Teaching English in China


 Thursday, August 30, 2007, we were departing Newark Airport at noon for a fourteen hour direct flight to Beijing, China. I had volunteered to teach conversational English to students at a Chinese University for a three week period. The program was under the auspices of The Global Volunteers Agency, a non profit, non sectarian, non governmental organization engaging short term volunteers on microeconomic and human development programs in close partnership with local people worldwide. Volunteers help create a foundation for world peace through mutual international understanding. More information on this agency can be found on their web site www.globalvolunteers.org.

   We arrived in Beijing at 2:30 AM the next morning. Beijing is twelve hours ahead of New Jersey time; the local time was 2:30 PM. All the Chinese signs and directions at the airport have an English translation allowing me to easily navigate my way through customs and to my ground connection. I had arranged to stay overnight at an airport hotel and catch a connecting flight to Xian early the next morning. I was not due in Xian until Saturday noon.


   I had visited Beijing in 2000, but on my trip to the hotel I was shocked by the increase in the number of cars on the road compared to my prior visit. In my earlier visit bicycles outnumbered automobiles, and now the reverse was true.  I was so tired I crashed immediately after checking in at the hotel.  I woke early and passed time watching English speaking TV. I roared at the slant of the news. The theme of the program centered on the pollution problem in China which was the result of contaminated imports mostly from American Corporations, while China at home was a model for environmental standards.


   We left the hotel lobby at 4:30AM Saturday morning for my 7AM two hour flight to Xian. Joining me on the courtesy van was a Chinese woman who did not speak English, and I estimated her age around fifty. She insisted on placing my luggage on the van, and making sure I settled in to the best seat. When we were seated she motioned for my ticket, scanned it and then returned it to me. At the airport, she jumped out of the van, removed the luggage, hailed someone to cart our luggage and beckoned me to follow her. She led me to my gate, made sure I was checked in, then waved goodbye. She was insulted when I offered to give her a gratuity. It was not to be the last time during my stay that a local Chinese citizen went out of their way to assist me. One funny incident occurred when I went to tip the porter 10 Yuan ($1.50). The woman was furious, stopped me, showed me her tip amount of 1 Yuan (15 cents), and motioned me to match it. Together we gave the porter a 30 cent tip for ferrying four suitcases through the airport for fifteen minutes. It was my introduction to the low cost of living in China.


  We arrived in Xian at 9AM. A crowd of teenagers greeted everyone upon arrival in the terminal. They were singing school songs and welcoming one of their school teams back from a successful trip in Beijing. The Chinese love to celebrate through song and dance. I would personally experience it several times on this trip. I met my Chinese host, or leader, and with several other volunteers who had arrived on other flights and were part of our group, we left the airport for the one hour trip to our hotel.


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Xian is a city of eight million people, a population greater than Chicago or Los Angeles and yet is not in the top ten cities in China. It was the Capital of China until 950 AD, when the then Emperor moved the Capital to Beijing. It considers itself the center of Chinese culture, and is known for its Arts and Literature. It is also the tourist stopover for tours to the site of the Terra Cotta Warriors. It is the only major Chinese city that retained the original walled city, an area of four square miles. The outskirts of the city were poverty stricken areas with farms and decrepit housing, much of it abandoned. The city itself was similar to all large cities, busy and crowded, with heavy traffic on narrow streets.


  We arrived at the Hotel at noon. It advertised itself as a four star hotel. It reminded me of a Howard Johnson’s, which I learned was the operator of the hotel. We received our room assignments and were off until 6PM dinner and meetings. I unpacked and fell asleep, until awakened by the arrival of my roommate at 4PM.  Rick, a 44 year old resident of Charlotte, NC, was a pleasant and amiable person and we shared a lot of common interests. Rick was pursuing an MBA from NC State and was to receive a course credit for participation in this program.


