By Josephine Johnson

on her throne


A couple days ago, my VPN (secure connection to jump China’s firewall) expired. Non-issue—renew and resume under radar, above the flame, right? Uh, well…

Brief background: since May 1st all foreign teachers on campus have been tortured with internet connectivity issues mostly with trying to connect to non-mainland China sites. Gmail? Google? Forget it. Even Facebook and this blog with VPN have been spotty and exasperating. So, a few of our venerated teachers, a kindly faction of Mormons and one retired software engineer, approached our residence coordinator to remind her tactfully that we foreign folk have friends, family, bills, (and Facebook!) that necessarily require a solid internet connection.  Besides, it’s in our contract. (Dang it!!) Having a working internet connection is part of our contract.

“Well, on my computer,” said Miss Lin, “I don’t have any problem with Chinese sites. Just use Chinese site. Then you have no problems.”

Of course! Why didn’t we think of that?

Ah, China, harmony or delusion…

And it gets better.

I renewed the VPN yesterday only to discover that it no longer VPNs. Yeah, 25.95 USD thrown at the great grinning flames for nothing.

washer fixed, clothes clean

I broke my washing machine, but then I fixed it. I made a silly video of my repair escapade, too, but will have to post some time later when internet is less wacky. Like when I'm not in China...

Great. Current internet status? Well, here’s what’s weird—I can occasionally get to my gmail, like once a week if I’m on late at night. No Facebook. No Twitter. No YouTube, Vimeo. But apparently I can access this blog, and today at least it is loading really fast. If you are reading this and want to get in contact with me, I suggest contacting me through this blog—leave a comment & hopefully I can comment back. I hope that will work anyway…*no small miracle I can post pics—wow. Thank you.

Lemme say that again: Due to China internet weirdness, if you want to contact me, leave a comment with your info/ question/ whatnot/ whatever. Yeah, but please, don’t write anything you wouldn’t want your Mom (or mine) to see.

Let’s hope this works.

Since I’m here, how about another student story?

My students know I am sharing their work, and it has become a point of honor for them that I share the best of their writing online. They dig it, and I think the “reward” makes them work that much harder.

selecting fabric for Chinese-style dresses

selecting fabric for Chinese-style dresses

Have I mentioned lately how great and awesome my students are? They are. Great and awesome.

Last week we took a break from working on portfolios and cover letters—I needed this as much as they, believe me. Some of these papers we’ve been over seven, eight times, and well, you can imagine words, thoughts, topic sentences, spelling errors, thesis statements all beginning to swim before the eyes making story/analysis/research a Dali-inspired, Monet blur of quasi-fact, grammar error, cross-cultural, Chinese-infused, near-miss poetry. We all needed a break from this.

Last Tuesday we read in class (read what we read) Ray Bradbury’s  “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains.”  Why this story? Well, it’s short, and I knew we could get through it in a day (two class periods) and use it as basis for students’ creative writing. Plus, the students are also studying American film and culture, and I knew that they had recently watched Dr. Strangelove in Josh’s class. I knew the theme of this story would tie-in and relate to other material that they had recently explored.

I put the students in groups of two and three and had them read the story out loud to each other. Most have learned English from Chinese

Xi'an's famous street of tailors and fabric vendors

Xi'an's famous street of tailors and fabric vendors

English teachers, so their pronunciation needs work—reading aloud is a great way for my kids to become more confident in speaking English.  As they read I circulated around the small groups listening to their pronunciation and asking them questions about the story to make sure they understood what was happening. I helped with vocabulary, too. When everyone was finished, I reviewed the main points of the story to make sure they understood that all the occupants of the house were dead, that all that remained of their presence were the non-charred reverse flash silhouettes of the family on the exterior wall of the house. They got it, this grim thought provoking story, and were pensive and oddly eager to set upon the task of writing their own stories.

The in-class assignment was to use Bradbury’s tale as a jumping-off point. They could tell the story from another perspective. Perhaps an animal lived. How would you describe that creature’s experience? What would it be like? Or what was the family doing just before the bomb? How else can this story be told, this tale explained? Whose eyes do you choose to see it through? Be creative, I urged and encouraged.

At the end of the day, I had to make them stop. They were so committed to their stories.

sewing ladies, Wenyi Nanlu

sewing ladies, Wenyi Nanlu

Below is Sharpay’s creative take on the exercise. No one else had a story like this. Thank you, Sharpay, for your sincere thought and creativity. And as last time, these were hand written in-class. I asked Sharpay to revise and type her story for the internet. It has been slightly (not much, you’ll still find errors, awkward phrasings)revised (spelling, grammar) from the original story.

The Notice Board

                I’m a notice board inSan Francisco,California. I didn’t know clearly what happened. These days, there are so many note papers on me. For example: “Liz, I go toNew Yorkwith father, call me if you see it, Lily” “Train toColumbia$200, 071-796-2403.” From passersby, I figured there must be a big disaster in California because many cities’ airports couldn’t be used. People are coming to San Francisco to plan to get to another city.

More and more note papers are stuck on me. One said “nuclear weapon.” While I was thinking, a mother and a little girl came. The mother was writing a note paper on me.

“Mom, what’s nuclear weapon?” The girl asked.

“It is a horrible weapon. It can kill anything, the house, the people, the animals, even the biggest elephant,” The mother answered.

Grandma's envious, all this fabric, puts Joanne to shame,,,

Grandma's envious, all this fabric, puts Joanne to shame,,,

“Would it be more scary than earthquake?” The girl asked.

“Yea, Sweetheart. Come on. We have to go.”

