Gobal Volunteers Adventures

Marcia Chang Vogl

© Copyright 2022 by Marcia Chang Vogl

Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
We have been planning to join Global Volunteers in Xi'an, China for about a year. After our 2006 auto accident in Cambodia, there was some doubt as to whether we would be able to do this trip. By the grace of God, we are healed and are off to Xi'an right on schedule.

Two Days of Touring
Thursday, October 4, 2007
We are here safely in Xi’an, China. After six hours in LAX, and 17 hours in the air, we are on solid ground again. Our flight to Hong Kong was on time and we had just enough time to get to the gate to meet our Dragon Air flight to Xi’an. We were advised to change our US currency at the Xi’an airport for convenience and a better exchange rate. Unbeknownst to us, the banks are closed today as it is a national holiday.
An affable fellow flashed his taxi license and followed us to the tourist info counter saying, “I take you to hotel. Where you want to go?”

The woman at the tourist information counter was stone-faced and did not encourage nor discourage us to accept this ride.

You can pay me at hotel. Same money.”
We agreed to take the chance. He took our bags and led us to the basement level of the airport and across some tunnels to a deserted parking lot. We began to worry as we followed this eager cab driver. After a long walk, a car with another man was waiting. They talked. He put our luggage in the trunk and said, “Get in, get in,” as he waved his hand. To our surprise, he was not going to be the driver. The two men spoke again, nodding their heads and waving their hands. This driver could not speak nor understand any English. We just had to trust as we were captive in this cab. We could not read the street signs and had no idea where we were. Fortunately, he took us right to the Hyatt Hotel and waited nearby the car for his fee. Rich ran into the hotel to change money while I stood near the car and luggage to be surety of the cab fee. The bellman paid the fee to release the driver. When Rich emerged from the hotel with the correct money he paid the bellman.

The Hyatt Hotel was a welcomed refuge from airports, airplanes, and taxi cabs. After freshening up a bit, we went for a walk down the main street. There was a huge modern shopping mall that dwarfs South Coast Plaza in size and surpasses it in glamour. The streets are filled with crowds of people five to eight deep in some sections. We found a “food loft” on the top floor of one of the malls with a variety of cuisines—Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Maylasian, Western, Pizza, and a dessert bar. We enjoyed dinner while watching people roaming the mall. Rich said he was feeling like a minority here as there are very few Caucasian people on the streets. Because I am Chinese, everyone assumes I speak Chinese. In the shops and restaurants, they speak to me expecting I could understand. I’m going to have to learn some basic phrases fast.

The traffic is unbelievable! Our taxi ride made a New York taxi ride seems like Disneyland. Pedestrians literally “dodge the buses and taxis.” Traffic lights are merely suggestions. We were advised to follow a pregnant lady or a native to cross the street. At one crossing, a man who observed our hesitancy came up to us and said in English, “You must be tourists! Follow me.” We learned to just stick close to the locals and pray we make it to the other side.

Two Days of Touring
Friday, October 5, 2007
Our city tour on a 20-seat bus, with a very good English-speaking guide, was shared with a family of three from Germany. The highlights were the East gate of the city wall, the Terra Cotta Warrior factory, lunch at the silk factory center, the silk factory demonstration, the Terra Cotta Warrior site, and the Wild Goose Pagoda. The city was enshrouded in fog, haze, or smog. The blue sky appears only after a rain so we hope there will be some rain while we are here.

Since China is preparing for the 2008 Olympics and mega tourism, the Terra Cotta Warrior Museum, being a major attraction, the government built a mile-long entrance served by golf cart rides to the entrance and an equally long exit plaza with shops and food places leading to the parking lot. The plaza areas within the museum can hold thousands of people at any one time. The idea of a “crowd” in China is mind-boggling. There are 10,000 visitors a day to this site. When we visited the Terra Cotta Soldier Museum 23 years ago, we could not have imagined this development. October 1-8 is a national holiday week, instituted by the government as a week of vacation for all workers, to encourage them to travel.

When asked, our guide told us, “Only 4% of the people are involved in any kind of religion. The four religions recognized are Taoism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. Since the cultural revolution, there is no need for religion since everything is new. Many young couples today like ‘western weddings’ with gowns and tuxedos.” We saw a bridal shop window display of people dressed in western wedding attire standing as mannequins, or so we thought. We noticed they were real people talking to each other and moving slightly.

After our tour, we checked into our Global Volunteer headquarters hotel, the Sino Peal Hotel just outside of the old city wall. A $1 taxi ride got us there after a long day of being up at 4 a.m. adjusting from California time and touring all day.
We will be meeting with the co-coordinator Saturday morning to find out what new adventures await us. So far, all has been good.

Doing What We Came to Do
Saturday, October 6, 2007
Today was a full day of orientation preparing to be Global Volunteers. In the afternoon, we finally met our host school leaders through a long program of welcoming speeches, introductions, and entertainment by children. Rich and I have been assigned to Rainbow School of about 2500 students of ages 5 to 18—week 1 with 17-18-year-olds, week 2 with 12-16 year-olds, and week 3 with 8-11-year-olds. They want to learn about American culture while using their English conversational skills. Rich came prepared with a wooden alphabet set, a deck of cards, and a stack of consumer Reports magazines. Tomorrow is our first day.