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  The twelve members of Team 152 gathered for a “meet and greet” at 6 PM that evening, under the leadership of the 30 year old Chinese Country Manager –Hu Di. Hu Di had earned a Masters degree in English at one of China’s prestige Universities, and spoke excellent English.  After dinner, we all introduced ourselves and our backgrounds. When we were finished, Hu Di challenged us to repeat each of our names. Of course, none of us could do so. Hu Di discussed how closely we would be working together, and introduced us to a game that was very effective in remembering each others name. It worked. We were provided with Sunday’s program which would start with breakfast at 7AM. The meeting was over at 8:50 PM. It had been a long and arduous three days, I was sound asleep by 9 PM.  


  Team 152 assembled for breakfast at 7AM on Sunday morning. After a delightful breakfast, we left the hotel for the program office located a short walk from the hotel. On the way, Hu Di drew our attention to the park across from the hotel. At that time of day the park was crowded. I will defer any discussion on the park activity to a future article. The office was located at the axis of a major east west and north south intersection.  We stopped to receive a lesson on how to cross a major thoroughfare, and, the local traffic rules, or lack thereof, which is also a subject for future discussion.


  Once settled in the office we began our orientation. We reviewed the history of Global Volunteer projects worldwide. The China program was initiated in 1996 and operational every year since, except 2003, when the SARS epidemic spread throughout China. We developed team goals and reviewed team building concepts. Four volunteers were assigned a specific role, journal manager, free time coordinator, heath and safety coordinator, and final celebration coordinator. The latter task was assigned to yours truly. We received some specific guidelines:

  1. Don’t drink the water unless it is bottled, available at all hours at the front desk.

  2. Wash ones hands frequently. We all carried a bottle of hand sanitizer.

  3. Don’t travel alone.

  4. Remember only the hotel has western toilets. The schools, restaurants and public restrooms are almost all Asian style (no commodes-simply a hole in the floor).


      After a quick lunch at a local restaurant, we reconvened for lessons on the Chinese language. We learned that Chinese is a topic language where the topic comes first in a sentence, as opposed to English, a subject language where the subject comes first. We learned how the more than 56,000 Chinese characters were developed over the years. One must know at least 2,000 characters to speak the language and about 1,200 characters to understand or read the language.  By mid afternoon, it was time to return to the hotel to meet faculty and students from the schools where we would be teaching. Prior to the break, we received our assignments. I was assigned to Eurasia University. More about that school later.     


      At 3:30 PM Team 152, met with the faculty and students from the universities. Introductions were made by all. Several faculty leaders welcomed us and provided a brief overview of their respective school. Students took turns entertaining us with music, singing and dancing. They were most enjoyable. When they finished there was a big pause. Suddenly it dawned on us they were waiting for us to reciprocate. My peers all looked at me, since I had been designated celebration coordinator. I promptly rose and started singing “Take me out to the ball game”. We were quickly joined by the faculty and students. It was to be the first of my singing acts during the tour. We mingled for a few minutes before posing outside the hotel for a group picture.


      We finished with the school crowd at 5:30 PM and sat for dinner at 6PM. After dinner we discussed the events of the day and reviewed our Monday assignments. We wrapped up at 7:30 PM. It had been another long day!




    At our 7 AM breakfast on our first teaching day, we were provided with a background on the Chinese education system.  The Chinese have a proverb, “Education’s purpose is to convert an empty mind to an open mind”.  Each child must go to elementary school for nine years starting at age six. Most children do move on to high school for grades ten through twelve. English is a required subject every year beginning in grade four. School is free, but there is a school fee for extra curricular activities, and the cost of school uniforms.  Testing for all children is done at age ten, fourteen, and eighteen. Students are grouped into classes based on these test scores, and assigned to a high school based on their test scores.


