Thursday, June 30, 2011

Homeward Bound

Later today we will leave Mainland China.  We will once again board the Ferry to cross the Pearl River Estuary to Hong Kong and after spending the night in HK begin the very long jaunt home.  Hong Kong to Detroit (roughly 17 hours) plus an hour and twenty minutes in Detroit where we hope to get through customs and make our connection, then Detroit to Minneapolis (two hours), and once all of our luggage arrives - an hour and half back to St. Peter.
Curiously I am almost at a loss for words.  My anxiety level has been on the rise for the past few weeks.  I am ready to be home – but not excited about the time and effort it will take to get between here and home.  Most of the apartment’s household items have been boxed, hauled up to UIC, and left for future visiting faculty. 
This past week was filled with many meals and many goodbyes.  On Tuesday, we went with my good friends Kris and Yanyan to a YumCha restaurant in Zhuhai for morning tea.  Tuesday evening, I went out with five other colleagues for seafood.  Yesterday, I had lunch with Sandra and Andy, two of my colleagues from “Whole Person Education.” Sandra directs the choir at UIC and has also been a good friend.  After we had finished our lunch she quietly sang the Jewish folk song, “Shalom, my friends,” to me.   “Till we meet again, till we meet again, Shalom, shalom.”
Last night, Bob, Josh and I walked to Tangjia and ate dinner at a favorite restaurant that we simply refer to as the “dumpling place.”  No one speaks English there, but we have figured out a number of items on the menu we all like.  We walked back to the apartment through the streets of Tangjia, and Josh said, “Remember the first time we walked through here?” I want to process what these past months in China have been all about  - but right now everything just feels raw. 
So instead, for now, I focus on the task at hand:  The last of the packing and cleaning up.  One step at a time – a van to the port; the Ferry to Hong Kong; the airport express to the hotel; the airport express to the Hong Kong airport; a plane; customs; a plane; a car and home.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Songs in my Head

I don’t transition quickly.  We leave China in about ten days but I have been processing this departure for the past few months.  A wide-ranging musical soundtrack running through my head often accompanies my ruminations.
The 1973 hit by Seals and Crofts, “We May Never Pass this Way Again,” was the tune spinning in my mind as I rode the bus home after my final meeting at UIC.  Yesterday was the day I officially “checked out” at UIC.  That involved getting many signatures including, but not limited to, documenting I did not have any unreturned library books, turning in my staff handbook and I.D. card, getting permission to keep my UIC e-mail address until the end of the month, and turning in my office keys.  
It also involved a final divisional meeting with the Board of Examiners to discuss any deviations from the “grade distribution” rules.  (Regardless of class size, faculty are only allowed to give 10% of the students the grade of A or A-, 15% can be given a B+, etc.)  Anyone who knows me as a teacher can understand why these grade restrictions made me completely nuts.  I think Benjamin Bloom got it right when he wrote, “ The normal curve is a distribution most appropriate to chance and random activity.  Education is a purposeful activity and we seek to have students learn what we would teach.  Therefore, if we are effective, the distribution of grades will be anything but a normal curve.  In fact, a normal curve is evidence of our failure to teach.”
Above & below: friends at United International College

I was thinking about my colleagues in the general education division, when I started hearing the Seals and Crofts song.  Over half of the faculty in our division are not returning in the fall.  A few of us are heading back to the U.S., one secured a position in Hong Kong, and for others, it was simply time to move on.  Like faculty at every college and university I have ever known – this can be a cantankerous group.   I remember back when I was co-chair of the Faculty Development Center, I went to a conference where a wise-cracking speaker defined  “faculty” as a  “a group of individuals who think otherwise.”  While I sometimes question the subject of the bickering and arguing, I appreciate the passion and principles it represents.  In the U.S. a frequent topic of faculty discourse is parking or rather the lack there of.   In the GEO division our fire-filled arguments centered around when a meeting is an official meeting requiring minutes, and when it is an informal gathering therefore not requiring minutes.  I am content to leave that argument behind me.
About a month ago I started hearing the refrain from the 1969 tune by Joe South and The Believers.
Don’t it make you want to go home?
Don’t it make you want to go home?
All God’s children get weary when the roam,
Don’t it make you want to go home?

It is true, I am weary and do feel it is time to go home.  But dang!  It has been quite a ride!  Josh and I have packed in enough memories to last us a lifetime.  My teaching responsibilities this semester prevented me from spending as much time writing as I would have liked.  I hope over the next few months to write more about our experiences in China before they slip into the fog of my middle-aged memory.