Monday, October 8, 2007
The school driver and an English teacher, Ashley, picked us up at the hotel for the hour-long drive to Rainbow School. We each had three classes of 40 minutes each from 9 a.m.-12 noon. The assignment was to encourage the students to speak English. Today we met the “best” students aspiring to attend university. After a lovely lunch, we returned to “English corner,” an informal group for us to be available to just talk with students. We are told “anything goes” and students are free to talk or ask us about anything. These young students were interested in American pop culture. Unfortunately, Rich and I are not well-versed in American pop culture so I’m afraid came across as fuddy-duddies. It still was a fun day. This will be the routine for the next three weeks.

Rain, Rain, Rain
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Monday was not only an interesting day but an exhausting one. We were “on stage” non-stop from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. During the hour ride to and from the school, Ashley wanted to engage in conversation. Fortunately, our schedule has been changed so that these long days will be only 2 times a week, and on the other three days, we will return to the hotel by 1 p.m.

Our different styles of teaching give the students a variety of interactions. Rich uses his alphabet to prompt words they know. I have taken them on “Bear Hunts,” which is a call-and-response game, to have them speak through repetition. Most of all, they are intrigued by our family. We have brought photos of our family and our house. I am especially a subject of curiosity since I look like them but act and speak like an American. We brought photos of us from our daughter’s wedding so we all look like a beautiful movie family. Our daughter gets “ooh's” from the boys, and our sons get giggles from the girls. They are all amazed at the photo of my mom age 86, and dad age 90. The elderly they know of those ages look ancient and are not so well dressed.

The Global Volunteer coordinator here in Xi’an, Hui Di, is exceptionally efficient at organizing this group of thirty people. The meals are ordered and served on time, even if we are not there yet. They insure the food is good and safe. They also arrange tours for the weekends and dinners at various restaurants.

During our excursion to the Vanguard department store, our guide described items most of the group have never seen. The grocery market on the third floor has all the baked goods, spices, meats, and vegetables. For me, it was like being in Hawaii Chinatown. I was able to help explain some of them as although the guide knew what it was, she did not have the English vocabulary to describe them.

We had hoped there would be some rain to wash out the smog but it has rained the last 4 days. Most of us came prepared for the weather in the 70-80s F. So far the temperature has not reached 60F. We are all wearing our coats all the time. The Internet Technician (IT) of the hotel has been here twice to help me get my computer hooked up properly. The room is cleaned daily; we get plenty of drinking water and more than enough good food. The hot water comes from mineral springs so the hotel's hot water is not drinkable. There is a large sign in the bathroom warning you not to drink the hot water. Instead, we have an automatic water pot to boil water for tea and free bottled water.

The Routine
Wednesday, October 10, 2007

This is the third day of our “teaching English” adventure. We are more comfortable and not so stressed. We each found our comfort zones and developed our own style. Rich and I both use our family photos as a way to introduce ourselves. Today I had a group of students who were in Rich’s class yesterday so they already saw the photos. My routine was deflated. I then launched into the story of how my grandparents went to Hawaii from China. They were fascinated when I told them that my grandparents on my mother’s side had eight children and my grandparents on my father’s side had nine children. China’s one-child rule makes them the only child. Very few have a sister or brother. They do not have the life experience of growing up with sisters and/or brothers, cousins, aunts, and uncles. Our challenge is to repeat the same lessons three times a day for three weeks and keep them fresh. Fortunately, my music teacher's bag of tricks came in handy.

After a week we were directed to a local laundry. It took us two trips to find the shop “just a little way down the street.” We finally found the little cubicle where we left a few pieces as a test. We then walked down a street where the local people shop. I found a pair of knitted gloves for the cold weather. Almost every two cubicles is a food place with people cooking in a wok on a blazing coal fire. Everyone seems to cook the same things: noodles and stir fry vegetables.

Many in our group had never experienced the typical Chinese “family-style” hot pot meal. We sat at tables of eight with a huge divided cauldron of boiling soup--one side was very spicy with chilies and one side was seasoned without chilies. . We first started very carefully dipping the meats in but then decided to just put everything in and fish it out with the ladles or our chopsticks. The soup was at a rolling boil so it was figured safe to share from the same pot.

Rainbow School
Thursday, October 11, 2007
For this smoke-free, emissions-conscious Californian, breathing smoke-filled air is quite a respiratory challenge here in China. People smoke everywhere—restaurants, elevators, hotel hallways, taxis, and sidewalks. The Global Volunteers group frequently gathers in the smoke-filled lobby of the hotel so we try to stay there as little as possible. It is a blessing that we have a private dining room so there is no smoke at meals when our room is closed off. On the first day of our ride to the school, we made a special request to the escort that there would be no smoking in the car. Rich and I sat in the middle seat of the SUV and we immediately reached for the seat belts. This was a new car and the seat belts were tucked under the seat. We requested to use the seat belts but were told it wasn’t necessary because this was the back seat and the driver was a “good driver.” We know better and insisted we have seat belts to use. The driver then unfurled the hidden seat belts.

Today’s lunch, hosted by the Rainbow School was in a private room at a large restaurant. The food, unusual to us, was a bowl of finely diced bread soaked in a beef broth soup complemented by chicken, and spinach/garlic dishes Students, who were particularly interested in English attended “English Corner” sessions during their lunchtime. Our magazines jump-start the conversations and the pamphlets on Disneyland were of special interest.

