Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What do we do all day?

It's hard to describe.
Life here is incredibly ordinary....and incredibly unusual.  Most things take three times longer to do than I think they will.  Except if I allow enough time for whatever I need to do, I usually end up in places early.
So...Monday and Tuesday of this week.
Monday was visa renewal day.  We sent Elisabeth off to school, thinking that the school would drive her out to a main road and she could catch a taxi home around 1:00.  Except that when I called the school, they said that the van to take her to the main road was unavailable and that I would need to taxi out to the school to get her.  Which meant that I had to get the baby to the ayi much earlier than I thought.  So I packed things up, took the baby over to the ayi and miraculously found a taxi to take me to the international school.  I knew there was construction on the road to the school but I didn't know the road was completely torn up and that we needed to use another road.  Somehow between my taxi driver's maneuvering, we got to the school.  I asked the taxi driver to wait a little while I got Elisabeth.  She agreed and then took us back to our apartment.  We then taxied to the university where Paul is going to teach and they took us in a van to the People's Security Bureau.  It sounds intimidating but we have found the people there to be really nice.  We waited in a room crowded with all kinds of foreigners-more than we have seen in the last year.  When we got there, they were on number 64 and we were number 116.  So we hung out with some acquaintances that we ran into there.  We met another woman that we had heard about who does awesome work with orphans.  Then another friend came in.  So the time passed quickly.   When we were finished, we taxied back and went to get a quick bite for dinner.  The restaurant that we went to is usually pretty slow, so I did a quick run into the semi-foreign grocery store to get a few things that were missing at my local market earlier in the day.  Like potatoes and carrots that I needed to make stew.
After that we went home.  We have a class where we learn Chinese that is related to our world view and it is really fantastic.  I put a tired baby to bed and after class collapsed myself.
Today I went to Chinese for the first time at Dong Bei Da Xue.  Paul stayed home to work with his tutor.  I had grammar and listening and I loved it.  Tomorrow I have reading and speaking and we'll see if I still love it.  I am trying different classes for two weeks.  I'll probably stick with this program.
After Chinese, I biked over to the market for brown sugar.  Not that there is my idea of brown sugar in China but this stuff is okay.  I also needed cat food as our local market was also out of that.
Got home and had a quick lunch.  Paul got the baby from the ayi so we played with him a little.  Then a friend came over to talk about an English corner that we are involved in. While she was there, I baked chocolate chip oatmeal cookies for the Back to School night we had tonight.  After she left, Paul went to go teach at the university and my landlord's daughter came over to practice her English.  She is adorable but her grandmother comes and stays and she makes me nervous.  The baby was great during all this until the end when he got poopy and fussy.
After our landlord daughter left, the baby screamed for a long time.  He is not unusual for a kid from the orphanage in that he has a hard time sleeping.  He needed to sleep and finally fell asleep around 5:00.  Except that we had to leave at 5:30.  Let's just say it wasn't pretty and he had a hard night at our friend's house.
At 6:00 we took the bus out to the international school for open  house.  Everything was translated into Chinese and Korean. We talked to teacher's, met new parents and generally had a good time.  Back on the buses at 8:00 and back to our friend's house to get a screaming baby.  We also had to buy water and mango popsicles.  Okay-the "had" only applies to the water.  You can  not drink the water here.
Back home for a check up phone call with one of the baby's doctors and then we put him to bed.  Which is where I'll be heading in very few minutes!
Have I mentioned that I still have homework to do.  Since the baby wakes up before six, I think I'll do it then.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

From Caffeine Free Diet Coke to Ling Du.

Today is Elisabeth and mine's one year Chinaversary!  We left San Francisco a year ago today with our hearts in our throats, tears in our eyes and excitement in our hearts.  Paul followed a few weeks later, after taking care of some house details in Missouri.
As our plane flew over Shen Yang and I saw the lights of the city, I felt fear.  I thought "We have made a big mistake."  I wanted to turn around and go back to the familiar and safe.
Yet today...one year later....as I woke up at 4AM with our sweet little foster baby and now at 10:30 PM am up waiting for Elisabeth to get back from a leadership retreat in Tianjin, I know it was not a mistake.  Our Father has been with us through and through.
It's been a year since I have driven.  A year since I have been in a Target.  I have been in a WalMart once! In the last year, I have gone from zero Chinese to being able to have simple conversations.  When a someone asks me a question, more often than not, I know what they are asking me. I can read 3 out of 5 characters on the worship powerpoint at fellowship.  I just sing the ones I know!
 Paul's Chinese has improved dramatically- I will never catch up to him.
I've seen Elisabeth grow and thrive at a new school with new friends.  She has shown  a maturity that amazes and is just so fun to be around.
I've seen our family grow closer.  I've seen fatigue and culture stress make us snap at each other and have unreasonable arguments.  I've learned to bargain and to understand prices.  I've adapted to drinking Ling Du (Coke zero) instead of Caffeine Free Diet coke.
We have made friends here- Chinese friends, foreign friends.  People who will be friends for life.  People I respect and admire more than I can even say.
I've seen cruelty here and self centeredness.  I've seen generosity and kindness.  There are days when China feels like magic and days when I think I'll go stark raving mad from the bureaucracy.
Many days I want to speak Chinese but I don't want to learn Chinese.   The time and energy spent learning language is enormous!
I discovered this poem on a blog and I love it!  It's by Mary Oliver.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

We've been given this "wild and precious" life here and I am so thankful.  I am so thankful for all who make it possible for us to be here.  I am so thankful for those who follow us, read the blog, send us notes, come and visit us.  I am thankful for the privilege of serving and living here. I am thankful for the One who called us to this life, the message that He has and the privilege of living here to serve him.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Let me look at the pictures of the sweet baby for a moment before I continue...

