Little Victories

Some of you know about my good friend, Lisa. She was my class monitor last year for my self-sponsored class and asked if we could study the book out of class because she wanted to “learn stories.”

I’ve been thinking about her and have also been asking many of you to keep her in her thoughts also, as she has been on the fence for a long time about her beliefs and seems to be seeking out a greater truth. She had a bad experience in her past involving FG cults and had been struggling to accept any sort of belief system, but was still seeking, albeit not actively.

Last week, she came to my house for my first study group and admitted to me afterward that she didn’t like the group setting and that she would prefer for us to meet one-on-one “just to have dinner, and not to always study” because she had a hard time opening up to new people. This is a big part of Chinese culture and “guanxi”– Chinese people take their relationships very seriously and it takes a lot to build guanxi with new people. I told her that I was glad that we had developed guanxi with each other I looked forward to deepening our friendship, but I was also sad that it seemed like she wasn’t as interested in learning more.

This week, she didn’t come to our study, so I shared with my other Chinese friends, Pearl and Bernadette (who’s also my Chinese teacher) about my concerns about Lisa and how I had been hoping Dad would really speak to her heart. We all lifted her up, but when I saw Lisa this morning in class, she seemed more aloof and distant than ever before. I was so sad that I could be losing an important and valuable friendship… but Dad works in amazing ways!

Today, Lisa called me and asked me to meet her downstairs for a moment. I had no idea what for, but when I came down, she smiled and said (in a very cute, Chinese type of way), “Look at my hair!” She’d just gotten back from a hair salon where she cut and permed her hair. Lisa is about 30 years old this year and her new hairstyle suited her age a bit more and I could tell she was really excited about it. More importantly, in Chinese culture, changing your hair symbolizes a significant change in your life. When I expressed that we’d hoped that she had come to our study group, she told me that with her haircut, she hoped to start a new chapter of life where her outlooks are different and she would be more open to new people. It was so amazing to see how quickly Dad answered our request for a change in Lisa’s heart. Here’s a picture of Lisa from last semester boiling some dumplings at my house. Please keep her in your thoughts!

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A Few Words About My Mom On Her 50th

n579364333_1210334_7648My mom just turned the big five-oh on March 13th. About a week ago, I asked if she was planning to celebrate in any way and she simply said, “No, I’m too tired.”

If this response came from any other woman turning 50, I would have assumed she might be bit wary of hitting a significant adult rite-of-passage… much like the ones faced by women turning 30 who still have a long list of unchecked items on their “To-Do Before I Turn 30” list (I’d know… I have one such list myself). But it quickly occurred to me that my mom just isn’t that person. In fact, my mother is one of the first women who coached me in the beauty and elegance of a woman who ages gracefully– without lipsuction or Botox, but with dignity, integrity, and acceptance. She’s one of the first women I know who took a stand in a changing generation of women who seek to be “somebody” by saying that she was proud of who she was… a loving mother and housewife. That, in fact, there is much more honor in her role of raising and supporting a family that would quite literally fall apart without her existence than is acknowledged in our day and age. My mom was the first one to tell me that making straight A’s were worthless without effort and a C earned over sleepless nights of conquering theorems and vocabulary words I shed tears over was worth more than a 4.0. She has bravely endured more than I think she realizes in terms of being the youngest daughter of an immigrant family struggling to make it in an unforgiving United States and has carried over those 50 years of experience seamlessly.

There are a few things I often poke fun at my mom for, one of which is her characteristic laugh. It is loud, piercing, and when you hear it from the other room (or city), you know for sure it belongs to her. Once I hit the tender and rebellious age of 13– right when you realize DON’T want to be like your mother– nearly every one of my relatives told me that my laugh sounded exactly like my mom’s. At first horrified, I tried to change it and do everything in my power to rebel against turning into my mother. Today, I laugh with my whole body and yes, it’s really loud, piercing, and you can hear it throughout Beijing. I know exactly where it comes from and I’m proud of every part of me that comes from her.

My sister once brilliantly said, “Mom has conquered the delicate balance between being a disciplinarian and a friend” and I couldn’t agree more.