The Rainbow Television manufacturer in Xi’anyang developed the town for their employees providing housing, schools, shops, restaurants, hospitals, and other industries. Due to competition, the television production demand has shrunk in size. The government annexed the school as a part of the public general education system. This is a very large middle and high school with about 2500 students and 300 teachers. Classes each day runs from 8 a.m to 12 noon; students go home for lunch (either walk or ride bikes); return at 2:15 p.m. until 5:40 p.m. Different students escort us to our classes every day. The best English-speaking students have the honor to escort us as they have the opportunity to make conversation along the way. The school building is a three-story fortress with a tile-paved courtyard that is slippery and wet this week. Students and teachers walk through swinging badminton rackets and birdies just like they do through traffic on the street. Scary!! When our assignments end at noon we ride through the sea of lunchtime bicycles.

Mr. and Mrs. Vogl
Friday, October 12, 2007
Rich and I decided we wanted to be Mr. and Mrs. Vogl as we did not feel comfortable with young students calling us by our first names. Not realizing it, our choice to be called Mr. and Mrs. Vogl gave head knowledge of interracial marriage another dimension. A Chinese woman married to a Caucasian man is rare here in this part of China. Students became very curious about us and our families. The fact that we adopted children was also very unusual to them. Here in China, they are limiting children and we, instead, took in other people’s children to be our own. That tweaked their thinking about a family. One of the questions raised was, “Why would adopt children since it costs so much money to raise children?”

This morning we had a new escort to accompany us on our ride, Kim. By the end of the ride, I learned that her husband and son live in Xi’an while she lived in Xi’anyang as an English teacher. She was going to be in Xi’an to see her husband this weekend and would be happy to be our tour guide. Rich and I planned to be on our own as we already have been on the tours offered by Global Volunteers. Kim would be our native guide on a non-tourist shopping trip plus show us good restaurants.

We picked up our laundry at the local place and were pleased to find it all in good order. We were told that dinner tonight would be served in the Western restaurant. After three meals a day of Chinese food, mouths were watering for some comfort food. Some members of our group had visions of hamburgers, BLT, or a tuna sandwich. Disappointed, a full Chinese meal was served in the western restaurant We all then ordered some kind of American dessert. I had apple pie and Rich had a banana split.

Walking Around the City
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Kim, from Rainbow School, met us at the hotel at 8:30 a.m. and we were off to the city.
Kim explained, “The ancient bell in the Bell Tower rings to wake the people. The drums in the Drum Tower are played at the end of the day to bring the people in from the fields. The Muslim Open Market is a street market where you can buy almost anything. I will bargain for you.”
Pungent smells wafted from exotic spices and unusual foods in the food district. Since the weather was cool with no rain, we strolled down Culture Street with its many calligraphy and jade shops. The South Street entrance into the city is used by dignitaries. A short cab ride returned us to the Drum Tower area for a dumpling lunch where the locals eat. The dumplings were like won tons with various kinds of fillings.

Over lunch, Kim talked about the changes in China.

I was about 4 years old during the Cultural Revolution. My father was taken and punished because his family owned some land. My uncle was punished because he studied in Japan. We had no food. We had tickets for 1 kilogram (about 2.5 pounds) of rice per month and vouchers for clothing. We were always hiding because we were afraid of being taken away for no reason. The Cultural Revolution ended when I already graduated from high school and was allowed to go to university. Only very few could go to university. I studied English to be an English teacher.”

How long have you been at Rainbow School?”

Twenty years.”

Why don’t you move to Xi’an where your husband lives?”

Once you have a job like mine, you do not have permission to move to another province or another city. You must stay in the job or you will lose your pension and benefits.”

How do they monitor the ‘one-child’ policy?

It started in 1984. You can only have one child to replace yourself. The government watches birth registrations very closely. Government officials live in the villages to watch if anyone has more than one child without recording the birth. All births must be in a hospital to be recorded. No home births allowed. You could face a very high fine or lose your job. Most children born after 1984 are only-children.”

By about 1 p.m., the streets were crowded. The department store escalators were so crowded we could hardly move. We chose to rest at an ice cream shop. Kim got us typical Chinese ice cream popsicles. We found a new plaza connected to a side street where the locals shop and live. It was not crowded but full of activity. We ate roasted chestnuts, and cookies along the way.

Another half-hour walk brought us back to our hotel. It was a wonderful day as Kim bargained and translated for us. She said she was happy to practice her English. She requested to be our escort for the rest of our trip.

History Lesson
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Sunday morning, Kim and Jason were eager to give us a day’s tour. He drives a new Toyota Camry but unfortunately speaks no English. Kim interprets everything. First, we visited the beautiful new history museum. Everything is displayed in cases with dramatic lighting. My study of Chinese history is sketchy at best and I just could not remember all the dynasties. Seeing the displays in this museum put more structure on my understanding. The artifacts from 2000 BC of such fine works of pottery and bronze were amazing.

Kim explained, “Xi’anyang, the location of Rainbow School, was the first capital of China united by the Qin emperor. Xi’an, where we are staying, was the new capital of the Tang and Han Dynasties. The Ming and Quing Dynasties moved to Bejing.”

