Thursday, May 29, 2014

Charlton Tenured and Promoted

On May 22, 2014 during the spring meeting of the Board of Governors of MWSU, Dr. Michael Charlton was awarded tenure and promoted to the rank of Associate Professor of English and awarded distinction in the area of teaching effectiveness. Michael will also assume the duties of Director of Graduate Studies this fall.

At the same meeting, Dr. Susan Hennessy was awarded distinction in service at the rank of Professor of French, and Dr. Mike Cadden was awarded distinction in scholarship at the rank of Professor of English.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Recent Grad Hunt Begins Work at KQ2

Matthew Hunt, Convergent Media `14, is all set to work for the operation he interned for this spring. He will begin work immediately as one of four Creative Services Producers for KQ2.

Matt will start creating commercials and promotional pieces for clients in the Northwest Missouri area. Matt will work one-on-one with clients to create their commercials that will air on channel 2 in St. Joseph. He will be relying on his skills in Adobe Creative Suite, photography, video journalism, and past job experiences in advertising and marketing.

Matt was the 2014 outstanding graduate in Convergent Media.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Episode 17: Silk Worms and Bats

Tassel cart
One thing I absolutely love about our life in China are the people with carts, blankets, and make-shift tables who set up shop along the back street every day. The people who come to sell things are different every day. They come, they set up their blanket/table/park their bike, and then they are gone, never to be seen again. I have learned to seize the buying opportunity and it is always with giddy anticipation that I peruse what is for sale that day. Currently there are lots of cherry sales-people, bikes with baskets loaded with lovely red cherries, as cherries are currently in season. Three weeks ago it was strawberries and mulberries. Before that, throughout the winter, apples.

Fruit seller outside back gate. This week
featuring cherries, mangoes, and mystery fruit.
It is always a big surprise to me who shows up to spread their wares. This week lots there are women with small carts selling red tasseled embroidered charms, which I am assuming is something related to the upcoming holiday, Dragon’s Boat Day, but I have yet to ask. Last week there was a man selling beads and old silver coins. Today I bought three house plants from a man with a lovely selection of rich-looking orchids, cacti, and various philodendrons. Ten yuan each (about $1.50).

Because the back gate is directly across from the primary school, it is an ideal location to hawk gewgaws and food snacks as parents and children are milling about four times a day: drop off in the morning; pick up for lunch; drop off after lunch; and the mad dash home at the end of the day. We have seen people selling small mice, bunnies in cages, ducklings, cotton candy made on the back of a bike with a small generator, tong hulus (fruit on a stick covered with sugar). All of keen interest to small children coming and going from school. About two weeks ago there was a man with a dingy canvas spread on the ground and a cardboard box. Children were clustered around him, shoving one yuan bills into his hands as he rustled around in the box and dropped a few things into a cone made from cast-off paper, handing the cone to the eager child.

Baby in a basket.

Hmmm. We craned in for a closer look. Caterpillars. White-ish and grubbish looking. Nothing as pretty as a monarch caterpillar or those furry orange and black varieties we regularly see back home. But the man was doing a roaring business.

It wasn’t long before I began hearing the scuttle-butt about the caterpillars, or actually, silk worms. Apparently, this is a long-held tradition for school children in China. Zephaniah’s tutor, Olivia, waxed nostalgic about the silk worms she would buy and watch metamorphose as a little girl. As it turned out, most of Zephaniah’s friends had already started their cardboard box of silkworms, sold to them by the man near the gate. The man was also selling leaves – someone told me mulberry, but that didn’t seem right; they certainly didn’t look like the mulberry leaves I know – to feed the worms as they only eat one thing.


Mystery fruit up close: spiky and fuzzy-textured, but
sweet like cherries (with a pit). "Yang Mei" in Chinese.
Growing up in Missouri and Nebraska, Zephaniah has always had monarch caterpillars in the yard. We collect one or two each summer, typically in August, and feed them milk weed or bind weed and watch them become chrysalises (monarchs make the most beautiful jade-colored, gold flecked chrysalises of any insect I have ever seen), and then watch them unfold into wet-winged butterflies that we let go into the garden. We are pros at nurturing caterpillars through their life cycle. Or so I thought.

Silk worms doing what they do.


A few days later, we stopped and bought our own paper cone of silkworms, placing them in a cardboard box and dutifully refreshing their leave diet every morning and evening. We had a couple casualties; two turned a bad color and then curled up and died. I was getting extremely nervous because we were running out of leaves and I had no knowledge of where to get more and the man at the gate had disappeared (I have learned that I need to buy whatever I see at the gate today and now because tomorrow it will be gone and then I will suffer deep regret). We ran out of leaves with one remaining silk worm still foraging around. Not being able to stomach the idea of starving a silk worm, I had Z release it into the garden with the hopes that there would be something out there it could eat – or at least it could become a bit of breakfast for a sly bird instead of dying in a box in our apartment.