So today, even if she doesn’t celebrate because she is “too tired,” I want to celebrate all the reasons WHY my mom is tired. At an age where many women are looking forward to retiring (although I wouldn’t doubt for a second that my mom daydreams about one day setting up home in Mexico, her favorite place in the world), my mom works tirelessly to raise my brother, organize family vacations, check in with extended family members, take care of her often-unreasonable parents, develop new friendships and be involved at her fellowship, and the list goes on. I miss her everyday, and even if she’s not celebrating her birthday, I am so thankful to be blessed by her and hope she would be blessed today and every other day by a Father who smiles upon his good and faithful servant.

I love you, Ma. Happy Birthday!

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Things that I’m Afraid of in China & Other Stuff

I was just realizing today that I’ve completely gotten over fears that I had when I first came to China. Things like accidentally eating dog or getting lost in Beijing seem trivial now… but the things I’m ACTUALLY now afraid of now that I’m 6 months into my stint seem completely ridiculous… but here they are anyway:

1) Getting the wretched Asian woman pancake butt. Yes, folks. Of all the things that could happen to me in China, this is the one that tops the list. I may not be proud of any of my physical aspects, but the sheer existence of a rear end in China is something to be appreciated. I would be really upset if I lost mine.

2) Slipping on the squatty potty and falling in. I’ve seen how those things are cleaned. Or not-cleaned.

3) Throwing up in a taxi. It could happen more easily than you think… I almost ALWAYS get a little ill in the taxis in BJ and given how crazy the drivers are, sticking your head out the window to barf could mean you end up at your destination decapitated.

4) Trying clothing on in a shopping center. Clothes at regular chain stores where fitting rooms are available are usually really expensive, so you are better off buying clothes at a giant market where you have to bargain. The fitting rooms there consist of a shower curtain and the worker’s ability to hold it up while you struggle to try change in their tiny booths. I’m wary enough of just being told, “We don’t have GIANT sizes that would ever fit YOU!” So the thought of dropping trou and having a skinny worker girl’s ability to hold up a thin curtain being your only saving grace is EXTREMELY scary.

In other news… things are going well. I’m really starting to appreciate this city more and more and am making lots of friends who are fun to explore Beijing with.

Dear, dear Dana Weld recently left our team in China to go back to the states. I won’t go into how much she is missed here because it would take forever and I have two classes to prepare for! But here is a link to a Facebook album with photos from her Farewell Party.

Dana, we miss you and we love you so much! Beijing experienced a HUGE loss when you left!

http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/album.php?aid=2200169&id=6715783&ref=mf

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In Li Ping: We Saw, We Ate, We Digested… and We Celebrated, Too

The Good—What We Ate
Everything we consumed in the village was absolutely amazing. Because everything comes directly from the land that the people live on, the vegetables, tofu, meat, literally everything was so fresh and delicious.

One time, this came back to bite us in the butt. On a trip to see a waterfall, Hank’s cousins began to tie up a goat. We all knew what was probably coming, but Hank solemnly introduced us to our dinner. Let me tell you—animals are REALLY smart and they know what’s coming, and we heard and saw that animal protest until it was out of our line of vision. Good goat, though. Really good.

The weirdest thing we ate was raw goat, which is a Dong specialty. It sounds bizarre and I would never think of consuming it if I was back in Guiyang or even Beijing. But because the goat is SO fresh (literally had been breathing a couple of hours before), I felt really okay about eating it and it was rather tasty!

We ate hot pot every night, but each pot was flavored differently or featured a different protein (usually pork or chicken… or goat) and while the food is prepared simply (typically stir fried with garlic, la jiao—Chinese hot peppers and spices, and salt), it’s so yummy! Oddly enough, though, one of my favorite side dishes was stir-fried peanuts. There was just something about the taste of the peanuts with a little oil and salt that was so addicting. I’m going to try and make them at home, but I’m sure it won’t be the same.

