6 Resiliency Lessons from the Wuhan Virus

Life can often seem routine: wake up at a usual time, shower, dress, eat breakfast, and go to work. For us, the routine suddenly shifted as we fought to maintain control of our freedoms when Chinese authorities, fearful of a new virus, started implementing unprecedented travel restrictions and quarantines, essentially isolating more than 40 million people.  

Ironically, we just completed our book about resilience when we decided to celebrate and blow off steam by traveling from our home in Beijing to scenic and historic sites within China and around southeast Asia in January, 2020. But where should we go? We thought of visiting our friends, the Westergards, who had recently moved to Wuhan. Wuhan is also a great location from which to explore the Yangtze River. We considered it carefully.

Ultimately, however, we chose to see the areas of Kunming, Guilin, Hong Kong, Macau, and Malaysia instead (a great decision, as we later learned). This decision was largely the result of a desire to travel with Matt and Judy Batschi, who planned to meet us in Kunming and leave us a week later in Macau. So off we went on an amazing adventure. All went well until we crossed into Macau, a former Portuguese colony. Walking the streets of old, European-style buildings, we started to notice long lines of intense, grim-faced people at various pharmacies. Wondering what was going on, we looked at news reports and discovered an announcement of a serious viral outbreak. Chinese New Year celebrations had been cancelled and travel restrictions were being activated.

Very quickly, we found ourselves unable to purchase face-masks. It was an odd feeling as we boarded buses and subways full of masked people, only to realize we were the only mask-less people aboard. As we traveled, we also recognized an escalation of travel restrictions and quarantine policies that seemed to follow us. We saw announcements about school delays throughout China. We saw proclamations of extensive quarantine efforts, including inhabitants of various cities totaling more than 40 million people! This has never happened anywhere in the world.

The airport in Macau required all passengers to be screened for fevers. We flew to Malaysia, but it seemed we were just ahead of efforts to close traffic from the China area into other Asian countries. How quickly would the question, “Have you been in China?” turn into a refusal allow entry? We were glad we made it to Penang, Malaysia. However, just as soon as we arrived, we noticed announcements of virus cases in Malaysia. One hotel in Malaysia was also screening everyone with thermometers.

Soon we were contacted via Wechat by our school in Beijing. We were told that upon our return to Beijing, because we had left China, we would be placed in separate quarantine facilities for two weeks, which meant we would not be together. Meanwhile, even in Malaysia we were to report our daily activities, temperature and health status to Foreign Ministry authorities. 

Part of massive Buddhist Temple in Penang, Malaysia. Jana and Randy Ewing on the right.

The Malaysian people were very friendly, but concerned with anyone coming from China. Laraine wore a T-shirt with Chinese characters on it. We were told by one woman that we should probably not wear those kinds of things. Laraine had a blouse made by a tailor in her shop in our hotel. As we entered the second time, the woman (knowing we had come from China), pulled her mask tightly across her face before we could get close to her.

Meanwhile, border security was intensifying and quarantine policies were tightening. Weighing our options, we decided to go back to the U.S. even though we no longer maintain a home there, nor could we access our computers, clothes, Chinese bank accounts, and other valuables.

But would the U.S. let us in? We seemed to be always a step ahead of quarantine, and our luck held out as we crossed into the U.S. on Sunday, February 2nd, exactly 14 days from the day of our departure from Chinese soil. This was important because the incubation period of the virus was determined to be 14 days. Any sooner and new U.S. restrictions would have placed us in quarantine on U.S. soil. Even so, as we entered the U.S., our blessed 14 day buffer was in doubt because of a time zone difference. But we did make it through ok.

As mentioned above, we had just authored a book entitled, “Threads of Resilience: How to Have Joy in a Turbulent World” (not yet in print, but coming in late February or March 2020). Many times during our “vacation,” we said to each other, “What do we do now?” The situation was changing so quickly, it was hard to formulate a plan. Our experience in Asia gave us a chance to test the advice in our book. Here are the main points:

Develop Gratitude. When life throws you “curve balls,” re-consider what is going well for you. We had each other. We had good health, with good immune systems. We had friends and family pulling for us.

Pass the Gratitude Forward. While it was important for us to feel gratitude, it was just as important to spread that gratitude around. Fellow teachers, friends, and school administrators were doing their best to cope with the changing policies and conditions. We expressed our gratitude for the efforts of others.