Three little worms actually did their duty and spun their silk worm cocoons. Z was immediately talking about how he could take the pods to the tailor and have her make silk out of them and then a suit . . . The tailor is amazing, but I think creating silk out of pods may be beyond her expertise. 
Silk worm cocoons.
Z was impatient for the silk moths to emerge from the cocoons. I warned him that touching them would likely not urge them forward in their evolution. Impossible advice. When he went to Simon’s house and saw that Simon’s cocoons had all emerged to lovely, fluttery moths (silk moths can’t fly, so they just reside in the box until they die, I guess). He came home from Simon’s and immediately picked one of his cocoons open to see what was taking so long. “I knew it was dead,” he said, as the brown-ish, armadillo-looking casing of something fell out of the pod. “Well, it is now,” I remarked. “Leave the other two alone, bub.”

We have yet to have any moths. The little silk pods are looking quite lonely in their cardboard box surrounded by dry, shriveled leaves. Z shakes the box a bit every day. I am sure that is not helping things. Juan said the moths live in the box and lay eggs on the old cocoon wrappings and if you save the eggs, they will hatch the next year. Simon immediately warned us, “But don’t try to take them back to America with you! It is forbidden!” Good advice. I don’t really want to get snagged by customs on my way back into the U.S. because of an interest in the life cycle of silk worms.

I’m not sure that silk worms, especially their cocoons, can be considered “pets,” but being denied the  company of resident felines for the past 10 months, we are both missing creatures in the house. That is why when the bat showed up a couple nights ago, we were seriously considering whether we could actually just keep it, you know, as a pet. They’re nocturnal. We would be asleep as it flew around and ate whatever mosquitoes were in our place. We would get rid of the pesky mosquitoes and we could talk to the bat as it slept during the day. It could happen, right?
"Happy Mother's Day" sign that Zephaniah
made in calligraphy class.
I was just putting Zephaniah to bed when the bat surprised me by swooping up and down the length of our hall. “Bat!” I exclaimed. Neither of us are strangers to bats. We regularly have them in our houses in Lincoln and St. Joe . . . in fact one year a little brown bat decided to hibernate at eye level in our basement. One spring day it was gone. I opened up the basement door and I guess it found its way outside. Consequently, bats don’t freak us out. We find them cute and interesting. But it is always exciting to have one in the house; we like the fast-paced logistics of figuring out how to get it back outside where it belongs.

Z came running and was nearly beaned in the head by the swooping creature. The bats that typically find their way inside tend to be young, the teen-age version of flying mammals – stupid and careless. They curiously or recklessly crawl into a hole, find themselves inside someone’s house and then can’t seem to figure out how to get back out. Because they are young, their echolocation is not as good yet (bad drivers), so they panic and just swoop around. And then people in the house start to panic and begin hitting them with things. It ends badly for everyone, but especially for the adolescent bat.

Just for the record, very few bats carry rabies. People freak right out and call animal control, but if you call animal control – no matter what the kind woman or man says who shows up with a net – that bat is a goner. They do not “catch and release” bats. They have to euthanize them. So, if you are faced with a teenage bat driving badly in your house, do the bat a favor and just open a window and shoo it in that direction. It doesn’t want to be in your house any more than you want it there.
Paint brush calligraphy; Z is writing a poem.
As we clung to the walls and watched the bat swoop back and forth, back and forth, I came up with a plan. I closed the doors to the bedrooms and went downstairs to notify the security guard, thinking perhaps he had a net or something. In China, bats are considered a sign of good luck and longevity, so I was confident the guard wouldn’t go nuts and want to smash the bat – as so many people in the states seem to do when confronted with a bat in their residence. He didn’t have a net, but he came up and we both watched the bat swooping and swooping, nearly missing us every time. Impressive wing span, though. Really impressive.

“Let’s keep it as a pet!” Z yelled from the end of the hall. “It’s cute!”

Frannie K. Stein, a crack scientist in a children’s books series of the same name, keeps bats as pets. Therefore, Z believes this is a viable option.

“We can’t keep a bat as a pet!” I responded as we all three stood by, backs against the narrow hallway walls, watching the bat sail by us, swoop and turn; sail back, swoop and turn. I thought, “Wow. You would think that little bat would be exhausted by now.”

The security guard asked me to get a piece of cloth. He attempted to toss it over the bat as it swooped by, but the wee creature was too quick. Finally the bat did grow tired and neatly flew up to the corner by the open door – s/he just couldn’t seem to figure out that the door was open – and nestled there, a small, blackish pod with cute little tea-cup ears sticking out.

“OK. Good. It will sleep there. Just close your bedroom doors. No problem,” the security guard nodded, smiled and left.

