Archive for July, 2012

Chinese Students’ Questions, My Responses

My 38 Chinese students have made interesting observations on the Moodle site about the U.S.  I’ve left off their questions but you will get an idea of what they asked by my answer.  I’ve enjoyed getting to know these young individuals as they prepare for the rigors of university life this fall. Thankfully their English names below in the quotes make it easier to call on them in class. Several names in the group are funny like Limosine (Limo for short) and Meow who promptly changed it to Jason as soon as he found out that it wasn’t an acceptable male’s name.

Jason, I think you are going to find that Americans are generally friendly and most particularly here in Minnesota, where people from small towns tend to say hello to complete strangers. There is much trust in a small town that you’d never find in a big city like Shanghai.

Candy, I’m not sure who the most popular star is among American college students.  I’m not of that generation to be up on the latest.  I suppose Lady Gaga for some, Madonna for others, maybe Justin Beiber for the younger crowd like in middle school.  I really don’t know, I think it would be fine for you to ask Americans yourself and you would find a variety of answers. If you mean movie stars I really don’t know.

Cynthia, I am sorry that you experienced that rudeness by the sales clerks about your toy dog.  I don’t think they will make many sales with that kind of attitude to a potential customer.

Leo, you are absolutely right, the way to go with talking overseas is to go with the free Skype instead of paying a lot of money for cell phones.

John, not sure what you meant about the cold weather, Minnesotans like to talk about weather and we have our fair share of cold weather which is a safe topic to talk about.

George, you bring up a VERY important point about Americans not knowing their own history and ignoring their traditions.  It does not become the Americans well to not know their own history.

Jeff, I think you are right that you will see the younger generation give high fives and bumps but it is still appropriate to shake Americans’ hands.

Amber, you bring up an important issue about Americans giving grace to people by saying that they are tired instead of chastising them by saying they did something stupid.  I think you will see many Americans giving grace and forgiveness instead of scolding for doing something stupid.

Juliet, I want to mention that Americans have a bigger bubble of space that we like to have around us when talking to people.  I remember when I was in China in the late 1980s that my university students would get closer to me and I would keep backing up (until I hit the wall) because they were violating my space.  The prairie is a good example of what Americans are used to – S P A C E!!!

Joe, I’m not sure that Americans eat beef every day, they DO like their hamburgers and maybe it is to be stronger, at least American football players will eat a LOT. I think it comes from our agrarian traditions.

Flora, you will notice that Americans like to give praise and encouragement to each other by saying “That’s cool” read my earlier comment to Amber.

Roger, I think that Americans are a bit nervous about fires with errant fireworks.  That’s why it is strictly prohibited in places and in some states fireworks are not even sold. Like Minnesota, for instance, during the 4th of July which is all about fireworks, we have to go to North Dakota to buy fireworks.  Too many people have been seriously hurt by fireworks because they did something stupid.

Angela, don’t worry about showing respect with being on time with 5 minutes early or on time or 5 minutes late.  We as Americans are time conscience but if you are within that time frame, you are okay, but you better be on time or early for class.

Gavin, you might be over worried about small talk with Americans.  Let them take the lead about what questions they will ask you.  You can always talk about the weather with them or sports if you feel comfortable with that.  Small talk will happen when you are more confident in your English language skills.

Momo, I think you bring up an important point about people in Morris not using umbrellas when it rains.  This is a drought period and I think the people in Morris are just glad whenever it rains so it is welcome and they don’t even think about having an umbrella, the rain is so rare.  If it rained every other day and the rain was a nuisance I think you would see more people here use umbrellas.

Sunny, I think that is a GREAT observation about Americans not eating out of bowls like they do in China.  In the winter time, you will see a lot more soup being eaten but with spoons and not out of the side of bowls.

Iris, I am not so sure that it is accurate to say that Chinese don’t have racial discrimination and only Americans have this problem.  What about the Xighurs out in western China?  Or how about the Tibetans, is there not some kind of discrimination against them for not being Han Chinese?  I think whenever people have different customs, you will have some kind of tension or at least wariness.

Kevin, I’m not sure what you mean about showing passion with talking to foreigners, I think that you need to show you are being sincere and that you can reveal what you think or feel.  It is not good to be emotionless.

Tina, you are right about American food being so sweet, we DO use lots of sugar and I don’t know why that is true.  You will also observe many fat Americans as a result and that is not healthy.

Mewtwo, it is not considered impolite if you don’t ask the question of Americans “How are you?” or “How’s it going?” just be prepared to be asked that by an American and to realize they don’t really want to know your answer, you just have to say, “fine.”  Always appear optimistic and upbeat even if you are down.

Jessica, it is too bad that the American guy who was bowling with you looked so grim, he probably doesn’t have many American friends either.  Some people are not too sociable and maybe he felt pressured to be there at the bowling ally.  Don’t take it too close to heart, as the Russians like to say.

Emma, I am glad you brought this up about American doing things that are difficult with confidence.  I think we are bred on the “can-do” optimism even if things look way too hard.  Our ancestors on the prairie had to have this kind of confidence, those that didn’t have this trait, did not survive.