Okay-one more breath.

Today started off fine.  The baby slept until 6:00- go baby!  We have spent the last few days with a friend from graduate school days in St. Louis.  He is just so pleasant and agreeable and was so easy to have as a guest.  Plus-he brought us stuff!  Important things like new long underwear, cotton sock, scrabble tiles, baking powder, wart medicine and books by Jerram Barrs!  Thank you friend and friend's wife for all you did for us!
So Paul took him to the airport this morning.  In China, you never just send your friend's off alone.  You usually have to bargain for a taxi to the airport and the deal you want is someone who will run the meter and then you pay about 10 RMB above that.  Paul found someone who would run the meter and pay 20 RMB.  No problem.  Until they started driving and the driver started moaning that her taxi was breaking down and she wouldn't be able to find a fare back from the airport...oh and by the way, she would need 100 RMB.  Totally stuck, they paid it. What else could they do except have a big ugly argument.
The next thing was a complicated social interaction involving a woman who speaks a heavy dialect of Chinese.  It worked out (I think) but was very exhausting.
Then Paul got home and got a phone call from the university where he is going to teach part time next fall.  They needed our home registration forms.  In China, you have to register with the police when you move.  We just moved and haven't done our registration.  Plus, Elisabeth is in another city on a leadership training and of course, she has her passport.  This needed to be done by today so that we can register with the security bureau for our visas on Monday.  So foolishly, at 12:00, off we went.  We left the baby with a friend, so as to avoid any complications.
When we arrived at the police station (walking distance from our house), we were told to wait.  And wait.  Finally a man came out and told us to come back at 1:30.  It was break time!  All the police were eating lunch and taking naps.  We honestly should have know better than to go at lunch time but we forgot.  So back to our apartment for lunch and back to the police station to wait.  And wait.  And wait.  Finally by listening carefully, we figured out that there was no one there who knew how to use the new computer program to register people.  Finally they found a someone.  We were ushered into a smoke filled room and pulled out passports, rental agreements and other necessary paperwork.  Slowly and painstakingly, the form was filled out.  We were at the police station for over an hour and a half.
Because of going to the security bureau on Monday, we had rescheduled a doctor's appointment for the baby today.  But we were so late, we couldn't make it.  We'll go next week to get him weighed and check progress.
We have friends coming over for dinner to plan our English corner for the next few months.  Thank goodness for cheap and easy Chinese delivery!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Baby pictures.

Yes, we still have this baby.  He can't figure out what the human baby is.

This little guy thinks his hands are the coolest thing.

Lot's of hand sucking. It makes me sad as it is in part a self comforting behavior to assuage hunger.

Great eye contact.

Lots of stimulation!  I am a former Montessori teacher after all!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Real Eat, Pray, Love.

When he was found three weeks ago.

He is growing some hair, getting some leg muscles and his chest is filling in a little. He cries, has little temper tantrums and smiles.  It's all pretty miraculous for a baby that was almost dead a few weeks ago.
Being fed, prayed for an loved.  That is the key!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The rains came down and the floods went up.

It's been raining in North East China..and by raining I mean Noah and the Ark worthy rain.  Near the China/North Korea border, the river has risen and people have been evacuated.  Some have died.  In our city (not too far from there), streets are flooded and rivers are high.  It's hard to have so much rain when you mostly use your bike for transportation.
Fortunately we have our attractive and flattering vinyl snugglies.  They do cover everything!
Yesterday it was pouring with rain.  We needed to go to the bank and then shopping.  We gave up on the bank idea and just went shopping.  We made it home and then spent most of the day there.
Around 8 PM, Elisabeth was chatting (by computer) with a friend in the same city.  Her friend texted that her dad had fallen into a manhole and sprained his elbow.  That was the understatement of the day!
Our friend (not Chinese) has worked and lived in China for a very long time.  He bikes everywhere.  Yesterday he stayed at work late, hoping the rain would stop.  It didn't.  As he was riding home, he saw a small mini-van that was stuck.  He stopped to help push it out.  Success.  Then he kept riding...until he rode right into a manhole.  Where was the cover?  Who knows.  Probably stolen.  As he put it, the sidewalk rose up to him and he knew he was in trouble.  The van driver (whom he had just helped) came back and got him home.  He took him home, through major detours through the flooded streets...and then left him at the bottom of his stairwell with his broken bike.  The fact that he stopped at all is amazing.  There are no Good Samaritan laws here.  People rarely stop to help injured people because of the possibility of being blamed for the accident.
 To make a long story short, his ulna pushed up and broke.  When he got home, his wife knew that he needed to go to the hospital. Remember the rain? No taxi's!  So they took the bus to the hospital way across the city. He had major surgery last night and is recovering in a room with two other men and their many family members.
Fortunately, we have another friend who is a  doctor who came to stay the night with him in the hospital.  Fortunately, the doctor who does this kind of surgery was at the hospital.  If he hadn't been, our friend would have waited until tonight for the surgery. No other doctor could do the surgery.
Chinese hospitals require cash on hand for treatment-no insurance.  So for each IV, each medication-you pay cash.  No money, no pain medication.  There is no food provided so friends provide food.  You have to have people stay with you around the clock because there is no nursing care.  If you don't have a friend, you don't have someone to help you to the bathroom or make sure you have your pain medication.  It's a completely different system.
When we saw him, he was in a room with two other men.  It wasn't bad but not ideal.  He was being a good sport about it as was his wife.
So pray for our friend tonight if you think of him.  He has a long road of recovery ahead of him.  Physical therapy is a rarity here so he'll need to look for some resources.
One more thing- here is an article about the state of hospitals in China.  It may give you an idea of why we never want to get sick here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Grow Baby Grow