Huh? OK. I guess so. Why not? They are nocturnal. Perhaps s/he had done her hunting for the night. I was keeping an open mind. Not that I wanted to get in the business of running a bat youth hostel, but maybe an overnight bat guest wouldn’t be bad. Bats – especially young ones – typically sleep about 20 hours a day, so she was likely bedding down for the night.

With the 12 foot ceilings, neither the bat nor I had much choice. I couldn’t get up there to reach it (as a veteran bat catcher, I have had great success scooping bats into plastic containers or bowls and then releasing them outside). It was clearly snuggled in the corner and intended to stay. Both Z and I craned our necks upwards, bid him/her a good night, and went to bed.

S/he was there the next morning, sleeping soundly as we went about our days. Zephaniah played the violin, a breakfast serenade. We both dashed off to our perspective schools. When I returned at 5 p.m. s/he was still snoozing in her corner. Z came home and reported on his day. We had dinner. The dusk began closing in. Olivia came over to help Z with his Chinese assignments. I was beginning to think something was wrong with the bat: time to wakey-wakey, but s/he wasn’t stirring. S/he was still snuggled up, nose tucked into the wrap of delicate wings, little ears peeping out of her/his folded-up self. I opened the nearest window, the night closing in and evening sounds of babies chortling, birds chirping, and distant dog barks emerging from the garden. “Come on, little bat! Plenty of mosquitoes! All outside. Yummy, yummy. Time to get up!” Nothing. I was thinking about getting a stick to poke the tiny beast into action, but decided to do dishes first. I didn’t want to be a rude host.

When I came from the kitchen less than five minutes later, she was gone. Not even a good-bye? I expected to have at least that. I closed the window and liked the idea of our house guest gobbling up pests in the courtyard, now just one of the many bats that careen around in the Xi’an night.

Another Trip to the Tailor

Fabric market: Gaudy Stall
My sister wants Song Le, the tailor, to make her a tux. We dutifully went to the fabric market and picked out the fabric and then took it to the tailor along with Dona’s measurements and the photos of the tux Dona had emailed. While we were ordering things from Song Le, Z had in mind a couple other costumes he wanted made: dramatic caftans, exaggerated suits, and heel-length capes of shimmery gold and fire-engine red lame. He loves drawing pictures of what he wants the tailor to do, explaining to her the fine details. He delights at how she can create exactly what he wants from his sketch.

SongLe and Z are a match made in heaven. She thinks he is a hoot and is committed to getting every detail correct for him. Together they will chat and draw and modify and discuss the fine details of each outfit he wants made. On the other hand, she is wholly uninterested in making my sister a tux. Or so it seems.

We dropped off the tux/costume order months ago. I called a couple times and she put me off. We had Tiantian call again and finally, finally Song Le said, “Come on Sunday.”

Z and Song Le
I was assuming, of course, that this meant everything was done (the tux and  Z’s costumes).

Nope. She hasn’t even started on the tux. Has no interest, really, in making the tux. She had, however, finished two of Z’s costumes. And – never to miss a moment to get more things made – Z gave her fabric and two more sketches for two more costumes. I am cutting him off after these two. We need the tux done before we leave. And at this rate, that is going to be pushing it.

Song Le works out of a very small room with bunk beds next to the women’s shower at the nearby Petroleum University (yes, a university where one majors in all things regarding petroleum – only in China!). She has mounds (and I mean mounds) of work that is waiting to be completed: hems and patches; repairing seams; material and sketches of clothing that people want her to make for them), but the only person who seems to be getting anything out of her these days is apparently Zephaniah.


One of Z's design sketches.

Red suit with cape
This time Zephaniah delivered unto her a green lame fabric with a design for a Sherlock Holmes coat as well as a black vinyl-looking latex/spandex “fabric” (a loose term since this sort of material feels more like Saran Wrap and would likely melt if he got too close to a campfire) for a “super villain” cat suit that has a red-glittery heart appliqued on the front.

When we go to the fabric market – several blocks of stall after stall of all kinds of fabric you can imagine, Z gravitates towards the stalls with all the “costume” fabric, the kind of place that is the haven of drag queens and beauty queens and people without a sense of what it means to say “gaudy.” Z immediately honed in on a black, rubber-looking material and then moved on to the shiny, shimmery, neon polyester. I thought, “If I know my child, that black rubber stuff is what he is going to come back to.” Sure enough. It was exactly what he needed for his cat suit design. As we were leaving the market, purchases in hand, Z said, “When I grow up, I am going to wear my black cat suit to work.” I suppose he believes he won’t get bigger between now and then? Or perhaps that the lycra in the fabric will stretch to fit? Either way, I worried about a line of work where the uniform or “appropriate business attire” included a black cat suit.

