Sunday, September 28, 2008


One never knows when one will discover a little jewel—a diadem—in a faraway place. We discovered one last Saturday evening. All the foreign teachers at our university—and indeed foreigners from across the city—were invited to a musical concert sponsored by the Shaanxi Province. It was in honor of the contribution that “foreign experts” had made to the province. Essentially it was an awards program. The provincial governor was there, and he handed out awards—Oscar-like—to both Chinese and foreigners who had been working on various international cooperation and exchange programs. This was followed by the concert.

And what a concert it was. A full orchestra came on stage, all in black tuxedos or dresses, just like the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC. Most of the instruments were those normally associated with a classical western orchestra: percussion, horns, basses, and so on. But the string section featured only a family of Chinese instruments I believe are called Huqin that has a drum-shaped, hollow, snake-hide covered sound box at the bottom from which extends upward a round stick on which are strung only two strings that were strummed with a bow. A small version called an erhu replicates a violin and a larger one, zhonghu, serves as a viola. Interestingly enough the sound is not dissimilar from their western cousins.

Then the conductor made her entrance. She was a statuesque woman with horn-rimmed classes and shinny, black hair that was pulled back rather severely in a ponytail that streamed glisteningly down her back and extended below her waist. She was dressed in the traditional western black tie and tails and was a strong presence on stage. She directed the orchestra commandingly through a variety of Chinese and western musical pieces. As she shook her head in time with the music, the movement flowed all the way down her hair like ripples in a pond.

The Chinese pieces featured names like, “The Jubilant Yellow Earth,” “Heavenly Road,” “The Butterfly Loves,” and “The Red Detachment of Women.” All were by Chinese composers but sounded very western. We also enjoyed the “Carmen” overture and a piece from La Traviata. It was a first-class performance. All these numbers were performed beautifully. The audience was on its feet for a standing ovation at the end and coaxed two encores from the orchestra. It was a terrific evening.

Friday, September 19, 2008


You never know what new and exciting thing is awaiting you just around the corner. Last week, the English department was looking for a couple of American teachers to help advertise the upcoming Pomegranate Festival. The fruit ripens around the end of September and apparently it’s a big deal. Elva and our next-door neighbor, Edith Brown, another BYU teacher, volunteered. They had no idea what they were in for.

They were picked up in a big, black, government car and driven for miles out into the country. Upon arrival at the pomegranate grooves, which covered a whole mountain, it seemed the entire press corps of Xi’an was there. They interviewed Elva and Edith (with the help of a Chinese translator from the college) and shot hundreds of photographs of them picking the pomegranates. Elva felt like a movie star and had a great time.

Afterwards they were treated to a lovely Chinese banquet with many different foods. Elva tried most of them but let many pass by. After the officials observed that Elva and Edith weren’t making it with the chopsticks, they took pity on them and gave them forks. By the way they were treated you would have thought they were very important people. Anyway, they were in several local newspapers the next day and even made the front page of one of them. So what started out as an ordinary day ended up with Elva's picture splashed across the front of a Chinese newspaper. Elva’s students were very impressed .

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Elva's Post

We have been in China for almost three weeks and wow have we been busy. I know we promised to write on our blogspot at least once a week but as you know it didn't get done. There are too many reasons to explain why that didn't happen, but I will try to fill you in on what we did get done.

We arrived in Xian late Wednesday night the 26th of August after 23 hours of traveling. They showed us our apartment and we went right to bed. We only slept a few hours because we were still on Virginia time. I got up and unpacked all seven of our suitcases. First problem was I had forgotten to pack a bath towel. We have wonderful BYU teachers across the hall and they loaned us one. They also took us to the store which is about a one mile walk to buy some needed supplies. It is a good thing there were four of us to carry it all back.

It is a lot of work to try to collect the things you need to set up an apartment. We bought a pot, a frying pan, a shower curtain, towels and wash clothes, and some dishes. We had some nice Chinese friends who went with us because every thing is written in Chinese. We also bought a very small washing machine and a microwave. I have learned that you only use one thing at a time or you blow out the circuit. Since we have no car, it really has been challenging trying to get everything home. Yesterday we bought two book cases, and two lovely young sales girls helped us carry them the two kilometers to our apartment. We tried to pay them but they would not take it. Every one is so very willing to help us.

On that first Friday here we had a meeting with the Dean of the Business Department and all the other teachers who will be teaching with us. The meeting was all in Chinese accept when they introduced us and had us talk a little about ourselves.

We started teaching classes on Monday. The students are all so happy to have a foreign teacher. They make us feel very special. Steve loves his classes. He is teaching two writing classes with 40 students in each class. He spends a lot of time correcting papers. He also teaches three oral English classes and one class on History of Western Civilization with 150 students in it. I went to his class this week and it was outstanding. I have been assigned to teach five classes of Listening and Speaking and three classes of Business English. We work very hard at getting our lessons prepared because each of our classes is two-hours long.

We live on what is called the old campus near the center of the city, but we teach on the new campus on the outskirts of town, about a 30-minute bus ride away. The traffic is crazy. I have never seen cars drive so close to each other and so fast. Every bus ride is a new adventure.

We eat many of our meals in the campus cafeteria. The food is very different and most of the things we have tried we have liked. Some of it is too spicy for us. But we found peanut butter and jelly in the store so P&J sandwiches are always a good bet. Eggs are also available, and they come in several shapes and colors.

Today is the third Sunday we have been here. A story about our Branch President was in this week’s Church News—look it up. We have about 20 people in our branch consisting of 12 BYU teachers, two young students from BYU, and a woman from South Africa who is running an orphanage, and assorted others. Last Sunday after church the whole branch took taxi's to the orphanage, had a pot-luck dinner, and visited the babies. Right now she has 19 babies waiting to be adopted. Some of them are in need of operations (e.g. cleft pallets) before that can happen. How I loved holding them and loving them. She is an amazing women. I hope we can do some service for her. Steve has been called to be a counselor to the President, and I was called to be a primary teacher although we have only one 11-year-old boy in our Primary. They called two primary teachers: one to give the lesson and one to do sharing time. We get the needed material off the Internet.

Life is surely different of us, but we are well and happy. Remember us in your prayers as we do you. We love and miss everyone more then I can express. Please send us your news by e-mail ( The internet is up most of the time now, and I will try to answer every e-mail.