We went to see their new unfinished condo. “All condos come unfinished—no bathroom, no kitchen, no walls—just open space. Owners must hire a contractor to complete so it’s double the cost.” To get to their unit on the 16th floor, we picked our way through an active construction area with loose marble stones, boards, bricks, mud, rubble, and open pits. There were no safety precautions required as in the USA. The government has condemned villages to build modern high-rise buildings. Unfortunately, village people cannot afford the new place and must relocate.

Kim translated Jason’s story. “I was 14 years old during the Cultural Revolution. I and all the young people in middle and high school were sent to farms to work. I shared a room in a poor farmhouse with four other students. After three years, I could return to my studies and qualify for university. Some students stayed on the farms because they married farm girls. I will take you there next week.”

Here in China, although the weather has been below 60 degrees, the government does not allow the heat to be turned on before November 15. The students are curled up freezing and wet in the classrooms, but there is no heat because it’s not supposed to be cold. We have been wearing our coats all the time, everywhere. Global Volunteers made a special request for the heat to be turned on in the hotel but none reached our room. Fortunately, we packed two heating pads as substitute mini electric blankets to keep our feet warm.

Week 2
Monday, October 15, 2007
This week we are teaching senior students on level 1 at Rainbow School. We are more relaxed knowing the routine. The lunch buffet at a local restaurant near the school was rather spicy. Since chilies are grown in this area, the food has more than the normal seasonings of chilies. After lunch, “English Corner” drew fewer students, but in a more comfortable room.

I fix my own dinner in the microwave,” one student volunteered.

I mentioned, “When I grew up and now our family eats dinner together to share our daily activities. Don’t you eat dinner with your parents?”

My parents come home late from work so we don’t eat together. I just watch TV and eat by myself.”

The Tang Dynasty show and dinner that evening were quite spectacular with music and dancing in beautiful costumes. Afterward, we were served a sumptuous dumpling dinner. There were eight cold dish appetizers followed by 19 rounds of dumplings. The waitress explained the different fillings of the won ton like morsels. The shapes represented the fillings. The fish came still steaming so the “fins” were still moving. The most unusual tasting was the walnut and pumpkin sweet dumplings. The finale was “baby” dumplings in chicken broth.

Rich’s View
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
It is the unexpected which keeps us interested. With the first week of the adventure completed and the daily efforts not now being hampered by both the cold and the wet, the city has taken on a different ambiance altogether and our enthusiasm for this adventure has returned.

The regular one-hour ride that Darlene, Gladys, and Marcia and I make to Rainbow School each day is entirely different without rain as we can truly see out of the windows of our seven-passenger van. There is a striking disconnect between the one and two-story brick houses and the 15-story, gleaming buildings being constructed immediately next door. It seems that within a block this country is jumping from the 12th century to the 21st century. The buildings being built may be for housing or offices or could be a combination of both.

What a pleasure it is to ride on the near-deserted roads to and from our school! Although I want to call them “freeways”, they are not free, as a toll booth appears from time to time. If my reading of the signs is correct, it is very low--about $3 for this daily trip to the school. The road is six lanes wide, clean as a whistle, and with hardly any traffic. What is going to happen here when this country’s population of millions each owns a car? Workers sweep the roads clear with the tree branch brooms for the many bicycles in the city. There are no bicycles on the major highways.

Today’s ride is not normal. Although we have bright sunshine in spots, we run into fog banks so thick, we come to a full stop. It is an hour before we are cleared to proceed on our way. Normally our arrival at the school each day is a cause of celebration. The school guard greets us with a grand grin, and the enthusiastic students hover around our teacher’s room getting us tea and wanting to talk. Today, we are late and missed our first class. We just finished breakfast and we’ve been on a one-hour ride. We don’t want tea. We want the W.C.

The students begin their ten-minute exercise period. All 2,500 students organize themselves in neat rows according to their class. They swing their arms, kick their legs, and do jumping jacks with abandon. Some of the students recognize us from our lectures. They wave and grin.

About half of the Global Volunteer team are career teachers and the rest are winging it, learning as we go, trying out this idea and that. This unusual pack of tourists, these self-selected folks are an extraordinary group of people: mostly highly educated, certainly highly experienced in life, and all with an open heart and willing hand. What a pleasure to be included!

When today’s classes are over we pose for pictures, say our “goodbyes” and head for the van. The sun is bright and pleasant, now, and we anticipate a quick drive back to our hotel. It is not to be. As a further surprise to us, the van is slowed by both a work party painting white lines on the road and also by a herd of goats being shepherded across the highway.

Lunch today was Chinese pizza. For our afternoon excursion, we decide to walk to the “Small Goose Pagoda” on the recommendation of another volunteer. With the map in hand, we soon discovered our map was deceiving. The short walk took an hour and a half. The Pagoda site is lovely: a very large garden with a huge museum opened only in the last few months containing artifacts discovered on city grounds.

Education System
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Hui Di explained. “School is compulsory and free until grade 9. The population is so great that students are assessed at an early age. A 6th-grade exam determines whether students are assigned to an academic path or a vocational one. Those who qualify for the academic path have better teachers and more difficult work to prepare for high school. Parents must pay for high school. Those who do not attend high school must find a job or apply for a vocational school. Those who go to high school must pass the 12th-grade exam with a high score to have a chance to go to a university. The national university exam is on June 7 and 8. The answers are given on June 9 so students can estimate their scores. They may apply to only three universities at their score level. Even then it’s not a guarantee. Formerly, students must attend university by age 23 or they will have missed their window of opportunity. There are not enough universities to accommodate everyone. This system ensures only the very best get the opportunity.”

