a charger for the camera. At least the camera is not fried.

The past week has been pretty normal. Richard finally went to the college nearby to play basketball with the team there. He originally thought someone was asking him to come teach basketball, but they really just wanted him to come play. He said that once he got to the basketball court, everyone was shouting “one to one” at him. So he played a couple of one-on-one basketball games. Everyone was excited about taking on the American. They want Richard to come play everyday which is not possible with our schedule, but hopefully he will get some playing time in.

I went shopping for shoes the other day. I only brought one pair of shoes to China with me because most of my shoes did not have backs on them, which is culturally not acceptable or safe here in China, and because my tennis shoes were thrashed. So, when I went shopping I got a pair of shoes with a heel so I could wear them with my tall pants, and I got a pair of tennis shoes. By the way, I have to mention that all the dress shoes here are pointy, which is definitely not my style, but obviously that is all there is, so that is what I got. I feel like a witch when I wear them, especially since Richard thinks they’re ugly too. I have no taste for the shoes here, so I had a Chinese friend come shopping with me to bargain for me and to pick out the shoes.

So anyway, the other day I wore the pointy shoes I bought to school. On the way out of our apartment, Richard and I saw an old lady with a cane that could not walk. Her feet had obviously been bound when she was little because her feet were really small and the only way she could make progress forward was to rock sideways back and forth inching forward while balancing with her cane. I felt so bad for her. Well, by the end of the day, I felt like that lady. Richard and I walk an awful lot during the day, and I am used to wearing tall shoes, but these shoes were terrible. The soles of the shoes were nothing but cardboard, and the streets are rocky. All I could do to get around by the end of the day was shuffle my feet. So, Richard had to give me a piggyback ride from our school to the taxi, and then from the taxi, up seven flights of stairs, to our apartment. Richard and I laughed that the Chinese will probably start teaching their children that Americans carry their wives on their backs. Thank goodness I have a sweet husband who takes care of me. Luckily, the tennis shoes I got are very comfortable. I try to stick with them now.

That’s about all I can think to write about right now. I just have some last thoughts to leave with everyone. Richard and I love being here. We definitely don’t love everything about China, but we are having a good time. Richard and I have met several people here we spend time with. We have had several people say to us they can understand my English, but they cannot understand Richard’s English. I keep trying to tell Richard to think simple and use small words even if it is not completely correct. Sometimes when he talks, the Chinese person he is talking to turns to me and asks me to translate. It is pretty entertaining. We are starting to recognize some commonly used Chinese phrases. Our Chinese is coming slowly, but it is coming.

The best part of the day is still entering school. Every now and then I get tired of saying hello because every kid in the whole school seems to want to make sure they say hi to each of us everyday. Once when we walked into school, the students were lined up outside of their classes. One of my classes on the second level started chanting “Lisa, Lisa”. It felt great. We just wave in every direction, smile, and say hello.

We have to go now; we are headed for another party at the Fen River Park. We hope everyone is doing well at home. We love everyone and miss y’all. Once again, we really appreciate all those who have written to us or sent us pictures. It makes us feel loved to be remembered when we know everyone is so busy at home.


Richard and Lisa

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Letter home from China September 22,2004

Richard and I have had an eventful week since we last wrote everyone. I guess the most exciting thing is that we went to a Chinese wedding on Sunday. We were invited to attend the wedding by our friend Nick, who is a close friend of the bride and groom. We thought it would be a neat experience and appropriate for Sunday. Well, we did have a neat experience, but it turned out to be the wildest Sunday we ever had.

Let me first give you some background on the traditional weddings in China. The night before a wedding, all the bride’s close friends stay with her and all the groom’s close friends stay with him. There are several games that take place the night before the wedding. One that we are aware of is a game where the girls hide the bride’s shoes in the house the boys are staying in. The boys have to find the bride’s shoes. Also, the groom is not supposed to see the bride the night before the wedding. Several other games are played between the boys and the girls. Each game has traditional significance. We were not involved in this part of the wedding, so everything we know about it is just what we were told.

On Sunday morning, Richard and I were picked up in a taxi by Nick and some of his friends, and raced to the apartment complex of the groom’s family. There were four weddings on Sunday in this complex. Apparently nine is a lucky number in China, and 9/19 is historically an especially lucky day. By the time we got to the apartment complex the groom had already picked up the bride and left, so we watched another groom pick up his bride. When the groom came out of the building holding his bride, cannon shots were fired releasing confetti everywhere. There were only three cannons, so we thought there would only be three shots, but there were at least twenty extremely loud blasts. Our ears were ringing afterwards.

