Epistle #6 Kate's Birthday and Finished School Year

June 28, 2012
Mei Chi, China

Hello All,
We're wrapping up the school year with these little Chinese children.  I'm not sure how much they've learned from me but I learn and stretch every time I step into the classroom.  Next year we'll have some redone classrooms with more flexible seating in the new "International Department".  I hope it works well.  We fly out a week from tomorrow for Houston for a week then on to Utah until the 3rd week of August.   That time will whiz by for sure.

GOOD SAMARITAN-  This actually happened several months ago.  Standing in pouring rain on the side of a street in Zhuji, we had just left the Chinese Traditional Medicine Hospital where Richard tried unsuccessfully to pay for a past visit he had made there.  The cashier didn't understand what he wanted to do and the folks doing acupuncture were not in their office, although there was a bunch of people waiting outside their door.  After calling friends and co-workers to try to get them to translate and everyone was busy, Richard decided that they just didn''t want his money.
So back to the street corner with water dripping down Richard's neck--at least I had a hood on my coat.  I held out my hands to some coals that just happened to be burning in a habachi thing on a shelf under a canopy held up with bamboo poles.  I asked Richard if he thought the section of the street was one-way because there was a clump of cars taking up the road going one way, definitely not in lanes.  He said he didn't think so because.here comes a bus coming the other way.  It just honked its' horn and the cars magically made a space for it to pass. 
We were trying to flag down a taxi to take us to a grocery store.  Plenty of taxis, all full.  Usually we take a bus but we didn't know the route.  So we were dripping.  Up pulled a man in his mini-van.
 In Chinese "where are you going?". 
"Da Ren Fa" (RT Mart in English)." 
He let us know that he would take us there. 
"How much?"
 I'm suspicious.  "How much?"
"You are in the rain.  I will take you.", he said.
  Richard was game, Kate is thinking of "you should never get in the car with a stranger who is offering you candy" and thoughts of Ron Gierisch (a Mormon bishop who was murdered in Houston years ago after picking up a hitch hiker). 
Finally Kate decided, "OK, but if I'm held hostage, you get the blame."
 Riding in the back seat, we heard the driver talking on his phone about taking his friends to Da Ren Fa.  "Maybe it's ok", I thought.  We thought he said he had a cousin in Canada.  (never quite sure about the translation) Anyway, after a bit, he pulled up in front of Da Ren Fa (RT Mart).  Didn't accept any payment.  A modern day good Samaritan.  He just saw us in the rain and wanted to do a good turn.

THE WRONG BUS.  Richard was sick so I ventured to go to church on my own. When the man wouldn't take my money for awhile and when the bus turned the wrong way, I knew I was in a tough spot.  I had the address and directions to the church written in Chinese....so we went on down the freeway.  Poor Richard didn't get much sleep that morning because he got a call from his wife asking for advice.  We called a Chinese friend but he wasn't familiar with the area.   Finally we pulled off and the conductor motioned for me to get off.  He got off with me and talked to a lady at the bus stop with "will you please take care of this American lady?"  That lady looked at my paper, walked me across the street and made sure I got on a bus heading in the right direction.  When I got off that bus as one of the passengers directed, the bus driver stopped the bus, got off and motioned for me to get back on.  When we got to the bus stop that had #113 (my friend, I know that bus takes me to the church as long as it was going the right way!), the bus driver again stopped the bus, got off, and made sure I knew what to do.  Nice, don't you think?  I was only 1/2 hour late for church.

BIRTHDAY SURPRISE.  We had a wonderful time on my birthday with our friend's husband (who speaks maybe less English than Richard speaks Chinese) who took us up into the hills to some scenic spots.  (see pictures).  We saw the farmers out in their rice fields mucking around in the mud/water planting rice.  A Buddhist temple was at the top of a hill.  After catching the bus back into our little town we stopped to eat.  I told Richard that that could count as my birthday meal and we wouldn't have to go out again on Monday.  That had been the plan.  He said, "no no no, let's go anyway.  Let's go at 6:00"  Hmmm.  Ok then.  Looking back on it, I thought it was not really very "typical Richard" but who am I to turn down 2 birthday meals?  We got to the restaurant on Monday and he had arranged a surprise with 7 of our friends. There were presents and flowers and a most happy time.  We realized that we've met many of our friends on the bus ... or they are friends of friends of those we've met on the bus.  I loved my birthday surprise. 