Zoe, I think you are seeing a lot more gestures from Americans who are trained as ESL teachers, hand movements help to get the point across.  You can use more as a Chinese person even though it might seem foreign to you, but especially if you want to make yourself understood.  Hand gestures help in communication.

Ryan, yes Americans like to sunbathe, well some of them do but it can cause skin cancer later on.  So I don’t think as many Americans are doing this now as they used to. It also creates early wrinkles.  I think though that Chinese people don’t want to have a darker skin, so I’m not sure you want to be out there sunbathing with Americans.

Frank, you know Americans are funny about that, they don’t like to reveal what they earn for various reasons.  Why it is a taboo topic is a mystery to me.  But I think it means that we really don’t want to boast about how much we earn OR we want others to think that we are not doing the job that we have for the money but for the idea of serving other people.  I really don’t know the answer to that except we don’t like talking about our weight or our age either.

Allen – Yes, books ARE expensive in the U.S. and if people want to become better educated in China there is now the Internet to learn from that.  So, I think that books are on the way out and will become more affordable for everyone.  That is my personal opinion even though I still like holding a book in my hands, it may soon be a thing of the past.  We want to save trees and cut down on the use of paper.

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More Travel Memories of East Coast China

Continued from yesterday’s blog post:

One particular January in 1988, my American friend and I started our trip to Hong Kong by traveling the east coast of China.  Our first stop was Shan Hai Guan, the beginning of the Great Wall of China situated on the Bohai Sea.  Interesting to take pictures of the frozen swirls of the tide.  Looking at old pictures of this part of the amazing structure, you know why it is called the “Head of the Dragon.”

Both being single at the time, we sat on a famous rock with Chinese characters engraved into it reading: “Woman Waiting for Her Husband.”  We learned of past horrors visited upon the Chinese people while men were building the Great Wall.  Perhaps this rendition is more legend than true story, but just the same, I’m sure many men did die as they built this edifice that can be seen from the moon.  Here is the summary:

Some newlyweds were about to enjoy their wedding night together when came a rude interruption.  The groom was seized and ordered by the emperor to put in hard labor at the Great Wall.  After his wife had waited for his return, she remembered that he did not have enough clothes to keep him warm in the colder weather.  When she arrived with an extra bundle to where he was working on the Wall, his co-workers told her that her husband had already died.  He had been buried alive under the rubble of the Great Wall.  When hearing this tragic news, the young wife began to cry and the heavens opened up and it began to rain.  It rained so hard that part of the Wall broke loose to reveal his remains.

Sad story yes, so my friend and I kept traveling south convinced that singleness might be better for us after all.  We next traveled to the seaport city of Shanghai.  We could hear a lot of the boat traffic on the river especially along the famous boulevard, the Bund.  We were told that during Chairman Mao’s tyrannical reign, his wife was even obsessed with the power he had.  Whenever she visited Shanghai, she would order that all river traffic stop so that she could sleep at night.  Each boat gave its own toot, bellow, horn or whistle. What a welcome relief for the Chinese when Mao’s wife was sentenced to imprisonment for her many crimes against the people.

I always liked to listen to the music of the people who knew how to play their traditional Chinese instruments. The haunting, lilting sounds of the peepaw (my spelling) and the erho (er=two and ho= strings) instruments were so unusual to my western ears.  We left Shanghai for Hengzhou, said to be one of the most beautiful cities in China.  I was also informed that the most beautiful women were found in Hengzhou.  Or was it Suzhou, obviously I wasn’t looking at women and I was still waiting for my husband…

I digress; we enjoyed seeing West Lake and also going high atop North Peak.  At that time there was a cable car to give us an overlook of the sites of Hengzhou.  My friend and I went to the famous Linyin temple where many brightly colored and freshly painted Buddhas were worshipped.  Fortunately, from a tourist’s perspective, this temple was NOT destroyed because of all the history behind it.  The Cultural Revolution found many Red Guards tearing down building structures and these vandals destroyed much other of their own Hengzhou history.

We were not allowed to take photos of the 50-foot statues of the Buddhas. Also, there was no way of capturing and bottling the smell of burning incense at the altars.  The whole place was filled with an overpowering, thick smell of incense from years and years of worshipping the big guy sitting on his haunches.

We were fortunate to take a tour of the largest silk factory in Asia when we visited Hengzhou.  At that time this factory employed 6,000 workers, using three shifts that worked around the clock.  We were shown the cocoon that the silk worm uses. I still have the ones I bought as decorative pieces which were cut into small tulips on a stem.  Our tour guide told us that the cocoons were boiled for 12 minutes before the girls gather eight together to spin into a single thread.  They make sure that the single thread does not break before it gets on to the big spindles that kept rotating.

Trivia we learned: Did you know that it takes 700 cocoons to make one skein of silk?  The thread is silky soft and pure white.  This pure silk thread is dyed in different colors and put on smaller spools.  What we observed was that a pattern like a computer punch out card was used with the appropriate color punched through the hole on the bolt of the red fabric. Whew, I wonder how many modern-day slaves are actually being used to do this manual labor or maybe it has all been mechanized by now.

