Sabbatical in China – Spring Semester

Smeltzer Family Stories

We have a number of stories from the Smeltzer family, and even some poetry from Meg, age 13.

  • A Chinese Wedding – A report by Claire, age 9. (from the Winter 2007 Integram)
  • Crazy English – Meg tells of an unusual way to spend a holiday.
  • Hot Pot – Meg celebrates time spent with new friends.
  • Giant Pandas – China’s panda mania seems to have touched Meg too.
  • Leshan and Emei – Sherwyn reports on some of the first family outings.
  • Langzhong – When not at EMU, Deirdre seems to confuse exams with vacations.
  • Lijiang – The initial problems on this trip were worth it.

A Chinese Wedding

Most of a Chinese wedding is eating. Most of an American wedding is the actual getting married part. When we walked in the door there were some people at the door, and they gave two pieces of candy per person. Then we went inside and sat down at a table (there were a lot of round tables that people sat at). There was a smallish plate in the middle of a table, with peanuts, sunflower seeds, and many assorted candies and snacks on it (as sort of an appetizer). Everybody talked and ate from the little plate. It was very noisy. Then, after a long time there was a small ceremony in which the bride and the groom went up an aisle to a platform while some confetti was flying into the air. (There was no flower girl or ring bearer or bridesmaids.) After that there was LOOOOOOOOTTSSS of food. It filled the whole table and there were three layers of plates of food!!!! We ate until we were bloated and then left. It was quite an adventure!!

— Claire Smeltzer

Crazy English

May 1 is a national holiday in China, called Labor Day. Most organizations and businesses close for an entire week, so there were no classes for university students. However, one of our Chinese friends had agreed to serve as a volunteer for a week-long “Crazy English” program being held in Nanchong. The Crazy English pedagogy involves lots of repetition of one word or phrase, which is shouted as loudly and quickly as possible. Somehow, our friend persuaded us to participate in the program; fortunately, however, as the showcase foreigners, we were told that we could teach in any way we wanted to. The students, whose ages ranged from 8-17, were sorted into three different levels, A, B, and C, by age and ability. We had only agreed to serve as guest presenters for each of the three groups of students, once on Monday morning and once on Tuesday morning. We mostly tried to play games and read stories—some of which were acted out by Claire and me. Overall, it was definitely an interesting experience, and we ended up having fun.

— Meg Smeltzer

Hot Pot

Hot Pot
bubbling, spicy
chopsticks chasing food
unusual, authentic, original—slippery
­huo guo

— Meg Smeltzer

Giant Pandas

Black and                                    white spots
Pandas all                                 together. They
eat and eat and eat bamboo — crunch.
green leaves, brown dirt. Nothing but eat
and sleep. Walking, walking, walking. Every-
body crowds around the baby. Red panda
on my lap, eating apples. Cameras
flash. Vendors selling every
kind of panda toy.

— Meg Smeltzer

Leshan and Emei

We are beginning to travel around China, with more to come in the next three weeks. Recently, we took a weekend trip to Leshan and Mt. Emei. Leshan is best known as home to the largest Buddha in the world, measuring 72 meters high. It is notable because it was built in 713 A.D. at the convergence of two rivers, and carved in sandstone on the side of a river bluff.

Mt. Emei, just a 30-minute bus ride away from Leshan, is a mountain that has religious significance in China. There are Buddhist mountains and Daoist mountains, but Emei is both. In general, though, apparently you have to go to a mountain or a temple to find religious significance. It is largely a secular culture.

We used a combination of modes of transportation to go up Mt. Emei. Part of the way up, we rode a bus. Part of the way up, we climbed. For the last portion, we rode a cable car to the summit. It’s a little annoying that at many tourist attractions in China, there is a two tiered system admission pricing, with foreigners paying a higher price. Of course, we are also able to absorb a higher price more easily.

For all of us except Deirdre, Mt. Emei was the first time to see monkeys in a wild state. And when I say “wild”, I mean like the hand fed deer at Shenandoah National Park are wild, which means not caged, but not exactly reclusive either. Giving the monkeys fruit was preferable to having them just take it from you, we decided, after seeing one tear open a water bottle that it had stolen from a hiker’s pocket, with its teeth.