The bride and groom get into their car, which is typically a Limo, a BMW, or an Audi. I don’t know where everyone gets these nice cars; they must rent them or something. There is a long procession of matching cars that follow the bride and groom back to the groom’s home. The bride and groom in our wedding lived in the same apartment complex, so they just drove around town for a while and came back.

Up until this point, the bride has a white western style wedding dress on. When they get back to the groom’s house the bride changes into a red dress. Red is a very important color in China because it symbolizes good luck. After the bride is dressed, there is a ceremony in the apartment where the bride “meets the parents” of the groom. At this ceremony the bride calls the groom’s parents “Mama” and “Papa” for the first time and bows to them.

The funniest part about the wedding to me was how excited everyone was that we came to the wedding, and they didn’t even know us. The wedding photographers made sure we were in several of the wedding photos and on the wedding video. I felt a little silly because we had never even met the bride and we were in several parts of her wedding video, hopefully that’s okay with her. Everyone wanted to talk to us, and the people who were previously sitting on the couch were cleared so we would have a place to sit. You could tell the groom’s parents were especially proud to have Americans at their son’s wedding. Sometimes I feel like a celebrity here. [In fact, sometimes Richard stays after his classes and signs autographs for the older children, really!]

After the ceremonies are done at the house, the car procession takes the bride and groom and their families to the restaurant where the actual wedding ceremony takes place. All those who were not family hopped on a bus to go to the restaurant. Some kind of ceremony was performed at the front of the restaurant where the parents and bride and groom toast to each other, and the bride and groom bow to each other and touch foreheads. One interesting thing is that a religious leader is not the one who performs the marriages here in China. At this wedding, the ceremony was actually directed by some of the band members who had been hired to play at the wedding. The band was so loud that everyone near the front (which included us since we were at the close friend table) was deafened. Many of them had their hands over their ears.

The food at the restaurant was wonderful. We tried several dishes. Richard and I had Nick tell us what most things were before we ate them just to be sure there was nothing bizarre. The one thing that grossed us out too much to even try was chicken feet. I don’t care to acquire a taste for that.

The thing that really made this wedding a wild activity was all the drinking and smoking that took place at the restaurant. We were not prepared for that. All men in China smoke, but in the central region of China where we live, women do not smoke. If a woman does smoke, she is looked down on and considered a bad girl. The alcohol they had at the wedding was 57% alcohol. It smelled like finger nail polish remover. At the end of the dinner, the bride and groom go to every table and have a toast with their guests. The bride carried around a bottle of Sprite to toast with, but the groom was toasting with hard liquor. Richard and I felt bad for him. Halfway though the restaurant he looked like he was going to lose it. He kept patting the sweat off his forehead and scrunching his face up as if he was going to throw up. We thought there was no way he would make it through to all of the tables, but somehow he did.

Every couple or guest that comes to the wedding signs a guest book and gives the traditional gift of one hundred Yuan. Every name in the book was written with Chinese characters except ours. Beside each name is recorded the amount they contributed. I am sure the bride and groom will remember the Americans at their wedding. I have already talked way too much about the wedding, but I wanted to share some of the traditions of Chinese weddings since they are so different that ours.

Richard and I always find it funny how we are treated here. For one thing, parents bring their children to us and just leave them their to talk to us. Most children learn at least some English in school, so parents see us as the opportunity for their children to show what they have spent years learning. While we were at the wedding, a woman (not involved with the large wedding party we were with) brought her niece to our table, got her a chair for her, and sat her down to speak a little English with the white folks. The girl didn’t have an English name, so we named her “Savannah.” She stayed at our table for more than half an hour asking us what our favorite color is, whether we have any pets, how do we like the weather, what’s our favorite food, and other questions. There are many people here (beginning English students mostly) who now have names of people we know. We always get asked random questions like what our favorite food or color is. Children love to ask, “How old are you?” because it is one of the first things they learn to ask in English.

There are some weird things in China that are hard to get used to. Young children here wear pants that look more like chaps. There is nothing covering their bottoms so whenever they need to, they can just pick a spot on the sidewalk and get to business. We read about this in our guidebook, but until I actually saw it I thought it was just a myth.

We finally saw our first wreck the other day. A car hit a guy on a moped. In China, the crowd around an accident determines whose fault it is. What actually happened in the accident is not a determining factor. Fault is given to the least polite person, or the person of lower class. Cops rarely get involved. We did not have time to stop and see exactly what was going on, but we passed the accident several times over the course of an hour and the guy on the moped never got up.