We left Hengzhou to take a train to Xiamen or what had been formerly known as Amoy.  We stayed on the island of Gulangyu, which is adjacent to Xiamen. Cars and motorcycles were prohibited on this place, not even bicycles were allowed. How nice to not have to worry about being run down by anyone while walking on this island. We were told that on the peak, you could see Taiwan on a clear day.

I felt like I could really relax at this place which used to be a resort island for the Europeans.  One particular guesthouse on this tranquil island was a beautiful mansion in its day.  It looked like it had earlier served as a private dwelling judging by the gate on the outside. It may have been owned by a British family with their family crest at the top of the gate, but you could only see the traces left that it had been built in 1935.

Naturally any other reminders of European habitation had been scratched out.  We understood from the locals that the Red Guard had defaced many stately buildings and this particular mansion was no exception.  The Cultural Revolution during 1966-76 was a dangerous time for any foreigner who remained in China.  The buildings the Europeans left behind took quite a beating, I’m wondering how the former foreign owners of this building fared.

By the end of our trip with our destination as Hong Kong, we took another overnight 17 hours on an ocean liner from Xiamen. We had already logged in 70 hours by train from Harbin with all our other touristy stops along the East Coast of China. I can’t remember much about our return trip to Harbin but I’m sure it didn’t take as long if we took the direct train route from Guangzhou to Beijing and then from Beijing to Harbin.  I DO remember that taking this trip one January was like doing a 100-degree drop in temperature almost from Harbin to Hong Kong.

(to be continued with my trip to China in 2000 and 2001 – what a change!)

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Memories of Harbin’s Ice Lantern Festival

Please go back in time with me about 25 years ago when I lived for two years in Harbin, the cold northeastern part of China. I enjoyed the breathtaking, beautiful sights of the Ice Lantern Festival which happened every January up to Chinese new year. I actually think Astana, Kazakhstan should have such a winter festival as well. However, that would mean the Kazakhs would need to ask the Chinese experts to come help them carve the huge ice blocks.  That won’t be happening any time soon due to sticky political reasons. Let’s just say there is an old, border tension that exists between these uneasy neighbors of Kazakhstan and China.

I do remember what a thrill it was for me, as an American, when the Harbin ice carvers came to St. Paul, MN back in the early 1990s to show Minnesotans how to do the intricate cuts into the ice blocks.  Back then in Harbin, the Chinese workers would take huge frozen ice blocks from the Songhua River and chip away the different shapes of animals and people.  I’m not sure HOW they quarried the ice on such a large scale, what was even more amazing were the intricate designs they chiseled on a micro scale. One of the experts used a little carved wood piece on top of his block as a kind of model.  The carvers needed to work carefully but quickly to make their exhibition ready for the judges.

With all the carvers stationed at their block, the whole park was starting to fill up with huge statues that looked like crystal.  For example, one exhibit was a dragon.  Another was of a pheasant where the artist delicately cut away the slender, fragile feathers.  A marvel to behold.  An owl was represented with outstretched wings and I saw many other examples, even some done by visiting Canadian artists.

One adventure while at the Ice Lantern Festival was our taking a horse drawn sled out to the middle of the frozen Songhua River. My friend and I watched the Chinese men take their daily plunge into the river.  These dedicated swimmers go into serious year round training for this event so their bodies are used to the frigid cold.  It was actually warmer in the water than outside of their carved out area, the size of a pool, where they did laps.

On the particular day we went to see these “walruses” take their dip, the wind chill factor was at an all time low.  None of the native Harbin people were crazy enough to watch this matinee showing of the swimmers.  In fact, it was very difficult for me to get my hand outside of my glove to even take a photograph.  How cold it must have been for these swimmers donning only their swimming trunks and flip flops!  For the high dive, they had blocks of ice atop one another, I have bone chilled photos to prove it!

Thankfully we got back to the sheltered “warmth” of the riverbank to enjoy the other entertainment with brightly lit castles and other structures (made out of ice but with colored lights inside). The whole Chinese family (remember “one-child policy was already in affect) came to enjoy. A Chinese family meant ma + pa + only child. Collectively the children would careen down the twisted slope down to the bottom to continue sliding across the ice of the frozen river.  Gleeful shouts of exhilaration could be heard from the little children who were under the watchful eyes of their doting parents.

We often would see toddlers or older wear a coat with sleeves nearly dragging to the ground.  The idea was that the child would eventually grow into the jacket.  Also the color of choice for young children was red, it was anathema for adults back in that era to wear red. Some Chinese were horrified that I, as a 30 something, young woman wore red sometimes. Although even while I was living in China that fashion trend was soon starting to change from the dour looking Mao jackets the older generation wore.  Perhaps these days you might not see too many dark blue Mao jackets.

(to be continued)

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Friendships Built in China and Cultural Revolution Memories

The following is a continuation of what I have started to write the last several blog posts. You see, I’ve been going through my old notes of my teaching experience in China.  It has nothing to do with Kazakhstan or human trafficking but if you read towards the end you can see how inhumane man can be against man.