Commit to Serve Others. Some of our dearest friends were people who did NOT have a spouse or family to turn to. Our Chinese friends were fearful and discouraged, with no escape options. We communicated our love and encouragement to those who were not doing well. This uplifted them and made us feel needed.

Value Relationships. While the sands were shifting under our feet, we spent time with another couple that was going through the same thing. Our week in Malaysia with Randy and Jana Ewing was something we’ll never forget. Had it not been for them, I think we would have dwelled too much on problems that couldn’t be solved. Instead, we simply enjoyed their friendship and camaraderie. It made us feel stronger to make critical decisions about what to do.

Find the Humor. Laughter is truly a gift, especially during difficult times. We spent a lot of time laughing at our situation and life itself as we carefully picked through our options. We will never forget the humorous singing Malaysian taxi driver, who insisted on leading us in songs from the 70’s. We spent a week in laughter when it could have been tears as we tried to pick up the pieces of our plans from the impact of the spreading pandemic.

Rely on Your Higher Power. Whatever you believe, it is important to be in touch with your higher power during difficult times. We are Christians, and found strength through prayer.     

We are now safely back in the United States until the corona virus in China is under control. We have now been told to prepare online courses for our students, as it may be some time before we can return to Beijing.

Dumplings, Dumplings and more Dumplings!

You don’t have to be in China for very long before you learn that dumplings are something everyone in China loves and there’s an art to making them. Every year around Christmas time is also the lunar solstice that means you are supposed to eat dumplings that day to bring prosperity for the coming year.

The staff and teachers are invited to the cafeteria to make hundreds of dumplings and then they cook them for lunch. The president of the university always pays a visit to say hello. Laraine had the privilege of visiting with him for a few minutes and have her picture with him. The students then put on a New Years program. Our very own Judy Batschi, a fellow BYU china teacher, performed a solo during the program.

There was also a Relief Society class to learn how to make dumplings. So everything is dumplings for a few weeks.

Left to right: Marcus Freitas, President of CFAU, Laraine, Shelly (our Communist Party Liaison)

Judy Saves Our Bacon

Judy Batschi and Laraine explain to a student how to show emotions when acting. The student took to it fairly naturally. (Anger)

One of the university administrators asked us to “help out” at her daughter’s elementary school every month. They want us to share our “drama expertise” with the school’s drama class.

At this point you might ask yourself if Chuck and Laraine have much experience with drama. The answer is NO. But because we are Americans and Hollywood is in America, there is an assumption that we all must surely know how to act. Fortunately, we have drafted our fellow teacher, Judy Batschi, who DOES have drama experience to join us. We had a great experience our first time with the class.

Since we DO have experience with emotional literacy, we used that experience to help students learn how to show more emotion in their acting.

China’s 70th Anniversary: A Dinner for Foreign Experts

Before getting on the bus, we paused for a picture outside of our university’s main building. Shown above are our fellow CFAU “foreign teachers” and Lynn, our Chinese university liaison (third from right)
Special Invitation to attend the Foreign Expert’s Dinner. Once at the hall, each invitation was scanned and our pictures were displayed to ensure we were the person’s using the invitations.

Along with some of our university colleagues, we were invited by our university to attend a special dinner for foreign experts who are living and working in China. We arrived in buses and, for our benefit, the entire highway was shut down on the way to the dinner, which was held at The Great Hall of the People adjacent to Tiananmen Square. Some 2,000 foreign experts were in attendance and treated to an amazing dinner and speech from Vice Premier Han Zheng. He praised foreign experts for assisting the country of China in reaching its current strength and status on the 70th anniversary of the Communist Party in China.

Standing on Tiananmen Square, waiting to enter The Great Hall of the People behind us.

At our table was a couple from the Ukraine, a woman from Mexico City, a man from the UK, a man from Russia, another American man, and two Chinese hosts. We had a delightful time getting to know them. Unfortunately, cameras and cell phones were not allowed in the hall. We did get pictures of our group at the university and outside the hall.

Incidentally, after the dinner the entire crowd exited the doors to the front of the hall, while I (Chuck) slipped into a restroom at the rear of the hall, behind some heavy curtains. I was there for just a few moments when an entourage of young men in business suits wearing ear buds entered the restroom with the Vice Premier himself. I was surprised and could only think to say, “Hi” to him. Afterwards I exited, holding open the curtain for him as we walked out together. I remember thinking, “Why are these security men allowing me to be so close to the Vice Premier.” Then I remembered the worried looks on their faces. Obviously, this bathroom break was unplanned and worrisome to those whose job it was to keep him safe. I caught them off-guard.

