We’d Be Honored: Finding Family on a Military Base in China

One project I hoped to work on during any free time on the cross cultural trip to China was genealogy research. As explained in a previous post, I have a family history tie to the city of Hangzhou, were we spent two weeks. My great-uncle, Ellis Shannon was an aviation instructor at the Central Aviation Academy in the 1930s.

I initially attempted to go to the Municipal Archives. Unfortunately you need a letter of invitation to enter any Archives in China. Because I do not have the proper relationships, and everything depends on relationship in China, I could gain entry. However, a friend in China called the Archive and determined that most of the documents are in fact online; I simply need to hire a research fluent in Chinese to help me with my work.

My attention then turned to the actual site in Hangzhou. I determined through TripAdvisor that the school site existed and was open for visitation. Stella’s cousin, Gailing, offered to go with me. We caught a cab, and on the way, she explained why we were going to the site. to the cab driver. He already knew about this history and asked if we realized it was on active military base. Neither of us knew that, but decided to go forward with our travels.

When we arrived at the base, Gailing and I asked if we could enter the base to see the school site. As expected, the base is closed to foreigners, including Americans. I started to ask if we could get permission for a future trip when the cab driver came up and started talking with the guards. He explained the situation and they allowed us into a waiting room at the base entrance. They then took my passport; I because a bit nervous because I was an American sitting in a Chinese military base without a passport! But the guards were unfailingly kind. As we waited for permission, they brought us hot water to drink, and talked with Gailig and the cab driver. The cab driver waited with us in the waiting room; we would not have gotten as far as we did without his help. He said that he knew the story of the American aviation instructors and that they were heroes. He thanked me for my great-uncle’s service to China.

The guards returned and asked if they could take pictures of all of my documentation to send it to the base general for permission to enter. We waited a little longer, but it became clear we would not be able to get permission on such short notice. The guards said I could apply for permission and they thought I had a good chance at receiving it. They said that it would be an “honor” to take me on a tour of the school grounds because of what the American aviators did for China in the 1930s.

So while I may not have made much progress on family history this trip, I learned firsthand about the importance of relationships, was helped by a cab driver, and spent a morning sitting in a waiting room at a Chinese military base! On future trips, I hope to obtain permission for a tour. Perhaps Chinese or American media would be interested in the story as well. Until then ,back to Ancestry.com!

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Family Ties

One unexpected bonus of this cross cultural trip is the chance to do genealogical research in China. About a year ago, I began delving deeper into my family tree through the Ancestry database on campus.

One interesting relative that I have researched is my great Uncle Ellis. Ellis D (Sam) Shannon was my maternal grandmother’s brother. He spent most of his career as a test pilot; he was the first human being to fly a Delta Wing aircraft.

EllisShannonPicture

Before becoming a test pilot, he was an aviation instructor at the Central Aviation School, which eventually become the Chinese air force academy The group that my uncle taught with eventually became known as the famous Flying Tigers, although my uncle had left that group and returned to the United States by then.

As I did research into Uncle Ellis’ time in China, I discovered that the Central Aviation Academy was located in “Hangchow”. Knowing that many Chinese cities used to have different spelling (Beijing used to be called Peking), I looked up Hangchow and discovered that he lived in what is now known as Hangzhou. He lived in Hangzhou for about three years, from 1932-1935; during that time he was married and had a son.

Coincidentally, our cross cultural class will be staying in Hangzhou for about 12 days. Our students will go to classes at Zhejiang University of Technology and be paired with university student peers for a service-learning component of the course.

The structure of our time in Hangzhou will allow me some measure of free time. I plan to be librarian-geneaology-researcher nerd and head over to the Municipal Archives. I realize that finding information about my Uncle Ellis in an Archive in China is remote (materials may have been destroyed for political reasons; I don’t read Chinese well, etc), but the possibility of finding additional documentation makes me giddy with anticipation! Time to put on my researcher hat and find family ties half a world away!

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Splitting the Heart

I am looking forward to heading back to China in just a few weeks. I fact, four weeks from today, I will be leading students through the streets of Beijing. I’m glad that we will be staying in a hostel in one of the hutongs. It is a wonderful way to learn the daily culture in an old neighborhood. It is also what helped Beijing capture my heart two years ago. I loved the activity of the hutong; the close neighbors, the busy streets, the activity of daily life that has been going on for centuries. I hope that as the students experience these streets for themselves, they too will lose a part of their heart to Beijing hutongs.