Back in the 1980s when I lived in Harbin, the Chinese people were very aware that in order to build up their society, they must have good friendships with the western world.  Even though their customs are different from ours, they are trying to change rapidly.  One sign I had noticed in keeping with that theme was:  “Do Well in Sanitation – Build up Socialist Civilization.”  That was a case where the authorities were strongly advocating a new, no-spitting policy. They fined people who were caught spitting in public.

My job description as an English teacher in China was to build friendships while China kept building apartment complexes with red brick and bamboo poles.  The men would bring their heavy burdens to the top of six story buildings singing together in rhythm to lighten the load.  There would be teams of eight men who would haul heavy beams of cement while the leader would call out commands of which way to walk and when to stop together.  The bamboo poles were propped up on the sides of buildings to catch falling bricks OR men.  The piles of cement bags were either brought in by mule and cart or by truck. The men would work their way down the six stories of building by cementing the sides and securing the balconies.

Such hard, manual labor, I hope these men were paid well for their long hours in the hot sun under such conditions…but that was back in the 1980s. I hope working conditions have improved.

Like I mentioned earlier, my job was to build up relationships with the Chinese people at my university. I met some very fine people like Lu Bin.  She was responsible for finding me at the Beijing Intl. airport and taking me to Harbin by train.  Her father’s name was Mr. Lu. They invited me to their place to enjoy eating jiaozi which is like a meat dumpling.  To eat this delicacy, it must be dipped in soy sauce and vinegar.  Yes it is considered among the Chinese a great social activity, perhaps comparable to our pizza parties.

Sadly, at the age of 10, my new friend Lu Bin had been separated from her intellectual parents and was not reunited with them until ten years later.  The stories I heard about the Cultural Revolution started sounding the same.  With each sad story I learned from each different family, it spoke volumes of the lunacy that the whole country of China underwent from 1966-76.  As a result, Lu Bin, lost out on a chance for a good education.  She knew little English while I knew as little Chinese. We got along great!

Lu Feng, Lu Bin’s brother was younger than her so he was not affected by the Cultural Revolution.  Fortunately he was able to learn English and went to Canada to study.  For the time I was in China teaching English I enjoyed being with my highly motivated students.  They worked hard for me because they wanted to pass the national examination that would determine who would get to go abroad for more study. Many of my university students were older and were doctors, teachers and managers of factories.

To pass the time when we weren’t teaching, my teammate Rich would give tours of the city of Harbin.  He was totally absorbed in the history of the city and showed us the sites, even to where the old foreigners graveyard was outside the city limits of Harbin. A few of the gravestone markers had porcelain pictures of the deceased still in tact.  Most of the faces, however, had been chipped away by vandals during the Cultural Revolution.  About in the 1960s the prestigious grave stones and their coffins were moved from the center of Harbin to the countryside.

Back 85 years from this present date, Harbin was living in the heyday of the White Russians who had fled Russia after the 1917 revolution.  They made a lot of money in the timber business and as a result, many of the Russian made buildings were well built and are still standing in Harbin today (at least that was true 25 years ago).  Some of the places that Rich liked to take us on his tour were several Russian Orthodox churches still in existence. One church had only a handful of the original Russians who had lived in Harbin in the 1920s and 1930s.  The Meatov brothers from Poland still regularly attended services with the chanting of the liturgy from the main priest.

At the time I lived in Harbin, there was only ONE Protestant church still open and known as the “Three-Self Church.” Though splitting at the seams because so many attended this service, it was tightly controlled by the communist government.  The architecture reminded me of an old German or Norwegian Lutheran church. In the old days it perhaps seated about 200 people, but when I went to visit it there were seats up the stairs in the balcony and main floor, all to overflowing.  I would guess that 600 people attended a Sunday morning service because people sat outside the windows of the church or sat in the basement or fellowship hall.  Oh for such fervency of faith that the Americans should have with their well manicured and coifed churches. The people recited the Apostles creed together and even sang “Holy, Holy, Holy” in Chinese.  Imagine MY thrill to hear something so familiar yet in a different tongue.

Another onion-domed church situated close to the market was a landmark in Harbin. It had been closed soon after it had been built in the early 1920s and used as a warehouse instead. I had been told that the acoustics were great and on some rare occasions, Rich was able to get inside the old church and go to the top.  The front entrance was bricked up and blocked with “stuff.”  Maybe things have changed from 25 years ago, maybe this particular church is in use for its original purpose of worship. I’d like to think so. Someone from Harbin, China will have to let me know if there are any Chinese who read this blog. One other church was used as a light industry factory to make clothes. Yes, many changes have taken place since the Russians dominated the area.

Finally, I got to know several of the Chinese who had English names…they each had interesting stories.  Shiela told me that during the Cultural Revolution, her parents had been separated and set to work in the countryside in different provinces.  She was only four years old at the time and was taken care of by her 6 year old brother.  She remembers crying every day for two years. Her family had since been restored together and they each had high positions in their city.