Richard and I ate dinner on Sunday with some people Richard met on the street. People who know a little English always want to talk to us to help them improve their English, so we get invited a lot of places. The apartment we visited was very humble. The people were very nice, but the room was dark and very dirty. I was afraid to eat the food but we did anyway, and we regretted it. Our stomachs started churning as soon as we got home. We have decided not to have any more random people cook for us. Our new friends gave us their “photo number” and asked us to call them again so we can get together. If we do call them again, it will not be during mealtime.

Now, to answer a few questions we have been asked. There are equal numbers of boys and girls in our school. Nick told us that a while back China started to realize there were not enough girls in the country. Families still only have one child, but many of them have girls. When women get married here they keep their maiden names, so to some degree the family name is still carried on. Only in some rural areas are women still treated poorly. It looks like many of the social practices in China have come a long way. Richard and I teach school for about twenty hours during the week. We each have four classes a day. Richard also has an extra class Sunday morning, which is somewhat like Primary, especially since he teaches the kids songs from the Children’s Songbook. “Once There was a Snowman” is a huge hit here. What we basically do is teach the students new English words and phrases, and we play games and sing songs with them. It is pretty neat.

All the kids love our football. I am really glad we brought it to China. The kids come to our office between classes and play with it. They especially love it when Richard comes outside and throws with them. When we first give the ball to the kids, they try to dribble it like a basketball. They quickly get tired of that, so we teach them how it is to be used. You can see how impressed they are with football by watching the video. Whenever Richard goes out to throw the football, it attracts all the kids in the school, and they go crazy when he throws the ball high. You can hear how excited they get in the video.

Whenever we come outside to play with the kids, huge crowds of children gather around us. The students in my class grab my hands and say hi. When I respond they smile at all the other children around them as if to brag, “She’s my teacher. She knows me.” They love us here.

We went to a barbeque last night. A Canadian couple just arrived (one of whom reminds us of Coach Z from, so everyone at the school went to celebrate. The environment was reminiscent of a Chinese A&W. The waiters and waitresses kept bringing us shish kabobs with various pre-cooked meats (we didn’t ask what they were) and vegetables. All of it was heavily seasoned. There were miniature grills in front of us, in which the waiters put hot coals. We warmed the food over the grills, then gnawed it off the little poker things. They fed us way too much. It was the most expensive dinner we have had at 52 Yuan (or $6.27) for both of us.

Richard has been busy looking at all possible business opportunities. For only a week in China, he has accomplished a lot. We have some connections he is looking into. Hopefully by the end of October we will already be shipping product samples back to the U.S. Nick, our friend, has some good connections, and Richard has gotten him excited about doing business. Richard, of course, is always excited about business. Things are looking great.

I will go ahead and end this long letter. I just want everyone to know that we miss y’all. We are having a great time here in China, but nothing can make up for being away from your family. We have several pictures and videos posted on our website.  Thank you to those who have written to us, we love hearing about what is going on back in America.


Richard and Lisa

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Letter home from China September 21,2004

Ok Everybody,

Here are some of the pictures you have all been waiting for. We have had a good experience so far. There have been a lot of new things we have experienced crammed into just a few days.

Arriving in Beijing
Beijing from the Air

The plane ride went well. When we arrived to the airport in Beijing a couple who did not know a word of English was there to pick us up. We stopped by a KFC and then headed to the train station for a ten-hour ride to Taiyuan. The train we rode on was a sleeper train. It was fairly comfortable, but it made several stops along the way, which woke me up. The entire trip to Taiyuan from Salt Lake took thirty hours. I knew our trip would take a long time, but I had no clue it would take that long.

The couple who greeted us at the Beijing airport.  We later found out they were the Jings.

Our experiences with bathrooms in China have been interesting. Even in the airport, the only bathrooms here are squatters. That means there are foot grips, but no toilet to sit on. I was okay with that, but then I realized most public restrooms don’t have soap in them. Some restrooms don’t even have a sink to wash your hands. In the airport bathroom, Richard was surprised when a man handed him a towel and wanted a dollar tip for it (apparently this is not common). At the school we teach at, I was directed to a “bathroom” that was even worse. The bathroom building reeked of urine. When I went inside I saw a trough to squat over. There were no doors on the stalls and there were many students in there. I went back to the person that told me where to find this bathroom and told them that I could not bring myself to use that building. They then took me to a much nicer bathroom that even had soap and hand towels in it. From then on I decided to try to avoid public restrooms. We have a normal toilet in our apartment.