    The University System is comprised of three levels. Level one is the government sponsored and operated universities, where one receives a Degree in a course of study.  Each year, on National College Entrance Exam Day, 10 million students are applying for the approximately one million available slots in these schools. Acceptance into these schools virtually guarantees financial success in one’s career.  Ten years earlier, ten percent of the students passed the exam; now fifty percent are passing the exam.  This led to the government allowing for the creation of two more levels, or private universities, in the late 1990s.  Level two is equivalent to a Junior College; Level three is similar to a trade or technical school. In these schools, graduates only receive a Diploma. A level two graduate is eligible to take an exam to continue their education at a level one school for two more years and attain a Degree. The passing rate for this exam is less than five percent.


    The annual tuition for the level one school is Five Hundred Dollars, for levels two and three it is One Thousand Five Hundred Dollars. An average annual salary in 2005 was Six Thousand Five Hundred Dollars. There are scholarship opportunities at the level one level based on the combination of merit and need.


    My section was assigned to Eurasia University, a high level two school, with more than twenty thousand students specializing in two foreign languages, one of which must be English. All the students must live on campus.  The forty five minute ride to the campus was our first venture out into the city. Traffic was horrendous. It was interesting to see the sights of this city of eight million. A common sight was an assembly of company employees on the sidewalk in front of its office building performing morning exercises, or receiving a pep talk from one of its managers. New buildings arise out of the midst of old established neighborhoods. There are blocks and blocks of fenced in open areas with new high rise residential housing under construction. The one mile street leading to the campus is dotted with typical fast food restaurants and shops that cater to a student population. We arrive at the gate house of Eurasia, and discover a gem in the middle of this very old and industrial area. The school was founded in the 1998, and all the buildings are ten years or less in age. The grounds are a lush green and well maintained.

    Once inside the campus, we noticed all the students were dressed in uniforms. We learned that all first year incoming university students in China are required to undergo mandatory military training for thirty days prior to the start of classes. The campus was mobbed with first year students in military uniforms, males in camouflage greens and females in camouflage blues.  Training had two days remaining, so classes would not start until completion of the training.

    After an introduction to the Dean of English Studies and the Faculty, we were requested to work with eight second and third year students who were preparing to enter an English Oratorical Contest. It is a highly prestigious contest that starts at the university level where each school selects a representative to participate on a Province level, and that winner competes at the national level in Beijing. This year’s topic was “Global Citizenship Begins At Home”.  We were requested to critique their English structure and pronunciation, not the subject content.  The introduction by each student included their Chinese name, their home province, and their English name. When we questioned how they obtained their English name, they responded each one makes up their own. We were to learn every student had an English name. We were often asked if we had a better idea for an English name than the one they used.

    The first two speakers, Judy and Maggie, said we should start by addressing environmental issues. Sharon centered on a “Do Unto Others” lifestyle. Abby proposed all of our actions come from the Heart similar to the manner of Gandhi, Shakespeare and General Peng. Geoffrey thought it starts by paying attention to many small acts at homeRocky discussed the pollution damage generated by animals raised for food, which could be corrected by a reduction in meat consumption. Let’s eliminate prejudice was Sammie’s theme. Fairy’s idea was to concentrate on the common good.


    We each worked with two of them and provided some ideas on how they may improve their presentations. I spent a good amount of time with Fairy working on ways to overcome her nervousness.

    The next day, the presenters once again made presentations to us incorporating many of the changes we had suggested the prior day. The results were so much better from the structure and delivery aspects. Fairy had developed a great degree of confidence overnight and her delivery was far and away the best.  The contest was held two weeks later. Geoffrey was judged the winner, and went on to the Province finals, which he also won. We never learned how he fared in the National Finals in Beijing. When asked why he chose the name Geoffrey, he said it was Chaucer’s name.


    In late morning the students gave us a tour of the campus, including the library, the cafeteria and a dorm floor. Each dorm room housed eight students in tight quarters. There was only one television allowed, in a small common room, in each dorm building.