Zephaniah is always thrilled to see Song Le and I think the feeling is mutual. He is extremely complimentary of what she turns out and spends long minutes preening in front of her full-length mirror, vamping as various characters, and exclaiming over the luscious details of Song Le’s work. As Zephaniah and Song Le were discussing the finer points of his newest brainstorms, I kept trying to interject, “But work on my sister’s tux first.” Song Le politely ignored me. I said to Zephaniah, in English, “Tell her to do your aunt’s tux first.” He did, but he met with similar success. Song Le winked at him, a conspiracy that excluded me and my sister's tux.
Yellow tunic with cape.
Song Le told us to come back in two weeks. I am going to lose my mind if we go back in two weeks and the only thing done is the green lame Sherlock coat and the black rubber cat suit.

Z wore the latest hell-fire red creation home, cutting quite a picture. The full cape and suit are brutally hot (not unlike being rolled in plastic and told to walk along an asphalt highway at noon on an August day). Still, fashion first. Zephaniah was unwilling to even peel off the cape. Small children in our path would turn and gape, wondering what super hero was in their midst. I’m never going to lose him in a crowd, that is for sure. On the way home, Z turned to me and said, “At the Creative White Guys Convention, I am going to be the most fashionable.” Creative White Guys Convention? What does that even mean? And, yes, if there is such a thing, he will be noticed.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

EML Scholarships Announced

Scholarships for the 2014-15 Academic Year have been awarded. Descriptions of the scholarships can be found on the Financial Aid website.

Joseph and Minnie Doherty Scholarship: Betsy Lee, Michele Pippins, and Casey Leslie

Frances and Marceline Davis Scholarship: Danielle Johnson, Morgan Rathman, Jessica Walter, and Tinsley Underwood

Frances Flanagan Book Award: Tinsley Underwood

Sandra Jacobs Recognition: Jennifer Ingraham

Jennifer A. George Memorial Scholarship: Taylor Enyeart

Richard B. Taylor Scholarship: Jessika Eidson

Sandra J. Stubblefield Memorial Scholarship: Danielle Johnson

Western Excellence Awards: Charlilyn Wells, Meghan Stevens, and Jared Lowe


Monday, May 12, 2014

MAA Program Graduates Three

From L to R: Ms. Zhang, Dr. Jeney, Mr. Henderson, Dr Adkins, Ms. Huang, Dr. Martens
EML graduated three students from the MAA, Written Communication program on May 10. Siyi Zhang, Huan Huang, and Mark Henderson were recognized at Western's first outdoor commencement in decades.

Mark begins work at Columbia College in Columbia, MO in a few weeks. Siyi and Huan will complete a year of work in the joint master's program between Xidian University and MWSU and have degree from both institutions by his time next year.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Hennessy Recognized as Distinguished Teacher

The Alumni Association is proud to announce that Dr. Susie Hennessy, Professor of French, will receive the Association's 2014 Distinguished Faculty Award. "The award is presented to faculty members who have a lasting positive influence on their students as well as exhibit excellence in teaching," said Colleen Kowich, Director of Alumni Relations. "The Alumni Board could not have chosen a better candidate than Dr. Hennessy for this honor."

The Alumni Awards Banquet will be held on Friday, October 24, 2014 during Homecoming Weekend.

Susie joins the ranks of other EML faculty to win the award:
Betty Sawin (1988)
Isabel Sparks (1989)
Jeanie Crain (1997)
Jane Frick (2011)

Congratulations, Susie!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Episode 16: Lhasa, Tibet: The Rooftop of the World

A couple years ago, on a mountain top in Colorado, I overheard a couple young people one-upping each other in a contest of “Well, I am going to . . .” “I think the next peak I want to try is Pike’s peak.” “Yeah, that would be sweet. But I want to go to the Alps. Climb there.” “Yeah, totally. .  . After that, though, I want to go to Kilamanjaro. I hear that totally rocks.” “Oh, yeah. Me, too.” Contemplative silence. Then the most jock-swaggering of the pair spoke, “But Tibet. That’s the ultimate, right? I am totally going to climb in Tibet.” “Yeah! Oh! Me, too! Let’s do it! Let’s go to Tibet! Let’s meet there . . . in like 2014. I’ll graduate in May 2014. Let’s meet in Tibet!”

View out hotel window
And that was the end of it because, as anyone overhearing the conversation could tell, it stopped at Tibet. Tibet was the ultimate. There was no topping Tibet.

At the time I rolled my eyes in that way adults do when kids talk stupid smack with each other. I felt like interjecting, in my best teen twang, “Yeah. Like, right. Tibet in 2014. Let’s do it, man!” Dick-wagging pipe dreams, I scoffed. Adolescent hubris.
It never crossed my mind that I would be the one to find myself in Tibet in May 2014. Never in a million years.

Yet here I am. With Zephaniah. 2014. Tibet. Wild. I wonder if either of those two college students made it. 