We live on the seventh floor, which is the top floor in our apartment building. I am surprised at how large it is. The apartment has two bedrooms! Everything in the apartment building is very dirty. The stairs are dirty, the walls are dirty, and our apartment is dirty. When we first went in our apartment I have to admit I was disgusted. The only thing I could think of was “What on earth have we done.” I wondered if maybe Richard would decide to only stay for one semester, or if we could perhaps move to one of the larger, more modernized cities. The bathroom stunk and still stinks terribly, and everything was caked with dirt. Our neighborhood is really rough; there are piles of trash outside and everything is just dirty. You cannot see the sky in Taiyuan or the beautiful mountains that surround it because of all the pollution. Beijing was much more beautiful.

To the dismay of our Chinese friend Nick, we have begun completely cleaning out our apartment. The first day we bought several cleaners and a new mop and broom. We are waiting to put our stuff away until the entire apartment is clean. We are also working on fixing the smell in the bathroom. Richard thinks he can solve that problem. We just caught a glimpse of our neighbors’ apartment tonight; it is immaculate. It is very clean, has marble tile, and really nice furniture. We actually live in a first class neighborhood. Some of the cars outside our building include Honda Accords and a Lexus. With some work, our apartment can at least be bearable.

On our first day here, we have a large Chinese lunch with the big wigs of the school. The food was amazing! We were brought about fifteen dishes to try and they were all wonderful. Since then we have eaten at a few other restaurants. We have had good experiences so far. Everybody eats with chopsticks. If took me few tries to learn how to use chopsticks, but now I think I’ve got it.

The best part of our first day was going to The Children’s Palace, our school, and meeting the students. The children are so fun to be around. Everyone came up to us and said “Hallo.” They all wanted to talk to us and find out about us. When we got to the school it was recess so everyone was playing and screaming, it was such a happy sound. Whenever we come to the school the children run up to us and greet us. They love to be around us. When we visited the school the first day, I knew everything would be worth it. We could clean up the apartment, we could deal with the dirty streets, we could ignore the stares everyone gives us when we walk down the street; the children are that wonderful.

Over the few days we have been here we have made several friends and learned a little Chinese. We have gotten somewhat used to the smells and our environment. To my surprise, neither of us have had any trouble with asthma or allergies, so that is a definite bonus. Yesterday a P.E. teacher from another school asked Richard to come teach basketball at his school. Apparently he saw Richard taking some shots during recess and was very impressed. Richard, of course, was thrilled. He will start helping teach P.E. at that school soon.

We love everyone and miss y’all! Let us know what is going on back home.


Richard and Lisa

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Some background on our trip to China

While attending Brigham Young University in the spring of 2004, I attended a career fair for engineering and technical students.  As I went from booth to booth surveying what was available in the engineering career market, I was disappointed to find out that most of the jobs being offered seemed to require credentials that few new college graduates have, they offered far less money than I wanted to earn, and the competition for the openings was far more intense than I thought it should have been.  It was almost like watching “The Apprentice” contestants jockying for a job at Burger King.

However, at one of the booths a group called ILP (International Language Program) was advertising the opportunity to go teach English in China.  The girl at the booth told me that, breaking from their traditional model in which students paid for their trip, ILP was offering new paid teaching positions in China.  With all the buzz I’d heard about China’s emergence as a legitimate player in the world economy in my business classes and on the news, my interest was piqued. My wife and I applied for the program, were accepted, and began our preparations to move to China for a half-year or more commitment.

Just previous to our scheduled departure in August 2004, we were surprised to get a call from ILP informing us that in fact we would not be getting paid to teach, but that we could still go as volunteers.  Having done some research on English teaching in China, we knew that there were plenty of opportunities to get paid to teach, so we searched the internet to find a better offer than what ILP presented.  After sending out a few emails, we received a phone call from a Chinese recruiter in Canada whose husband owned a school called G-Maple, located in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, China.  I told her that my wife and I were interested in teaching English in a place where we could establish business relationships so that we could do manufacturing and importing.  She convinced me that Taiyuan was the place for us, so instead of going to Wuxi, we changed our assignment to Taiyuan.

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Welcome to Discovering China

Two and a half years ago (September, 2004), a young couple from Utah wanted some variety in their life, so they determined to move to China to teach English for awhile in hopes of setting up a manufacturing and importing business. This blog documents their experience on the other side of the world.

Eventually we intend to write a book that will capture our experience in more detail, but for now we are starting with the simplest approach to documenting and publishing what we experienced while we lived in China. You will find here letters written to family and friends at home describing our experiences as well as commentary looking back on the experience more than two years later. We hope you enjoy it. We’re sure that many American and other Western expatriates who have lived in China will find a lot here that you can relate to. Feel free to comment or tell us your own stories of living in a environment that is completely foreign to what you previously knew.

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