Monday, April 13, 2015

So much to celebrate in April!

The EML department is proud to congratulate our students 
who completed their Master's degrees in spring 2015.

Sofia Pierson successfully defended her capstone portfolio on technical communication tools and collaboration.  She will be going on the job market 
with her new MAA in technical communication.

Lauren Johnson successfully defended her MAS thesis on scripted reading programs in the K12 Classroom.  Ms. Johnson is a third grade teacher at East Buchanan and also a past participant in MWSU's Prairie Lands Writing Project.

Siyi Zhang and Huan Huang both completed their MAA work after returning to Xidian University in Xi'an, China.  Ms. Huang's thesis was on teaching English language learners in Chinese high schools. Ms. Zhang's thesis was a linguistic analysis of scientific communication in translation.

Clipping from the museum's newsletter

Applied learning and outreach

Students in Kaye Adkin's Technical Documentation class are engaged in a project for La Plata County Historical Society and the Animas Museum in Durango, Colorado. The project managers (including Sarah Hatten who is the project lead) are the graduate students in ETC 520 Publications Management.  The museum's gratitude for the work of Dr. Adkin's students is noted in the spring newsletter, stating that they have been "rescued by Griffons" in their efforts to catalog the artifacts of the Animas Museum.

Discovering the Student, Discovering the Self:ENG 100 Reading and Reception

Vicki Brushwood, Susan Kirsch, instructor Kara Bollinger, Sarah Bertram

On Wednesday, April 8, Dawn Terrick, Director of Developmental Writing, hosted 75 people at the annual reception for the ENG 100 student publication Discovering the Student, Discovering the Self.  Dr. Vartabedian kicked off the reception. Students received certificates and awards and read their original work. They were joined by family and friends as well as MWSU faculty, staff and administration and all enjoyed an afternoon of celebration. 

This is the ninth edition of Discovering the Student, Discovering the Self.  The essays in this publication were selected by the English 100 Committee from submissions from English 100 students.  These essays reflect the struggle and the joy, the hard work and the rewards that these students have experienced both in their lives and in the classroom.  Furthermore, these essays reflect the diversity of our English 100 students and the uniqueness of this course.  Our students are entering college straight out of high school and are returning to the classroom after years of work and family, come from urban and rural areas, and represent different races and cultures.  And this work is truly their work -- the committee has not made any revisions or corrections to the essays.  We invite you to read these essays on our web site and hope that you will discover the same things that the students have discovered:  during their first semester in college, they are discovering themselves, realizing that they are part of many communities and defining themselves as individuals, students, scholars and citizens.

Modern Language Day 2015:  Languages: They Nourish the Brain!

The annual Modern Language Day took place on April 9, when we welcomed high school students from the region and asked them to show what they know in French and Spanish.  Students recited poetry, did their own poetry slams, competed in quiz bowls, lip sync and spelling bees.  Kudos to language faculty and their students for their efforts in making the day a success. 

The event even made the news: News clip featuring Modern Language Day.
You can view the winning lip sync by Maur Hill Mount Academy here.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Over 250 students in grades 9-12 from 15 different schools attended PLWP's High School Writing Day on March 5.  The event was coordinated by PLWP Co-Director Amy Miller (MWSU) and emceed by Teacher Consultant Terrance Sanders (Braymer), with help from Teacher Consultant Janet Jelavich (Maryville, retired), PLWP Director Susan Martens, and several MWSU pre-service English teachers, including Hanna Long, Adina Ogle, Wayne Griffin, Garrett Durbin, Jessica Helm, Jessie Walters, Sarah Chellew, Kayli Silket, Alayna Mazzeffe, Ashleigh Merrigan, and Brittany Assel.  Workshops were presented by several EML Department faculty, including Michael Charlton, Bill Church, Marianne Kunkel, Mary Stone, Meredith Katchen, and Brooksie Kluge, as well as Bob Bergland (Communication and Journalism), Tom Pankiewicz (MWSU, retired), and PLWP Teacher Consultants from the Saint Joseph School District Kyla Ward, Misty Burright, and Vicky Meyer. 