Our journey to Tibet was the culmination of our travels in China. We have been to the east coast cities, the southern beaches, the gorges and Yangtze River. We have traveled to see waterfalls and kung fu boy monks. We have walked on the wall and cuddled a panda (well, Z did). We have gazed over pits of terra cotta warriors, played with monkeys, hiked up mountains, soaked in hot springs, biked on top of the Old City Wall, visited the God of Hell, and seen Mao. We have patronized country artists and heard some classic (ear-splitting) Chinese opera. Our last big trip of the year was flying into Lhasa, Tibet and experiencing a wholly different culture.

A little history: China believes Tibet belongs to them. That is why, in the states, you sometimes see bumper stickers that say “Free Tibet.” Politically/liberal-minded folks find this Chinese occupation of Tibet appalling. In 1959 the Chinese government marched into Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, and seized power. The Dali Lama, the religious and political leader of the Buddhist country, was sent into exile – and has been gone ever since. The Tibetans are peace-loving Buddhists, so they didn’t have a chance against tanks and guns. 

While China believes Tibet is part of China, Tibet and Tibetans believe China is not part of them. Nevertheless, because the Chinese government has been a military occupying force for the past 50+ years, the Chinese government controls Tibet. The Chinese government will not allow any foreigners to travel to Tibet without a permit. This must be procured through a travel agency, so a hopeful and interested tourist must ask the government if – pretty please – whether he/she can go to Tibet. Even if the permit is granted, there is no “meandering about” for foreign tourists. You must have a government-approved guide every moment you are in Tibet. Must. The guide will meet you at the airport or at the train station and be attached at your hip for the duration of your visit. You must have a documented itinerary and you are not supposed to deviate from it. You are limited to excursions in the city of Lhasa, unless you have a different permit that will allow travel exclusively to the places listed.  These strict regulations of foreign tourists in Tibet are to prevent any more bad press from leaking out about the Chinese occupation there.

Woman selling prayer beads in Drepung Monastery
The U.S. government has done their fair share of cultural occupation and annihilation. Native Americans. The history and legacy of slavery. Most recently: Iraq. Afghanistan. Iran. We tend to believe the narratives, the fictions, our governments tell us about their reasons for occupying other people’s countries. As someone who lived in an African/Muslim country for three years, I was outraged at the narrative the Bush and then the Obama administration peddled regarding the backward ways, the terrorist culture, and the “we must free the girls and women” junk that was trotted out to convince American citizens than in fact the wars/occupations were good things. This well-spun propaganda was an excuse to vilify the very cultures and countries our government had invaded for the profits gained by war and access to oil. 

Lhasa is said to be “the rooftop of the world.” That is because it sits at an altitude of 12,000 feet – the highest city on the planet. If a wannabe tourist is stupid enough to go online and look at travel reports for people who have visited Lhasa, he/she will read a raft of horror stories about altitude sickness and ruined vacations due to nausea, migraines, vomiting, and heart attacks from thin air.

As a regular traveler to Colorado and hiker of mountains higher than 12K feet, I wasn’t very concerned, but I made sure Z and I took some altitude medicine just in case. It is traditional Chinese medicine, a grainy powder that looks and tastes like dirt. Our guide told us, when we arrived, not to shower or bathe for three days. When I inquired why, he said we had energy on our skin that we brought with us. If we washed it off, it would weaken us. Better to keep it on. I am inclined to say the dirt tincture and the no shower advice worked since neither Z nor I had any harsh altitude issues.

Hotel entrance
The air, however, is thin. Z kept trying to run and jump in his typical fashion, only to end up panting and holding his noggin: “head rush.” I would remind him, “Take it slow. Don’t run. Just walk.” Impossible advice to follow. Off he would skip only to slow down like a spent wind-up toy after a few, short hops. “Whoa. Head rush.” Yup. 86% oxygen saturation does make one slow down a bit.

The other thing it does it makes you giddy. One evening Z and I were kicking a soccer ball around the hotel courtyard and all of a sudden we were both howling in inexplicable laughter. What was so funny? I have no idea. Not enough oxygen to the brain. As both Z and I doubled over in senseless, ab-aching giggles I thought, “Why are we laughing? Why does it feel like I just shared a joint with my child?” 

I tried running a couple days after we arrived. It was comic. I would run for about seven minutes and
Potala Palace
then pant and walk for three. Run. Pant and walk. The locals would look at me like I was insane. I guess I was.

Potala Palace, one of the main tourist stops in Lhasa, requires another 2,000 foot climb from foot to top. Everyone said, “Save the palace for one of your last days after your body has had a chance to adjust to the thin air.” Our wiry little chain-smoking Tibetan guide took us to Potala on the second day. Perhaps to test our mettle. Perhaps to gauge our commitment. Perhaps to mock the fat, white Americans. I made it to the top of the palace, no problem, but Z was bent over, hands on knees, after the first 1,000 feet or so of nearly vertical stairs. Our guide, Tsenreng – which means “strong” in Tibetan – had pity on the wee, winded and pasty American lad and took him down to the gardens and I hooked up with one of Tsenreng’s buddies who was shepherding a couple of Brit tourists through the high-altitude palace. 