Not only did the intellectuals suffer during the Cultural Revolution, but the artists did as well.  Stephen had been sent out to the countryside to be re-educated for about four years. Stephen painted a portrait of me because he wanted to practice painting western noses (they are considered BIG compared to their Asian noses).  The sign of beauty for a Chinese woman is to have big eyes, small nose and small mouth. I suppose Stephen tried to compliment me with that same prescriptive look.

I heard many troubling stories about the Cultural Revolution, but maybe most of today’s Chinese students don’t know this sad era in their most recent history.  I’m wondering what the Kazakh students know of their history.  What do American students know of theirs?

Stay tuned for more about my adventures in China!

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China Changes, Kazakhstan too?

Will Kazakhstan change for the better or worse, like China? Kazakhstan has high goals to be in the top 50 developed nations in the world by the year 2030.  Will the Kazakh people succeed?  I’ve been going through old notes from my files about my time spent in China. Perhaps there are some similarities with the Kazakhs and the Chinese, see what you think.

Not sure how many Chinese currently live in Harbin, Heilongjiang, China. Back when I lived in this fine city, in the late 1980s, there were three million Chinese and very few foreigners. However, it was often referred to as the “Paris of the East” or the “Moscow of the East,” it just depended on who you talked to.  This massive city was once a slumbering fishing town on the Song Hua River just sixty years before I arrived in 1986.  The Russians had helped to build it up which could be noted by the architecture.  The river traffic on the river ranged from ferry boats, motor boats and rowboats.  An old Russian yacht club had been turned into a R & R place for Chinese government officials called “cadres.”

Harbin is known for at least two things: Sun Island and the annual Ice Lantern Festival.  Sun Island was made popular by a song every Chinese seemed to know and you had to cross the SongHua River on a ten minute ferry boat ride to get to the island.  You would see remnants of the old, Russian dachas with their distinct architecture and trimmings.  However, the festival is most notable because of the ice carvers who would descend on the area to mold ice chiseled from the river into fantastic figures of animals, people and building structures.  Walking through the brightly lit lantern festival was like going in a HUGE open air icebox.  COLD!

The train in China is heavily used and the most reliable for the everyday people. One of the routes for the Trans Siberian started in Harbin. Back then, there were still steam locomotives and I rode on one to a restricted area once.  An all-night endurance test of stopping every 15 miles for more fuel or water. You knew it was a stop because the engineer would slam on the brakes and you felt like you would fly off your berth to the floor.  Sleep was impossible.

They also had electric buses but I would rarely use them because they were always packed.  Especially in the winter when the windows were frosted over, you couldn’t see outside to find out whether you had reached your destination or not.  You had to count each stop to know when to get off.  But getting to the door was like playing the game of Twister with little hope of getting to the exit in time before the doors slammed shut.  I preferred walking or if need be, taking the taxi as a last resort.

Bicyclists had their own lane along side all the buses and cars.  It seemed that everyone in China owned a bike and parking lots for bikes were huge.  How to find one’s own bike was always a mystery to me.  They all looked alike.  Some people would rig up carts in front or behind their bikes to haul things.  I remember seeing one guy having about ten dead chickens hanging upside down on his handle bars.  I guess he was going to market with them.

Sometimes I would see blue “Liberation” trucks that had come in from the farms with their produce (cabbage, watermelon, etc).  They all were of the same model and style since Liberation in 1949.  Even into the 1980s, they hadn’t changed much in thirty years.  I wonder if they are still making them?

I also wonder if the older Chinese people are still wearing the ubiquitous Mao suits. That was considered THEE fashion of its day, everyone looked alike in their dark blue, buttoned up the front uniformed outfits.

A Muslim presence was evidenced in Harbin even though originally built up by the Russians. How did one know this while strolling down the busy streets of Harbin?  You just had to know that restaurants, which didn’t serve pork, festooned the blue paper lantern and blue trimmings in the windows and doors.

Billboards wouldn’t compete well with the Stateside ones.  Some billboards encouraged the populace to stick with the one-child policy. Others exhorted people to use good traffic safety.  Funnier ones would advertise auditorium chairs, copier machines or other essentials.  A whole different concept of advertising happened in this non-capitalistic society.  I wonder what the billboards look like now in China.

As was true in the former Soviet Union where I lived for a total of ten years in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, it was rare to see apartment complexes that exceeded 5 or 6 stories. That way people walked up those flights of stairs and they didn’t need to put in elevators.  Win-win except for those who felt winded by the time they carried their groceries to the very top floor.  Built in work out times.

To me, there was nothing aesthetically pleasing with about 99% of the homes in Harbin. There were no yards with grass, no flowers.  You would see t.v. antennas attached to little dwellings with sheds in front of the homes. It seemed lifeless except for occasional trees.  However, it was important for every apartment complex to have a balcony porch to put up the laundry to dry. So you knew people lived in these places as the clothes waved in the wind.