The PLWP also hosted its first-ever Middle School Writing Night on March 23, coordinated by MAA students who are also PLWP Teacher Consultants and Bode Middle school teachers, Josie Clark and Elisabeth Alkier, with help from PLWP Teacher Consultant and SJSD Gate Instructor Deb Ballin. Parents and friends came to hear 18 area students in grades 6-8 reading original writing composed in their after school and GATE writing clubs.  It was the culminating event for PLWP's 2014-2015 Community Literacy Initiative, funded by a U.S. Department of Education SEED (Supporting Effective Educator Development) Teacher Leadership grant sponsored by the National Writing Project. 

Dr. Kaye Adkins presented a paper, "Army Flash! Narrating a Civil Defense Procedure" at the conference of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing in Tampa, Florida. The paper is based on research that Dr. Adkins conducted while on sabbatical in fall of 2014. While in Tampa, Dr. Adkins also attended the Conference on College Composition and Communication.

Marianne Kunkel's poem "I Guess," which appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Rattle, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also, four panels that she proposed for North American Review's Bicentennial Creative Writing and Literature Conference were approved, including two with Mary Stone and two others with MWSU undergraduate students Crystal Crawford, Lindsey Lucas, and Chris Pankiewicz.

Michael Charlton presented a paper on international program collaborations at the Conference on College Composition and Communication.

Mary Dockery had two poems published in the Issue 5 of The Atlas Review, "Long Distance" and "I Don't Know How to Live Here."  She also had a chapbook released in March: Honey and Bandages, by Folded Word Press, written with Katie Longofono.

Jeanie Crain has received another four-year appointment to the Peer Corps of the Higher Learning Commission, effective until August 31, 2018. She also received thanks from the Commission for her service since 2003.

Susan Martens has recently published two essays in the current issue of Louisiana Literature as part of a collection called "Finding Your Muse in New Orleans."

Kay Siebler presented her paper "An American Freirista in China: Critical Pedagogy in Post-Moa Communism" at the College Composition and Communication Conference in Tampa, Florida on March 21, 2015. Here is a photo of how she is spending her sabbatical. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

February Faculty and Student Accolades

February Faculty and Student Accolades

Prairie Lands Writing Project hosted the Teaching Argument Writing Cadre Meeting at Missouri Western, facilitated by Teacher Consultants Amy Miller (MWSU), Tom Pankiewicz (MWSU, retired), Jane Frick (MWSU, retired),  Susan Martens (MWSU), Kathy Miller (Weston), Janet Jelavich (Maryville, retired), and Terri McAvoy (SJSD, retired).   The event welcomed teachers from the three school districts involved in our i3 College Ready Writers Program (Braymer, Breckenridge, and Hamilton) to rate student papers, blog about effective classroom practice, and assess students' ability to effectively incorporate and cite sources in argumentative writing. 

Tom Pankiewicz, Amy Miller, and Kathy Miller were also joined by Terrance Sanders (Braymer) and Linda Gaines (Breckenridge) in representing PLWP at the National Writing Project's i3 CRWP Midyear Partnership Meeting in Memphis.

Abigail Cannon, who graduated with her B.S.E. in English in December 2014, has been named MWSU's recipient of the Robert J. Greef Award, given by the Missouri Association of Teachers of English to one outstanding graduate in secondary English education from each college or university in Missouri.  Abigail received her award at the Write to Learn Conference on Feb. 27 in Osage Beach. She was accompanied by her parents, Fred and Becky Cannon, and by her former professor, Susan Martens. 

Marianne Kunkel has received a grant from the Missouri Humanities Council. The grant will help make possible an event titled "The Mochila Review Presents: In the Shadow of Taylor Mali," which will bring the 2015 judge of Mochila's writers' contest, poet Taylor Mali, to campus.  
TheMochilaReview recently launched its website on Facebook.  