    Wednesday was the first day of class, but it was interrupted for a ceremony in the campus auditorium in honor of the one hundred birth date of Helen Snow.  When we entered the auditorium, we received a standing ovation and were seated in a place of honor. Helen Snow and her husband Edgar were Americans who were very involved with Chairman Mao and the Red Army from 1937 until 1949. Edgar was the author of “Red Star of China”, published in America in 1937, that received several literary awards. The story was based on the heroics of Mao and the Red Army in its battle against foreign aggression in China.  At the end of the ceremony, we were invited to participate in the photo ops with the various government officials and surviving family members of Helen Snow. All the major Chinese TV networks were there, frequently scanning us. We were convinced we would be on the TV news that night but never had the opportunity to confirm it. The ceremony ended too late for us to conduct any classes that day. Our first classroom day would be on Thursday.




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    Thursday of week one was the start of our classroom teaching. My prior teaching experience was in the military, where one was provided with information on the subject matter and an outline for presentation. In this environment, we were left to our own devices and approach in teaching our subject of conversational English.


    The students attended class daily from 8 AM to noon, at which time there was a two hour break for lunch. Classes resumed at 2 PM for another two hours. Classes averaged fifty students, and were predominately female. We taught three classes from 9 AM until noon, with a ten minute break between classes.  I was assigned to teach those majoring in Tourism, commonly called Hotel Management in the USA. The major required the study of two foreign languages, one of which must be English. The most common second one was Japanese. With the exception of one class, I had a different class each day.  The first class each day was for one period, the second class each day was for two hours.


     My first approach was to provide the students with an overview of my background that included my education, work experience, family and residence.  I had expected to receive a lot of questions from the students, but there was little feedback. The second day, I asked each member of the class to tell me about themselves, English name, home province, and something famous about their home province.  It worked. They were all delighted to do that. Every, and I mean every, presentation ended the same way,”...and if you were ever to come back to China again, I would hope you would visit me and let me show you around my province”.


    After the first few days, I noticed some teaching aids back at the office. I found menus from American restaurants and they became my first prop. In China when a family goes out to eat in a restaurant, normally the mother orders the food for the entire family. A typical meal for a family of three or four would consist of four or five dishes served on a “Lazy-Susan” set in the middle of the table. Each member takes a little bit from each of the servings. There are no appetizers and it is rare to have a dessert. The American style of dining out was explained to them. They were stunned by the number and variety of items, and the fact that each person was allowed to select their own dinner. I had each one choose a complete meal and I played the role of the waiter, asking each of them to tell me their dinner choices. It was very effective. Another teaching aid was a bingo card, but instead of numbers it had words and a small picture depicting that word. I explained the game and had them place an X on the box as I called them out. They all wanted to be the winner, not knowing that all the cards were the same. Usually only two or three students would call out bingo. Most had difficulty matching the pronunciation of a word with its spelling or picture. Word soon spread throughout the school about the American teachers, and their teaching techniques, and each new class welcomed us with enthusiasm, eagerly anxious to interact with us.


    Next I invited the students to tell me what country, other than America, they would like to visit and why. The most often mentioned counties were Australia and England, because English was spoken in these countries. They have a strong belief that a good grasp of English was a ticket to a successful career.


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     One time, I separated the class into teams, and had them identify the various English names for fruits. Two things surprised me during this exercise. It was apparent the students were not used to working in teams. On most teams one or two students would aggressively do the work and completely ignore the others. There was no group caucus, or request for input from the others.  The second surprise was the number of fruits that were being named during this exercise. It was a surprise until I realized that each student had a small hand held computer that translated Chinese inquiries into English answers. Thus, I found the source of the many fruits.


    When class time was over, instead of a buzzer or the clanging of bells, there was a melody of classical music. It started softly then gradually increased to a crescendo, whereby no conversation could be heard. The message was clear, class was ended. There was a lot of time to interact with students during the break. I had many a picture taken with them on their cell phones.