FLOOD.  We got back from Yiwu and took our little cart to go eat noodles.  Nope, the main roads of town were flooded.  So we parked the cart and walked around the corner on the much higher side walk.  We actually saw fish swimming in the street.  The funny thing was that nobody seemed very upset or were even talking about it much.  Our coworker told us later that this is very normal for Mei Chi.  It floods once or twice a year.  Who knew?

NOODLES.  Love, love, love those homemade noodles.  I always get the egg/tomato noodles because I know what I'm eating. The people at the shop already know to not put MSG in my noodles.  Richard usually points at the menu on the wall and takes a chance on something new, a surprise. So fun to watch the show owners stretch and flip the noodles.  They don't even cut the noodles at all, just stretch the dough and folds it back over until it pulls apart.

YIWU;  Went to visit the Lazarini family.  He is from Brazil and she is from Georgia (near the Black Sea).  They speak most of the time in Chinese or Portuguese at home.  Their little girl, 3 years old speaks mostly Chinese to her father, usually Georgian to her mother.  The mom speaks English with no accent, Portuguese she learned from her husband within a few months in Brazil. Goergian, Russian, English, Portuguese and Chinese.  Amazing.  That little girl could learn 5 languages just by talking to her mom.  She's not even Chinese but that is her native language.   We had a fun time staying up way too late playing games.  We just invited ourselves over because we wanted to get to know them better.  He grew up in the church  in Brazil...looked up online and found our little branch.

OUR LITTLE BRANCH.  Just love it.  Love the potlucks twice a month.  We really have some of THE BEST cooks ever in our branch.  We usually eat it all even though it looks like quite a bit when we start.  Of course we go for spiritual food also. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  We have 8 or 9 women for Relief Society.  We just have the best time in that house/church in Hangzhou.  We are truly blessed to have each other. 

DNA match.  Richard's brother, David, sent in a blood sample to a company that matches samples for purposes of connecting families doing Genealogy research.  He's come across some pretty close matches but is yet to tie in conclusively on his Armstrong line.  He's having fun with it, and genuinely hopes a prolonged dead-end at his Armstrong great-grandfather will be extended.

HONG KONG.  We went to the temple and stayed with our friends from Beijing, the Woos.  They were so kind and kept the baby in their room so we could have the baby's room.  We spent a night at the temple housing which is on the second floor of the church across the street.  So fun!  I talked with a boy from Thailand who was the only member of the church in his family.  There was a lady from near Beijing who travels to the temple every other month who invited me to eat with her and told me her story.

Well, that's it for this school year.  I am relieved.  Those kids are smiling to be done with school but they are not any happier than this "foreign teacher". 

Love to all,
Kate and Richard

Photos:  Flooded Streets, Lazarinis and Armstrongs eating noodles,, Duck Anyone? John and Delona Roth, our good friends, An old truck, Wet field, Hong Kong Temple, Kate with students on our cart

Pictures For Epistle #6

Armstrong China Epistle #5-Doctor Rap and What Do You Talk?

Friday 30 March 2012
Hello Dear Friends and Family,

BEST BABY 2:  We decided to get this little electric cart to ride along our river and our little town.  We took it to the next town over but didn't find much there....lots of shops selling piping and nuts and bolts.  (there are lots of factories around here.)  The question is, where do those factory workers shop for food and clothes and stuff?  Man can not live on bolts alone!  We have named our vehicle "Best Baby 2", after our granddaughter, Eliza.  Eliza got that name when we were staying with Bonnie and family last summer and she would keep Papa company and fall asleep on our mattress on the floor.  The cart cost abt $400 and we get big grins from local folks who don't often (if ever) see foreigners bopping around in electric carts.  We recharge it near the guard station--so far we haven't run out of charge while we are out..