Claudine Evans and Susie Hennessy participated in a full-day immersion workshop for French educators, organized by the Greater Kansas City Chapter of the American Association of Teachers of French

Susan Martens' essay, "Finding My Nonfiction Pedagogy Muse at the New Orleans Writing Marathon Retreat" was published in the Spring 2015 issue of Assay: a Journal of Nonfiction Studies. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Faculty activities

Marianne Kunkel's book-length poetry manuscript, All the Girls Shout Please, was named a semi-finalist for Ohio State University Press's The Journal Wheeler Prize for Poetry.

PLWP hosted the Teaching Argument Writing Cadre Meeting at Missouri Western, facilitated and attended by PLWP Teacher Consultants Amy Miller (MWSU), Tom Pankiewicz (MWSU, retired), Jane Frick (MWSU, retired),  Susan Martens (MWSU), Kathy Miller (Weston), Janet Jelavich (Maryville, retired), and Terri McAvoy (SJSD, retired).   The event welcomed teachers from the three school districts involved in our i3 College Ready Writers Program (Braymer, Breckenridge, and Hamilton) to rate student papers, blog about effective classroom practice, and assess students' ability to effectively incorporate and cite sources in argumentative writing. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Our Man in China (5): Weddings and A Failure to Communicate

I’m now about halfway into the eleven months I will have spent in Xi’an, China. It has gone by very quickly because, as many of you know, once a semester begins, well, the sixteenth week seems like sixteen years into the future and then, before you know it, there are finals and grade computations and students angry about those grades. It’s no different here regarding that. And now I’m between the fall and spring semesters with time to experience more Chinese culture, travel, and do my work. The winter break is long and many people (students, staff, and faculty at the universities of Xi’an) leave the big city for their homes in the countryside or in other cities around China. So, lately, I have been alone quite often—no friend with whom to chat, no colleague with whom to commiserate, without a nine-year-old son to help with the language barrier (I’m sure Kay knows just how crucial Z’s contributions were for enjoying the whole experience). I plan on traveling to Thailand, where I’ll meet up with my daughter for a much-needed time in a warm climate. As well, my dear friend Rosie will be here in a few weeks, so it’s not as if I’ll waste away in misery. No. There has been and will continue to be much to share with you all.

            Of all the odd, different, unique, wondrous, and bewildering things I’ve observed and been a
part of, a high-ranking one has to be attending a Chinese wedding. My friend Karen invited me to her friend Song Wei’s ceremony and reception and I cannot count the times I had to consciously close my mouth during this particular afternoon event. It took place about six weeks ago, within a week of my hiking adventure, and a few months after having been to a KTV (Karaoke) so I honestly didn’t think anything would top any of that. And perhaps this experience doesn’t, but…let’s just say, that when Karen invited me, I knew I wasn’t over-reacting by saying to myself, “Oh, goody!”

            Bright, happy colors everywhere, Sung Wei and his betrothed Yan Yuan, wanted a photo with me and Karen (I’m the barrel-chested old man on the right, in case it’s not clear).
After we obliged, we were escorted into the reception area. As the lone westerners, all eyes were on us as Karen and I wound our way around tables and chairs. I learned later that there is some sort of good luck and status that comes with having westerners at a Chinese wedding. Once seated at a table with ten people, I scanned the room. Four mirrored disco balls hung from the ceiling, narrow spotlights hitting them as they spun. A sort of model’s runway, slightly elevated and covered in reflective chrome paper, was set from the front door of the banquet hall all the way to a 20 x 20 foot stage (also covered in reflective chrome paper). A huge video screen was up stage and showed different designs and colors—red, pink, blue, orange—all flashing like we were at an outdoor
concert. The visuals often gave way to dozens of photographs of the young couple posed in coordinated dress, Song Wei in white slacks, light blue shirt, with light blue shoes, Yan Yuan in white shorts, the same color blue shirt and blue shoes. More photos flashed with the happy couple wearing other, nearly exact, pink, purple, black, and red outfits.