In a small moment, I did point out to Z that there were young mothers climbing up the palace steps with toddlers strapped to their backs. He refused to be guilted or bullied into continuing and had a fine time down in the garden exercising his lower body muscles.

Pilgrims turning prayer wheels at the foot of Potala Palace
Because Lhasa is the political, cultural, and religious capital of Tibet, there are lots of Buddhist pilgrims who visit the palace and temples and gardens. These pilgrims are easy to spot as they tend to dress in traditional garb (long, woolen skirts with colorful aprons for the women) and are spinning prayer wheels and counting beads as they walk. As they walk, they recite scripture or say mantras. One of the most common mantras is “Om Ma Ne Pad Mai Hum” or “God/desses, demi-god/desses, prophets, people, animals, demons” – the hierarchy of beings in a spirituality that believes in reincarnation, Karma, and just desserts. 

Z bought a ring with the “Om Ma Ne Pad Mai Hum” mantra on it at a gewgaw stall outside one of the temples and Tsenreng was aghast that someone would carve the mantra on a ring . . . think of
where a young man’s hands go! Tsenreng said the mantra was much too sacred to be on anything that would get dirty. I asked him if it would be better to get a string and hang it around Z’s neck. He said that would be OK. As long as Z took it off when he took a shower to prevent his body dirt from washing over it.

Walking through the temples (lots of temples) I would hear the hum of the “Om” chant. It starts low and tends to vibrate through the middle of your body, carrying you along with the mass of people as if connected by the very sound. I found myself “om”ing along with the pilgrims almost involuntarily.

In the temples people would bring thermoses and jars of yak butter to offer to the gods and demi-gods or departed Dali Lama’s. The pilgrims would also leave money or fruit or even beer at the altars/shrines within the temples. Tibetans are partial to barley beer, which I hope the god/desses like better than I did: too bitter and not enough carbonation. One of Z’s favorite temple activities was sticking small bills into crevices and under statues as we weaved through the temples, admiring the golden statues, the history-telling murals, and intricate tapestries that covered every inch of wall space. No one would ever accuse the Tibetan Buddhists of being minimalists when it comes to interior decorating. 

Our days in Lhasa were filled with visits to monasteries, temples, and gardens. Each monastery or temple had a unique history and pilgrims would travel to the temple or monastery for different reasons. The Drepung Monestary, built into the side of a mountain in the 7th century, was known for
its 45 meter square Thangka, a painting of a Buddha. The gargantuan thangka is only rolled out on a mountain side pallet once a year, but stored inside the temple in a really loooooooooong cupboard when not in use. The pilgrims believe that walking under the cupboard will bring them luck. The cupboard is suspended above the floor of the temple about three feet, so walking under it is easier for kids than adults. Z joined the thangka line and did the necessary hunch-walk under the 45 meter length of cupboard. I was convinced the man in front of him, carrying a baby on his back, would not make it through the walk without either losing his balance and pitching forward or thonking the baby’s head against the bottom part of the cupboard.

At the Sera Monastery (est. 1419) the monks are known for healing people of bad dreams (casting out pesky bad-dream demons). Tibetans bring their children to the monks to be blessed/healed and there were many young children/toddlers and babies brought before the monks to be smudged the day we were there. Z got into line with the rest of them and placed his face against a dirty tapestry and genuflect before a yak-faced god, then presented his face to a monk who smeared a greasy, sooty mark on his nose. Bad dreams be gone. Z generally doesn’t suffer from bad dreams, but he has a recent one about not having good cards at a Pokemon tournament, which caused him to cry out in his sleep. The dreams of the privileged class.
I think the Sera monks must also have a soft spot in their hearts for dogs because that monastery was filled with dogs and puppies. One is always immediately aware of the difference between a developed country and a poor country by the status of and concern for animals. In the states, we tend to anthropomorphize our pets and treat them better than most children are treated in other places of the world. In poor countries like Tibet animals are left to their own devices, even if that means brutality and starvation. There were several dogs at the monastery that looked close to death from starvation and one dog with a broken leg that shivered helplessly by some stone steps. Z and I both spied a puppy carrying a bloody, dead kitten around in his mouth. 

These scenes are hard. Even harder are the dirty urchins who beg on the streets in Lhasa and outside the temples. Looking not unlike characters out of a Dickens novel, we would fill their hats with bills and look guiltily away as we hurried by to our next Tibetan adventure, the contrast between their lives and Z’s unfathomable and inexplicable.

One of the rituals the pilgrims perform on their way to the temples is to do a full-body, to the ground, genuflect, and then rise up again to full height. With their feet tied together. It looks like a tremendous workout, to say the least. And they don’t just do one of them, but hundreds of them. They count out the number on their prayer beads.