CLASSES;  Richard is teaching 4th grade for the first time...he's working on figuring out how and what he's supposed to be doing.   I'm still teaching 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.  When I first started, I always had another teacher in there helping me.  Now, not so much.  One time when I was teaching a 1st grade class by myself, a little girl came up to the front  and told me something in Chinese ever so earnestly.  Hmmm.  I wonder what she is saying.  Finally a little boy at the back of the class said WC.  Ah, she needs to go potty.  "Go ahead" I say, showing her the door.  I'm not sure, but I think there was some potty jokes going on in Chinese.  Then she came back because she'd forgotten her tissues.  (toilet paper is not part of the deal in China.  You usually have to bring your own).  OK, so, I'm supposed to have some semblance of order with these "cute little"  first graders?  Ah well, on with the lesson.  It is getting somewhat better for me, though, really.  At least I've figured out how to get the third graders involved.  Bribes!  Good old fashioned candy bribes for the best team!  Yeah! Some teachers give out chocolate.  I go for the shiny cheap stuff.

2ND GRADE RAP:  I made this for the 2nd graders who were learning about "a visit to the doctor".  First of all, you should picture a little Chinese kid with Richard's white shirt (doctor's coat) over his uniform.  Three little other children are visiting the doctor:

Doctor, Doctor, help me please.
I feel so sick and I've got to sneeze. (ah choo)
My head hurts, my back hurts, my ear hurts too.
Tell me, Doctor, what can I do?

Drink a lot of water every day,
Eat good food, that's what I say.
Go to bed at 8 o'clock every night.
Pretty soon you will feel alright.

But doctor, but doctor, I need some pills
I have a fever and I have the chills.
My head hurts, my back hurts, my ear hurts too.
Tell me doctor, what can I do?

One in the morning, two before bed

Don't take too many, the doctor said.
One in the morning, two before bed

Don't take too many, the doctor said.

CHURCH.  I'm now the Relief Society president in our small branch.  (there are 10 women, 3 of which work with the children in Primary).  We have the best time!  One of the women taught us a fun dance/exercise class with folk dance, country, ballet, African, and jazz all within a 50 minute work out.  Richard was the honorary member of Relief Society that morning and did it along with us.  It takes us about 2 1/2 hours one way to get to the church.  We've found that we quite enjoy the ride.  We can study, snooze, kind of write.  Richard is a master at getting out his notes and Chinese dictionary and getting a free Chinese lesson from a new-found friend on the bus.  

STAIRS, STAIRS, STAIRS.  My record for going down n up is 8 times in a day.  We live on the fourth floor and I sometimes teach on the fourth floor in another  building.  The other day I went down our stairs and up the other building stairs to teach.(1) Then I went down those stairs and up our stairs for lunch (2)  realized that I'd left my jump drive with the house key in the computer in the classroom, so went down our stairs and up the classroom stairs to fetch the keys (3), then down those stairs and up our stairs for lunch (4), then down our stairs and up to the classroom to teach afternoon classes (5), then down those stairs and up our stairs for a break and a snack (6), then down our stairs and up just one flight to tutor a student (7), then down those stairs and up our stairs (8)  Phew!  My legs are getting really strong.  
WILL RETURN.  We've decided to return to this school next year.  (I've requested an apartment on a lower floor, see STAIRS above).  We've been doing some recruiting for the school.  We've tried to answer questions and pave the way to make it somewhat less frustrating to get all the paper work done.  Again, if any of you know of anyone (couples preferred, but singles OK,  younger than 60 with at least 2 years teaching experience), please pass the word along.  The Chinese gov't is tightening up on the age thing. 
Now from Richard: WHAT-DO-YOU-TALK-ABOUT? One day while riding the bus we wrote a list of possible topics the Chinese were discussing so loudly and earnestly. The bus driver (we’re in a small city) was carrying on talking to several ladies on the bus, while we were just dumbstruck in wonder about what they get so energized over (there were no pauses in the long conversation). Possible topics that occurred to us:
·         Good restaurants they have enjoyed eating at
·         Price of tea in China
·         Sharing favorite recipes
·         Gardening techniques, like traditional Chinese gardening
·         The weather
·         The anticipated harvest given the cooling weather change (this was in November)
·         Best ways to catch dogs to boil (we had just seen two boiled dogs)
·         Gossip
·         Police actions they have heard about
·         Earthquakes, floods and rain in China and around the world
·         The strange foreigners on the bus, or weird ones they have known
·         The Chinese educational philosophy
·         Their last visit to the barber or hair stylist
·         Remedies of TCM (traditional Chinese medicine)
·         In-law attitudes and antics
·         Travel
·         Cars they’re planning to buy
·         The change on the Mainland from traditional to simplified Chinese characters (hanzi)
·         Soap operas
·         Who-dunnits
·         Comparing fruits in China with those abroad
·         Where to go and what to buy for bargain shopping
·         The Republican primary debates in the USA
·         Hey! It’s all blither. Just speculation. Most of the time, now 4 months later we are just as clueless as to what they are talking about or saying directly to us. At times it’s hilarious, and at other times it is downright frustrating to not understand nor be understood

