Last October, Waynedale attorney Marvin Crell played hooky and ran off to China for the second time in two years.
Both trips, however, were more of a good deed than anything else.
Under the auspices of Minnesota-based Global Volunteers (www.globalvolunteers.org/organization/about.asp), Marvin traveled with 12 other volunteers from the U.S. and spent three weeks teaching conversational English to college students at Xi’an College of Careers and Technology.
“We taught for eight hours each day, and at 5 p.m. we had our own Chinese Language class,” said Marvin, who has practiced general law in Waynedale for more than 50 years.
Lee Eilbacher, a Fort Wayne lawyer and fellow traveler, kept a laptop journal of the trip with daily entries. A copy of his very readable log, rippling with humor, and keen observations was presented to each of the volunteers after their return.
According to Lee, the Chinese language is very complicated with all the regional dialects: “Baoli (the group’s team leader) says when she and her parents talk by phone; the conversation is always in the dialect of her home village which she grew up speaking. If she were to go to another city or village, she would not be able to understand the vernacular and would have to ask that the other person to speak in Mandarin, which is regarded as the national language.”
The students, unhampered by repression, were amazingly free with their English teachers and asked many questions about American customs, such as marriage, choosing one’s own college courses (they can’t do that in China; they are told which courses to take) and they marveled at the independence of American teens.
“However, in class, they were sometimes shy about speaking English because they didn’t want to ‘lose face’ by giving the wrong answers. But our goal was to have them speak in conversational English so we often did exercises or played games,” wrote Lee in his journal.
“For example, they might have had to introduce themselves to the class, saying, ‘My name is ______. It is a pleasure to meet you.’ and so on. This was very difficult for them but they had a lot of fun doing it.”
Lee also noted the cultural differences between the Chinese and Americans: “At the volunteers’ hotel, the breakfast buffet consisted of the traditional American breakfast items but also a large variety of Chinese foods, such as noodles, green vegetables, sushi, and cold corn on the cob. The Chinese do not drink milk or eat cheese. The group was told, too, that it was difficult for Pizza Hut to catch on in China, although there were plenty of McDonald’s and Starbucks scattered through the country.”
“One dinner Marvin and another volunteer went to was especially memorable. At the huge meal, they consumed four glasses of rice wine and when they got back to the hotel, they each lay down for a nap and slept through their 5:00 p.m. Chinese language class.”
Incidentally, Marvin’s biggest challenge was learning how to use chopsticks properly. (So, Marvin, now that you’re an, um, experienced Chinese diner, can you teach us how to eat a hamburger with chopsticks . . .?)
A brief kaleidoscope of the trip, as seen through the eyes of both Marvin and Lee:
•A shoeshine on the street only cost Marvin the equivalent of fifteen cents.
•China celebrates Halloween, and at Dan Ryan’s Chicago Grill, the servers were costumed – but the fun was dampened somewhat when the hungry volunteers saw that the cheapest steak on the menu cost the equivalent of $40.
•Chinese weddings are celebrated with fireworks.
•One must never give a Chinese person (one cares for) a watch or a clock as a gift because it is regarded as a symbol of impending death.
•When his students – none of whom had ever heard of the Beatles – insisted Marvin sing a song, he taught them “Yellow Submarine” and “Hey Jude.”
Marvin, who is married to Harriet Crell (two sons, Jeffrey and Steven, and four grandchildren), keeps in touch with both the Chinese students and teachers via email (“In English only!” he emphasizes).
“Every day there brought a new experience,” reminisced Marvin.
Finally, Marvin – who would like to return to the Far East – would surely agree with Robert L. Stevenson, who wrote, “I travel not to go anywhere but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”