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

About richard

Richard and Lisa are certified entrepreneurs and thrill seekers.
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