This adventure also is turning out to be a culinary experience. We have been to a dumpling dinner, a hot pot meal, a Peking Duck special, a lotus root soup treat (like my mother used to make), and tonight, a Muslim dinner of soup with bits of bread. We each shredded hard bread into our bowls. The bowls are numbered and taken to the kitchen where they are filled with transparent noodles and mutton, beef, or vegetarian soup. The waitress could not speak English so we didn’t know what number she was calling. We eventually sorted out our dinners. We added seasonings of cilantro and pickled garlic. The dinner was delicious.

Legal Eagles
Thursday, October 18, 2007
My husband is in a legal career so a visit to a private law firm was special. The path in the legal system is very stringent. One must complete a four-year university course in law. (We learned how difficult it is to attend university.) Then he must pass a test to be certified to study with a private law firm. Few pass this test. No one in Xi’an last year passed. While with a private law firm, he must study on his own for the “bar exam” to appear in court. There are only 130,000 lawyers for a population of millions.

Thank You Celebration
Friday, October 19, 2007
Today was the last teaching day for the two-week volunteers. It was our last day with high school students at Rainbow School.

The Farewell Celebration was held in the western restaurant for 100 people at our hotel. Each school we served had a thank-you speech and some kind of performance to offer. The performances ranged from a troupe of folk dancers, a calligraphy & blow painting demonstration, a saxophone solo, a three-piece rock group, an eight-year-old Chinese zither player, a piano solo, and karaoke singing. We, volunteers, did a short folk dance that Dixie taught us with the Chinese guests participating at the end of the two-hour celebration. All this was fun but tiring.

This evening, a screech and a bang on the street six stories below brought us to the window. There was an accident involving a taxi and another car. We watched in amazement as the traffic did not stop, though the accident blocked the two lanes going north. Everyone just made their path around the cars driving in the bike path or on the wrong side of the street. No police came. It looked like someone who was hurt was put into another taxi that sped off. A police car came by but did not stop. Bicycles, buses, and cars continued to weave in and out around this accident scene. It is like an ant hill that just re-routed the paths.

Hanyang Mausoleum and Zhang Village
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Kim took us to visit the Hanyang Mausoleum. The highway was closed for repair so on the detour we got lost.
Jason and Kim conferred with each other. “We have never been here before. This road is new so there is no map yet.”

The museum only opened in 2006 using modern technology. This is the only archeological dig that is preserved underground with the museum built over it. We walked on floors of glass and look down into the pits while listening to wonderful commentary in English on audio handsets. The Han Dynasty emperor had built in the burial pits a miniature city that reveal life as it was then. There were areas of government, food storage, court life, concubines, etc. It is amazing how archeologists can recreate things from dusty pottery. They have recreated models of the emperor’s chariots, clothing, and court life. Only a fraction of the tomb is excavated and the government has decided not to open the tombs further until better methods and technology are developed to preserve what’s there. It will take generations to excavate these digs. They were built over 28 years with a multitude of slave labor.

After lunch, we were off to visit Zhang Village where Jason lived during the Cultural Revolution.

(Kim translated) This is where I lived during the Cultural Revolution. The father had five sons and six of us were sent to his village house of two rooms. I have not seen my foster mother and father in two years.”

I observed corn drying on the roofs and in trees, farmers digging sweet potatoes, apple trees, bicycles, and tricycle trucks laden with goods and farm odors.

“Hey ya,” Zhang’s daughter-in-law greeted us. “Come, come,”

We stepped through a brick entry with a bedroom on one side and a room with a weaving loom on the other. Once past the entry, a white marble-like stone house stood across the courtyard.

An old man with Harry Potter-style glasses was sitting there rubbing corn off the cobs. “Oh, Jason! Come, come, my boy.” This was Mr. Zhang.
Jason gave us a tour of the house. It had an anteroom was filled with apples, a kitchen, a closet, two furnished bedrooms, a large empty room, and a back patio with “His and Her” outdoor toilets. This house was built by his sons who all got good jobs at the Rainbow Company through Jason. We sat for tea and apples.

“Your mother is on the farm.” The farm was an apple orchard with the fruit already individually wrapped while on the tree as bug prevention. Food brokers buy them after harvest through February.

As we were leaving, Jason met one of his Junior High friends. We didn’t know what they were saying but could see they were happy to see each other.

Tang Paradise
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Saturday and Sunday seem to be like any other day of the week. Students go to school on Saturday and it’s business as usual on Sundays. With no school on Sunday, we headed out for Tang Paradise, an attraction recommended by our leader and internet travel advisories. For comparison's sake, this is like Epcot Center except all about the Tang Dynasty. This 160-acre park is dedicated to recreating the glories of the Tang Dynasty. The buildings and gardens are beautifully rebuilt. We saw costumes of the era, paintings, a music concert with Chinese instruments, a puppet show, and a spectacular lion dance/acrobat show with young boys. We spent the whole day slowly taking in the culture.

