While on the train I pulled Flat Stanley out of my carry-on bag so that I could get a photo of him on the Chinese High Speed Railway system. When I looked back down there was the cutest little Chinese girl looking at me and Flat as if she wanted to know what I was doing and who was this friend I had with me. Her parents, from across the aisle had sent her over to say hi to me, as she had just started learning English in her pre-school classes. I had her hold Flat so I could take their photo together. It was all I could do to get Flat back from her. I tried to explain in my broken Chinese why I was traveling with a Paper Doll. That little girl was soooo “ku ai.” (Chinese for cute).
When we arrived the Hengyang East train station, we were met by two professors of business marketing department from Nan Hua Da Xue (the University of South China), one for whom I had met the previous year, Fanny, (Xiao Huan) and her colleague, Joy, (Zhang Bao Xin). Xiao Huan waved furiously when she saw us, leaving no doubt she and her friend was there to pick us up.
I am teaching at the University of South China in Hengyang, Hunan, China. It's a city of about seven million people and a campus of about 40,000. I will be teaching two sections on Principles of Marketing, one each for Joy and Fanny, and one class in Brand Management for Fanny. All total I will have five class meeting per week, but only three preps per week. Each class will have about 90 students. I teach in English and a little Chinese. My PowerPoints are in two languages. My Chinese professor friends, (Joy and Fanny) will be my teaching partner while I am here. They translate my PowerPoints into Chinese and we merge them into one file. What I can't communicate to them in my feeble Chinese, they will be translating for me. It's actually their classes that I will teach for the next four weeks.
Both of these Chinese professors were so excited to have us there for four weeks. Maybe because they were not going to have to teach much during that time. But they had plenty to do for me for class preparation and delivery. Fanny and Joy took Javen, Flat, and I back to the apartment where we would live for the next four weeks. I knew it well. I had lived there for four weeks on four other occasions, the summers of 2010-2013. I actually had to show them where the apartment was on the campus and which apartment we would occupy. After they made a quick perusal through the apartment to make sure everything that we would need immediately was in place they offered to take us to dinner. We were exhausted. One late night arrival in Shenzhen and an early rise didn’t really get us caught up on our sleep. We declined, gracefully explaining that we were tired and that we wanted to catch up with our Harding graduated, current English teachers, for this university that lived in the same apartment building. Joy said, “Why don’t we go to dinner tomorrow night and you can bring all of your American friends with you?” We gleefully accepted that offer!
Meanwhile, my former Harding student Rachel Weiss, who lived three floors above us and was expecting us, came bounding through the door to greet us throwing her arms around my neck! She brought with her two other former Harding students, Meredith Riddle and Ali James. Meredith I had met several times before, although I did not know her well. I had seen Ali around the Harding campus and had even skyped with her but had not met her in person before now. Joy and fanny was still there and told them all of our dinner plans for the next night!
I could blubber on and on about my admiration of Rachel Weiss. She’s beautiful (inside and out), talented, outgoing, loving, fun, never seems to be down, giving, energetic, great people skills and absolutely loves what she does. Plus, I have never seen a group of students, Chinese or otherwise, that is as crazy about their teacher as much as these students are about Rachel. If I am in another class and I mention that Rachel was one of my students in America, they swoon at the sound of her name and tell everybody that she is the best teacher they’ve ever had! And rightfully so, She. Is. Amazing! I playfully once told Rachel’s mother that if Rachel was ever available for adoption that I would be first in line! Wendy Weiss, returned the jesting comment with, “If you’ll pick up her school loan payments you can have her now!”
The next morning, on a Saturday, I got up early, (I usually do anyway, but I was wide awake from my jet lag). So I took my buddy Flat to the open market! The open market is sort of like a huge Farmers Market. The markets sell meat, eggs, fruits, and vegetables, just like grocery stores in America. Sometimes they sell strange foods, but strange foods can be delicious, too! They even had Scorpions for sale. I once wrote about the Chinese open markets that it is a "Cacophony of Chinese Culture and Cuisine!" Flat seem to have a good time loved the people he met! The Chinese folks buying and selling their produce and such seemed to enjoy Flat Stanley as well. They wanted to get their picture with him when I explained who he was and why I was doing this. They all wanted to send their greeting to my friends and family back in Mei Gua (America).
The next night came, we all gathered at our apartment building and walked the half-mile or so to the main commerce area outside the south campus gate. I suggested a restaurant that I had really liked the many years that I had been here before and they all agreed. It was one of their favorites as well. While at dinner I pulled out Flat Stanley and told them of the project that my grandson Gavyn we doing together. The Americans knew of flat Stanley, the Chinese did not.
The first few days I just visited a few classes to just to bring them greetings from Harding University and the USA. I always leave time at the end of my talks to let the students ask me questions... about almost anything. One student asked me how far away from home I was? I said, "I'm not really sure in miles/kilometers, but if I were any farther I think would actually be closer!", (they all had to think about that one). And yes, I told them of the story of Flat Stanley! I think he became more popular than I did! They lined up after class to get their photo made with Flat!
Occasionally, Javen and I would venture out to look around the city but I always took Flat Stanley with me looking for more and creative ways to show him to others so that Gavyn would have an amazing story to report back to his class. One day we went to McDonalds for Ice Cream and caught a few young girls, probably high school age, casting their stare over our way several times. I knew they were looking at Javen, but I walked over and introduced myself, and Flat Stanley to them!
During the entire next week of classes, I carried Flat Stanley with me and took many opportunities to introduce him and teach the students about the concept of learning about our world through geography, culture and people. As he had been the first week, Flat Stanley became very popular among the students.
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Steve Shaner, also known as Xie Yeye, is a professional story teller that delights in traveling to meet new and old friends. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.