The ceremony began as a tuxedoed MC with a slicked-back pompadour hairstyle came out on stage and had a spotlight directed toward double doors. Song Wei and Yan Yuan stepped upon the
runway and moved into a sort of gazebo, where they took about five minutes to re-state their vows (a formal, family-only service had taken place during the morning) all while the MC narrated the events in his baritone, Ed McMahon voice and Ryan Seacrest manner. The happy couple seemed to float down the mirrored aisle as the traditional wedding march played over loud speakers. We all applauded and the MC rambled on, his voice aiming high at times, but falling low as, with a sweeping gesture of his hand, he guided them to their marks onstage. Photographers’ cameras clicked and flashed and more designs and colors dissolved into one another on the video screen behind the three on stage. The music changed to Iggy Azalea and then Nicki Minaj (at least that’s what I learned later when I asked Song Wei). The MC bowed in Elizabethan style, arm and hand extended downward, torso leaning forward over a locked leg with heel to the floor and toe pointing up, and his other hand holding the mic to his lips. Then, with a flourish, he sprang upright and pointed to the ceiling in some sort of prompt for everyone to rise from their seats in a standing ovation for the beaming newlyweds.

            The music changed once more to classical Chinese and the MC directed Song Wei and Yan Yuan to a table off the stage where the couple’s parents waited. All six of them lit candles and incense and recited a prayer. Then Song Wei presented his in-laws with an envelope of money and his wife did the same for his parents. They all hugged and the tradition was complete. We were then allowed to eat.

Wait staff brought tons of food to the tables—vegetables, tofu, fruit, hot and cold dishes, mutton and beef and chicken, an appetizer made of jellyfish, another of thousand-year-old eggs that
are a translucent blue-green in color. At some time during the feast, Yan Yuan had changed from her white wedding dress into a traditional Chinese red wedding dress. Quite beautiful. She visited every table and chatted with old and new friends while Song Wei did the same. Once guests had been visited and the food and beverage stopped flowing (about twenty minutes after the first few dishes of food were brought out) people got up to leave, passing Yan Yuan and her sister, not Song Wei, in a reception line. Within three minutes—and I do mean three minutes—the banquet hall was empty. I looked around and then at Karen and said, “What the hell just happened?” I took one more sip of tea and followed Karen, where she found Song Wei. We said our thank yous and goodbyes and left—the last ones out. That was it. Over. Done. No chicken dance. No hokey pokey. No Hava Nagila. Not even the possibility of making a request at a daughter’s wedding. I still smile about this because it was so odd and cool at the same time.

That episode in the life of MoWest’s man in China was a few weeks back, I know. However, the end of the fall semester was considerably more recent and my memories of the wonderful students I was lucky to have in my classes will stay with me for quite some time. I am like many others who teach. We have well-thought-out plans for the new semester, visions of students held in rapt attention by our words, and hopes for an exchange of intellectual ideas and experiences. Sure. There was that, to some degree. I must admit, though, that my plans for what I would cover during the semester became only half-realized. And, like the students at MoWest, there were a few here who were interested in what I was teaching, but others sat in the back row and played with their cell phones or offered deep sighs of boredom as I lectured.

One day, I had a well-organized lesson plan for my English Writing class (composition) where I wanted to cover signal phrases and in-text citations according to MLA Style. Admittedly, it’s not the most exciting subject for a ninety-minute lecture, but I had visual aids copied to my flash drive and exercises for partners to work on. Besides, they’d actually learn something.

As I explained the use of signal phrases, with examples of them on the overhead, I saw a handful of students in the back row casually flipping their thumbs across the glass screens of their cell phones. One student stopped to show his neighbor something he’d found. They both laughed. I then glanced to the front row where my best students were dutifully taking notes and looking up at me with eyes wide and minds seemingly open. I stopped.

“Please,” I’d said. “Put your cell phones away.”

“We’re taking notes,” one of the students said.

“Show me.”

And of course he couldn’t, so he and the others put their cell phones on their desktops. That lasted about five minutes. So, I stopped again, and asked again for them to turn off their cell phones and put them away. But this one student, who will go un-named, continued his browsing. I have to say that this seemed unusual. Chinese students aren’t normally defiant to a teacher’s face, but this young man had tried my patience on occasion in the past when he insisted that many of the things America had accomplished were lies—such as, we never landed on the moon—or that our military’s development of HAARP is responsible for China’s bad air quality (instead of its dependence on coal).

