Datong City Street
Shanxi Province countryside
I am delighted, filled with joy, that my book, Great Polar Bear, will be published in Chinese, in May of 2021. In 2002, I was lucky to be part of a teacher exchange to Datong city, in Shanxi Province, teaching conversational English to my teenage students. Being there a month, gave me time to love the landscapes, the people, my students, and the ancient treasures. Loving the art of the Chinese language, I can hardly wait to see the words I wrote in English, now undecipherable to me, yet beautiful, as they show Chinese readers the life of one magnificent bear in the course of his year, when much of his world was covered with ice.
As I thought about this new book in the hands of Chinese adults and children, I remembered their reaction to its first American edition, published in 1997, titled, Great Crystal Bear, by Harcourt.
Teaching my students, that summer of 2002, one young man loved it so much he borrowed my book and carefully translated it into Chinese so he could .......“keep it forever.”
I loved being halfway around the world, in a country where I was now the stranger, the non-native language speaker.
Weekends we careened in a speeding van to landscapes beyond Datong City. Wutai-Shan, a tiny town of holy Buddhist mountain temples…..white lilies, golden lotus flowers, carved statues, temple bells, and an incense burner holding red candles for supplicant prayers, will never leave my mind.
Mist enveloped us as we climbed uneven stone stairs….pausing to catch our breath at each landing. Gazing out as we climbed higher, soon there was only cloud... until we descended on a ski lift, into the real world, feet on the ground again. Magic.
The month in China held daily wonders, as my photos show. Students filled mornings. At their rest time, after lunch, a few of us explored with my interpreter, investigating art supply stores, parks, and historic monuments. Late afternoons, we were back in class, with polite students, as shy to speak my language as I to speak their. After a few days, recognizing out equality rendered all of us brave enough to try with zest, gusto and no judgement
Most unforgettable... my students….girls and boys 13 and 14, how we sang together, learned together, role-played scenes from American life.
One day, they gave me Chinese names, describing my characteristics and gifts as they saw them...my new names now in spidery Chinese characters...their choices: pearl...romantic...poet, shi...flower...pure, strong life...happiness...noble...
Our Chinese professor, speaking to my class, wrote every derivative of the word ‘poet’ on the chalkboard as she spoke. “Your teacher is a ‘poet.’ She speaks ‘poetry,’ makes ‘poems’ of paragraphs, sees the world ‘poetically.’ Lucky you."
One of my favorite events was to be stopped often by polite parents of beautiful children, for a photo taken, and our “Hello,” in ‘real’ American English..... to children eager to speak
their perfect English ‘Hello’s’ to us.
Nights of neon flashes on mirrored tall buildings and around the corner, streets unpaved ...tiny tucked-together homes and shops, the contrast progress brings piece-meal to all developing countries. To see a Chinese Opera...outdoors....was thrilling. Watching players apply elaborate make-up...listening to a musical scale so beautifully different from my own heightened every sense.
Everywhere, beauty, art in unexpected places.The joy of Jingshan Park, in Beijing at dawn…voices calling like wolves, to locate their group of dancers, yoga classes, fan-twirlers. That waterfall, trickling from ancient rocks and trees, and as we walked.
On the Great Wall
Jinjiang Park Dawn Meditation Beijjng
Stone steps..... Jinjiang Park Beijing
The students, believing only poets had special gifts, were eager to “see” a real poet write a poem from an idea….. spontaneously, in front of them, on the chalkboard. Given the idea, its title, I thought, felt, wrote. Then as I encouraged and taught the students, they found had a voice...that they too could write poetry, making some of them weepy-proud.
Datong City art store spree
Hanging Monastery Temple
The Journey to China
What is it
that makes one leave home
to venture to unknown
cannot be spoken,
not one word read.
For me it is exploration that calls..
It is the seeking
to know more of myself
and this world.
And in the midst of the discovered wilderness of unknown,
to find home.
in a smile
Carolyn Lesser at South Ocean School, Datong City, Shanxi Province, ChinaJuly 26, 2002
The Hengshan Hanging Monastery Hunyuan County, Datong City, Shanxi Province, China
The month vanished too soon. I would have liked another three months to travel China, yet it was my great privilege to be that teacher of Conversational English, with those wonderful students.
I smile as I write this, China treasures still alive and well inside my heart and soul.
Temple at Yuingang near Datong
The Nine-Dragon Wall Datong City
Returning to Datong, stopped on a treacherous narrow, one track mountain road...part of a huge traffic jam winding down the mountain, two of us got out to walk, I, never without my camera. Skirting the road’s cliffside, I stopped….glanced over my shoulder...gasped to see sunset-lit peach ground mist waterfalling the mountain edge. Click. Click.Click. Vanished. Back on the bus, I scribbled a poem in my purple silk journal, to keep the moment forever, as night descended, together now, in the darkness of the warm China night.