“Where are daddy and brother? They went to visit grandma and didn’t come back. We need to wait for them,” The girl said.

“We…we can’t, sweetheart.” The mother turned her head, and her daughter couldn’t see her face. She cried. She frowned, and the muscles in her face were quivering. The tears fell out of her eyes. She turned back to face her daughter.

“Daddy and brother will come later. You know, Allendale is far away from San Francisco, isn’t it?”             The mother smiled at her daughter.

“When daddy and brother come, can we go to Disneyland ?”

“Yes, yes, of course we can.”

“Let’s go, mom.” The girl grasped her mother’s hand.

bins, rows, aisles of notions, ribbons, fabric, buttons

bins, rows, aisles of notions, ribbons, fabric, buttons

Her mother turned back and saw the notepaper on me. She muttered to herself: “If they could come back.” After tears fell down, she left with her daughters.

The note paper said:

Dear Jack:

Are you with our son Patrick? I go to New Jersey with Olivia. It is too dangerous here. I love Patrick and you. I believe you will be with us all the time.

 Kissing You Clair

After their leaving, a young woman came with an old man.

“I told you I didn’t want to go to anywhere. Your mother is here.”

The old man was really angry.

“But, dad, this is not an earthquake or a flood where everything can recover in several years. This is the nuclear weapon. One hundred years is not enough. Come on. Go with me. You will die here.”

The young woman was anxious.

“No,Georgina. I promised your mother. I will be with her all the time, even though she has died. I will not go any other places. You can go.

sewing and stuff

sewing and stuff

You need to live, my daughter. Go toPhiladelphiaand have your life. I am old, and I don’t have too much time. Let me be with your mom,” the old man hugged the young woman.

“Do you know why I came back? I lost my mom when I was seventeen. I don’t want to lose you. Please, go with me,” the young woman cried loudly.

“Georgina, my good daughter,” the old man kissed his daughter, “I love you. Believe me. I love you. I was too busy before. I didn’t have time to accompany your mother. I am sorry for her. I love her so much, but I can’t give her enough time to be with her. You can live nicely with your husband and kids. Bob is a good guy. You will have a good life like before…”

“Dad, no…”

“Listen to me,Georgina. Let me stay. It is not terrible for me. Trust me, okay?” The old man smiled at his daughter.

The woman stared her father for a long time. “I love you, dad. Anytime you want to go to Philadelphia, call me.”

“I love you, too,” the old man smiled.

The young woman left angry, and the old man was looking at her all the time. After he couldn’t see her anymore, he turned back to leave a note paper:

Dear Eva:

                Gina is a good daughter. Please protect our daughter, even though she is not my kid, but she was not as bad as her father. I was proud to be called father by her. Come back and take me with you.

Love You. Sanji

                Though I couldn’t understand human beings’ emotions, I did feel sorry for them when I faced this all the time. Then, a boy came.

He was about 21 years old. He had black hair and black eyes, yellow skin. He was thin and tall. He wrote an Adidas sport T-shirts with a tiger on it. He looked around and went straight towards me. He looked sad and pining. He scanned the note papers on my body. He cried without any expression. Then, from his backpack he took out a photo and a notepaper. Then, he turned and used  the English he knew to stop passerby.

“Excuse me. Do you know the nearest hotel?” he stopped a middle age couple.

“Go straight on this street, and you will see a hotel. Wait, young man, you want to live here?” The man spoke.

“Yes, thank you.” He walked to the hotel.

“Hey, young man, don’t you know what happened in California? It is too dangerous here.”

“It is none business of you.” He still didn’t have any expression.

“Don’t be silly. You aren’t American. Where are you from, my boy?” The woman said.


“Why did you come to San Francisco? You know, all the planes to California are empty except the police planes. You have come for someone, didn’t you? Do you know which city she stayed in?”


“The town’s near Eureka? That should be okay. She must be alive.”

“Seriously? Thank you very much.” The boy seemed awake finally. His eyes were bright like that he finally got hope.

“Yes, young man. Let me guess. Is that your girlfriend?”

“Yeah, she went to Arcata for studying. She should be back this summer, but…”

“Don’t give up, my boy.” The man said, “You guys love each other, right? Trust love. Love can make miracles all the time. Gook luck.” The middle age couple left.

I saw the note paper and photo he left. There were two people. One was him, the other must be his girlfriend, an active and cute girl. In that photo, they wore school uniforms. It was so sweet, but I couldn’t read the Chinese on the note paper. Then, a boy and a young man came. They had black hair and yellow skin.

“That’s Chinese on that board, dad,” The boy shouted.

“How’s that possible?” The father stopped.

“What is it talking about?”

The father read,“’Dear, Mia,’ This is the name. ‘I come for you. I will wait here for you. Call me. I used the former number. If you appear, please, marry me.’ Then it’s the name. Wow, there is a ring under the photo.”

“Yes, a love note. What a cute couple they were. I hope he can find her,” after reading, she said, “Let’s leave something for them.”

“Good luck.” The woman wrote near the boy’s words, and then she said, “Come on, let’s go.”

I knew the content of the note paper and the girl’s appearance. I really hoped I would see her.

Several weeks later.

I still stood there, too many note papers stuck on me. Many people wrote Chinese or English under the boy’s notepaper; there were pages of wishes from strangers for them. Today, after another person left a note paper on me, I saw a group of girls who were speaking a foreign language. Wait, wasn’t she that girl?

“Mia, that’s your photo,” One of her friends said.

I saw from the hotel the boy walking and he saw me—no , he saw the girl.

Why does this make me think of UHF?