Sunday, February 28, 2010

Six months

We have been in China for six months.  In some ways, it seems shorter and in more ways it seems longer!  It's the last night of Spring Festival and amazing fireworks are going off non-stop.  It seems fitting to look back and reflect over the last six month.

In  the last six months -
None of us have driven a car.
I've been in a private car 4 times.
I haven't gone to the library.
I haven't rented a movie.
I haven't walked our dog.
I haven't taught English.
I haven't had caffeine free diet coke.
I haven't seen my family...except on Skype.
We haven't sung to a worship band on a Sunday morning except when we were in Hong Kong.
We've been to a traditional Sunday morning service twice.

In the last six months,
I made it through a cold and dark winter that affected me in ways that I couldn't have predicted.
I've learned how to get meat at the butcher and vegetables from the vegetable people.
We've begun to drink milk from a box.
We found a good coffee source that sells real beans.
I've learned how to hail a taxi and take a bus.
We have ridden our bikes almost every day.
I've learned to carry toilet paper everywhere I go.

In the last six months,
We haven't been in a backyard.
Paul hasn't mowed the lawn.
We haven't vacuumed because we don't have a carpet.
We have learned the meaning of cold.

In the last six months,
Our Chinese has improved.  Or I should say that for me, I now have some Chinese!
Elisabeth has grown in wonderful and powerful ways.
Our marriage has been strengthened.
Our family has become closer.

In the last six months,
We have learned to depend on the faithfulness of God.
To be thankful for the ones that make it possible for us to be here.
To be thankful every day for this amazing life that we are privileged to live here!

Psalm 116

 12:What shall I render to the LORD
         For all His benefits toward me?
 13 I will take up the cup of salvation,
         And call upon the name of the LORD.
 14 I will pay my vows to the LORD
         Now in the presence of all His people.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


Lanterns are a major decoration for Chun Jie or Chinese New Year.They are every where!  These are in front of a hotel.

These rest were taken  the other night as I was walking in our neighborhood.  Beautiful, aren't they?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A little ice and snow.

Even though we are in the middle of Chun Jie or Spring Festival, it's still winter here in North East China.  We are still in long john's, hats, gloves and flannel night gowns - just not at the same time.  The days are longer and the cold is not quite intense.
Last night we had an ice storm. I actually rode my bike without gloves the day before and  took some pictures of the melting snow the day before.  The last night the rain started which turned into freezing rain and then sleet.  We woke up this morning to beautiful ice on the trees and not so beautiful ice on the streets.  There are no snow or ice days here, so school was open and off we all went.

Lantern outside our apartment building the night before the ice hit.  These are all over China as part of the Lunar New Year Celebration.

The same lantern the next morning dripping with ice.

Flooded park near our language school, full of ice and people taking pictures of ice!

A different lantern.  It was a clear and sunny day but frigid with a cold wind.

Ice on the trees.

Ice on the buses.  When it is really cold, icy or snowy, we ride the bus rather than bike.  The buses are unheated and usually have slush on the floor.  They are pretty fast and get us where we want to go!

Sweeping away the ice with a straw broom.

This man really has nothing to do with ice.  He was waiting for the bus at the same bus stop and was really charming and delightful to us.  I wanted a picture of him in his old army uniform.  It's not unusual to see older men in their old uniforms.  They are warm and practical, I guess!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I've been a little unfaithful...

Just a little.  I've fallen in love with another country.  As I am sure you can tell from this blog, I love China.  But we just spent 10 days in a special administrative region.... former British colony.....another part of China...or as  most English speaking people call it- Hong Kong.  Or Xiang1Gang3.
Why do I love Xiang1Gang3?  Let me count the ways.

The ocean and bays-for this California girl, seeing water is wonderful!

The tall buildings and sky line -magnificent!

The fascinating streets.  Lots of contrasting old and new.

Moveable elevated sidewalks!  How fun was that!

The fresh fruit and fish for sale.

Double-decker buses and trams.

Victoria Peak...although next time we'll choose a day with better weather.

The I loved the rules.  So polite, so gentle, so strong.
Preach it, Hong Kong!

This says "Mind the Gap" as you get off the subway.

So now we are back in China.  We had a good first day back, meeting with language tutors and a huge dinner with friends.  We are glad to be back.
But Hong Kong...we'll be back to see you again someday!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hong Kong!

We are in Hong Kong for a series of trainings and then a few days of sightseeing.  A friend generously offered us her apartment for after the meetings, so we have a free place to stay.
We flew from Shenyang to Shenzhen with a  stop in Wuhan.  Chinese airline service is amazing!  The flight attendants bow, they do exercises, they are courteous and kind.  This time our pilot was an American and he invited us to the cockpit.  Really fun.
So we arrived in Shenzhen.  We were supposed to meet a friend and then take the bus into Hong Kong.  Traveling this way is much cheaper as a flight from China to Hong Kong is an international flight.
We got off the plane and didn't see our friend.  We waited.  And waited.  And waited for two hours.  Our plane was late so we were really late.  We looked around the terminal and couldn't find our friend.  We got our lap top out and found out that we had sent the wrong flight information. This lead to some fruitless marital discord over who did and didn't do what.  :)
We decided to get on the bus and go into Hong Kong.  We e-mailed our friend that we would meet him at the place where Paul was to speak the next morning.  We got on the bus...and there was our friend!  He was in the wrong terminal and had finally given up.  We were thrilled to see him as Hong Kong is a complicated place and I'm not completely sure we could have found where we needed to go.
A security agent entered the bus and filmed everyone on it.  Then we took the bus to the border where we went through several checkpoints.  Finally we arrived at our friend's apartment complex.  We spent the evening looking at Hong Kong!  It is simply amazing. Multi-cultural, multilingual, prosperous....incredible.
We spent the night at someone's 500 square feet apartment with the windows open!
The next day, Paul spoke at a friend's special meeting.  When he got dressed, he discovered that he had packed a pair of pants with a huge rip in them!  His only other pants were jeans and there was no way that he could speak in them.   We found some safety pins and pinned the rip together.  He stood behind a podium the whole time he was speaking.  He had to speak a second time, and there was a little break between the two speaking times.  So he ran down to the mall and found a tailor.  He took off his pants, hid behind a curtain and the tailor fixed them!  That was one of those only in China/only in Hong Kong moments.
We are very thankful to be here and spend 10 days out of the frozen north!