The PRC (People Republic of China) flag still waves the same even if everything else has changed since I lived in Harbin over 25 years ago.  The flag has four smaller gold stars in a crescent shape outside of a larger gold star.  I didn’t master singing their national anthem but I did get on national t.v. singing our American national anthem with two other American teachers.  But that’s another story.  We heard from teachers we knew in other parts of China who saw us on t.v. at different times.  Yes, we were rare as foreigners back in the 1980s.

The building I taught in was the main part of the Harbin Institute of Technology campus. The foreboding appearance of this place seemed to call back memories of when the Russians dominated the Heilongjiang area.  H.I.T. was founded in 1920.  Back when I was there in the 1980s it had a teaching staff of over 1,500 to 10,000 Chinese students.  It was and still is considered a key university, like the M.I.T. of China.

The emphasis of the university was engineering.  Twelve departments were in Management, Precision Instruments, Computer Science, Radio Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Automatic Control, Applied Physics. I lived in a Foreigners Guest house with people from Japan, the Soviets and a woman from Ireland.

Hindsight shows what I didn’t know then but do now. There was a fierce nationalistic pride among the Soviets who ate at the same table every noon meal with us Americans.  The “Soviets” were conversant in English in different degrees. Larissa was from Estonia and was the Russian teacher, her English probably was the worst.  However, she was the first I knew who had a VHS player for videos, her English improved markedly over the two years I knew her.

People like Isa (means Jesus) was a Muslim from Azerbaijan and Nick from Latvia (don’t EVER call them Russians) spoke the best English even though they also spoke Russian (and their native language).  Tomas was from Georgia and there was another physics guy. From where, I don’t remember but he didn’t believe in dreams.  I learned that each Soviet was proud of his own country and ethnic background. Very proud and now I realize that the time we spent together at meals was when the Soviet Union was starting to have huge fractures in their structure as a monolithic country.  Who knew?

Things have changed dramatically for the Soviet Union and they have also for China. One student asked me this very perplexing question: “Today the U.S. is a very modernized, advanced country, science knowledge has already been taught to most of the people. In the eyes of science, there is no God, but WHY some of you believe?” Another variation of that question was “The U.S. is such a young country (250 years) and China is a very old country (thousands of years), why is the U.S. so much more advanced?”

To many of my H.I.T. student their “god” is science, Marxism or communism.  China was referred to as a sleeping giant. Their goal that was uppermost in my students’ minds was to advance in technology by the year 2000 so they would be equal to other western countries.  Maybe they have succeeded…maybe not.

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Smiling vs. Smelling in China

I taught in Harbin, Heilongjiang China from 1986-88, northeast part of the country. Think cold! I’m going through old notes that I took and kept from my Chinese students.  I was asked to be a judge at a speech contest of Chinese university students at Ha Gong Da (H.I.T.), at the university where I taught 100s of students.  Fortunately I had this student and he gave me the copy of what he had so aptly memorized.  Too bad he hadn’t gotten feedback from foreigners about the pronunciation of the /ay/ sound in “smile” and the /E/ sound in “smell.”  I had all I could do to not bust out laughing at how often he mispronounced the simple word “smile” over and over again to sound like SMELL.  The whole time he WAS smiling oblivious to his error. Sometimes I thought he was doing it on purpose. Maybe it is still only funny to me, see what you think. (Believe me, the Chinese laughed aplenty at the mistakes I made with their four tones).


I like smiling. I like s. because I love life. I love the world I’m living in. I love the people who are studying and working with me. Smiles express my sincere love of the world.

I like s. I like s. because I know life is hard – very, very hard. There are days with sunshine, but there are also dark nights; we enjoy happiness, but we also experience sorrows; sometimes we gain success, sometimes we have failures. S. express my deep understanding of life.

A s. is a facial expression. It is so simple that even a baby can do it. Sometimes we find it so easy to s., when we are enjoying ourselves, when we are sharing happiness with our friends and when we are facing the sun of life.  But sometimes we find it very difficult to smile, even to pretend to smile, when are having troubles, when we are suffering from being misunderstood by others and when we suddenly find that we are not as clever as we think.

I really don’t know that I can s. at these times. But I’d like to try, because I like s.

I s. when I am in the sunshine of successes.  I s. for my optimistic view of the splendid future.

I also s. when I am in the darkness of frustration. I s. for my self-confident in coping with the pain.

I used to expect that I would never fail in my life. But when, I later entered a larger world, I realized that I was wrong there. I began to acknowledge that I have as many shortcomings as virtues, and it is natural for me to fail sometimes on my life road. So if I really fail, I will face it with a s. Yet, I am confident to succeed again.

I s. when I am in the company of my friends, classmates and roommates. I also s. when I am misunderstood by others.

We can’t avoid frictions between people, especially between students who are living and studying together on the campus. You may step on other’s feet or be stepped on by others in the dining room; you may offend your roommates or be offend by them; your meat may be another person’s poison. At these times, you may get angry, so may others. If you s., that will give others a feeling of understanding, or a symbol of apology, and that will be helpful to release the tension. I think this is much better than staring at each other or striking violently into each other’s faces.

