Visit the Seniors’ Center with us!

We are preparing a volunteer outing to a senior center on May 28th. Visiting the senior center is one of the most splendid volunteer events held by Lotus. By joining us you can show your international community service by showing your love and care to seniors. It is also a wonderful experience to participate in the Confucian ideal of filial piety. You can find more information about our volunteer excursions on our website, and read about our most recent visit to the seniors’ center.

The detailed arrangement are as follows:

When: 8:00am—2:00pm on May 28th, 2011
Where:Suite 1201, C#XiWu Plaza, 12 Suzhou St. Haidian District
Who: Lotus Students, staff, host families, interns and volunteers

We will go to the senior center at 8:00 am, departing from Lotus Beijing office. The caring program will start at about 9:00a.m. until 12:00 pm. The program and includes caring activities such as singing, dancing, Chinese Cheirapsis, balloon games, holding a birthday party and listening Senior’s personal stories. From 12:00pm. to 2:00pm., we will return to the Lotus Beijing office to have lunch and share personal feelings about the experience.

If you would like to join us or you have something you’d like to perform for the seniors, please email us at before 6:00 pm. on May 26th (this Thursday).

The Lotus Leap of Faith

Before I tell about my experiences of the past few days, I’d like to tell you about how I got here in spite of my better judgement.

I am a mid-baby boomer, 55. I taught English as a second language 30 years ago in the US. I do speak some Mandarin, but not all that much.  I am married, have three kids ranging from 8-19.  This year, I had a couple of weeks of carry over vacation which didn’t jive with my wife’s or kid’s vacations, so the choice was, clean out the basement or go some place by myself…(the basement is really scary bad so the choice was easy).  I had been to China once before when I picked up my adoptive daughter in 2003 and I really liked it.  Sitting in a hotel room for two weeks didn’t sound too thrilling (still better than the basement gig, though), so I started ‘googling’.  I went from bed and breakfast to homestay and from homestay to volunteer.  There are LOTS of sites out there, but the Lotus site appealed to me.  I wanted to stay in the Beijing area and found that they had two opportunities: A nursing home and a school for migrant worker children.  At first, being an older guy, I sort of thought about volunteering at the nursing home.  I spend lots of time at the nursing home where my mother (now 100 years old) lives in Iowa and I know the routine.  Then, thinking of my long-gone days of teaching, I inquired about the school.

The folks at Lotus wrote back promptly and confirmed that I could volunteer at the school for just the 10 days and that they would work around my schedule in case I had any other wishes (sight seeing, etc).  They also said that they would place me in a host family.  If anybody my age is reading this, you might agree that the idea of living in someone else’s apartment doesn’t sound to appealing.  But what the heck!  Sitting in a hotel room by yourself doesn’t sound too fun either.  I do that enough for work.

My wife and friends kept asking: “Do you know if  Lotus is really reputable?”  I had to say that I didn’t.  I thought, ‘well, if this is all a bust, I can go and get that hotel room afterall’.  The communication I received from Lotus was always prompt and very accommodating and kind.  It was a leap of faith, and I’m so very happy that my trust was well founded.

I was picked up from the airport in Beijing by Livia who is soft-spoken and kind.  She took me to my host family, the Jin’s who live in a very nice apartment in the western suburbs of Beijing.  Mr and Mrs Jin are in their 30′s.  They have a 3 year old son and Mrs Jin’s mother lives with them.  They are very open, hospitable and helpful.  Their son addresses me as Yeye (grandpa) which is just fine with me.

On Friday (I arrived last Thursday), Livia came and picked me up from the Jin’s to take me to the school.  It was quite a drive and rather difficult to find.  I have to interject here that China’s incredibly rapid development has bettered the lives of millions and millions of people.  There are, however, still some sectors of the economy which will catch up someday, but have not as of yet.  The school is located in an area which is truly interesting and picturesque and incredibly poor.  The narrow street (one car wide) is lined with street food vendors, cigarette shops, bicycle repair shops and tiny vegetable stands.  Many Chinese migrant workers live there and you hear different dialects and smell different food.

The school is in a small wooded area.  It is a very old (or looks that way) brick structure with classrooms on either side and a courtyard in the middle.  We met the school director, Mr Wang in his unheated 10 X 10 office.  Livia interpreted when necessary and we set up a schedule for me in the next two weeks.  The entire time we were there, kids were peering though the windows to see the old foreigner.  As we went out, a throng was standing there giving me the peace sign and shouting “hello!”.

On Saturday, I had my first class from 1:30 to 4:00.  There were also some volunteers there from one of the local universities.  They were mostly education majors who come in as well.  They helped with translations as well.  There were about 20 kids in the class, all ranging from 11 to 13.  They were honestly excited to have me there.  We departed from the text rather quickly.  The kids are taught how to read and repeat after the teacher.  They repeated everything I said.  I started to depart from the text and tried to use the words in the text in a sentence.  Yikes!! Obviously, no one had ever done this before with them.  We had so much fun that they decided that they didn’t want to go to recess.  Other kids started to come in and sit down — I think a few came in through the window when my back was turned.  What the heck!  At least they were breaking the rules for educational purposes.   When 4pm rolled around, they didn’t want to leave…I was kaputt.   The photo is of the last stragglers with me after class was finally over.  It was a truly wonderful experience.

I am going back again this afternoon and will be working with some of the younger kids.  Hope it’s at least half as good as the first class.

I’ve written too much and I thank anyone who has held out this long reading my ramblings.  Will try to keep my stories brief going forward.

[nggallery id=6]

Traffic in China

You’ve probably heard that traffic in China is crazy. By western standards, it certainly is crazy. I’ve been here since September though, and I’m becoming numb. In addition, I recently travelled to India for a friend’s wedding. Traffic in India is a complete disaster. It makes me think everything is perfectly ordinary here in China. In any case, I give you this video so you can judge for yourselves.

Every time I look out the office window at the street below, it makes me laugh. Someone, a driver, a pedestrian, a cyclist, is always doing something ridiculous. If you find yourself studying in China this summer, and you’re homesick or frustrated by your Mandarin studies, just take a look at the traffic outside your window. It’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Beijing’s First Snowfall of the Season

Can you believe it’s February already and the first snowfall didn’t happen until last night? This is the first precipitation we’ve seen since October. It’s been extremely dry, and surprisingly sunny for the past few months. Many places in northern, central and eastern China are experiencing droughts this winter, the worst in 60 years.

View from 12th floor at 12 Suzhou St the morning after Beijing's first snowfall of the season.

View from 12th floor at 12 Suzhou St the morning after Beijing's first snowfall of the season.

Winter crops have been affected. The UN even issued a warning that global grain prices might rise in the spring if China’s crops fail and it has to start importing grain. We’ll see what happens come spring. I’m not sure how much this region relies on snow melt run off for its spring planting season.

November Senior Center Visit

Lotus, along with several of its host families, volunteers, and students, made it’s most recent trip to a senior’s center last November. We put on a talent show for the seniors, which included songs, a poetry recital, and live music. We also had a small birthday celebration for the elders.

After the performance was over and the birthday cake was gone, Lotus volunteers made the rounds to visit residents who weren’t able to attend the event. We also distributed gifts of moisturizing cream to all the residents to get them through the cold, dry winter months in more comfort.

Below are some photos of the visit for your enjoyment.

[nggallery id=1]