OUR TRIP TO WENLING. We traveled to Wenling (it means “warm mountain range”) in southeast Zhejiang province, quite near the coast. We stayed with the family of Hong Qing (Ivy), a former student at China Women’s University. They were most hospitable to us, and enjoyed learning and playing card games with us. They took us to an outdoor reserve where we saw our first pandas. They were inside a glass enclosure, and were pretty much lazy gluttons, just chewing bamboo or sleeping or standing around. Got a good photo or two. The most fun thing we did was go to Shitang, a coastal fishing village just outside Wenling. We visited Ivy’s grandparents and other relatives there. Two great highlights were: 1) walking on stone paths and stairs that wound in and around the residential part of the village, leading up to a promontory overlooking the sea. It was called Millenial Park, and was, purportedly, the place in China where the earliest rays of the new Millenium sunshine was seen. Apparently many visitor came from all over the world to look out to the eastern sea for the first rays on January 1, 2000.; and 2) riding in a fishing boat around the harbor. We got some good pictures. On our final morning in Wenling it was sunny for the first time, so we went to a park to pose in imperial robes. By noon we were on a bus back to Zhuji, and it was raining again. It was pretty cold in “Warm Mountain Ridges”. The Chinese don’t heat their houses, they just bear the cold. Fortunately, the family put us in a bedroom with an electric heater, and welcomed us to use it as much as we wanted.

CONSTITUTION 101. This is to share with you a link that will take you to an offering of a free course by Hillsdale College on the Constitution of the USA. Yes, they are offering it for free, though you may donate if you like. In this pivotal election year when so much is at stake, the voters would carry out their stewardship to vote, and do so much more wisely, if they would study the principles of liberty that our founding fathers crafted to secure the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity. Let us likewise secure these blessings of liberty to our posterity now and after we have departed. Here is the link.( https://www.hillsdaleoffer.com/civicrm/contribute/transact?reset=1&id=13&custom_16=OCC&custom_31=forward)

Thanks for walking with us once again through this wonderland of China. It never ceases to amaze u

Photos for Epistle #5

Hot Rodding Kate

Which one is the cutest?

Made in China

Under the Umbrellas.  Shi Tang

Mending fishing nets

What's Up, Doc?

Choose what you want, they'll cook it up for you

Walking the plank

Well, water anyone?

Going up or coming down?