It reminds me of the heart that I lost to Naples when living there. The daily activity in the ancient parts of the city remind me of the Beijing hutongs. The pace of life, the real hospitality of the residents, and knowledge that the community is larger than one person or lifetime.

Of course, one facet present in my life for this trip is that I married My Old Curmudgeon last July. We had not even met when I traveled to China in June 2014; while I missed my family, and my home, I know that I will miss my husband and our home in a much deeper way this time around!

I am glad that he and I will be able to spend some quality time together before the trip and after the trip this summer. Today was a final trip to DC to pick up another student travel visa. My Old Curmudgeon, who is a true stay-at-home hermit, suggested the night before we left that we stay overnight in the city. I found an affordable room through airbnb and we are enjoying a wonderful day and evening in town. The two weekends before I leave will be filled with camping trips. Hopefully not as intense as my camping trip in China! While I will miss My Old Curmudgeon, I am thankful that he supports me as I return to China and share my love of that place with students.

So among Naples, Beijing, home and my love, my heart keeps splitting. I have found though that the more your heart splits, the more love you have to give! Here’s to loving places and people!

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Packing trials

I am discovering that packing for solo international travel is relatively simple when compared to packing as a co-leader for a cross cultural course! A few days ago I created a list when I realized how busy I will be at the same time I will be packing. This list might just save my sanity, and keep me from forgetting my passport!

Here is the list. At this point, I might be able to cram in one change of clothes! Just maybe!

  • Passport
  • ID
  • Credit and debit Cards
  • Cash
  • Messiah credit card
  • Travel wallet
  • Laptop
  • iPhone
  • iPad
  • iPad holder
  • Chargers
  • Headphones
  • Neck pillow
  • Books and Ebooks
  • Clothes
  • Camera and bag
  • Camera batteries and charger
  • Camera memory card – in camera and extra
  • Duffel bag
  • Rx
  • First aid Kit
  • Emergency medical supplies for student health 
  • Travel notebook
  • Documents on laptop
  • Thumb drive
  • Essential oils
  • Shoes, hiking, sandals
  • Luggage tags 
  • Earplugs
  • Backpack
  • Bug spray 
  • Card games
  • Mask,
  •  toilet paper
  • China book
  • Power converter
  • Gifts
  • Umbrella
  • Folding maps
  • Envelopes for receipts
  • Pen and paper
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Serendipity

I am excited to be co-leading a cross cultural trip of Messiah College student to China this May-June for three weeks. I am looking forward to returning to Beijing for a few days during that time, and getting to also know the cities of Hangzhou and Shanghai. The Transue Heading East blog is back in business!

As I’ve thought about what I hope our students get from this trip, one word that comes to mind is Serendipity. This is a for-credit course and as such there are academic expectations. Additionally, as we (safely!) move a group of college students through a foreign country, much of the trip is planned to a very specific degree. Indeed, my planning document is starting to fill an entire binder and contains details such as itinerary, maps, directions, contact information, correspondence, and estimated costs for every day of the trip.

SerendipityPlanning

However, I know from personal experience, that many of the most important lessons you learn from traveling come from those unexpected and unplanned moments. While in China, a favorite cross cultural moment was being invited to attend a ballet class with an employee of the hostel where I stayed.

I was reminded of the importance of serendipity just last week when I traveled to Washington DC to apply for travel visas. After submitting all the paperwork (which took alot of planning beforehand!), I took the opportunity to spend the afternoon in the city before heading home. I planned to go to the art museum but after dropping off the paperwork decided I wanted to head back towards home rather than further downtown. I then decided to walk towards the National Cathedral, about 2 miles away and decided I would stop at whatever looked interesting before that destination. About four blocks down the street I came across the Society of Cincinnati House. I had never heard of this organization; they were housed in a beautiful old Victorian home and a sign outside said free tours. That sold me right there! 🙂

I spent a wonderful afternoon with a knowledgeable tour guide learning about the society, and the history of the city through this home. The home dated back to the early 1900s and had furnishings and art dating back to that time period. What a wonderful way to learn something new! Serendipity at its finest!

SerendipityCinnHouse

So as I continue to plan for this cross cultural course, I hope that I, and the students, still leave some room for serendipity and unexpected discoveries on our journey! You never know what you will learn!

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Photographs from the Trip

I am glad I purchased a new DSLR camera for this trip. It was great to take some quality photographs that will help me remember the beauty that I saw on this trip.

I ended up saving about 500 photographs from the three week trip. That is alot even for me!