Chinese Students are Surprised by Leadership Concepts

Statue of former Premier Zhou Enlai and CFAU President Chen Yi in front of CFAU auditorium

Remembering that first class day in September when a new crop of leadership students at China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU) looked up at me expectantly, I could almost see the questions forming behind those beautiful brown eyes.

“Who is this American, and what will we be doing in this ‘leadership’ class?” “Does he really think we need to learn about leadership—something so far into our future?”

On that first day, I looked into their skeptical eyes and got no response when I said, “Raise your hand if you think of yourself as a leader.” Polling the class, I verified what I had already discovered about most students in China: they think of leadership only in terms of positional power.

I then did something unexpected: I showed four short video clips of orchestra conductors leading their orchestras. Each had a unique style. One kept a steady metronome-like beat, showing no emotion on his face. Another closed his eyes while swaying and waving his arms in oversized motions. A third conductor did an exuberant little dance while gesturing with his arms. The fourth was the most unusual. He did nothing with his body and, strangely, kept his arms folded while simply raising his eyebrows occasionally and pursing his lips. This brought some nervous laughter from the class.  

As the music went silent, I looked around the room at puzzled expressions. Breaking the silence, I said, “The true essence of leadership is simply manifesting your most important values. Can you tell what the first conductor valued?”

Getting no response, I continued, “The first conductor valued a regular, steady rhythm.” I then imitated this maestro’s robot-like precision.

“What about the second conductor?” Again, no response. I closed my eyes and made big motions with my arms. “Can you tell this conductor really valued the emotions of his music?”

“What about the third conductor?” I asked. Finally, a timid student piped up, “He likes to dance.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “He seems to value physical movement and expression.” Several students nodded in agreement.

“How about the fourth conductor?” This brought snickers as the students remembered the conductor who seemed to do nothing. “Can you tell what he values?” All heads went down to their desks.

“It might be hard to recognize, but can you see that this conductor valued the musicians’ individual and collective expression and interpretation of the music—even without his involvement? He wants them to come forth with their own expressions. But it doesn’t make him any less a leader, does it?”

As the school year progressed, students became less skeptical, more engaged and more determined to be “values-expressing” leaders. They joined me in exploring leadership through discussion and memorable activities. We went through John C. Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership, examining case studies, working in teams to make critical decisions in simulated conditions, and even analyzing Deputy Barney Fife’s humorous behavior as a “Level 1” leader in the old American sit-com, The Andy Griffith Show. We worked through concepts in Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High (Kerry Patterson et al.) by creating simulated conflicts and allowing students to practice newly learned techniques to resolve those conflicts. We used unusual, right-hand/left-hand writing and drawing methods developed by Dr. Lucia Cappachione (The Power of Your Other Hand, etc.) to become more self-aware in order to more effectively lead others.

Students kept a leadership journal, starting with a list of their most important values. As the year continued, some were able to share from their journal and examine how well they had expressed those important values with others in their class, in their teams, in their community and at home.  

Finally, at the end of the year, we examined Fortune Magazine’s list of the 50 top world leaders. Choosing the top twelve who happened to be leaders in government, business, activism and philanthropy, we discussed what they all had in common. Because the list included male and female, old and young (even a 16-year- old), rich and poor, employers and employees, etc., the common element was obvious. Each leader had been successful in identifying a value within themselves and moving heaven and earth to express and manifest that value. Students’ understanding of leadership and their roles in it had taken a huge jump forward from the first day of class.  

China Foreign Affairs University is the “cradle of diplomacy” for China. All Chinese diplomats must receive training at CFAU, and a large percentage of China’s diplomats have also received undergraduate or graduate degrees at CFAU. It feels good to know this powerful nation’s future is in the hands of those who have a better understanding and passion for leadership.

What might the world reap from the seeds sown in my “leadership crop” this year?

A view of the “new campus” in Sha He area of Beijing
New campus “teaching building” for Freshmen, Sophomores and Juniors
Gate to “Old Campus” in heart of Beijing (Xi Cheng District) Seniors are taught in the main building (shown)
Statue of Founding President Chen Yi in front of Main Building of Old Campus
Lobby of our residence (International Exchange Center)

A Star is Born

A Star is Born

Our university invited us to attend a conference in a “small” town of just 1.2 million people. We accepted the invitation and soon found that we were the guests of honor (token Americans) at a huge “friendship walk” in central China. In XinYang, we were “wined and dined,” put up in a 5-star hotel, and treated like royalty.

