Bragging Rights

I had set a goal for myself to enter some photographs in the State Fair. To begin with, I was pretty darn pleased with myself when I sealed the package to send the pictures to the competition.

WooHoo! Second Place!

WooHoo! Second Place!

I was even more pleased today when I trekked to the fair to check out the photo exhibit, giggling inside when I saw that my image of a teahouse in the Yuyuan Garden in Old Shanghai had won 2nd place the black & white category. I just stood there with a silly grin plastered on my face, staring at the red ribbon on my picture, and stopping random strangers to tell them, “That one is mine!”

Someone bought this picture!

Someone bought this picture! My first sale!

My grin grew bigger as I made my way through the other displays to the large color prints. Wow! All of my submitted photos are on display, which is an honor in itself because only those pictures awarded a certain score are exhibited.  My grin broke into a huge smile when I saw the Big Blue Ribbon on my cityscape that indicates that the picture sold.

The reflection of trees in water was hung upside down, but I think I like it like that. The old shoes, one of my favorites, earned a respectable score.


They hung this one upside down (like this) and I think I like it that way.

They hung this one upside down (like this) and I think I like it that way.

This has always been one of my favorites.

This has always been one of my favorites.

The Secret Piano: From Mao’s Labor Camps to Bach’s Goldberg Variations

I have been captivated, to the point of losing sleep, by The Secret Piano: From Mao’s Labor Camps to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, the autobiography of Zhu Xiao-Mei, a pianist who was born in Shanghai in 1949, the year Mao declared the People’s Republic of China. Because her family had wealth and education, they were stripped of employment, home, and possessions by the new PRC. They moved to Beijing, living in a tiny 2-room dirt-floor apartment in a siheyuan, once home to honored citizens in in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 A.D.), now slums in the 1950s. (I took these pictures in 2011of the outside walls of a siheyuan in Beijing’s hutong area, which has been revitalized in the past few decades.)

Zhu Xiao-Mei begins her story when the piano was brought into their cramped living quarters when she was three years old. She speaks of the thrill she experienced in making the piano “talk” under her mother’s tutelage. She tells, without romanticizing, of her family’s sufferings and of her experiences at the conservatory where she was formed into an accomplished pianist by age 10, but where she was also mistreated (to the point of abuse) because she came from a “bad” family (i.e., bourgeois — educated and prosperous even though they had lived in abject poverty for years).

She tells, in straight-forward narration, of her horrific experiences at the labor camps during the Cultural Revolution and her transformation into a Revolutionary who revered Chairman Mao and denounced her bourgeois family. (This is as far as I’ve read.)

This short video shows Zhu Xiao-Mei playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations. (There are longer videos on YouTube if you wish to experience more of her genius.)

When I made my first trip to China in 2011, I was fearful and apprehensive. I toured the ancient sites of Beijing, including the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. The huge visage of Chairman Mao, which overlooks the square, was an unsettling sight for me because of the stories surrounding the man and the horrific treatment of the Chinese people for decades as he rose to power. Over the next two summers as I worked and lived in China, my fear and distrust was replaced by a genuine admiration for and love of the Chinese people.

I am now drawn to historical novels of 19th and 20th century China and to historical accounts of the PRC, the Cultural Revolution, and Chairman Mao. Lisa See’s historical novels (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, Shanghai Girls, and Dreams of Joy) and her nonfiction narrative of her ancestors, On Gold Mountain, introduced me to the lives of the Chinese people over the last 200 years (including the turbulence of the last half of the 20th century). Zhu Xiao-Mei’s autobiography now deepens my understanding of the strength and grace of the people who survived the Cultural Revolution.

If you are interested in reading more, here is a list of historical fiction about China.

Memories of China

I am thankful to be home in the USA, but I know that I will always have a special place in my heart for the people and places of China.

The city park is called "water park" in Feicheng.

The city park is called “water park” in Feicheng.

Click on any image for a better view.


I did not spend much time with her. I wish I had. I wanted to tell her about my granddaughters back in the states and ask about her life in China. She looks as if she is about my age, which means that she probably lived through the Cultural Revolution. I wanted to find out what she was doing when I was capturing fireflies in the Mason jar and sitting on the crank ice-cream maker … the burlap bag covering the cold…ever so cold ice…while we awaited the sweet most delicious treat in all the world…….. Did she have that? Was there a time when she sat with her grandfather in eager anticipation of that fabulous reward? In those few moments, we shared an unspoken joy…a love of our grandchildren. IMG_9284

Give Students a Chance to Think and Practice

Last day of training in Feicheng City, Shandong Province, China. Tomorrow we begin the three-day trek back home.

I wish to share with you the speech I gave this morning at the closing ceremonies:

Many years ago, I heard a quote that shaped the way I have taught my students. It goes like this: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” As you probably know, this quote is from your great teacher, Confucius.

You know that if you only talk to your students, and your students simply listen, they will probably forget what you say and learn very little. If you show them pictures when you are talking, they might remember, for a while…if they are paying attention. However, when you show the students what to do, if you practice with the students, and then give them a chance to practice on their own, you are giving them the opportunity to DO. You are helping them to understand, to remember, and to learn.

I told you that everything I taught you has the same focus. Everything you’ve learned will help your students to THINK. By DOING….by WRITING, your students will think more deeply. They will understand more about the English language and more about themselves and their world.

Give your students many opportunities to write. You do not always need to give them long writing assignments. Give them short assignments…a few words or sentences can help them to practice a skill, for example, using vocabulary words correctly, using verbs correctly, or using the right punctuation in a sentence.

Make sure that your students write something every day. Make them write words. Make them write sentences. At some point, they will be able to write a paragraph and then a long passage. Use the Active Student Engagement Strategies that you learned from all of us. Use the Reading Strategies and the Writing Strategies. When you use the strategies, you are giving your students many opportunities to DO. You are giving them many opportunities to understand. You are giving them many opportunities to learn English.

I have enjoyed the past few weeks with you wonderful teachers, and I have learned that you are the best people on earth. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to understand you and your incredible Chinese culture. I leave you with another quote from Confucius: “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” I want to add to the great teacher’s words. “Whatever you teach, and whomever you teach, teach with all your heart.”  Thank you.

Our participants and the people of the education bureau and the four of us American trainers.

Our participants and the people of the education bureau and the four of us American trainers.

Chinese Girl

We are a bit of an attraction here in Feicheng, because they rarely get international visitors, especially those from America. People giggle and point at us, then get embarrassed when we notice them. We smile, say hello, and attempt in very bad Chinese to communicate. Frequently, the teens and children come to us to talk; all of the children take English in school, and some speak moderately well.

This girl approached me in the park, talked a little bit, and asked to take a picture with me. After we posed for her mother’s cell phone, I asked if I could take her picture.

IMG_9820I think she is beautiful.