If you would like to see just an overview of my trip with some of my ‘best’ photographs, I have placed them in a single folder. There are about 70 pictures, so not so many!

You can view them in a zoom and pan movie on Youtube.

You can view them as photographs in a public Facebook folder (no Facebook account required).

You may copy and post these photographs. However, please be sure that they are credited to me, and provide a link to the original photograph/movie whenever possible. Thanks for the courtesy!

To give you a quick taste:

.BUddhaStatue-062014-Best CurvedEntrance-062014-Best DoubleRainbow-062014-Best DragonFront-062014-Best GardenPeachFlowerWater-062014-Best GoldSeal-062014-Best GWHills-062014-Best GWSherpa-062014-Best HallSeaWisdomBuddhaUp-062014-Best Interior-062014-Best KalbiBeef-062014-Best PondGrateView-062014-Best PromenadeDome-062014-Best ViewFCSlant-062014-Slant-Best.

 

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Some Final Reflections

MirrorReflection-062014-Best BethSmileSign-062014-Best

Finally starting to feel settled in at home again and that I might get over jet lag! Looking back, this trip was truly an inspirational, challenging, and awe-inspiring trip of a lifetime! I felt that I did and learned so much in a very short time frame.

Some things I learned:

1. I still got it: I knew I could have done this trip in my early 20s; fresh from living for three years overseas in Italy, ready to tackle the world and any adventures. I honestly wasn’t so sure how I would fare in my early 40s with a less nimble body, a deep connection to home which I would miss, and just the wherewithal to navigate a foreign country alone. It was definitely a confidence builder when I arrived for two weeks alone in China, nearly panicked, and then was able to do what I wanted to do and really enjoy myself in the moments. For me, the detailed planning I did really paid off. I selected an excellent hostel, and I found that the hostel community courtyard combined with a private room and private bath was just the right combination for me. I learned basic spoken and written Chinese for a year which was immensely helpful to get around by myself. A list of activities and destinations I wanted to see, yet the freedom to choose from that list or from other activities throughout the weeks gave me a real sense of control about the adventures I had.

2. People are people: I must admit to feeling some concern to going to China with my impressions of government oppression. I didn’t know how ordinary citizens would respond to an American. I was overwhelmed by the hospitality and generosity of spirit I encountered in both Korea and China. People were unfailingly patient and gracious to this clueless American tourist who oftentimes couldn’t seem to turn around without getting lost! Or who couldn’t even turn on a light in a hotel room! Beyond that, many people seemed to actually like Americans – I received excited ‘America is #1’, ‘America good’, and thumbs up when I was asked and replied in the positive that “Yes, I am American” = 对,我是美国人。 To paraphrase a wise librarian I met, “China country, America country, no boundary. We all [people].”

3. It’s OK to feel vulnerable or even hate an experience to still enjoy and even love the memories! I felt uncomfortable and vulnerable much of my time in China simply because I was so out of my element. That was OK. I did what I could do, and tried to always enjoy the moment regardless of how uncomfortable I felt. The Great Wall experience was exhilerating, yet also terrifying. There were many moments throughout the two days when I hated being there because I was so physically and emotionally spent. And yet I can look back at the adventure, even the torrential thunderstorm, and smile and appreciate the entire time. The rainbow over the Great Wall at the end of the thunderstorm was a powerful metaphor for this entire trip!

4. I gained a new appreciation for the struggles and energy drain international students must go through everyday as they adjust to an entirely new culture. I hope this makes me a better “Friendship Family mom“.

What I will miss most:

  • the attention to every detail to create beauty in the Summer Palace and Forbidden City
  • authentic Chinese and Korean foods. Especially sichuan peppercorn sauce, kalbi grilled beef, and fresh vegetables simply made.
  • smiles and hospitality of the Korean and Chinese people whom I met. Especially the Yoo family.
  • the activity and life within the hutong
  • the sense of ancient history surrounding me everywhere

What made me happiest to return home

  • greatly missed family and friends and colleagues
  • home
  • the freedoms I often take for granted: freedom to critique my government officials, freedom to read whatever I want and to surf the Internet for whatever I want, freedom to purchase my home and land.
  • blue sky
  • the sense of knowing where I am , where I am going, and fitting into a culture

So, check out my favorite photos. Ask me questions about specific activities. And yes, I would go back!! Hint Hint Messiah College! If you need a science librarian who has fallen in love with China and who speaks broken Chinese to represent you in any way, I’m always ready to again become a “Transue Heading East“!

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