At the Opening Ceremonies, we were escorted into a stadium filled with thousands of cheering people. I was given a red jacket with a Chinese flag over my heart, and put on stage with about 11 other foreigners. They introduced me as a distinguished teacher from America while thousands of people cheered, a half-dozen drones flew around our heads, taking pictures, and television cameras recorded everything.

When it came time to leave on the 13 Km walk, we were mobbed by people wanting our picture. Even as we walked away and came to a small village, I stopped to stretch and young boys pulled out their phones to get pictures. My memory is bending over at the waist to stretch my hamstring while a young boy laid on the ground, peering up at my sagging red face with his camera a few inches from my nose. I don’t even want to see that picture. — Chuck Chamberlain

Key to pictures below: 1) Pic with host at dinner 2) Another host at dinner 3) host with Lynne, our school liaison 4) on our walk, these men stared very intently at us, and it seemed they had never seen an American in person. We asked to take their picture 5) workers harvesting tea leaves -so beautiful 6) more greenery on our walk 7) Card playing in hotel lobby, two girls from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan joined us 8) Fellow teacher, Cory, is very tall and a magnet for picture taking 9) little guy and his mom very curious about us 10) trying to stretch, missed the best picture of the boy on the ground getting my face as I bent over 11) forming C-F-A-U with our fingers 12) Introduced as a high muckety muck 13) fellow big shots on stage 14) One of the many drones getting our picture 15) With fellow big shots 16)Chuck, Laraine, Lynn, Cory, and a local helper 17) in our hotel lobby

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Life as a guest big shot “foreigner” can be exhausting
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Laraine and the Dumpling Gang

China Foreign Affairs University sponsored a gala the week before Christmas. They correctly surmised that some of the “foreign experts” on campus would want to learn how to make Chinese dumplings.

Laraine (second from left) enjoys some quality dumpling time with Ruth Ann Martin (3rd from left, from South Africa), Shelly (4th from left, CFAU administrator and Communist Party liaison) and Lynn (2nd from right, CFAU administrator). They are joined by some expert dumpling makers on the ends.
Ruth Ann is a natural dumpling maker
The finished product! YUM!

Home Buying Can Be Joyful Chaos

Home buying and selling are examples of leadership activities. I teach leadership principles to three classes at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing. We recently discussed the quote: “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” Students learned that leadership in the home is the highest priority. They learned that for most people, the single biggest financial decision they will make will involve buying a home.

In addition to teaching students a topic, I am tasked with giving them an experience in American culture. So, I devised a way for them to learn all of these leadership principles, practice making an important decision, learn additional vocabulary, experience the “American Dream,” and have fun–all at the same time.

I started by printing out home information sheets from Zillow. I chose the Atlanta area and filtered for homes in the $250K to $300K range. For each home, I determined an unmet need and wrote it on an instruction sheet for each pair of students. For instance, one sheet might say, “You own a beautiful home on Sheffield Way, but your mother is coming to live with you and you need a place for her.”

Students paired up while we learned how to navigate “ad speak” such as “w/frplc” (with fireplace), or “bsmnt” (basement). Students had a hard time, but with some coaching they caught on quickly. They learned some new vocabulary like: jack and jill bath, master suite, stucco, crown molding, HOA, HVAC, half bath, “as is,” and mother-in-law suite.

Once students understood the new vocabulary, each pair had to come up with a 1-minute commercial about the home they owned and why their fellow students should buy it. Their commercials were hilarious, especially since many of  the terms were new to them. Many had seen some slick Chinese commercials on TV and tried to imitate that style in their speech. Their peers found this to be extremely entertaining. If a student wasn’t presenting a 1-minute commercial, he/she was busy listening to fellow students’ commercials to see which home best fit the unmet need they were looking to fill.

Once all commercials were finished, I turned them loose to buy and sell. Their only assignment was to sell their existing home and buy another home that fit their needs. They only had about 10 minutes for this open marketplace. The excitement level was amazing, and in the end most students were able to accomplish the objective. Once in a while, however, a pair of students would admit that they were homeless and unable to buy a new home. Or in some cases, some students owned two homes.

I would call this activity “joyful chaos.” Check out the short video and tell me what you think? Any suggestions for future classes? (By the way, I tried to make this as English as possible, but some students slip into Mandarin when excited. A few students who are learning Cantonese, will only speak to me in Cantonese)