Tsenreng said these extreme-sport genuflections, that make the kneeling and rising at a Catholic mass look like a parlor game, are often done from great distances away. Sometimes a pilgrim does the inch
worm crawl from his/her home village to the temple. He said they tie their feet together because to have your feet move apart is seen as bad energy, disrespectful to the gods. Ditto for your fingers, so most pilgrims wear wooden mitts on their hands, both to protect them from the continual scraping against the stones and cement and to keep their fingers together. No protection for the knees that I saw. I would want some knee pads as well, I think.

This is how one of these genuflections goes: Stand straight and bend to kneeling. Go from kneeling to
lying face down on the ground. Sweep your arms, snow-angel-like, from over your head to your sides. Bring your hands to your chest level and push/pull yourself up to a standing position. Repeat x 100 or so. Who needs Pilates or hot yoga?

On one of our forays outside of Lhasa, we were speeding along the road about 60 km per hour and passed a pilgrim, in the middle of nowhere, doing his inch-worm crawl on the narrow shoulder of the highway. We were about 70 km from the temple in Lhasa. He was on his ways to the Jokhang Temple, I presume. If he didn’t get killed by a car or truck first. He was making his way hour after hour, day after day, doing the inch-worm genuflections until he reached the temple gate. Holy yak.

Monks at Sera Monastery
We saw the pilgrim on our way home from the Yang Bajing hot springs. It was snowing that morning when we got up, so a great day to go sit in some really hot water in the mountains. The hot springs are “the highest hot springs in the world” and the energy from the springs and geysers has been harnessed to supply most of the energy for the city of Lhasa. 

The water was beyond hot, i.e. 40-60 degrees Celsius (105-140 degrees Fahrenheit). The water was so scorching that in one area, far too hot to even touch, some of the workers has put eggs in the water to cook for lunch. 

The day we were there the springs were deserted. We were the only tourists. Because we were the
Cooking eggs in the hot springs
only ones there, we were quite the attraction in and of ourselves. The workers followed us around, no matter what pool we chose to play or lounge in, smiling and laughing at our forays. I felt like a dolphin at SeaWorld.

In packing for Tibet, I didn’t think to pack my bathing suit so I had to buy one at the springs (there is always a bathing suit stand outside hot springs). Typically I like two-piece bathing suits. I have tried one-piece suits but they always seem to squish my boobs, cut into my shoulders, ride up my butt or bag around me like wet diapers. However, the woman at the bathing suit stand took one look at me and handed me a one piece. Great. 

Having never seen me in anything but a two-piece suit, when I emerged from the changing room, Z guffawed and spit, “What the heck is that?”
Me: “Leave me alone. It’s a one-piece bathing suit.”
Z suppressed a chuckle. “What happens when you fart in that thing?”
Me: (getting neck deep in water as soon as possible to avoid further humiliation) “What? I don’t know! Ewww. Why would you even think of that? What?”
Z: “Come on! Fart! Let’s see what happens.”
Me: “No. People can’t just fart on command.”
Z: “I can.” Bubbles rose suspiciously in close proximity.
Me: “Disgusting. Please never put ‘farting on command’ on your resume under ‘Special Skills’.”

Throughout our three hour soak in the various pools at the springs, surrounded by snow-capped mountains, Z would periodically ask me, “Have you farted yet? You will tell me when you do, right?”
When it came time to leave, our fingers and feet shriveled and white, Z said, “No! I don’t want to leave until you show me what happens when you fart in a one-piece bathing suit.”
“Google it,” I said, getting out of the pool, feeling the cold assault of the mountain air.

The drive to and from the hot springs, about 90 km, was interested for many reasons. One of which was the line of over 100 military tanks (I stopped counting at 100) that snaked outside of town. There are also police and military check points for everyone who is traveling more than a few kilometers outside the city. Uniformed men with intimidating sun glasses and guns would wave the Jeep over. The driver and guide would present papers. The guide would be asked to step out of the car and into the office. Whatever went on in the office, I don’t know. Probably not a friendly game of Mahjong. Intimidating military personnel would peer through the Jeep’s windows to check out the American tourists. The guide would return and we would be shooed on down the road.

I hadn’t experienced that level of military control since I traveled to Columbia in the late 1990s. In Columbia, I understood it.  At the time, Columbia was named the “Most Dangerous Place to Visit”: kidnappings, drug wars, Uzis on every corner and machine gun fire at night. In Tibet? What? Buddhists with prayer wheels? Come on.

The countryside outside Lhasa is rocky and beautiful with endless miles of farm land, flowing rivers,
and fluttering lines of colorful prayer flags marking seemingly barren mountains. Yaks were everywhere and their owners tag them with colorful woven earrings (red and white macramé with jingle bells were the most popular) that dangled as they walked. Some farmers were in their fields doing spring plantings and their yaks wore elaborate head-dresses to encourage a good crop. These elegantly festooned yaks looked as if they were ready for some sort of high couture animal ball or Mardi Gras party as they jangled along in the moist earth, pulling a heavy blade.

