Mutianyu, a favorite Great Wall site among visiting dignitaries and tourists, has undergone some drastic remodeling and reconfiguration. Buses now transport visitors within a short walk of the gondola that takes visitors to the Great Wall. All the shops that once lined the narrow street, forming a gauntlet of market hagglers has now been relocated and dispersed down the mountainside to a spacious shop area at the point of entry. All this change occurred within one year’s time!
The weather was extraordinary with no haze and clear visibility as the photos attest.
My wife and I are dedicated and former season ticket holders for Real Salt Lake. We moved to China this year and gave up the season tickets, but not the passion for the team or the game. We follow best we can from China. We couldn’t resist taking this photo with the Team theme song echoing in our minds: “If you believe then stand up on your feet and shout it out, ‘Real!’ Here at the RioT the battle hymn’s begun. We’re here for RSL!”
Jeff and Mim Nellermoe at Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, People’s Republic of China
As educators working with Mei Wen (a registered, Chinese social enterprise in Henan, People’s Republic of China), my wife and I were excited to be introduced to the principal and administrators of the Xinyang School of Aviation Services and Vo-tech High School in the Pingqiao District, Henan.
The Pingqiao Vo-tech school is the approximate equivalent of a U.S. Title 1 School, wherein, the school receives government funding to serve the at-risk child from low-income to poverty level child who are failing their academics at the Middle School level. The students who attend this school are often classified as “Stay Behind” children, meaning that one or both of their parents are working in other provinces. Often, these children come from impoverished rural families. Many have intellectual acuity but motivation due to the lack of nurture and care from loving family members. The school’s teachers serve as loving surrogate parents and extended family to these children, offering them individual care and practical, vocational skill training so that they can find meaningful employment to thrive in life.
Currently, we (as Mei Wen) are in negotiations with the Pingqiao school to provide “Life Camp” programming, which will include a diversity of learning activities, games, and sports to teach students character qualities and skills that are essential to success in life, e.g., cooperation, teamwork, standards of excellence, integrity, honesty, respect, communication, and learning how to formulate, organize, and execute plans, strategies, feedback systems, and evaluation.
We also will teach practical English within their vocational areas and offer teacher training, classroom observation that includes feedback on lesson planning, creating conducive learning environments, classroom management, and student discipline. Feedback will be interactive with the teacher with the aim of assisting teachers to develop skills for self-improvement. Teacher training involves discussion on teaching philosophies, discussion on best practices, character formation, teacher-student rapport, lesson planning, teaching methods and techniques and use of technology within the classroom.
We are considering two Student Leadership Development retreats, one in the Fall and the other in the Spring, to select students, to further develop a students’ self-confidence and leadership abilities, using an outdoor education model that incorporates rigorous environments in which students are given leadership tasks (vision, planning, execution) and given responsibility to shape and form teams (role clarification, expectations, assessment).
Planning is only in the initial stages, but we are excited about the prospects and the potential impact it will have on the rural student in Henan — which is why we are here in China.
The finer points of grammar
On the left, our language teacher, Yang Yu, explains to us how to convey spatial relationships, using “inside” (里边) and three different verbal constructions: 1) something (在) something; 2) someplace 有 something; and, 3) someplace (是)something. A literal English translation of the Chinese sentence structure reads:
1) Three students are the room’s inside
2) The room’s inside has three students
3) The bag’s inside is the Chinese book
4) The Chinese book is the bag’s inside
On the right our language teacher, Li Hong, explained the proper use of “de shi hou” with “zhang zai” to communicate the temporal use of “when” and “while” using Pin Yin (the romanized spelling of Chinese characters). A literal English translation, top to bottom, reads:
1) I miss my daughter when she also is in the process of missing us.
2) Mim drinks water when Jeff is in the process of drinking coffee
3) I study when our parents are in the process of sleeping
We are learning that we just need to think in Chinese, not English, in order to understand. The Chinese language follows consistent rules of grammar that are logical. We just need to learn them and speak them. At this point, in our language learning, we are feeling “muddled.” Everything is jumbled. We just need to adjust to a new syntax. This will happen when we are more immersed in the Chinese language. It helps to have some instruction in English, otherwise, we would have no clue has to what is going on.
Today we discovered from our teacher the official retirement ages, as mandated by the government of China. These ages, I understand, are mandated, with few exceptions. Think of it as compulsory retirement.
The average male (see Index Mundi data below) in China enjoys 12 years or retirement before death, but a woman enjoys 27 years — but her compulsory age of retirement is much earlier, at the age of 50 years.
This hit our funny bone, since my wife is the one with the work VISA at the age of 53, while I am the one with the spouse VISA at the age of 54. Both of us are investing our lives in Chinese young people.
Here is some Chinese demographic information:
Men: Age 65 (Extension for those proficient in deemed critical social sectors)
Women: Age 55 (Extension for those proficient in deemed critical social sectors) Men: Age 60 (Standard)
Women: Age 50 (Standard)
This piqued my curiosity, so I went surfing on the internet for other China demographics. Below is July 2014 census data, compliments of Index Mundi (accessed April 9, 2014, http://www.indexmundi.com/china/demographics_profie.html).
