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I’m settling in to my new home in China.

It’s been raining a lot, so I’m learning the umbrella customs. You don’t carry your umbrella into a building. Instead, leave it outside, propped up against the wall, so you don’t drip on the floor. On rainy days, umbrellas line up outside the canteen like little dolls (most are the collapsible kind).

Mine is orange and blue, so it’s easy to find among the plaids and flowers and plain umbrellas. Nobody will bother them, but you’ve got to remember what door you came in to retrieve yours again. If you forget to bring it, or it wasn’t raining when you went inside, but it is now? No problem! There are also bins with umbrellas to borrow. Just drop it off in a bin at the next building you visit. On campus we share.

I’m having all kinds of adventures. I decided to wash my clothes in the combination washer/dryer. The dial is labeled in English and Chinese, so I thought it would be easy. My friend and neighbor, Ryan, had already warned me that the drying takes a long time, so I planned to hang it in our common laundry area — an outdoor room overlooking our courtyard with racks and spinning circular hangers with clothespins.

These remind me of the carousel in a short-order lunch counter where you pin the order up so the cook can spin it around and see what it is.

But it was the third day of rain, and it felt pretty humid. I was afraid they wouldn’t dry, so I left them in and switched the dial to the dryer. “Intensive Dry” ought to do it. The display said it would take two-and-a-half hours.

I set to grading essays at my little desk. When I heard the dryer chirp, I went in to see how my clothes fared. But before I could reach the laundry room, a picture of a tiny faucet lit up on the display, and I could hear running water.

It took several seconds for me to find the off button and open the machine. By then, the barrel had filled up several inches. My clothes at the top were warm and mostly dry. But those at the bottom were in standing water.

I pulled out those on top and hung them in my closet. Then I ran the wet ones again on the spin cycle and went to hang them in the open air. Despite the rain, they were dry enough to hang in my closet by morning.

Next time, I’ll tackle the rice cooker. The buttons are all labeled in Chinese.

Our courtyard has diagonal pathways cutting through to the front of our residential college, like a mini quad. The grass is green, and we have some small trees — a sweet olive and Ginkgo Biloba.

Another plaque identifies the carpet of shrubbery near the door as Indian azalea. Sure enough, one lone, fuchsia-colored flower blooms. I predict as spring opens up, so will a carpet of azaleas.

I spotted some others with markers across the way, and I’ll have to go see what they are. I can’t discover everything in one day.

On Saturday, the campus held “A Taste of Home,” an international food fair. I asked one student if he was going, and he thought it would not be very interesting, since most of the international students were not able to travel to campus this year. “It will be all Chinese food,” he said.

Well, it was mostly Chinese food, but Chinese food from various provinces. And there was one Italian dish — pasta.

The festivities began with some music, and I got to see some of my students perform. I took a video of the a cappella group, and after the show, several of the singers came up and introduced themselves. They had noticed me filming and asked me to share the video. Of course!

I got into the buffet line and asked for only a small portion of each dish on my plate. A few bites of so many dishes was very satisfying for both stomach and tongue. If I had come to campus a little sooner, I could have signed up to be one of the judges. But I think I’m glad that I just got to taste without deciding which was the most delicious.

Savor Beauty; Relish Peace; Blessed Be

Mary Lucille Hays is visiting China. If you’re missing your weekly dose of Birdland Letters in the News Gazette, you can still read them every week in the Piatt County Journal-Republican. Consider subscribing to support your small-town newspaper. You can see pictures about this week’s post on Instagram @BirdlandLetters. Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com or via snail mail care of the Journal-Republican, 118 E. Washington St., Monticello, IL 61856. She wants to thank her friends for writing and will answer you all soon.

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