We sat outdoors at the small restaurant where the wait staff did not speak English so we pointed to the pictures. With hand language, we asked if the food was spicy hot. The waitress called someone from inside who spoke a little English but he got tongue-tied. He then ran off to find someone else. A young lady from another restaurant spoke enough English to tell us what kind of meat was in the food and understood that we wanted to share the meal family style for the three of us. The very tasty dishes finally came. We enjoyed the whole experience.

Alarm from Home
October 22, 2007
What’s it like to be thousands of miles away and know your house is in the fire zone? We had seen on the internet there were fires in California. I had a dream that our house was in danger. I emailed our son, James to tell him to keep vigilant about the fires.

After a rough first day with 2nd, 4th, and 5th graders, were catching our breath in the hotel room, when we got a call from James. Cowan Heights area was on voluntary evacuation so he and his sister, Stephanie, were removing the valuables from our home. He wanted to know what we wanted to be taken out. Did that give one pause? We had just been to the farm village just on Saturday and were remarking how fortunate we are to live in a lovely home in Southern California. We now stood the chance of our home on the hillside being wiped out by the time we returned home. This was a test of our words. Did we mean “they are only things?” Needless to say, our thoughts were preoccupied and we have been checking the internet for the latest news. Unfortunately, tonight our internet connection is down and world news would not show fires in California.

This morning we encountered classrooms of 30-40 second graders with limited English vocabulary. I sang my way through doing songs with hand motions. I was able to do that for 40 minutes. Rich meanwhile, struggled with the alphabet with few responses. He felt like a total failure. After lunch, with more materials from the Global Volunteer office and a meeting with Annie, a former primary school principal, he got strategies and tips on how to keep things going. Now he is ready for tomorrow’s challenge. Fortunately, we will have a different group of students. The English teachers stay in the classroom with us so there is supervision and translation available.

The students are crammed into a classroom with three students to a desk built to accommodate only two. They are sitting elbow to elbow on small stools with their backs up against the desk behind them. Our fire department would go nuts if they saw this. Once all the bodies are in place, there is no walkway for students in the back of the room to reach the door quickly.

Somehow they have been taught to scream out answers. Does louder make it correct?

“Why do they scream?” I asked our escort teacher.

“The teachers always tell them to speak louder, so they scream,” she explained.

Dinner tonight was at a restaurant that specialized in northern Chinese food. They grow potatoes as their staple. We had potato flour noodles, a mashed potato-type dish, boiled lamb, scrambled eggs from free-range chickens, Chinese peas, and fried pumpkin. In our private dining room, a woman sang a couple of songs from the northern area. It sounded very Middle Eastern—high-pitched and a little whiney. After dinner, we walked back to our hotel through the well-lighted park along the city wall.

No School Today
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Before going to bed last night, I picked up a text message from James saying the fire was close but we were clear. What a relief! This morning we could not connect to the internet so had to head off to school anyway.

As we reached the lobby, there was serious deliberation as to whether we should go to the school. There was heavy fog on the way and Hu Di did not think it safe for us to be on the road. The driver had done the 40-minute drive from Xi’anyang to pick us up and our escort, Kim, was there too. However, the decision was made not to go. We were relieved and welcomed a day off.

Kim then took Rich and me to the hairdresser to get haircuts. We both had our hair washed and Rich got a haircut from a young girl. I waited for the master stylist. He was a master indeed. This tall over 6-foot young man didn’t speak English nor did he try to ask me anything through Kim. He just combed through my hair and started cutting. He was VERY skillful. I have never seen anyone handle scissors so artfully. It was like a dance in his hands. In about 20 minutes, I had the most flattering haircut I have ever had. It was a style I imagined but never could find someone who could do it exactly as I envisioned. Now I know it’s possible but I’d have to come to China.

We went shopping in an area that had many clothing stalls. I was happy to find clothes my petite size.

At 1 p.m. we joined our team for lunch at “Beautiful Soup” Restaurant just walking distance from the hotel. These restaurants have upper rooms which are private dining rooms for small groups. With only six of us, we had a quiet, non-smoking room to enjoy our lunch. We are eating endlessly. At this rate, it’s hard to believe the stories of starving Chinese.

Dinner was at the “Crossing Bridge Noodle Restaurant” where this noodle dinner was an activity. Each of us was served a variety of thinly sliced raw meats, some salted vegetables, a quail egg, and a bowl of rice noodles. We put all the condiments into the piping hot soup so that they cooked in a few seconds, then added the noodles and seasoned them with vinegar and/or hot pepper sauce. Many were not accustomed to slurping noodles or picking them up with chopsticks so there was all manner of creative ways to get the noodles eaten. It was a fun dinner.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007
SUCCESS!! Today was a great relief for Rich as his classes went extremely well as he followed the directions of Annie, on the team. He engaged the children in speaking, laughing, and even singing. He has a new respect for “Hokey Pokey.” Fortunately, the same teacher who was with him on Monday was there today and saw the great difference in his teaching so he feels exonerated. This still is not his favorite thing to do but he at least feels a bit of success.

Today turns out to be one of the most beautiful days we have had since we arrived--sunny and warm with unusually clean air. The rain last night washed the skies. I had a fun time with the students in my classes as I use my music teacher's bag of tricks. One class was so funny and fun that I got into a laughing fit and had a hard time stopping. I could barely sing the song. Yes, I have been doing a lot of “Hokey Pokey” and “Little Peter Rabbit.”