So I walked over to his desk. Silence in the room as all eyes were on me. I stood in front of him, leaned over, and called him by name. He looked up.

“Listen,” I said. “If you don’t put that phone away right now, it’s really gonna suck to be you.” (To be sure, my only recourse would have been to kick him out of class. The embarrassment of that would have been punishment enough, though.)

And then I realized that in a MoWest classroom a young, defiant student would have met my use of the phrase “it’s really gonna suck to be you” with a smirk or a nervous smile of guilt. But not with this student. All I got was a blank stare. He hadn’t a clue what I meant. I looked around the room and the other students, too, had similar expressions.

“Never heard that one before?” I said.  No. No. They hadn’t. “So I guess if I’d have said, ‘you’re killin’ me, Smalls’ that wouldn’t mean anything, either.” Nope. Of course not. “How about, ‘Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do’? I mean, I could have easily said that to him.” Nothing. So I said, “‘What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.’” And as I walked back to the front of the room, I heard a little voice inside my head say, “‘Forget it, Jake, it’s….’”

One of my favorite students, Hou Xiaofeng—a great kid who is charming and funny and bright and extremely interested in American culture—had his hand in the air. I called on him.

“What does it mean, ‘suck to be you’?” he said.

I laughed. And the rest of the class time (d)evolved into a discussion of American idioms, common expressions, and famous quotes. I say evolved because it was fun to deviate from my plan and see the looks on their faces when they “got” what “it sucks to be you” meant.

I said to Hou, “Remember last week when you told me you lost your portfolio?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Find it yet?”


“Well, it sucks to be you.”

And I say devolved because during my explanation of “it sucks to be you,” I used the acronym S.O.L. to try and make it clearer. However, that got me into more trouble because once I used the word, well, all classroom civility and forms of decorum evaporated. In China, they have an expression which is, “Dog Shit Lucky.” In fact, somehow, the word (especially when combined with dog), is generally very fortunate, a good thing, so they couldn’t quite grasp the “outta luck” angle.

I went on to explain that many American sayings come from popular movies, although we don’t always quote them exactly. I knew that talking about Sandlot or Desi and Lucy or Cool Hand Luke would merely be me going off on a lecture about popular culture in America, without them being able to relate because they’ve never seen the movies or the TV show. So I tried to reduce it to something universally relatable. I asked them to think of their crazy uncle. Only Hou and one other student had an uncle (China’s One-Child Policy!).

“He’s your father or mother’s brother,” I said. “He’s the guy who gets murderous stares from his brother or sister because he lets you look at his Playboy magazine, or teaches you how to bet on football games, or gives you a sip from his beer when you’re five years old.”

More blank stares.

“He is cool?” Hou said, figuring out the crazy uncle character.

“Yes,” I said. “He rides a Harley, has a hot girlfriend, belches without excusing himself, and…” I walked over to Hou and stood in front of him, extending my arm, while pointing within his reach, “… he says to you…pull my finger.”

Hilarity ensued. Within seconds everyone, every student in the room, had pointed to his neighbor with instructions to pull their fingers.

And that, my friends, might just be my major contribution to a cross-cultural exchange with the Chinese people.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

December accomplishments
Ana Bausset-Page was invited to the Celebration of the XII Anniversary of the Foundation of the Institute in honor of poet Cesar Vallejo. Dr. Bausset-Page was presented with a copy of the book Cesar Vallejo Testamento del padre, signed by the author of the preface.

Ana was also featured in “The Spanish Times" in an article on Latina women in higher education.

Kara Bollinger had her nonfiction essay, "Thanksgiving in Moscow," published on Brevity's blog. The essay was submitted for Brevity’s holiday contest for "flash" essays (300 words or less). Here's the link:

Mary Dockery’s poem, "I Call the Suicide Hotline," appeared in the December issue of the journal Lunch Ticket

Marianne Kunkel's poem "I Guess," published in Rattle, is a new featured poem on Rattle's website. Also, a writer's profile of Marianne is scheduled to appear on the Notre Dame Review website later this month.

