Lisa McClure's China Diary


Lara and Jackie on the train Lara and Jackie on the train to Shenyang. Shenyang is the capital and largest city in Liaoning province, and we stopped off there, to try and have my laptop computer repaired at the Compaq service center.

Lara and Lisa on the train This train is a particularly clean and comfortable one, and not too crowded. The fare was only 20 yuan per person. However, it turned out to be an especially slow train, taking 4 1/2 hours to get to Shenyang. (The express train takes only 2 1/2 hours.) So, I had plenty of time to knit and talk on the way.

Jackie's father, Lao Chen Jackie's father, Lao Chen, is a keen photographer. He works in a business that designs signs for local businesses, and he's also active in the family restaurant.

Jackie's mother, Lao Ma Jackie's mother, Lao Ma, is an expert seamstress and tailor. She made a beautiful wool coat for me, and had her own sewing business for a number of years, until a downturn in the local economy forced her to close it and open a neighborhood restaurant. She still has twenty treadle sewing machines and a large work table in her home.

Tieling breakfast Here's a closeup of one of our marvelous breakfast with Jackie's family. It included hot rice cereal, leftovers from the night before, a rich meaty soup and hot and savory fried jiaozi. (potstickers)

Dancers in front of a new market This is a common sight. Many older people enjoy group dancing outside on a daily basis, no matter how hot or cold the weather is. And inflatable displays are very popular.

dragon balloons Spring festival is only a month away, and this upcoming year will be the Year of the Dragon, so dragons are beginning to appear everywhere. Notice, also, the large balloons floating in the sky. Here, they are inflated with hydrogen, not helium, and they are a beautiful and common sight in every city.

Jackie and some old friends Jackie poses with some old family friends. They are selling hot sweet potatoes in an outside stand. This is a very popular winter treat, because the sweet potatoes can double as hand warmers. The sweet potatoes are roasting inside the barrel, which has a coal fire burning in it.

Lara with her balloons Children are much loved and indulged with little treats, like these colorful balloons. The red hat that Lara is wearing was bought only a few minutes ago.

Tieling market Here's a view of Tieling, outside the old market. Notice all the rows of bicycles parked outside, and in the distance you can see the old tower.

closeup of one of the carved figures on the Tieling tower Closeup of one of the carved figures on the Tieling tower

Jackie with lucky red belt One New Year tradition is to wear a red belt with a good luck message printed on it. Jackie bought two of them for his parents.

a few of the dishes served at the New Year's Eve dinnet Just a few of the many dishes served at the New Year's Eve family dinner at Jackie's parents' restaurant.

Jackie and Lara The apartment buildings behind Lara and Jackie are fairly typical for this part of China. Apartment buildings are generally six or seven stories tall, and don't have elevators. Most buildings have several stairwells along their length, with doors to only three or four apartments on each landing, and no long hallways.

Lara and Jackie's father We wanted to see the first sunrise of the new millenium, and climbed a nearby hill, but heavy cloud cover prevented us from ever actually seeing the sun. The view was beautiful, however.

The tower near Tieling Here's another old tower, on the top of the hill outside of Tieling.

walking back down the hill We took a taxi up the hill, but walked back, down some pretty icy steps! By the way, according to local standards, this isn't a hill, but a mountain!

Jackie's mother with Tieling in the background Here's Jackie's mother, at the outskirts of Tieling.

Jackie's Grandfather, with calligraphy he painted for me Jackie's grandfather is a famous calligrapher, and he made this scroll especially for me.

Jackie's Uncle Jackie's uncle is an artist and practicing Buddhist. These are a few of his paintings.

Painting by Jackie's uncle

Painting by Jackie's uncle

Dragon drawn by Jackie's Uncle Closeup of an intricate dragon painted by Jackie's uncle. I am particularly fond of this piece.

Jackie's uncle is also famous for his work teaching art to children. He has published several books, teaches some very popular children's classes, and was kind enough to give Lara a little lesson during our visit.

Most art teachers in China encourage their students to copy the teacher's work slavishly. In contrast, Jackie's uncle encourages the children to use their imagination, while providing them with ideas and technical suggestions. Here, Lara's getting some ideas from other children's drawings.