— Sherwyn Smeltzer, June 2006


Students at North Sichuan Medical College had exams from June 26-July 6, with the final exam for my Freshman Listening class being held on June 29. This left us with ample free time during our last week in Nanchong to make a two-day trip to the nearby city of Langzhong. This small city, about 2.5 hours away from Nanchong by bus, is 2300 years old and has maintained a 1.5 square kilometer ancient town. We were told that Langzhong is famous for its sweet buns, its dried beef, and for a particular kind of brown rice vinegar; this last item is reputed to have numerous health benefits, including staving off cancer, and is consumed daily as a beverage by many Langzhong residents.

Our trip to Langzhong was made more eventful by inadvertently omitting all Chinese language aids (phrase books, etc.) while packing for the trip. While in Langzhong, we explored the streets of the ancient town and climbed a tower to look out over the city. We spent the night in a very old inn, and the next day decided to visit a sight called “The Number One Scholar’s Cave”. (We’re unsure whether “number one” refers to the cave or the scholar.) To get there, a taxi drove us out of the city and wended its way up the side of a mountain to a rather deserted-looking parking lot. From the parking lot, we walked further up the mountain along a secluded path until we came to the site entrance. We spent about an hour and a half exploring the area — Claire was entranced by frogs in the pond while Meg found a peaceful, shaded spot to read — and during that time we were joined by only one other group of three tourists.

After walking back to the deserted parking lot, we were faced with the question of how to get back down the mountain and ultimately to the long distance bus station; no taxi was waiting to take us. We decided that the only option was a long, hot walk down the road until we reached the city. Just a few minutes into our walk, however, a large, black car with tinted windows pulled up beside us. The car stopped and a window came down. A Chinese man and woman motioned from inside the car for us to join them. Somewhat hesitantly, we did so. Despite our limited communication skills, we managed to convey to them that we were trying to get to the long distance bus station. To our surprise and pleasure, this couple drove us the entire way to the bus station, and then refused to accept monetary compensation for their efforts — an example to us of the kindness of strangers!

— Deirdre Smeltzer, July 2006


We nearly abandoned our plans to visit Lijiang. We’d purchased tickets to travel from Kunming to Lijiang on a sleeper bus that was scheduled to leave Kunming at 8:00 p.m. on July 4 and arrive in Lijiang at 7:00 a.m. on July 5.  Based on our experience with other long distance buses in China, it seemed reasonable to assume that an overnight bus would be equipped with bathroom facilities and would provide passengers with drinking water. Shortly before we boarded the bus, we learned that this was not the case — the bus provided neither food nor water nor bathroom facilities (although we were told that the bus would stop for a bathroom break every couple of hours). The physical arrangement of the bus added to our trepidation. Each passenger was assigned a small bed on which to travel and given a pillow and blanket. The beds were end-to-end in three rows along the length of the bus, and double stacked (making it impossible to sit fully upright). In addition, despite the “no smoking” instructions, some passengers smoked regularly while en route, creating a considerable fire hazard.

Happy just to have survived the bus ride, we were even more pleased to discover what a delightful city Lijiang is. Our China guidebook says, “Set in a picturesque valley with a stunning mountain backdrop, Lijiang’s Old Town, Dayan, is a labyrinth of cobbled alleys lined with wooden houses, cafes, and the workshops of traditional craftsmen. Home to the Naxi people, Dayan is one of the most pleasant urban scenes in China.” We agree! We thoroughly enjoyed wandering the streets, seeing the beautiful crafts, learning about the ancient Dongba script and religion of the Naxi people (a Chinese minority group), climbing a pavilion that stands at the highest point in Lijiang and overlooks the city, and trying some new foods. We also visited the Black Dragon Pool Park at the edge of town, which offered us the most beautiful sights of our entire China trip, with a lake in the center of the park and mountains surrounding.

— Deirdre Smeltzer, July 2006

Don’t miss the photos from Leshan, Mt. Emei, Langzhong, and Lijiang.