    National Teachers day was held on Tuesday of the second week. Students greeted me in the halls as they entered the classroom with a “Happy Teachers Day”. During one of the classes, one of the students asked if he could sing me a song for Teacher’s Day. I agreed and listened to a song extolling the virtues of all teachers. He had a good voice and it was well done. I thanked him and asked him to sing the first line in Chinese. I tried to sing it back to him. My murder of the language caused hysterical laughter from the students.


    In another class that day, a student asked me if I like country music. Yes was my reply. Did I ever hear of the John Denver song “Country Roads”? Yes was my reply. He asked if he could sing it to me. I invited him up to the front of the class, and we sang it together. The students were howling when we finished. Their biggest surprise was that I knew the lyrics. A fellow volunteer in the next classroom, who was also a newspaper columnist back home, heard the noise and asked later what it was all about. He then wrote a column about it that was published soon thereafter in the Seattle Times. Later that week as I was walking through the local mall, I heard “Country Roads” music being played with Chinese lyrics. It was one of China’s current popular tunes.


    I found the students to be very Nationalistic and proud of their country. Chairman Mao was frequently referenced, quoted, and held in high esteem. The Houston Rockets, a professional basketball team, and Yao Ming were also held in high regard. Students were highly motivated to complete their education. For many it meant an opportunity to earn more money, allow them to leave the farms for the cities, and perhaps a higher standard of living.


    They had many questions for me and challenged me about some of the problems in this country. A lot of these discussions took place during a designated weekly time after school, referred to as English Corner, which I will discuss in a future article.  




    During my month long teaching assignment, I had the opportunity to participate in two separate but very interesting activities. One was to serve as a judge in an English speaking oratorical contest, and the other was to engage in a dialogue with students through a program known as English Corner.


    Three volunteers, me included, were approached by our Host in the first week of teaching and asked if we would be interested in serving as a judge in an English speaking oratorical contest.  The contest was to be held at the Fourth Medical Military University, and the participants were military medical students in their final year of internship. This University is equivalent to a West Point for Physicians.


    Students selected for this program finished in the top one percent of the mandatory national testing examination taken at age sixteen. Once selected they enter this university as a cadet, complete a four year pre med curriculum, four years of a medical education program, and a three year medical internship. Military training is a part of the program throughout the eleven years. Cadets receive a Commission as a Military Officer upon completion of the internship, and are required to serve a period of time in the military.


    We arrived at the University at 4 PM on a Friday evening, and were immediately taken on a tour of the medical campus of eleven thousand hospital beds. We visited the dental clinic, the pediatric clinic and inpatient unit. The pediatric units were decorated with all sorts of Disney characters and Santa Claus. As a former hospital administrator, I was amazed at the design flow and advanced technology prevalent throughout the units. The campus was dotted with several twenty to thirty story buildings, each with its own specialty, i.e. Cardiology, Pulmonary, Brain Surgery and more. Two major sites were under construction for Cancer and Orthopedics. We completed the tour with a visit to the Museum of Human Species. Every form of human species was on display-UGH! All of this was immediately prior to a very formal VIP Dinner.


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    After dinner, we three volunteers joined with four members of the faculty as judges. We received a warm reception from the students upon our entrance and were presented with a bouquet of flowers as we were introduced. The subject of the Oratorical Contest, to be delivered in English, and not to exceed five minutes, was “Teacher Appreciation”. It was Teacher Appreciation Week and each presenter was to show how one of their former teachers impacted their development as a person. We judged them on content, language, and presentation. All were senior intern students in military uniform. 