The Bad—Toilets
Village toilets are the pink elephant in the room. You’re ALL curious, but do you dare ask how we digested our raw goat? Well, TOO BAD! Because I’M TELLIN’ YA!

Actually, the toilet at Hank’s house was really nice! It was an actual squatty- potty (don’t even bother looking for a Western toilet out here) with a depositing system. Their version of a “flush” is a long ladle that retrieves water from the same place the waste goes into. So you’re basically recycling the same nasty water… which means you have to be SUPER careful to not splash that stuff on yourself. The other nice thing about having the “flush” is that it actually sends the waste out so that there’s less smell. Pretty clever, hm?

Other toilets were… not so nice. At Hank’s cousin’s house, just two creaky boards of wood in a little doorless outhouse kept you from plunging to your doom on a hillside. One thing I was particularly wary about was the fact that while I’m not the hugest person in the world, I am certainly bigger than the average Dong person… and those boards of wood look a little shoddy. I think Jason trained his “intestinal integrity” to never have to use this potty, but if I were him, I’d be a little worried about pulling a “Slumdog” unintentionally… with nothing to show for it afterwards!

The Ugly—Shots at 9AM
Shameless drunkenness on important holidays is one cultural trait that I think is the same across the board. The only difference is the weapon of choice, and unfortunately for us, in China, it’s good ol’ baijiu (white lightning). And if you’re in a village, it’s moonshine, baby!

Well, with it being the MOST important holiday in China, we had to oblige to their “drink your rice bowl of gasoline or we won’t give you rice” rule which led to what had the potential to be memorable moments… if anyone could remember them the next day! One thing I do remember is passing around a plastic bottle like a mic and everyone singing songs.

After New Year’s Day, I was certain the “ugly” was over… but on our last day in the village, Hank’s cousin hosted us for brunch… and baijiu. I’m all for a Bloody Mary or Mimosa over some Eggs Benedict (mmm… Eggs Benedict…), but that was just ridiculous. I punked out and just touched my lips to the stuff, but didn’t consume any knowing what sort of journey lied ahead of us. Only to be met by more shots ON the boat right before we left. Oh dear… well, there’s no way out of that one… but it did put me RIGHT to sleep!

What We Did, Who We Met, How He Worked:
Hank’s village is really beautiful. All of the houses are made of creaky, old wood and are really clean and well-built. Since they’re built on a hillside, they’re mostly multi-storied and feel like really cool tree houses with ladders connecting the floors and low ceilings.

For the most part, we walked around to surrounding areas of the village and visited relatives who all insisted on hosting us for meals. Two particularly special trips we took were to a waterfall and up the mountain to where there are more “ti tian” and Hank’s father’s burial site.

The trip up the mountain was definitely the highlight of the trip. The climb was steep, muddy, and slippery, but once we reached the top of the mountain and looked out into the valley where the village is, it felt like we were on the edge of the world. We walked along the narrow edges of the terraced fields and saw a truly unique and beautiful place. Even the photos I post won’t suffice.

We were also honored to “meet” Hank’s father, who passed away when Hank was only one year old. Hank’s testimony is truly amazing (again, a story for another time), but as we gathered around him to comfort him, he expressed how he is so sad that he has never met his dad. But his one hope is that his dad will hear the voice of the Father calling out to him so that Hank will be able to meet his dad in our glorious home in the hereafter. I was so deeply convicted that there is really nothing that our Father can’t do and there’s no such thing as it “being too late” for those who hadn’t heard.

It was a huge comfort to me to meet like-minded Chinese nationals and to see how their lives have been so dramatically affected by Father’s presence. It also reminded me exactly why I love China: the people who are brought into your life and leave you enriched and reaffirmed in merciful power, love, and grace. The novelty of being in a foreign country, the cool-looking signs, the greasy cheap food—all of that wears off and often becomes another perpetrator of culture shock or frustration, even in as short a time as six months! But He does great things because of his love for his children.

Next up: The Great Escape and Jordan’s Virgin Voyage to a Foreign Land!

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New Blog Set-Up, New Post!