Susan Martens' vignette, "On the New Orleans Writing Marathon," was published in the December issue of College Composition and Communication.

Kay Siebler presented a paper on teaching critical thinking in China through sexuality education. at the International Gender and Education Conference in Melbourne, Australia.

With the Prairie Lands Writing Project, MAA students and PLWP Teacher Consultants Josie Clark and Elisabeth Alkier (Bode Middle School) hosted the Writing Club Rumble on Dec. 6 at MWSU.  This event, part of PLWP's Supporting Effective Educator Development--Teacher Leadership grant, gathered local teachers to discuss approaches to after-school writing clubs.

Morale and Motivation
Thanks to our M & M team for hosting white elephant gift exchange at the end of the semester.  It was great fun, although for some mysterious reason, more gifts were given than received...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Our Man in China (4): An Old American Bringing Up The Rear

A Pleasant Scent from a Torturous Mountain


            A few weeks ago, I was invited by my friend Wu Jia for a leisurely hike into the mountains surrounding Shaanxi province. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Leisurely?

Jia: Yes. Nothing too strenuous (her English is excellent)

Me: I mean, my knees…my age…

Jia: Oh, stop. You’ll be fine, but if you have a walking stick or knee braces, you know…

Me: How far are we going?


Jia: Oh, maybe five, ten miles.

Perhaps it’s easy to see where this is going.

The Saturday of the hike, I met Jia outside the university gate and we walked to a bus stop where other hikers had gathered. There were about eighty of us. Organizers counted heads and queued us up to board two private buses. (By the way, I hate waiting in lines. However, it seems that most Chinese people wait patiently and don’t complain.) I looked at my fellow hikers. I saw huge, light-aluminum-framed back packs outfitted with camping stoves, hiking poles, and double water bottles, everything covered in rain gear. The hikers wore heavy, water-proofed boots and all-weather hiking pants with all-weather parkas, hats and scarves. They looked serious…and thin, and fit, and I was clearly twenty-five to thirty years older than the oldest one.

A few of them glanced my way. I felt self-conscious. I wore jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and running shoes. I carried a small back pack, enough to hold a change of clothes, one water bottle, an apple, and cashews for lunch. On the ride to the trail head—about fifty miles away—Jia translated instructions from two of the organizers. One organizer turned to Jia and told her that she and I were on the green team. Team? What team? There was to be a competition between teams of ten hiking up to the midpoint for some prizes and then first, second, and third prizes after the descent. All of it sponsored by Gortex (a company that makes water-resistant clothing). The leader of our team told Jia that he didn’t expect much from us because she was the only woman (other than one organizer) and I was, well…not exactly outfitted for this adventure.

We started at around a rather late 10 a.m., and approximately from 1500 feet. Our first goal was the midpoint, supposedly 5000 feet. Once on our way up the mountain, Jia and I were determined so we encouraged each other not to bring up the rear. The trail became hardened clay and stones while mist began to surround us, but it cleared at certain points—enough to stop for a moment and take a photo of a gorgeous mountain lake. Magpies flew in and out of tall brush, a crow cawed in the distance, and some sort of eagle (or buzzard?) circled far above our heads. Then the trail began to narrow and take on about a 4% grade. I looked back at the lake one more time and said to myself, “You know who would love this? Betty Sawin. Betty would like this very much.”

As we continued, Jia and I chatted about the scenery but also how we would show them that a woman and an old American can hang with the young men. I hitched up my backpack, Jia did the same with hers, and we quickened our pace as we sensed the grade beginning to increase. “You all right, Dana?” “Sure, Jia. How’s by you?” And we passed a few other hikers, leaving them behind. The trail became narrower and the scent of the air cleaner as we got higher in elevation. Then Jia and I realized we were pretty much alone as we came across an open area with brown corn stalks and planted vegetables—a clay and straw farm house sat next to the trail—an old woman worked her garden. I said hello and she smiled and waved. We took a few photos, and continued on.