    The students were brilliant. Their presentations and command of the English language was superb. The nine contestants were separated in the judging by five tenths of one percent. While the votes were being counted, two students performed. One sang Jambalaya, the other a tune made famous by Phil Collins. The final segment of the program was a presentation by the University Director of Medicine. Through his introduction, we learned he served six months a year as a Faculty Member of a major Philadelphia Hospital, and six months a year as a Faculty Member of the University Hospital. He stressed the importance of English in the medical community, since most of the latest medical discoveries came about in the English language. From his talk, we learned that many of the graduates of this university complete their medical residency requirements in the United States. After the awards were presented, the judges joined the students on the stage for a photo op. The Chinese have a great skill in staging pageantry. It was present this night. At the end of the evening, I was approached by a military faculty member inquiring as to where I lived in New Jersey. I met several faculty members who lived in Cherry Hill, NJ while completing their medical specialty in a Philadelphia Hospital.

    English Corner is a program emanating from the National Government designed to expose Chinese students to conversational English. It is held at all major universities on a weekly basis. English speaking individuals residing or working in the local area are requested to participate in this hour long program. We participated in two of these sessions.


    Each English speaking person is assigned a table and students move around to the various tables and ask questions. At any time I had fifteen to twenty students at my table. Initially, I would be asked how old I am, and how much money do I make. I explained to them that these may be very common questions in the Chinese culture but were considered rude in American culture.  Most of the questions were mundane, such as how old were your children, were they married, what is their education level. Many questions about our government, how is it organized, how does it differ from theirs? Is it confusing with different state laws when travelling from one to another?


    There were also some challenging questions concerning racial issues, the Iraqi war, mass shootings, and the number of prisons. All were answered diplomatically with a caveat that no country is perfect and careful not to say anything that might offend the students or their country. The most interesting question,“What is the most important thing in your life”? It triggered a lot of discussion between us. I learned that many students and their families believe in God, and attend a Christian (Protestant) Church.  Some even mentioned they were investigating several different religions. The two biggest responses to this question from the students was either and/or God and family.  In the end, these students are no different from students all over the world. They want to overturn perceived injustices, to make a better life for themselves, their country, and the world.                                                                                                                                                         



What is that noise, I wonder, as I am being awakened from deep sleep? It isn’t long before I realize it’s the 5 AM wake up call for a “Walk in The Dark”.


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It started the very first morning and has occurred all but two early mornings. Tom places a call to Dr. David Colville, a retired Mayo Clinic Physician. Both agree to meet in the hotel lobby in a few minutes. Tom lightly beckons to his roommate, Ric, to see if he is up to walk this early. On a few occasions Ric comes on the walk with us, today was not to be one of those days.


We meet in the lobby at 5:15 AM. When we reach the hotel lobby, most times we are startled by the snoring of two or three hotel employees. They are usually sound asleep in lobby chairs or couches in the lobby reception area. At first it gave me some concern about hotel security, especially since none of them are aware of our presence. But soon you discover one of them is always awake, standing and guarding the hotel front door.


Outside the hotel we go into the still dark of night. The street is quiet. Traffic consists of two and three wheel bicycles, and an occasional taxi. As we proceed to the corner of the street we pass our first sidewalk car washing site. Taxis are lined up, (in China a line is an oxymoron), waiting to be washed. Workers are furiously hosing down and wiping the taxis as fast as possible. The water dispensing hose was connected to a public hydrant. At the corner we enjoy the ability to cross a major intersection, unchallenged by turning vehicles. Turning vehicles and bicycles do not yield to crosswalk pedestrians at major intersections.


Across the intersection we walk along the sidewalk bordering a park. The park has a paper ribbon barrier across the entrance. I suppose that is intended to deliver the message the park is closed.  Upon closer inspection, inside the park one can see many bodies on the benches – sound asleep. During daylight hours, this area is teeming with young people, but at this hour our paths crosses with many seniors, in pairs or alone, out for their daily exercise.