I hope you’re diggin’ the new set-up! This one allows the photos and text to be a bit bigger. Well, I guess I’m still an American at heart, but I like this set-up a bit more. Anyway, onward to the new post!

Where we left off last time, Jason and I had just finished relaxing and attempting to get over our colds after coming back from HK. Now we’re on our way to Li Ping.

The road to Li Ping County is an adventure in and of itself as it takes a full two days just to travel there. The trip would not have been nearly as fun if it weren’t for our group. Kevin, Tim, and Helen are Chinese nationals… and by the way, ladies, Kevin’s single and looking to mingle! And he cooks! Rebecca, Amy, and Amy’s sister Lucy were our fellow expat friends– Rebecca and Amy have done a lot of work in minority villages so they were able to coach us through the entire experience.

Our first stop was Kaili, a small city a few hours out of Guiyang City. It’s becoming more popular for tourists to explore minority villages (we all remember Jason’s infamous “The pink ladies gave me wine, bumped my butt, and thought we were engaged” incident, right?), and Kaili is somewhat of a hub that leads to these minority villages. It was interesting to see a small portion of Miao culture and eat some delicious Miao foods, including their sour fish soup! It sounds weird, but it’s so good! JoJo, our friend whose family gracious hosted us, and her mom paid to have the “special treatment” where Miao women come and sing a traditional drinking song and serve everyone wine, and by “serve,” I mean “force-feed.” Just a foreshadowing of things to come in the village…

We walked around windy Kaili, which- with its hills, wind, and “special buildings” as Kevin called them- also reminded me a little of San Francisco. As Jason and I walked around after dinner, I got a little misty just thinking about my family back home and the warm familiarity of the places I grew up in and loved so much. When we got back to the hotel, Jason and I left the rest of the group to spend some time alone and watched one of Van Damme’s finest, Sudden Death. Okay, I’m going to post later with one-liner reviews of the movies and books I’ve watched and read in China, but my review of Sudden Death would go something like, “One nudity scene short of being everything I hate in guy movies” or “Proof that Jessie Spano was on to something when she called all men ‘pigs’ back at Bayside High.”

Anyway, it was fun to just sit with Jason and again and laugh at the shear tavesty that this movie was to the art of filmmaking. The movie was suddenly interrupted by a confusing phone call, followed by a knock at the door. I went up to see who it was and I was met by a very pretty girl who looked about 18-22 years old who was just as confused when she saw me. Immediately, I knew what was going on. I saw an older woman behind her who I assumed was her “manager” and she half-smiled and said probably the one English word she knows, “Massage?” Womp. Womp. Womp. As she left, my heart broke for her. After hearing the stories of other women who are in the same line of work, I was reminded of how important it is to be salt and light to the people of China… and also how much work there is to be done! But that’s another story…

After a luxurious night’s stay in Kaili, we rushed off to take two buses to a nearby town. The rides over were beautiful and passed by village after village. It was so interesting seeing all the agricultural terracing (called ti tian in Mandarin, literally meaning “ladder field”) and the unique buildings. After our bus rides, we climbed into a long and narrow boat for an indefinite amount of time. I noticed that Kevin and Tim were speaking excitedly to some of the locals on the bus and quickly informed us that it would be a five-hour boat ride to our next destination. My heart sank… I was sitting on the ground of a cold, loud, violently vibrating, crowded boat, I was getting hungry, and I really needed to pee! Not to mention that we knew we had one more hour-long boat ride, plus an hour-long hike after our first boat ride. Fortunately, I fell asleep for 2 hours and the boat ride ended up being about 3.5 hours.

We finally reached our first boat stop and met our friend Hank who greeted us with warm smiles and proclamations of how happy he was to see us. After the day we’d had so far, the feeling was definitely mutual. We took one more short boat ride, then prepared for an hour-long hike to Hank’s village. Hank’s village is a beautiful cluster of wooden houses and curvy pathways bisected by a river that was dried up for the winter. His relatives came and met us about halfway through the hike and frequently referred to us as “gui pengyou” which means “precious friends.” This set the precedent for the rest of the trip.

If you want to read more details about what we did in the village, read the next post!