The trail narrowed again and the grade seemed to increase more. I became somewhat winded, but knew I was fine.  We hiked another hour, with it getting just past noon.  That’s when Jia broke the news to me that she thought we had probably only hiked about five miles, weren’t yet at the midway point, and was told on the bus that the total hike would be close to twenty miles. I started to calculate.

After a bit longer, the trail opened up, became hardened clay, and we heard voices in the distance. Jia said we’d be stopping for lunch, which was good news. As the voices became clearer, Jia urged me onward, telling me we had to mark a time of arrival for the competition, so I went ahead. She was about twenty yards behind, when the leader of our team came down the trail and wanted me to hurry. I turned back toward Jia and she explained that we were the last two to arrive—that she would be the last one for our team—so I stopped. I figured it didn’t make any difference if I marked a few seconds of time before she did. I let her go ahead. She joined our team and then they all looked back at me, some of them pointing, some shaking their heads in dismay. I asked Jia what it meant. She explained that I let a woman beat me.  And I thought, “What would Betty Sawin say about that?”

This midway point was another farm house where an old woman and her son live. They were kind enough to allow eighty hikers to sit around their place, use their latrine (and it was a latrine) and clean up after us once we’d left. So I chose a concrete step to sit upon and rummaged through my back pack for lunch. I looked around and many of the other hikers removed their knee braces, collapsed their aluminum hiking poles, and set up butane camping stoves.  They cooked re-hydrated noodles with vegetables, boiled water for tea, and warmed their hands with the flames. While they ate their lunches with chopsticks, I cut up my apple and savored every cashew nut. A few of the more friendly members of our team gathered around me and asked questions. They wanted to practice their English, mostly. But one guy mentioned that I was last. I said I wasn’t last, but he insisted I was. Jia explained that he was ribbing me, yet they wanted us to step it up. We had come in third place for the midway point and it was unacceptable. I laughed. I mean, who gives a shit?

I finished my lunch and watched as others made more food and chatted; lunch is the biggest meal of the day in China. Yet, it was getting close to two o’clock in the afternoon.  I thought we were burning daylight, as a trail boss might say.

Me: When do you think we’ll get moving again?

Jia: After lunch.

Me: I know that, but we have about fifteen more miles. (Downhill, I’d hoped.)

Jia: Yeah, but some are still eating and others are taking a nap.

And as interesting, and eastern, and now-moment-ish, and endearing, and prevalent as that attitude is here in China, well, it can be rather frustrating for a western person. I wanted to know if the organizers and other hikers really thought we’d all be able to cover fifteen trail miles in less than three hours—before it got dark. So I asked Jia to ask a lead hiker.

Me: When will we start up again?

Leader: (through Jia) After lunch.

Me: Yes, I know that, but isn’t it getting a bit late?

Leader: (through Jia) You can go on ahead, if you would like.

Of course I didn’t know the trails or where we were headed. I said thank you, but realized that I had questioned his abilities in front of Jia. Perceived insult aside, I smiled, put my hands together in the Buddhist way and bowed with a nod of my head. After another fifteen or twenty minutes, everyone was packed up, napped up, and began to rise to their feet. More instructions were given. Jia and I got to the front of the crowd. As we started, she told me we had about another hour until we’d reach the midway point (I thought that was where we’d just had lunch, but no). Yet, I followed along.  What else could I do? The buses were going to meet us at the final destination, so going back down the way we came was not an option.

As the trail became narrower—many places not much wider than a game trail—the brush became thicker and the footing less sure. We rose in altitude, the grade increasing, and the mist thickened to the point of a light sprinkle of rain. My running shoes were clearly a liability and I often had to grab hold of tree branches to steady myself to climb over wet rocks and through the mud. But Jia and I were right there with everyone. No one was going to pass us (in fairness no one could pass anyone because it was a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other path). About forty-five minutes into our ascent, the train of hikers came to a halt. Looking up and ahead, the trail leaders were turning around. Word was passed down that even though we’d reached the midway point, there wasn’t enough time for us to make it down the mountain before it got dark. So we had to go back.