We spent this afternoon walking on the streets of the city and especially on the city wall. At dinner at a nearby restaurant 13 of us squeezed around a table for 10 in close fellowship. I noticed our teammates have become quite good at using chopsticks. They do not resort to forks anymore.

We have been keeping a watch on the internet for the fire situation in California. We are fortunate the fire has moved away from our home but it sounds very bad in other places. Praying for cooler and more humid weather—maybe some miraculous rain.

VIP Tour
Thursday, October 25, 2007
We had a once-in-a-lifetime tour of the Rainbow Color Picture Tube factory. No public tours are offered, only private tours for special guests. We went directly to the factory where the president and his assistant were waiting for us at the door. We donned blue surgical-type coats, hats, and shoe covers before entering. After photos, we walked through the assembly line in action, with the president explaining and Kim interpreting. The line is automated but the workers put the pieces into place. The small tubes are handled by workers but the large ones are on an automated assembly line because they are too heavy to handle. The glass is by Corning, and the other parts are made by Rainbow at other locations and assembled here. These picture tubes are then exported to Asian companies that label the televisions under various brand names. Rainbow is the largest color picture tube company in China with 20,000 employees. The parents of Rainbow School students work here.

After our tour, we visited a “regular government school” with grades 1 through 8. This public school wants to have Global Volunteer teachers but has not yet made the connection so we were the ambassadors. The students have never had a “native English speaker” speak to them, so we were the first. We were greeted by the English teachers, the principal, and the headmaster, then each of us was taken to two classes to just introduce ourselves and speak with the students in 7th and 8th grades for about 15 minutes. Rich and I did a little Hokey Pokey and talked about our family. Before we left, we were swarmed by students and had to get away by getting into the car. It was like being a movie star. The teachers were snapping photos. Darlene and Rich, being the non-Chinese ones, got the most attention.

The Rainbow’s Kindergarten school was our next stop. There we were met by 6-year-olds who were ready to perform for us. They sang and recited English rhymes then invited us to join them for Old Mac Donald and London Bridges. The principal and teachers gave us a royal tour of the school eagerly speaking with us and telling us all about their school. We felt like dignitaries.

In the afternoon, Rich and I checked out lunch at MacDonald’s. The meat is the same but it is combined with lettuce, cucumber, and mayonnaise that has a chili flavoring giving it a spicy hit. The French fries taste the same. The cost is about the same as in the USA so by China standards, it is quite expensive. People can have a meal at the outdoor stands for less than 75 cents so a $3.50 lunch is pricey.

Only the Bank of China can change dollars into RMB. Of course, there is one on every corner, except when you need it. The bank seemed fairly empty so I stood near a clerk’s window waiting when I noticed two people enter and take a ticket from a machine on the side. So I got one too. Then I heard a voice over the loudspeaker announcing something, which brought people from a side room to the window. Only then did I notice the numbers over the teller windows so I would know when it was my turn. I had my passport and clean 20-dollar bills which the clerk inspected with great care. Then she gave me dirty crumpled RMB in exchange. This visit was crucial since we only had enough money to get a cab back to the hotel.

Dinner was at The People’s Kitchen again with a “make your own mu-shu” dinner with tofu soup and corncake fritters. On the way home, we stopped at a small grocery store to pick up more goodies. We have noticed in all our shopping today, there is an abundance of store salespeople eager to wait on us. Even if we are just looking and they cannot speak with us, they follow us around, trying to be helpful--so very different from the stores at home where everything is self-service with no one to help.

Having been here three weeks, we are beginning to feel like we know the city. The streets are looking familiar and we can figure out where we are, and even cross the street like the natives. Every morning since being here I got up at 4 a.m. Today was the first day I adjusted to the time change. To think we will be home in 48 hours and I’m going to have to readjust all over again.

Last Day
Friday, October 26, 2007
Today was our last full day here. The usual breakfast buffet has always been a combination of Chinese and western foods. We could have either or both. I always opted for the Chinese as I can have western breakfast anytime at home. We had our usual breakfast gathering listening to Rich’s joke of the day and the daily journal by Pierre. It was a little sad to think we may never see these friends again.

As usual, our Driver and Kim were waiting for us in the lobby at 8 a.m. Again there was discussion about us going to the school as the fog was very thick on the highway. Kim said the school would be very disappointed since we did not teach yesterday. The principal is ready to present us with thank-you gifts and they want to treat us to lunch. Hu Di suggested the driver take another way to Xi’anyang avoiding the open highway. He took his chances and went on the open highway hoping it would be clear. After a short way, the fog was so thick we could barely see in front of us. Fortunately, there is not much traffic on this new highway as the driver slowed to a crawl. He then took the next exit and found some other way not as foggy. It was white knuckle time as trucks were diverted from the highway while pedestrians and bicycles (with no lights or reflective material) kept crisscrossing the road. We finally reached the school on time. This is a very good driver that has been ferrying us back and forth for three weeks.

When we arrived, Ashley was waiting to escort us to the primary school where the teachers anxiously waited. They were worried that we would not come as they were looking forward to us being there. The children seem delirious with joy upon seeing us. I think it’s because they would have a break from their routine. The English teachers had their cameras and took oodles of photos with and of us. In my classes, I like to teach songs with hand motions. The teacher had her camera and snapped away to get all the hand motions so she can lead the songs later. We taught only two classes of 3rd, 5th, and 6th graders.

