Autumn Alumni Reunion Recap

As anyone who has studied abroad will tell you, the experiences, the places, and the adventures are among some of the most unforgettable aspects of any study abroad program. However, undoubtedly one of the most memorable parts of any experience abroad is the people you share these experiences with. Lotus Educational Foundation’s study abroad programs bring people together from all over the world. After our time in China, we all return to our respective homes with our memories and experiences together – and while modern technology has allowed us to keep in contact with relative ease via e-mail and Skype, somehow when we’re brought back together, it’s easy to fall in step again and feel like no time has passed at all.

While reunions are difficult given the international scope of Lotus’ reach – people from all over the world come together to study in Beijing through Lotus – it is an exciting thing to be apart of when they can happen. Recently, Lotus Educational Foundation hosted an alumni reunion in Washington D.C. Joined by Lotus alumni, their friends and family, and students interested in studying with Lotus in the near future, over 40 people attended to discuss their experiences and learn more about what Lotus Educational Foundation has been up to in the international community.

With new programs on the agenda for next year, alumni from a variety of different past programs, and students interested in studying in China in the future, the reunion was a wild success. Alumni had fun sharing and swapping stories – students interested in studying abroad learned more about Lotus – and some of Lotus’ directors had a chance to talk about some of the exciting things ahead for the non-profit study abroad organization. Indeed, it was such a good time that we have hopes to host another reunion soon!

Check out some of the pictures!

 

Capital Museum

There was a big group of us going for an afternoon at the Capital Museum. While I’ve been to many of the famous sites throughout Beijing, I had yet to go to the Capital Museum – which I found a curious oversight on my part, seeing as how Chinese history is over 5000 years old and there is a wealth of both interesting and beautiful artifacts to explore.

A professor and two graduate students of philosophy joined us for our excursion. All three were fun to talk to, and we had a good time looking around the various exhibits and using a combination of Chinese and English to explore our thoughts about them.

Particularly beautiful were the featured works of calligraphy and Chinese painting. I had a really interesting discussion with one of the graduate students about the nature of Chinese painting and calligraphy. He described that it was often much deeper than Western art. Where realism is often a tool of Western artists to convey a meaning or idea, he described that Chinese paintings are mostly intended as an expression of “feeling” and “interpretation” much more than realism. Regardless, the art was beautiful, and it was enlightening to hear other opinions and thoughts on the work we encountered.

Excursion to the Llama Temple

Our visit to the Llama Temple fell on a brisk, bright day. Beijing has a habit of short-lived rainstorms, and while the rain brings about complaints along with a wild rush of street vendors trying to sell an umbrella to the unfortunate commuter, I love it when I wake up to a rainy day. Not only does it make me feel more at home (Seattle’s often harsh characterization as a city built beneath constant cloud cover and drizzle (drizzle in Chinese: 毛毛雨,  pronounced máo máo yǔ) is a well-deserved one), but rainstorms send the smog running in Beijing. The days following rain showers are always bright, clear, and beautiful. So, bright and beautiful, albeit bitter, bitter cold – we embarked on the subway to the Llama Temple.

It was a very small group of us touring the Lllama Temple, which I found fantastic because it allowed each of us more time to work on our Chinese and ask as many questions as we could. Zoe brought along a list of common phrases in Buddhism and their English translations – not only profound and wise suggestions for a peaceful, enlightened life, most of them were lyrically beautiful as well.

The cold hadn’t scared away any visitors. The temple was awash with the potent smell of incense – it was calming to stroll throughout the many courtyards with incense burning all around as people prayed. We were also quite lucky with our timing; a group of new monks was practicing chanting in one of the halls, and so we crowded in with other guests to listen to the harmony of their voices rising and falling as one.

The spiritual and historical nature of the Llama Temple was one that I found enchanting. It was an absolutely beautiful site to visit, and I plan to return before I leave Beijing.

Here are some of the phrases we learned:

知足常乐

zhīzú cháng lè

Happy is he who is content.

 

助人为乐

zhùrén weílè

take pleasure in helping people

 

有缘千里来相会 无缘对面不相识

yǒu yuán qiān lǐ lái xiāng huì wúyuán duìmiàn bù xiāng shi

Fate brings us together even we are thousand miles apart; but if we are not destined to meet, though we are face to face, we may not be acquainted with each other.

 

 

 

Excursion to the Summer Palace

Beijing has no shortage of destinations for the tourist to explore. With so much culture and history, the city is littered with historic sites – from temples to gardens to palaces. One of my favorites is The Summer Palace (颐和园), a magnificent garden originally built for the one of the Qing dynasty’s ruling emperors. With a lake, rolling hills, and awe-inspiring architecture, it truly is a sight to see and should not be missed for anyone spending any amount of time in Beijing.