Josh with his classmates at QSI
A few weeks ago Josh attended the graduation ceremony and celebration for his friend, Kyoka.  She was the only senior at his school this year and she will be attending Temple University of Tokyo in Japan next year.  As part of the ceremony Josh and his classmates sang the Beatles song “In my Life” to Kyoka, and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.  In fact, just thinking about the opening line, “There are places I remember,” gets me a little weepy. 

Later today, Bob, Josh and I are leaving for Hong Kong for a few days.  We decided against doing any long distance traveling during the last weeks here and instead are spending time with the people we have come to call friends, and in the places we enjoy.

The days are going quickly, and I am once again negotiating this outward curve.  I am trying to stay present to the experience of being here, since I know “we may never pass this way again.”  But lately I have been hearing Bonnie Raitt singing to me “And home sings me of sweet things, my life there has it’s own wings, fly over the mountains, though I’m standing still.”

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

For My Story Students UIC, Spring 2011 (Written in the style of Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children)

Tell me a story.  Tell me about your mother and your father and the place where you grew up.  Tell me about the time you rolled off the bed, or hid in the room with the piano, or were trapped in the elevator, or rode home from the pool on your father’s bicycle looking like the girl in Aladdin. Tell me how your mother stayed up late to fix the dress you had torn on the rollercoaster, or encouraged you to be a tumbler, or had that life-changing conversation with you. 
Tell me about your grandmother who waited patiently for you in the rain, who got angry when you played computer games instead of doing your homework, who whispered that you were her favorite, who kept a Buddha in her home, who slept with you outside after the earthquake.
Tell me about your grandfather, who loved his garden, who worked so hard for his education, who held your hand and listened to you ask why Uncle Cow did not wear shoes, who taught you to play mahjong, who made special dumplings just for you. 
Tell me about preparing meals with parents and debating over how to indentify counterfeit money. Tell me about the moment you knew they all loved you.
Tell me about the time when you were a sword fighting woman warrior, or stood up to the man who smashed your bicycle, or the time you got a cockroach in your hair, or when you found a cockroach in your rice, or when your neighbors ate your pet dove, or when you accidently drown a duck.  No, don’t tell me that one.
Tell me about where you lived when you were young and where you live now.  Tell me about the town where all the people can sing and dance, the place where the pandas live, where the snow smells like peppermint, where the Goddess was to tired to mend the hole in the sky so the village is always filled with gentle rain. 
Tell me about how you started keeping a journal, writing in your diary, writing a blog, speaking in front of an audience.  Tell me how you discovered your voice.  
Tell me about the mysterious stranger who pulled you out of the swimming pool, or sat by you on a bench and told you her mother was now a star, or the one who has been married to your grandmother for forty years.  Tell me those stories. 
Tell me about when the Japanese soldiers came to your ancestors’ village, of the hard choices that were made when there was one more child who they could not afford to feed, about the foster son who betrayed your great grandfather.  Tell me the story you only heard one time.
Tell me about the time during secondary school when the floor began to shake and at first you thought it was a heavy truck, but then you realized it was an earthquake. Tell me how you were the last one to leave the classroom. 
Tell me about the time you felt incredibly alone and afraid.  When you were sure a stranger was following you, that someone was trying to kidnap you, that a murderer was on the loose and how you were so relieved to get home.  Tell me about the time you watched the horror movie and screamed until the supervisor pounded on your door, or could not get out of bed even to use the bathroom.  Tell me how the picture you created saved you from the water ghost and when you discovered darkness could be beautiful.
Tell me about the times when it was not ghost stories but truly terribly times when you thought you might drown, or die from serious illness, or cried yourself to sleep every night out of sheer loneliness.  Tell me how you learned that every day and every life was precious
Tell me about the food you love, the spicy noodles, the soft-boiled chicken, the New Year’s Eve dinner, the Mantis Shrimp pie your grandparents prepared to celebrate your acceptance at UIC.  Tell me about your secret garden, the cave, the green grass, the flowers, the river, the Buddhist temple, and even the crowded city street, that all provided solace for you when you were filled with grief.
Tell me how terrifying it is to be a year four student with more work to be done than is humanly possible. Tell me about quiet rooftops and magical books, and close friends who provided comfort and care when you needed it.
Tell me about your hopes and your dreams. Tell me what’s next.
Tell me how week after week, forty-eight people moved the tables and chairs to make a circle because they wanted to see each others’ faces when they told stories.
Tell me that story.