I was relieved because the trail we’d come up was often wider and drier and my knees were beginning to bother me. I thought that I’d about had enough anyway and even though this wasn’t exactly leisurely, I’d burned calories and had taken in some beautiful scenery. Plus, I felt a bit vindicated.

Instead of the path we’d already traveled (many feet had trodden black), the same leader who’d suggested I go on alone stood at a fork in the trail to direct us along a different way. I stopped for a second and said in English, “I don’t wanna say I told you so, but…I told you so.” He looked away, perhaps a bit embarrassed, which wasn’t really my intent.  After a hundred yards or so, it was clear we had entered a ravine. A creek flowed to our left and brush, granite, and trees seemed to shoot upward like a fortress wall on each side of us. Although we were clearly descending, we often had to jump down from boulders and ledges and hurdle fallen moss-covered logs. It was very slow going. The ravine and the trail became deeper and darker. In fact, the sun—what there had been of it—was nowhere. This trail was clearly more difficult, wetter, steeper, muddier, and full of thorny brush cutting our faces and hands as we moved through it.

And then I fell. I lost my footing on wet granite and fell. I tumbled and rolled and tried to grab anything I could.  I heard shouts of other hikers and a few reached out as I passed them. One guy grabbed my little back pack and I stopped only a few feet from a sheer drop of ten to fifteen feet. He said something to me that I didn’t understand. I whispered “xièxiè,” and then I sprang to my feet with arms in the air and shouted, “I’m all right! I’m all right!” in my best Mel Brooks voice.

We came to a dammed part of the creek, nothing big, just a small pond, and stepped along slippery rocks to the opposite side. It got darker and we got deeper. The creek moved faster, water tumbling over boulders and rocks and rotting logs. Someone ahead picked up the trail—which became narrower, with more thorny brush and thicker mud. But then the mud gave way to an expanse of green.  And as we hiked along, it became very apparent that the green was all peppermint. The mountain air came alive with the gorgeous scent of mint.  It was slippery, though, and much of it covered rocks and the mud underneath. My shoes were soaked and unstable and I fell…and then fell again…and fell some more.  Each time I did so, the man who had saved me from the previous nasty fall was right behind me, helping me to my feet and smiling as I said thank you. He wouldn’t leave my side.

I looked up ahead and most of the hikers were having some difficulty with the trail. Except, except that Jia was being helped over boulders and across the creek by another hiker holding her hand to make sure she was safe.  I called out to her. How much farther? She asked her helper.

“He’s not sure. Maybe another hour. Maybe more.”

And I groaned. I was not in good shape, really. My knees ached, my ass was bruised, my hands and face were bleeding from cuts suffered by the brush, and I was soaked in sweat and rain. Yet, I took a deep breath of the minty air and thought, “You know who would really love this?”

Soon, though, it was dark. No one said much. It was obvious that everyone—not just me—everyone was tired and wet and bleeding and looking forward to the comfort the bus would offer. So we trudged along. After a little while, the trail opened up to hard clay and as we rounded a bend it seemed we had emerged from the ravine. The sky became lighter, a bright three-quarter moon shone about thirty degrees above the horizon, and my spirits lifted.

My guardian angel, the young man who had saved me from my fall, came up beside me. Jia translated:

Young Man: How are you doing?

Me: Me? Oh, terrific. Never better.

Young Man: How’s your ass?

Me: Sore. But that’s not really what hurts.

Young Man: Oh? What have you hurt?

Me: My dignity, my friend, my dignity.

He laughed, clapped me on the shoulder, and told me it was the shoes. If I’d had proper shoes, he had no doubt I’d have fared much better. And at that moment, the world seemed right. After all the ribbing about being last in our group, after all the doubts of whether an American would be able to cut it, after my numerous falls and all the looks of frustration from those behind me because I had held up their progress, this one young man was smiling and warm and encouraging and genuine. “Besides,” he said, “you’re not as old as you think you are.” And he quickened his pace, moving ahead to be the last one to board the first bus.

I have yet to see him again.