At 11:00 a.m., we were escorted to the middle school lounge where the principal presented us with beautiful gifts of framed Chinese puppets made with transparent animal skins. They are beautiful copies of the ancient dynasty puppets. After exchanging appreciation, we were taken to lunch at a local restaurant with Murphy, Kim, Ashley, and the driver. The food was different again and the conversation fun. We have become very close to our Rainbow teachers. They were sad to see us leave. Even if we have not conversed with the driver, we feel he is a friend as he so carefully drove us every day. After lunch, we headed back to our hotel where we bid our final farewell to Kim and the driver.

On our daily rides, we talked about almost everything and anything we wanted to know about China—the one-child policy, birth control, school requirements, street sweepers, taxi drivers, where to shop, and even about Chinese toilets. Some conversations were very serious, and some were very funny where we laughed and giggled. We invited Kim to visit us in California. She and Jason could stay at our home. “That is only a dream!” she said. “I cannot imagine we can go so far away.”

So, now is time to pack as we will be leaving tomorrow morning. Since we bought things and were given gifts, getting everything in the suitcases with the correct weight was the challenge. Using the scale in the bathroom to weigh the bags, I had to shift the items so each bag would be under the weight limit. We are just making it. We also have some money left so decided to walk to the local bakery and buy some very good cookies and moon cakes to take home and share at dinner tonight. The shop girl recognized us from past trips and smiled broadly. We now know the routine of getting a tray and putting our selections on it before going to the counter to pay. She could not explain what was in each one so we got a variety. She was quite pleased that we bought so much.

When we came here, we didn’t know what to expect. We were told to teach conversational English but since neither of us had done that, it was all theory. In retrospect, even if we had known what it would be like, we would have come anyway. We would do this again in another location to interact with the people. Global Volunteers has done a wonderful job in taking care of us volunteers. Hu Di is a trove of information. She knows this city inside-out and caringly looks after all of us. I hope all their leaders are like her.

Tonight’s dinner will be Team 154’s “last supper” together. We have had about 50 meals together as a family. We know each other's likes & dislikes; who drinks beer, Coke, or water; who likes spicy food; and who can use chopsticks. Everyone has been cooperative and willing to go with the flow. It’s a real privilege to be part of such a group. This is my last blog entry from China and I hope you have enjoyed tagging along with us. We are on our way home looking forward to seeing our kids, our dog Oatie, and sleeping in our bed.

Homeward Bound
Monday, October 29, 2007
Having left for China from LAX, where we went 5 hours in advance of our flight to be sure we made it through TSA security on time, we were concerned on Saturday morning in Xi’an when we were taken to the Xi’an International Airport by Global Volunteers at 9 a.m. for an hour drive to the airport for a 12:10 PM flight. It turned out that there was only one “international flight” going out to Hong Kong. The international area did not open until 10:40 AM, through which you had boarding passes, passport checks, and security checks. We went through all checkpoints without a problem and waited for our flight. While there, we realized that only foreigners like us and the very rich travel internationally.

One of our teammates had asked a class how many had ever been on an airplane and there were none. Most didn’t know what an airport was and much less have ever been on an airplane to see it. The average school teacher makes about $250 a month. Plane fares are the same for them as for us so few can afford a trip.

A few more thoughts about China.
When tourists go there, they are interested in the history and the ways of the dynasties 600BC. The Chinese want to know about the future—new inventions, music, dress, business structures, modern buildings, etc. The old city of Xi’an is a juxtaposition of the 15th century and the 21st century. There is a modern glass and steel shopping center on the main street and a block away on a side street, a brick and mud structure where the people live with no bathrooms. On the old streets are carts pulled by hand or bicycles full of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and cooked foods. The government has replaced many old living quarters with more modern ones but there is so much more to do. They face both cultural and financial challenges.

We saw a man “tightrope walking” over eight lanes of traffic on electrical wires making repairs. On another site there was a man balancing only on his bare feet, hanging protective plastic on bamboo scaffolding five stories up with no safety harness. Visitors can walk through construction sites without protective helmets, and climb over steel rebar, piles of marble, and construction holes. The schools have 60+ children shoulder to shoulder in a classroom where the back door is padlocked from the outside. The concept of safety precautions is certainly different from home. It boggles the mind.

Funny how a 12-hour airplane ride can seem like a time warp. Three weeks in Xi’an seem like a dream. We are home now putting away our suitcases and trip items plus the treasures our children removed from our house in the evacuation effort. It seems we arrived just in time as the garbage disposer leaked, and the lawn sprinklers shorted out. Also, I lost my wallet with my driver’s license and credit cards. It’s still better than losing our whole house. It gives me pause to realize that most of the Chinese people we spent time with do not have any concept of the things I am concerned about now at home—but they will. China is the sleeping giant getting ready to wake up.

Publications: (found on Amazon.com)
The Path Forward
Dancing with God, The Christian Journey to Live Supernaturally
Training to Reign, The Christian Guide to Spiritual Maturity. (Sept 2022)
Her articles and devotionals have been published in Christiandevotions.us online magazine, Purpose Magazine, a Menno Media publication, and The Secret Place, Judson Press.
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