Once a friend asked me, “You are always s, but do you get angry sometimes?” I s. and told him that I do get angry and sometimes very angry if I’m really annoyed. But I do not want others to be the targets of my letting off.  I know we are all human beings, we are equal.

S. are part of my life – I like s. a lot. I like to s. to show my love of the world, love of others. And I sincerely hope that I will be answered by other s. faces.”

I wonder where this Chinese person is 25 years later, I really like his philosophy of life. It certainly made me smile.

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Survivors’ Stories…Not “Victims Stories”

One common thread shows up in each of the following stories…the people who lived to tell of their trafficking ordeal… SURVIVED!  I was corrected today by an American who has lived in Kosovo to not say “victims” but rather “survivors.”  This woman knows as she has worked in trafficking shelters with many “survivors.”  That is a much more hopeful and optimistic term rather than being saddled with the fatalistic word “victim.”  Those survivors who escaped at great peril, were proactive, they yearned for freedom again. People who embrace the label of “victim” usually wait for others to do something for them.  I’m glad I was corrected, but the following report put together by the U.S. State Department still uses the term “Victims Stories” just the same.


The victims’ testimonies included in this Report are meant to be illustrative only and do not reflect all forms of trafficking that occur. Any of these stories could take place anywhere in the world. They illustrate the many forms of trafficking and the wide variety of places in which they occur. Many of the victims’ names have been changed in this Report. Most uncaptioned photographs are not images of confirmed trafficking victims, but they illustrate the myriad forms of exploitation that comprise trafficking and the variety of cultures in which trafficking victims are found.


Maria Elena was 13 years old when a family acquaintance told her she could make ten times as much money waiting tables in the United States than she could in her small village. She and several other girls were driven across the border, and then continued the rest of the way on foot. They traveled four days and nights through the desert, making their way into Texas, then crossing east toward Florida. Finally, Maria Elena and the other girls arrived at their destination, a rundown trailer where they were forced into prostitution. Maria Elena was gang-raped and locked in the trailer until she agreed to do what she was told. She lived under 24-hour watch and was forced to have sex with up to 30 men a day. When she got pregnant, she was forced to have an abortion and sent back to work the next day. Maria Elena finally made her escape only to be arrested along with her traffickers.


Amina left her home in Bangladesh to take a job in Lebanon as a maid. Despite the promise of opportunity, she found herself exploited at the hands of an abusive employer. She was tortured, molested, and confined to the house for three months. “I was hardly given any food,” she later said. “In solitary confinement in a room, I had no idea what Lebanon looked like.” Amina managed to escape and was repatriated at the expense of the recruitment agency that had sent her abroad. She still suffers pain from injuries to her eyes sustained at the hands of her employer, but because the broker confiscated her passport and job contract, she cannot file a complaint with the authorities or receive compensation.


Gayan, a 15-year-old boy, was a school dropout when he was recruited by a broker who promised him a good job in the Jharsuguda district. Instead, Gayan, along with other boys, was confined to a factory to work, given little food, severely beaten, branded, burned with cigarettes, and allowed only a few hours’ sleep each night. It was not until Gayan returned home a year later that his parents learned what he had endured. “[O]nly now have we realized that he was threatened…the owners were always present while he was talking on the phone [to us],” they said. After Gayan’s parents complained to officials, the three traffickers responsible were arrested. The police have also initiated rescue efforts for the other boys held in forced labor and debt bondage in the same facility.


Uta was seven years old when she was sent from Romania to work as a domestic servant in the United Kingdom. Her family thought this was an opportunity to get Uta away from poverty, but the Romanian couple who recruited her physically and verbally abused her daily and forced her to sleep on the floor. The couple also enslaved and raped another victim, Razvan, a 53-year-old Romanian man. After being severely beaten and seeing the way the couple treated Uta, Razvan escaped and reported the offenses to the police. When the police rescued Uta she was dressed in filthy clothes, had scabs covering her head, and her teeth were so rotten they had to be removed. She had never been to school and could not even count to ten in her own language. The Romanian couple was found guilty of trafficking and was sentenced to a maximum of 14 years in prison.


Saeeda, a deaf Pakistani woman, was ten years old when she left Pakistan for Manchester, England for a job as a domestic worker. For nearly a decade, she was abused, raped, and beaten by her employers, a Pakistani couple. Now in her 20s, Saeeda told the courts that she was confined to a cellar and forced to work as a slave. Her abusers have been accused of human trafficking, sexual offenses, imprisonment, violence, and fraud; they have both pleaded not guilty to the alleged charges. It remains unknown why the couple was permitted to recruit a girl of this age as a domestic worker.


For 10 years, Joel and Ronival were enslaved on a Brazilian ranch. They were forced to bathe in a reservoir contaminated with cattle manure, and they slept in a wooden hut. “There was no electricity, drinking water, or sanitation … this is not human job, this is slave job,” stated Joel. Eventually, they left the ranch in the middle of the night and walked 14 miles to escape their exploitation. Joel, 30, risked his own life in order to help guide Ronival, 69, who had lost 55 pounds and broken a shoulder, to safety. They made it to an NGO that helped shelter them and assisted with filing a legal action against their traffickers. Because of their courage, Joel and Ronival obtained compensation from their traffickers and have restarted lives free from fear of those who held them captive for so many years.