China Total Population (as of July 204, estimate)……………….1,355,692,576
Beijing Population ………………………………………….………….15,594,000
Age Structure: 00-14 years …..17.1%
15-24 years …..14.7%
25-54 years …..47.2%
55-64 years …..11.3%
65 years+ ……. 09.6%
Median Age: 36.7 years (male/female)
35.8 years (male)
37.5 years (female)
Life Expectancy: 75.15 years (total)
73.09 years (male)
77.43 years (female)
Religions: 18.2% Buddhist
21.9% Folk Religion
Literacy 95.1% age 15 & older can read and write
There are 1.46 Physicians per 1000 people and 3.8 hospital beds per 1000 people.
This year (April 5, 2015), 清明 – Qingming (Tomb-Sweeping Day), coincided with Easter Sunday.
According to Wikipedia, translated as “pure brightness,” 清明 – Qingming is celebrated on the first day of the fifth solar term of the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. This makes it the 15th day after the Spring Equinox, either April 4th or 5th any given year.
Although celebrated as a national holiday in China, 清明 – Qingming has religious origins, related to ancestor worship, the only native religion to China. All other religions in China, including, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, were imported from outside of China. (Confucianism and Taoism originated in China but are philosophies rather than religions.)
清明 – Qingming rituals include cleaning the gravesite, decorating the tombstone with fresh flowers, lighting incense, burning imitation paper money, which is for the deceased to use in the afterlife, and paying respects through bowing three times.
Recently, it has become popular to burn a wide variety of consumer goods like paper imitation iPhones, designer handbags, houses and sports cars. In some instances food is offered to the spirit of the deceased. The families will eat a picnic at the graveside with their ancestors, set off firecrackers to ward against evil sprits and alert the ancestors of their respectful presence.
The responsibility of cleaning the tomb falls to the eldest son (or family member), and is most likely to include only offerings of incense, paper money and flowers.
We talked with our teachers about 清明 – Qingming. They both professed to be atheists and think that the rituals associated with the religious observance are outdated and unnecessary. Neither one of them made a visit to their ancestor’s tombs. Yet, they did acknowledge that it was a personal, preference to observe the national holiday by keeping its religious significance, and, that they knew friends who did keep these traditions with varying degrees of sincerity and belief. For them, it was just part of their culture, which was in ancient times. They thought that the present religious celebration of 清明 – Qingming was more prevalent in the rural and economically depressed areas of China.
If, however, reports are true that approximately 10 percent of China’s population are Christian, then April 5th was also celebrated as Easter Sunday throughout much of China. Several worship services were held by registered and unregistered churches, as well as ex-patriate churches for holders of foreign passports. We went to Beijing International Christian Fellowship (ZGC) in the XiJiao Hotel Conference Center, Haidian District, and discovered a non-denominational church with about 70 nations represented — all foreign passport holders. We were amazed at the number of Africans who were present. The Haidian district is home to several universities and colleges, making it an international habitat for visiting scholars and teachers from other countries. The service was held in English, but this was obviously the 2nd or 3rd language of many of the leaders and participants. The majority of those attending were from Africa. The service was a rich composition of various cultures and rhythms, featuring traditional and contemporary songs and instruments.
There were three baptisms: a girl from Kenya, a girl from Samoa, and a girl from Taiwan. The service opened with the traditional Easter greeting: “He is risen! He is risen, indeed!” The pastor preached on Matthew 12:1-14, a text which is not normally used for Easter. The passage focused on freedom from religious rituals that have lost their meaning, highlighted Jesus as the Lord of the Sabbath, who is greater than religious ritual.
Several visiting African students from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Ghana gave plain, simple and heart-felt testimonies, all who expressed joy in knowing the great love of the Father who sent his son, Jesus to die on the cross for our sins, but who rose again on the third day so that we might have eternal life.
清明 – Qingming (Tomb-Sweeping Day) and Easter Sunday, both on the same day. One group visits a tomb with bones. Another group visits a tomb without bones. Still another group does not visit any tomb at all. Welcome to China!
I was in a crowded Beijing Subway system navigating the intricate intersections of colliding surges of mass humanity, all in a hurry to get somewhere, when I heard the sound of “pitter-patter” feet above the din (the rapid succession of beats made by stiletto heels striking the granite subway floor. Honestly, I did not know, at first, what hit me. It was a slim, 5’6” woman wearing eye-glasses in her 20’s carrying an oversized purse in one arm, which she wielded deftly as a machete to cut down jungle overgrowth, and 2-3 shopping bags in the other arm, which also served to widen her girth, as a bulldozer leaves a swath of fallen uprooted earth.
Evidently, several young woman employ the same strategy. If you appear in a hurry, wear stilettos, and are able to generate the requisite pitter-patter sounds, you have the right-of-way, or, at least, conventional, polite human protocols in subway systems are temporarily suspended and do not apply to the same.