Three fourths of a mile into our walk, we turn right into the walled city. Xian is the only major city in China to retain the old four mile square walled city. It is dark and quiet for the first few blocks. The tranquility is only broken by the occasional taxi. There are an abundance of three wheeled bicycles transporting all types of food and goods to shops that will soon be opening. We pass a noisy sidewalk café serving breakfast to early morning workers, mostly taxi drivers. Now and then a sidewalk is being swept, using bundled tree branches, by an older person. Garbage is piled high by the curb in several places. The garbage in the streets is a marked contrast with the normal sight for these streets in daylight, when they are very, very clean. 


One half mile later, we turn right onto the first major street. All the time we are walking, David and Tom have a discussion about many philosophical, social and personal topics. We have probed the impact of advertising, the current status of family values, the state of affairs between the U.S. and China and other major countries. We have related some of our past experiences in our common career field of healthcare. We are usually on the same wave length with most issues. Periodically, we politely disagree.


One morning, we witnessed an unusual event- two taxis had collided. How was this possible with so little traffic on the road?  Both had been maneuvering for the same fare. Once we realized it was a fender bender we continued on our route.


We pass many more elders sweeping the sidewalks on this busy shopping street. At one intersection, we pass a flurry of activity at a corner restaurant. It was still early for customers but not too early for food preparation. Workers were busy with tending huge caldrons on the sidewalk.


We turned right again as we exited the walled city to complete the square route back to our hotel.  Once again it is a pleasure to cross this major thoroughfare at this hour compared to the life threatening crossing one can expect during daytime hours. Vehicles do not yield to pedestrians at crosswalks in Xian.


We notice workers sweeping the street garbage into piles. Further on we can see the Chinese version of a garbage truck. Another worker is shoveling each pile of garbage into a wooden container nestled on the back of a three wheeled bicycle.  At one pint during one of our daytime taxi trips around the city, we observed a gathering of similar tricycles waiting to unload their garbage pick up at an incinerator site. The garbage collection process was complete.


We passed a series of small open pick up trucks. In each truck, we noticed the probable owner of the truck sound asleep in the flat bed section of the vehicle. We concluded this beats paying rent. Nearer the hotel we passed another sidewalk car washing site, as busy as the earlier sighting. Neither this car wash nor the prior one is operating in daylight hours.


Forty five minutes after our start we wander back into the hotel lobby. The hotel staff is fully awake and actively engaged in their normal duties. I walk down the hall to my room on the 6th floor commenting to myself, ‘Gee, if only David and I can be here for a few more weeks. We could come up with more and more recommended solutions to the world’s problems’. Oh well, into the shower!


Each day a different member of the group was assigned the task of writing an article for insertion to the group journal. This article was daily journal entry for Tuesday of the last week.

The author, Rene Henry, is a contributing columnist for the Seattle Times. This article is a reprint from a September 2007 edition.

  'Country Roads' in Xi’an, China
By Rene A. Henry
XI’AN, China, Sept. 15 (Special to HNN) -- The last place in the world I would expect to hear people singing Country Roads would be here in this historic city and the first capital of China.
But it happened yesterday at Eurasia University where I am teaching conversational English to students. From the next classroom I heard booming "West Virginia, mountain momma, take me home, take me home..."
Eurasia is a 10-year-old private university with some 20,000 students and I am here for two weeks as part of a team from the U.S. nonprofit organization, Global Volunteers.
One of my colleagues, Tom Schember, from New Jersey, was asked by a student in his class if he liked Country and Western music and he said 'yes.' The same student then asked him if he liked the music of the late John Denver and Tom again replied 'yes.' Then the student asked if he could sing "Country Roads" and Tom and the entire class joined in. John Denver would have been proud of them all.
I wonder if Bill Danoff had any idea when he was writing "Country Roads" he had any idea of the impact it would have and be so widely accepted throughout the world with so many diverse cultures.
Xian is in the center of China and was the home of the Qin Dynasty and the first emperor who built the Great Wall. It is considered only a mid-size city in China with eight million population, but larger than New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles. It also is interesting to note that the number of people learning English in China is now greater than the entire population of the United States. No wonder they like "Country Roads!"