At a carpet factory in Nepal, Nayantara met a labor broker who promised her a good job as a domestic worker in Lebanon. The broker convinced her to take the job opportunity, assuring her that she did not have to pay anything. He instead took Nayantara to India, confiscated her passport, and sold her to a brothel where she was forced to have sex with at least 35 men each day with only five hours of sleep. When she tried to refuse, the brothel owner would beat Nayantara with an iron pole until she gave in. She was not allowed to contact her family or anyone else outside of the brothel and her freedom of movement was constantly controlled. After six months, the police raided the brothel and imprisoned all the women and girls. The owner was arrested with them, but was released five months earlier than her victims because she bribed the police. When Nayantara was released from jail after 17 months, she was returned to the brothel, and sold to another owner within a month. Coming to the realization that she would never be able to pay off her debts, she ran away and eventually found her way back to Nepal. She has found refuge in a shelter.


Shewaye, an Ethiopian woman, was forced to work as a nanny under abusive conditions and no pay for a family member of former Libyan leader Moammar Qadhafi. At the hands of her employer, Shewaye suffered severe abuse, including burns from scalding hot water poured over her head and body, and was never allowed medical treatment for festering wounds. After a year in servitude, Shewaye was found in August 2011 by a camera crew from CNN. The Government of Malta facilitated her departure from Libya to receive medical and rehabilitation services. The Maltese government has provided Shewaye with free accommodation, medical treatment, and legal assistance throughout her recovery process, and granted her temporary visa status.


When Ashley was 12-years-old she got into a fight with her mother and ran away from home. She ended up staying with her friend’s older brother at his house and intended to go home the next day, but when she tried to leave he told her that he was a pimp and that she was now his property. He locked her in a room, beat her daily, and advertised her for sex on websites. Once, she looked out a window and saw her mother on the street, crying and posting flyers with Ashley’s photo. When Ashley tried to shout her mother’s name from the window her pimp grabbed her by the hair and yanked her back, threatening “If you shout, I’ll kill you.” Ashley eventually escaped her confinement and is now at a treatment center for girls who have been sexually trafficked in New York.


Raju, a migrant worker from Burma, traveled to Thailand when he was falsely promised 6,000 baht per month as a restaurant or factory worker—if he could first pay a 12,000 baht brokerage fee. Out of options, he agreed to borrow money for the fee and use his future earnings to repay it. Raju was instead forced and threatened at gun-point to board a fishing boat. Onboard the Thai vessel, Raju and the other workers were forced to work day and night, lived in cramped quarters, and were beaten if they took fish to cook and eat. Already saddled by debt, Raju never received his promised wages. Each time the fishing boat docked, the workers were taken to a house and locked in a room so that they could not escape. Raju recalled one worker who attempted to run away but was caught: “The man was tied to a post…the man was electrocuted and tortured with cigarette butts…later he was shot through the head.” Raju was finally able to escape the Thai fishing vessel by tying himself to a buoy, jumping overboard, and swimming six hours to shore.


Camila was only 14 when she was persuaded to leave her job as a maid and forced into prostitution in a bar in the Amazon. She was repeatedly restrained, raped and drugged. The traffickers coerced and bribed Camila with her freedom to get her to recruit her friend Sandra into sex trafficking as well. Camila was given her freedom but Sandra was then sexually exploited and humiliated. One night, while out riding with a customer, Sandra made a break from the car and shouted for help from the police. Instead of being rescued, they took her to a center for juvenile offenders where she was detained for two years. Camila was finally able to return home and filed a criminal complaint against her traffickers, but says she still feels trapped in her memories.


Ivoline was at the top of her class in nursing studies at her hometown university in Cameroon. A woman from her village offered to help Ivoline complete her university degree in Europe. Ivoline and her father thought the offer was genuine and Ivoline’s father spent his entire savings to help her get to Spain. The woman had Ivoline pose as her daughter, using false passports while they traveled together to Europe. Once in Spain, instead of being sent to school, Ivoline was forced into prostitution on the streets. Ivoline eventually escaped from the woman and was homeless for a few weeks before she built up enough courage to go to the police. Although her trafficker was not brought to justice, Ivoline’s strength has given her new optimism and confidence; on her birthday this year, she toasted to hopes of finding work and creating a new life in Spain with her own family.”

We’d all prefer to dismiss these sad stories as “not our problem.” However, trafficking IS our problem if we care about what is happening globally and what is actually happening in our own country.  Of course the stories go much deeper than these short samples but it gives an idea about how pervasive trafficking really is.  Also, that it is more than just sex trafficking. These survivors, represented from all over the world, endured the sadness, pain, and horror of being trapped and trafficked. They should be listened to so this evil can be eradicated!  We need to be aware and try to do what we can to stop this sinister crime against humanity.

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