I inquired about this experience with our Chinese language teachers, who are all women. They laughed. It was as if, I had cracked a cultural code. Not only do you need to generate the required sounds, bear parcels of burdens, but you also need to make the appropriate sounds, which are like squeals of excitement, always looking ahead, as if you are trying to catch up to someone, and you act completely surprised, even hurt, if someone challenges you for being reckless. It is their defensive strategy for constantly being pushed around and jostled by larger, bigger, and stronger men (and some women).
The next time, I hear pitter-patter feet, I am going to get out of the way, as quickly as possible. It just isn’t worth the confrontation. And, it is just part of Chinese culture. Welcome to China!
Just in case you were wondering what the price of coffee is in Beijing, China. Here you go! Prices are in Chinese Yuan (RMB). For conversion into US Dollars, divide the amount by 6.1. For example a small vanilla latte is 30 RMB / 6.1 = 4.92 USD. It’s not cheap. We usually reserve one day a week for personal indulgence while surfing the internet and catching up on emails.
A month ago, I would have said that the Chinese language sounds harsh and choppy. Today, however, as a beginner, I am beginning to appreciate the beauty of the language, both in its written forms and spoken sounds. Chinese is an elegant language rich with history and meaning.
The five tones of the language (there is a neutral tone with no tonal markings) create a type of melody in the sentence structure. The longer the phrasing, the longer the melody. When the phrasing is short (five or less words), then the sentence can sound choppy. A grammatical rules dictates that the first word of two words using the third tone change to second tone when sequential. This means the first word is spoken using second tone, then the second word is spoken using the third tone. In effect, the melody is always changing. It does not remain stagnate.
Each Chinese written character has a rich history of development, both in the writing of the character (e.g., simplified Chinese) and its formation. Many words are based upon compound characters, some of which no longer exist as single words in the language. A good example of this is mou (please forgive the lack of PinYin), which meant eye, and is part of several existing words, but now the word for eye is something else.
Most characters were based on ancient pictographs that tell a story. Once you know the ancient pictographs and can see how they evolved to present form, they make sense. For example, the ancient pictograph for the word “I/me” depicts a person holding a sword in his hand. The ancient pictograph for the word “you” depicts a person hiding in the house. The storyline is something like: “I have a sword. I am powerful. You should be afraid of me. You should hide in your home.” Present form, simplified Chinese, vaguely depicts the characters for hand and sword (I/me) and roof/small (you).
When I was growing up, China was essentially closed to Americans. There was little or no reason to study Chinese. This changed with President Nixon visited China and the two countries opened trade relations with each other. Suddenly, there was an opportunity motivated by commerce (not military intelligence) to learn Chinese. There were few Chinese instructors in America and the perception was that Chinese was very difficult to learn.
The Chinese language is challenging, but not overwhelming difficult that learning it is impossible. We just lacked both opportunity and motivation. I have always appreciated Chinese culture, but now with opportunity thanks to the new VISA law revisions in both American and China, we can now appreciate each other’s cultures in new ways — like learning to speak each other’s languages.
The weekend brought an opportunity to explore Beijing, so we found a bicycle rental place online (www.bikebeijing.com). They offer guided tours in English of the Forbidden City and ancient alleyways (Hutongs), and nighttime tours. We arrived at the shop (No. 81 – 3 Beiheyan Street, Beijing) too late for a tour, so we rented two bikes for 100 RMB each and took off on our own. We biked a hutong (ancient alleyway). It was very cool and crowded. We would love to go back there again. We biked around the Forbidden City and in front of Tian’anmen Square. There legislature/congress must be in session, because there were a lot of policeman and soldiers everywhere.
The bikes were GIANT brand city bikes, i.e., one-speed with a basket on the front handle bars. We biked a couple of ancient alleys, went around a series of lakes, then biked around the Forbidden City. It was a leisurely pace. We stopped often and took pictures. It took us about 2 hours.
We witnessed an altercation between a street vendor and policeman. We were on a bike path on the main street in front of Tian’anmen Square, which the police had barricaded at checkpoints. The street vendor was on his 3-wheel mini truck and gave the police offer a piece of his mind and tried to push his way through. I was waiting for a taser gun to come out, but the policeman held his cool. The vendor dislodged the movable, accordian-style, extending barricade enough to open a space on the other end, which another vendor promptly took advantage of and snuck through. Then as the policeman turned, the vendor also pushed his way through. Nothing happened. I don’t think the police officer was wearing a weapon.
Once we stopped to take a couple of pictures of Tian’amen Square but a police officer quickly came over and told us not to take pictures. But, these are the few I was able to take before I knew better.
Forbidden City and the widest and most unobstructed bike path in all of Beijing
Every time I take the No. 10 Subway, I see David Beckham’s face flashing me the victory sign. I guess he signed with Jaguar Landrover in China as a brand ambassador in March 2014. A student seating next to me explained (in English) that the characters to the left of Beckham’s image are his name, spelled phonetically, in Chinese characters.