Lotus Educational Foundation led the afternoon outing to The Summer Palace, which was fantastic because Zoe and Linda (employees here at LEF) had been there several times before and were able to give us an unparalleled tour of the garden grounds. Although the weather was overcast and cloudy, the sites did not disappoint. I enjoyed trying to read as many characters as I could (helped along gently by Zoe and Linda whenever I would falter) and the short hike up Longevity Hill for a sweeping look over the entire garden was absolutely spectacular.

The various buildings, shrines, and artwork throughout the garden are really marvelous. The lake was speckled with paddle-boats and canoes for the more adventurous and even had some people reclining, sipping tea on the fancier tour boats. I especially enjoyed the giant marble boat (no longer up and running) that somehow used to maneuver its way across the water.

Alumni Reunion

While living in Beijing has left no shortage of excitement, I will admit that I feel a pang of home sickness when I think about the next couple weeks back in the states. Halloween, while certainly one of the most bizarre holidays both in origin and celebration, never fails to disappoint.

Furthermore, Lotus Educational Foundation has some excitement going on back in the home in the next couple weeks as well. The Alumni Reunion, which is being held on November 6th in Washington D.C., sounds like it will be an exciting opportunity for students who have studied with Lotus before. Having studied with Lotus before and now working as an intern for them here in Beijing, I would love to be able to attend.

I would encourage alumni to attend if possible. Family and friends are welcome to come along and dinner will be provided. Check out the invitation by just clicking on the link below!

Alumni Reunion Invitation

A Trip to the Senior Centre

My first volunteer excursion with Lotus involved a trip to the nearby senior centre by bus to visit, chat with and generally entertain the elderly folks who live there.

This particular day was chosen as it was the 重阳节 (Chóngyáng jié – Double Ninth Festival), which as of 1989 has also been known as ‘Seniors’ Day’, when the elderly should be visited and should enjoy themselves.

The first activity upon our arrival was to give balloons to the elderly and play with them. The game essentially involved hitting the balloons back and forth, and whether they were cherishing them, hitting them back or just popping the balloons, the elderly folks seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Next came the entertainment. Each volunteer performed a routine for the elderly spectators. One was Taijiquan, one was a violin recital, a few people demonstrated their superb solo vocal skills while I myself joined in with a group rendition of 北京欢迎你 (Beijing Welcomes You). It wasn’t only us that performed however, as a few of the elderly folks also gave a performance of some kind. Following this, it was cake time, as all the seniors with birthdays in the last three months were wished happy birthday with a huge cake and celebration – a truly heart-warming sight.

After this the seniors retired to their rooms, and it was time for the volunteers to visit each room with gifts of bananas and apples. They all seemed thoroughly thrilled to see us, and I even had the pleasure of meeting one lady who said she 110 years old!!

 

Holiday Excursions

The first week in October offers a brief reprieve from the every day hustle and bustle to life in the city. The 国庆节 (guóqíng jiè), which follows National Day on October 1st, is a weeklong holiday celebrating the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Everyone here gets a week off work and school in honor the anniversary, and so I was looking forward to a week full of exciting outings now that I had the chance to travel.

My holiday began with an excursion with my host family. Without any idea what was in store for the day, (while I continue to make great strides in learning Chinese, some things are still just lost in translation – so I generally just peruse through the every day here with a sense of humor that gets me by), I accompanied my host family off early in the morning. We ended up going to a National Park of sorts, where my host sister met up with two of her classmates. Together with the three of them and their mothers, the lot of us started roving through the wilderness, hiking up the mountainside through the trees and scrambling over rocks.

The people were out in droves in honor of National Week, so everywhere you went it was very crowded. Even so, we had an absolutely marvelous time. My host sister (her chosen English name is Cindy) and her friends and I chatted all throughout the day. At first, Cindy’s friends were very shy to practice their English (despite constant encouragement from their mothers). However, after some prodding and poking with the right questions, and eagerly showing them that butchering a language is nothing to be embarrassed about through my own use of Chinese, they were excited to have a go with their English and wouldn’t stop talking!

I find that these are some of my favorite moments in living with a host family. My constant exposure to Chinese has improved my 口语 (kǒuyǔ – my speaking ability) and yet, at the same time, it has given me a glimpse into every day life for people in China. It’s an absolutely extraordinary experience, and while it has its challenges, I find it ultimately extremely rewarding.

(“Climbing the mountain” with my host sister and her friends)

The Dulcet Day

Yesterday–a wonderful day!

We made an appointment to meet Karen in our Lotus office,which really brought us happiness with her sunbeams. Together with her One-on-One tutoring teacher ,we scanned some wonderful pictures related to Hai Erbin, the hometown of the teacher. Maybe this was the way where they were quietly moving closer together. Undoubtedly, it was also a visual feast for us to appreciate such sightseeing, like ice engraving.

Gradually, other colleagues also went in for our conversation. We talked about some interesting & relaxed topics with this old lady who was full of  vitality and passion. Maybe more surprising, she and her friends went hiking around Michigan!We should bow to reality that they had already been over fifty years of age! We need to express admiration for these great giants.