Armstrong China Epistle #4 A Month Off

       It’s been about a month since our last flash of China News. Lots has happened since Christmas. Two things that happened since is/are New Year. If you suspect me of bad grammar, you could be right. We have celebrated both the solar and the lunar new years within 3 weeks of each other. For the solar new year we traveled to Chongqing, one of China’s four autonomous cities that are so large they have their governments separate from the provincial governments nearby. The lunar new year was spent at “home” in our apartment at Hailiang School in Meichi, Zhejiang. The day after lunar new year began, we went with a Chinese friend to visit her relatives up in a mountain village, and oh! such beauty we saw descending the mountain in falling snow! (I was falling right along with the snow, down a steep, lengthy, winding stone path, because my tennis shoes had no tread on the slippery soles.) Before the Chinese new year we traveled 5 hours by bus to Wenling, near the coast in southeastern Zhejiang. We’ll recount some highlights of each. But first, Happy New Year and                  新年快乐(Xin Nian Kuai Le).
       Chongqing is built on a mountain, and is nestled at an intersection of two important rivers, the Yangtze and Jialing. We spent six days there, all foggy, never saw the sun once. (I remember a winter as a kid, in Winslow, Arizona, where we went six weeks without seeing the sun once.) We were the guests there of Li Yulin and family; I tutored Yulin in Boston 8 months ago.
  1. We stayed in a luxurious, 5-star hotel called Glenview. Great breakfasts and swimming pool/health spa
  2. One of the special memories was seeing candy makers in a replica of an old Chinese city. Two men used big wooden mallets to pound flat the candy dough on a tree stump, then the candy was baked and cut in pieces. Yummmmmm, soooo tasty!
  3. We traveled by car outside the city to DaZu county where we saw ancient Buddhist stone carvings, perhaps, 1000 years old. They were very extensive and told a comprehensive story of the plan of happiness (and sorrow, some pitiful persons suffered in hell) of this way. The details were intricate, artful, and awe-inspiring. Our guide explained why Chinese offer their guests more food and more courses than any living humans can possibly finish, even though the surplus gets thrown away. It was very interesting.
  4. Clare was our tour guide two days. She suffered through teaching me (Richard) a lot of Chinese, hearing me practice Chinese and asking too many questions.
  5. We went to the Three Gorges Museum in Chongqing.
  6. We rode on a river cruise ship to see the scenery in both rivers around the rim of the city at night. We shivered on the upper deck, and the view was spectacular, with so much colorful lights and shapes I almost thought we must be in Las Vegas, Nevada. The view was amazing despite the fog.
  7. Eating and shopping in the old city replica, walking many streets with open air shops. We couldn’t resist buying a bunch of Chinese clothes for our grandkids. We also crossed over a hill that was topped with shops, shops, and more shops, mainly laden with objects for the lunar new year. We bought more things for grandkids in that shopping “mall”, including "hu die" (Chinese for butterfly), a favorite of granddaughters Camry, Aly, and Malia.
  8. Hot pot dinner with the Li family was delicious and fun. We enjoyed getting to know Yulin’s mother and her friend with little girl, Emily, who enjoys dual citizenship, having been born in Florida.
  9. The return train ride from Shanghai to Zhuji was a 3-hour trip without a seat. We bought tickets without seat assignments, and the car was jam packed due to Chinese new year traffic. One funny lady, a train employee, stood in the aisle next to us with a comical, loud half-hour sales pitch for toothbrushes. She talked really loud, and I told her in Chinese “bu xuyao”, meaning I don’t need any, and she gave me a big smile. Finally some people bought her brushes so she would go away. Kate got to sit the whole trip due to the kindness of a Chinese man.
       I’ll save the report about our visit to Wenling prior to the lunar new year, because this article is too long for you to bear. However, bear with one more incident. A week ago I had gone to a Starbucks Coffee in Hangzhou to see if I could get a new iPod, that was given me by my daughter for a gift, to work. It had gotten dark while I was in there. I stepped out, put on my gloves, and adjusted my coat and scarf, intending to walk to a store a couple blocks away to buy some cheese. I took my first step in that direction, carrying my laptop computer in its carrying case, expecting to step onto more sidewalk, and stepped smack into a knee-deep pond of chilly water (air temperature was below 40 deg. F). Due to the surprise and the angle, I lost my balance and fell over sideways in the pond, getting everything wet except my head, bumping my knee painfully on the concrete at the bottom. In spite of pain, I bounced out of the water, shook like a dog, and decided to hurry to the house where we were staying, and to heck with the cheese. I wanted to be sure my computer wasn’t soaked and damaged. I slogged (a sloshy jog) the very long block home, and told Kate I fell into a pond. She didn’t believe me until she saw all the puddles I made on the floor. I stripped out of all the wet clothes, and took out the computer and turned it on—it worked fine, having stayed mostly dry inside the case. I wasn’t going to shower at this cold house because it’s too cold to get naked in the bathroom; however, given that I was already naked and dripping wet with cold water, I took the shower after all, and enjoyed the comfort of the hot water. Getting dressed in dry clothes after that was all pleasure. The great thing was that I laughed with hilarity even as I stepped out of the pond, finding it to be a very humorous experience.
       We are enjoying a month off school, and have a little over a week left before school gets going again. Our administrators asked us to help recruit more foreign English teachers for the school for the next school year. We have all but decided to re-up and extend our contract a year, for that’s how well we like it here. We are announcing that we might be able to influence the school to hire you, or someone you know who is both qualified and interested in teaching in China. For any who are interested to know the further details, reply to this email with “Curious about Teaching in China” in the subject line. We will send you an information sheet with an application, either for you to consider or to forward to people you know.
       Thanks for reading, and see you in China someday.

Kate and Richard Armstrong

P.S. I still haven’t figured out how to get my iPod to work. I have a lot to learn, besides the Chinese language,