Lara really enjoyed her private art lesson. Jackie's uncle inspired her to want to draw, and we were both sorry that we live too far away for her to take regular lessons with him. He's a wonderful teacher.

While we visited Jackie's, uncle, he painted a painting for while, while I watched. His talent is readily apparent.

I'm all the more impressed now that I know that while he paints with his right hand, he is another leftie! (like me)

One of the things I like best about Jackie's family is the way that they are willing to let me join in as a member of the family. Here, I am helping to make jiaozi.

Jackie's mother, mending all our clothes for us on our last evening in Tieling.

January 3, 2000

The autumn semester started last September 1, and nearly all of my classes finished by the end of December. So, I looked forward to a chance to travel and visit one of my student's homes for the New Year.

Jackie is one of my Sophomore students. He was a student in the first Oral English class I ever taught last spring, and I am very proud of his hard work and progress in English this year.

The relationship between a student and a teacher can be a powerful one in China, much more of a mentoring relationship than is common in America, I think. I have this relationship with several of my students, including Jackie. He is certainly one of the students that I expect great things from in the future.

So, when Jackie invited Lara and me to come to his hometown of Tieling, north of Shenyang, to spend New Year with his family, I was very happy to accept.

We took an early morning train on Wednesday, December 29th to Shenyang. Shenyang is the capital, and largest city in Liaoning province. I had asked Jackie to make a stop in Shenyang, because my laptop computer modem had died a couple of weeks earlier, and I was hoping to be able to get the Compaq dealer in Shenyang to repair it.

Shenyang has a large computer street, with lots of computer stores, software, and other technical gadgetry, so I was optimistic about being able to get my computer repaired. Unfortunately, we arrived in the early afternoon, just as all of the banks and stores were about to close for the New Year's holiday, so I wasn't able to get my modem repaired after all. (And I was off-line until the middle of January!)

We returned to the train station, and caught a train to Tieling, a small city north of Shenyang. On the way, Jackie told me that there's a famous joke about Tieling. You see, a well known Chinese comedian is from Tieling. And he's known for a comic routine he does about a country bumpkin who brags about how he's going to go to the big city to make his fortune. When he is asked which city he plans to go to, he replies proudly, "Tieling!". So, everybody in China knows Tieling, and laughs about how it is "China's biggest city!"

The train to Tieling was very crowded, and we had to stand in the entry way for most of the trip. We also ended up on another local train, so the trip took another couple of hours.

But the long ride gave Jackie the opportunity to tell me a little bit about his parents. He clearly loves and admires them very much. From Jackie's stories, I could tell that Jackie's father is a thoughtful and intelligent, good with his hands, and has an entrepreneurial spirit.

But mostly Jackie spoke about his mother, and I could tell that they have a very special relationship. Jackie's mother is only a few years older than me, and as he spoke of her youth and life, I wondered at the enormous difficulties she has had to face and overcome in her life. I realized that I was about to meet a very special woman, filled with drive and energy and a great depth of character, and I hoped that she would think well of me.

We went straight to the family restaurant when we arrived. Jackie's mother used to own a sewing business, but a few years ago, there was a sharp downturn in the economy, so she closed it down and opened a restaurant instead. I was happy to see that the restaurant is one of those comfortable neighborhood restaurants, with a TV in the front room, and several smaller rooms in the back. In a larger side room, a small coal stove was burning near the doorway, warming the room and providing a good place to steam jiaozi or heat water for tea.

I had met Jackie's parents one time before, in late August, when they came to Jinzhou to bring Jackie his fall tuition money, and to meet me. So, I recognized them when I saw them, and our meeting was easy and comfortable, despite the fact that we don't share a common language.

Having breakfast with Jackie's family in their restaurant

We ate all our meals at the restaurant. Here, you can see us sitting down to a wonderful breakfast in the restaurant's front room. On the left is the restaurant's cook, Mr. Sun. He's a close family friend, and soon asked me to call him Sun Dage (Elder brother Sun) which told me that he welcomed me as a friend, too.

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