Owing to Karen had a car accident few years ago, so there is a injury in her waist. Obviously, we need to pay more attention to her health. Actually, her host family also did this directly due to they were so zealous and considerate! Hope Karen and her homestay will have a nice time! Further more, I do hope that Karen’s enthusiasm will infulence more and more people in China , especially the old ones……

Unexpected Generosity

Doug Speeching compressed

On Thursday, June 23rd, more than a half a world away from the Jing Yu Xi Wang Migrant School, about 75 kind and generous people gathered to help me make good on the promise I made to Director Wang over three months ago. For those who read my blog back in March, you may remember that I committed to “do my best” to raise enough money to pay for the remaining six air conditioners required to equip the school.
I have to admit that I had my doubts about being able to raise $3000 from those who had never seen the school, had never met the children there, had never heard of Lotus Education and who possibly had no personal ties with China.   I have never been involved in any fundraising.  And, even though I was a salesman for many years, I have a real fear of asking anyone for money.

Two things kept me focused:  First, my promise to Director Wang who had shown me such kindness while I was at the school and second, the words of one of the students.   She told me,  “Teacher, you are in our Chinese hearts now and we will take care of you”.   At the time, she was only referring to protecting me from dishonest taxi drivers.  Not so dramatic.  Nonetheless, that one sentence has driven my desire to ‘take care of’ those wonderful kids who welcomed me while I was there.

auction 2 compressed

auction 2 compressed

So, in mid-April, armed with missionary zeal, I started planning “something”.   I didn’t know what that “something” was, but I was planning it.   I talked to friends, neighbors, colleagues and customers who all said, “That sounds like a good cause! Let me know when you figure out what you are going to do”.   I had no clue.  I won’t go into the details, but some of my first ideas were anemic at best.   Then, one day, I mentioned the fundraiser to a family friend, Sarah, who is a professional fundraiser for one of the local child protection agencies.  Everything started to come together almost immediately.  She gave me clear direction and identified which of my plans were irreparably crazy and needed to be dropped post haste.

Sarah kindly offered her home, which is larger than ours (and considerably cleaner because my children do not live with her).  She designed the invitations, edited my long-winded introduction, created email invites, enlisted her children and their friends to stuff envelopes and created spreadsheets with the invitee’s email and snail mail addresses…and the list goes on.  I was dumbfounded.

The neighborhood Chinese restaurant generously agreed to donate the food and one of my customers agreed to donate the drinks.  I got in touch with the local Confucius Institute  and the Kansas City Chinese American Association.  Their members responded with enthusiastic support.  They provided entertainment in the form of food and traditional Chinese dance and song.   The President of the KCCAA, CJ Wei co-sponsored the event in the name of his organization.

marissa elizabeth anna compressed

marissa elizabeth anna compressed

I claim credit for the idea about the silent auction.  I have always admired the beauty of Chinese art and culture and over the years I purchased several antiques and culturally representative items which I have cherished.   I felt the time had finally come to give those things a purpose.   Other wonderful items were donated by members of the Chinese Community, local businesses, and other generous friends.   Two bright acrylic paintings were donated by an up-and-coming Chinese-American artist who has appeared in the press and has had shows at well-known galleries, Marissa Hitt.  Marissa is a fine, well-spoken young lady who will tell you all about her very unique images. Both of her paintings sold at the auction.  Oh, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Marissa is six and a half (yes, 6yrs and a half).

The weather was beautiful for the event.   Guests were able to view the silent auction, watch a continuous slide show of the school and take from the buffet.   Outside, guests could sit eat and socialize.  It was a very multicultural crowd.

picture board compressed

picture board compressed

I spoke for a few minutes about the school, the wonderful people of Lotus and expressed my deepest gratitude to those who had given of their time and resources.  It was humbling to see how so many people had come together, half a world away, just to express love and support for children they have never met.

The dancers were beautiful, the singers were wonderful and, when the donations were added up, we had not only met the $3000 goal, we had exceeded it by over $700.   I will use this word again: humbling.

The next day, I received a call from my chiropractor who had made a generous donation, even though I had forgotten to invite him until the day of the event. I thanked him again, but he said that he had even better news.  The acupuncturist with whom he shares an office (whom I did not know and did not invite) had been telling one of her patients about the fundraiser and the school.  At the end of the session, her patient left a donation for $1000.  This was truly an expression of selfless compassion.

In the meantime, other donations have come in and we have exceeded the $5000 mark.   I am not only pleased to be able to repay my debt of gratitude to the children of the Jing Yu Xi Wang School, I am also proud of my own community for their generosity and compassion.   What a wonderful thing.

Doug

子路曰:愿闻子之志- “老者安之,朋友信之,少者怀之”
One of Confucius’ disciples once asked him: “What is your wish?” The answer was: “That the elderly will have peace, that friends will be true and that children will be cared for and cherished”

wonderful food compressed

wonderful food compressed