Friday, February 5, 2010

You don't have the right of way.

Several years ago, I was teaching a group of visiting scholars from China.  It was the first time most of them were in the US, so I asked them what some of their impressions were.
One man told me that he was amazed that cars stopped for pedestrians and bicycles.  He told me that in China no car would stop if a pedestrian or bicycle stepped into the street.
I tucked that piece of information away as something interesting and now that I live in China, I consider it to be the first lesson that must be learned here.  Despite the fact that cars and buses are outnumbered by pedestrians and cyclist, the bigger vehicle has the right of way.  It's an important survival lesson but also a great metaphor for living in another country or simply a great life lesson.  You don't have the right of way.
Some time during my first few weeks here, I was riding my bike to language school with some friends.  Cars were honking at us and I told my friends that I felt like flipping them off.  I don't like being honked at and in China, people honk all the time!  Later a friend helped me understand that honking is a way of saying "I see you" and "Be careful."  Re-framing that helped me change my attitude and let go of my itchy middle finger (just being honest here).
There are things that you get used to very quickly here.  The crowds.  The noise.  The wedding fireworks in summer.  After a while, you stop noticing people staring at you.  Being surrounded by a language that you don't understand.
You quickly learn how to hail a taxi, the best bike routes and what bus goes where.  You choose to think positively about things that are different.  Squatty potties?  Great for your thigh muscles.  No TP in any restroom?  You only forget to carry it with you once.  No Caffeine Free diet coke?  Well, there is Coke Zero which isn't too bad.  There is no frozen pizza (well, we found one once but it had mystery fish on it) but there are fast and wonderful cheap restaurants everywhere.
There are things that are really hard here, things that are hard to accept.  Dogs and cats are rarely vaccinated, spayed or neutered or trained.  We've had to tell our daughter to never touch any animal.  Ever.  People smoke everywhere here.  What do you do when your taxi driver lights up in the taxi?  Riding a bike here can be a game of chicken as people ride straight towards you and don't veer to the right (which is our cultural expectation). I had a bus tap me in an intersection when I had the green light.  Taxi doors open up in front of us.  I've been shoved hard on a bus...and I'm honest enough to say that twice I've shoved back.
Language can be hard and exhausting.  I've told my students for years that the burden of comprehensibility is on them.  I still believe that but it is so hard!  There are days when I simply don't want to go the the market to get meat because I don't want to talk to the butcher.  No prepackaged meat here.  Purchasing anything requires communication.
Today is a great example of how exhausting it can be.  I needed a haircut.  My American friend has successfully gotten her haircut at a salon near her home. After language school, I rode my bike over there.  I foolishly thought that I could get a quick haircut and get home to get ready for a trip we are taking tomorrow. The culture lesson that I will need to learn over and over again is that there is no "quick" here.  Everything takes twice as long or more.
So I practice my vocabulary with my language teachers and felt pretty confident I could say "I need a haircut" "Shorter in the back and longer in the front."  I walked in and successfully communicated my need for a haircut and was told to wait and that they would call me.  I was pretty proud of myself for communicating and understanding.
So I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  I watched many metro-sexual men cut and perm hair.  I saw makeup applied on pretty women.  The place was packed.  After an hour, I gave up and left.  I was hungry and just flat out of time.
Why was the wait so long?  Here's the thing.  I don't know.  I don't think it was because I was a foreigner.  I think it simply was the way it was.  The exhausting part was that I just didn't know why it took so long.  I think they were just busy.
Paul needed a tie for a speaking engagement that he has.  He rode his bike over to the nearest Wal-Mart type store.  No ties.  He rode over to a large shopping area that has hundreds of small shops.  No ties.  He asked a salesperson about it and she said that not one shop there carried ties.  He needed to go to another part of town where they sold ties.  Why no ties in any of these shops? They just don't carry them.
We don't have the right of way.  We don't have the right to ask people to accommodate us.  We are here to learn and serve.
So how do we do it?
Language.  We work hard at it.  Language is key.  We are in language school 15 hours a week and work with language helpers in the afternoon.  Then we do homework. There are days when the relentless correction of our teacher's is overwhelming.  It's very intense but necessary at this early time in our culture.  
Sleep.  We need more sleep here.  Sleep gives us grace.  Sleep makes us patient with others and ourselves.  Sleep is crucial.
Laughter.  Not the kind of standing outside the culture critiquing it laughter.  But true laughter.  A lightness that reflects fruit of the spirit.  We have always believed that laughter was holy and we believe it even more now.  In language class, I've accidently pronounced two words as obscenities.  I have to choose to laugh and move on.
Prayer...need I say more?
We don't have the right of way in this new and wonderful world that we live in.  There is tremendous freedom in following that and receiving the gifts that living in a new culture brings.