(Photos are on their way!)

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Happy Valentine’s Day… or whatever.

This next entry was meant to be a continuation of my Spring Festival adventures, but I just wanted to add a small sidenote on what’s going on in real time.

If you know me well, then you know I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. I don’t hate the holiday, I just don’t see the point in celebrating it since it holds no personal value to me. Not to mention, the only person who could be my valentine is a 30-hour train ride away from me.

Sure, I got a little weepy seeing literally hundreds of couples blocking my way as I tried to weave through thick traffic on my back while on my way to meeting friends for dinner. And yes, it did get a little irritating when the third rose vendor tried to solicit roses to me when I clearly have no use for them. But I took the day in stride, went for a run, read in my cozy home, and enjoyed a lovely dinner.

But oh, Valentine’s Day… how you do sting!

When I came out of the restaurant, I looked for my bike. I looked and I looked… I looked for my loose right hand brake that doesn’t ever seem to stay in place. I looked for my trusty bright blue bell that I chose specifically so I could spot my bike in large crowds. I looked for my super-low seat that I’ve gotten raised, but that lasted for about a week, so I never bothered getting it raised again.

It was gone.

Honestly, it wasn’t a great bike. But having it stolen was like having this really warm memory of the first hand-me-down I received in Beijing taken away from me! It sounds silly and bikes get stolen all the time in Beijing, but I am so sad just thinking about learning to weave through Beijing traffic, taking my bike out to the Bird’s Nest back when the weather was still warm, and exploring the area around my campus when I first arrived.

Well, I hope that whomever decided it would be great to steal a lonely girl’s bike on Valentine’s Day really needed it and is enjoying it as much as I did.

If it’s any consolation, today was very windy, so I saw stars for the first time in months.

So Happy Valentine’s Day… or whatever.

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Spring Festival: BJ to HK to GY

Trying to sum up my first Spring Festival experience would be like trying to figure out what my favorite food is. There are too many amazing things to think about, memories to savor… it’s an almost impossible task. But still one worth trying to undertake.

Spring Festival began with my first experience on a China train. I was a little nervous about feeling claustrophobic inside a hard sleeper compartment for 30 hours, but it ended up being a wonderful and joyful experience that I got to share with good friends. The train took us directly over the border into Hong Kong– a bus and subway ride later, we were at the retreat center where we’d have our ULS conference. It was great to be reunited with friends I met at summer training. The difference between HK and mainland China is striking– there isn’t a sign of mucus anywhere, the streets are cleaner, and things are SO expensive! It’s an fascinating place and I’ve heard more than a few people tell me that it’s their favorite city– and understandably so. HK is a nice balance between city life and some really beautiful natural geography. It also helped that I was reunited with Jason and surrounded by hills and the ocean.

Aside from being in an impressive city, it was wonderful retreating from far-from-normal life in Beijing and just focus on my work in China and renewing my spirit. It was a huge blessing sharing struggles and victories, and being nourished by others as well.

After HK, Jason and I headed for Guiyang via plane (hmm… now that I think about it, we literally traveled via plane, train, and automobile on this trip, hehe) and had an overnight stopover in Guangzhou. After a five-hour delay, we were finally on our way to Guiyang and landed around 3 AM. Although we didn’t do very much for a few days after we arrived, I really enjoyed seeing Jason’s environment and meeting Jason’s friends and new community. Guiyang is a very interesting city that’s been built somewhat spontaneously with buildings sprouting up randomly and roads curving around them– literally a “backwards” city as it’s often referred to. But the steep hills, narrow alleyways, and unique buildings reminded me a lot of San Francisco… so if I ignored the people hawking loogies as they sold food or the piles of dog carcass being stirred into pots of bubbling soup, it was almost like I was at home! Sort of…

After a few days of rest, Jason and I geared up for a trip into Li Ping County, an area outside of Guiyang city where many Chinese minority groups live. Along with some new friends (whom all speak Chinese fluently!), we headed out for what ended up being one of the most unique, interesting, and memorable experience I’ve ever had.

More to come!

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