Yaks are an essential part of most Tibetans’ diets. I asked Tsenreng why since most Buddhists tend to be vegetarian (reincarnation means you don’t want to risk eating your grandma if she comes back as a cow or chicken, poor thing). He said in mountainous, arid Tibet the yak protein was needed to survive the winter months. 

We didn’t try yak meat, but we did try yak yogurt which was lumpy and rich, although more sour than the yogurt we are used to. There were plenty of vegetarian dishes and fare in Lhasa and the food was delicious. The vegetable momos were our favorite – a little of pocket dough with vegetable goodness inside. Besides Tibetan food, there was Nepali and Indian food widely available. We feasted on naan, momos, curry, basmati rice, korma sauces, and various fried pockets of bread stuffed with amazing combinations of spices and vegetables. We ate well in Tibet and all of it was good.

Steps leading to the top of Potala Palace
Our hotel was a block from the Jokhang Temple, surrounded by bazaars. The courtyard was filled with prayer flags that fluttered against our windows, the sound lulling us to sleep at night and the shadows of the rising sun from behind the grey and lavender mountains waking us in the morning. Outside our hotel windows we could see the nearby peaks, a backdrop for the incense smoke billowing up from the temple. There is a feeling of peace and endless beauty to this place. Woven throughout the serene culture and landscape is the menacing presence of Chinese guns and paddy wagons and men in military khakis marching goose-step through the streets, an angry and senseless contrast to these mountain people.

Free Tibet.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

April Activities


Cynthia Bartels, Instructor of English, presented the paper "‘Till We Meet Again: Another Chapter for Carolyn and Neal?" and chaired a Baby Boomer Culture panel at Popular Culture Association (PCA) in Chicago.

Michael Charlton, assistant professor of English, presented a paper entitled "The Romance Quest: Same Sex Coupling and Modding in Video Games" at the Consoleing Passions conference in Columbia, MO

Mike Cadden, professor of English, had the article “‘But You Are Still a Monkey’: American Born Chinese and Racial Self-Acceptance,” published in the online journal The Looking Glass: New Perspectives on Children’s Literature 17.2

Prairie Lands Writing Project

Prairie Lands Writing Project hosted an Open Writing Marathon at the Rolling Hills Library.  Several area teachers and their writing-friendly friends attended, including Joy English (Pickett Elementary), Kelly Lock-McMillen (Benton High School), Josie Clark (Bode Middle School), Elisabeth Alkier (Bode Middle School), Colleen Nichols (Penney High School in Hamilton), Ashleigh Bertrand (Blue Springs High School), Megan Montgomery (Blue Springs High School), Cayetana Maristela (Indian Creek Elementary School), and Mary Stone Dockery (MWSU). Participants formed groups and wrote in locations around Saint Joseph such as Mount Mora Cemetery, Remington Nature Center, and Magoon’s Delicatessen. 

Several writing marathon participants and other K-12 teachers also joined forces with MWSU Faculty from the Department of English and Modern Languages for PLWP’s annual event, When Writing Teachers Write.  Held at the East Hills Library on April 26th, the program featured MWSU faculty Bill Church, Mike Cadden, Dana Andrews, Susan Martens, Tom Pankiewicz and Jane Frick as well as PLWP Co-Director Christie Leigan (Hall Elementary School), Joy English, Elisabeth Alkier, Terrance Sanders (Braymer High School), Mark Henderson (Savannah High School), Dasha Davis (Savannah High School), Cayetana Maristela, Kris Miller, and Mary Lee Meyer.

 The Prairie Lands Writing Project is pleased to report that we have been awarded a $20,000 SEED Teacher Leadership grant through the National Writing Project, to be used in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016. This grant will help fund our Invitational Summer Institute, our Teacher Consultants’ participation in the Fall Leadership Conference sponsored by the Missouri Writing Projects Network, and a new community literacy initiative which will support after-school writing clubs at area schools.  Co-Director Tom Pankiewicz, Principal Investigator Jane Frick, and Director Susan Martens were co-writers of the grant. Work with teachers involved in the College Ready Writers Program (CRWP) funded by PLWP’s i3 grant continued in April with model lessons, book study groups, and other sessions with teachers and students in Braymer, Hamilton, and Breckenridge.  PLWP Teacher Consultant Kathy Miller (Weston High School) joined Tom Pankiewicz and Jane Frick in delivering these programs. On April 27th and 28th, Teacher Consultant Terri McAvoy (St. Joseph, retired) conducted model lessons and met with teachers at Pickett Elementary as part of the SEED 2 Professional Development in a High-Needs Schools grant.