Five days out of the orphanage.  Five days of being fed with an eye dropper because he was too weak to suck.  All credit to the people who had him first who fed him round the clock every two hours!  The first day I got him (day 4), I tried a bottle and he successfully sucked!  Amazing!

Day 9 out of the orphanage.  He still sucks on his hand but less so that before.  Hand sucking is something that hungry children do.  We have had to gently remove his hands from his mouth when he was taking a bottle-it's just a habit of self comforting,
Heavily supervised tummy time!  He can not lift up his head but loves being on his tummy.

Crying!  Fussing!  Expressing displeasure-these are all good things because it means his energy is developing. He still doesn't have many tears.

Keeping up with the Chinese language! Paul used to do the same thing with our daughter.

Day by day he grows.  Yesterday his foot finally responded to being rubbed.  He has  along way to go but step by step he is making progress.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Intrinsic value of human life

A week ago I couldn't have told you that there would be a baby sleeping on our bed.

Or that at almost 49 I would be mixing bottles and standing in the Chinese grocery aisle wondering what rice cereal to buy.  I wouldn't have thought that I would be changing diapers, rocking a baby and getting up at night to feed  him.  I wouldn't have thought that I would have bought a baby toy today or copied off black and white shapes to make him a mobile.  But it's true!
No, it's not a late in life surprise baby.  It's a little boy, desperately malnourished, found in a corner of an orphanage by two amazing doctors.  He went to an amazing foster mom last week and now to us for some time.  He is strong, amazing and wants to live. He makes eye contact, grabs hands, turns toward the person he wants and complains loudly when he is uncomfortable. He is hungry and afraid that there will be no food.  He is hyper-vigilant, as children from orphanages tend to be.  He doesn't want to sleep because if he sleeps he might miss food.  He sucks on his hands-something probably learned in the orphanage to self comfort or to take away the hunger.  Not that the hunger goes away. Or the desire for human contact and relationships.
Francis Schaeffer often talked about the value of a person.  I think I am starting to understand this because of this little boy.  He is valuable and loved simply because of who he is.  His value is his humanness and he is loved more than we can imagine.
Several years ago, close family members adopted two children who came out of really difficult family circumstances. I remember the new father saying "How could they do this to children?"  I look at this little skinny baby and I wonder "How could they do this to him" even though I don't even know what the "this" i
This baby is something we didn't expect when we came to China.  It doesn't change our direction or our reason for being here.  It just adds richness to our life in a wonderful and unexpected way.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Opening our home

One of our main reasons for moving to our new apartment was to be able to have people over more easily.  We like it when people stop by to hang out for a while or come over for dinner and games.
Last night, Elisabeth had the junior class of her high school over - all but two came.  They had pizza and popcorn  Popsicle's  and pocky.  They hung out, watched Sherlock Holmes and played UNO.  It was a good night.

The hanging out part.

Ordering pizza- this Korean kid spoke the best Chinese.

"I Like New York Pizza"


And look who else came to visit!  The little guy that I posted about below.  We agreed to do some respite care on a regular basis for his foster mom.  He came over last night and will stay for the weekend.  He is literally the same size as our cat.  Our cat is totally fascinated by him and can't figure out if he is an animal or what!  After much sniffing, he basically stays away.
The baby is totally mellow.  That is sad if you think about it.  An 11 month old should be crawling and pulling up and getting into all kinds of trouble.  This little guy just lies there.  He rolls from side to side, plays with his hands.  He makes great eye contact and can track.  He needs to be fed every two hours and he is hungry!  He doesn't seem to sleep a lot but he is no trouble at all.  It's fun to have him.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What is true religion?

Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the LORD: lift up thy hands toward him for the life of thy young children, that faint for hunger in the top of every street.  Lamentations 2:19

I read a fair number of blogs of people from my faith community.  Being overseas, we don't get to sit through a lot of teaching on Sunday mornings so I look for input in other ways.  I read blogs ranging from people doing amazing medical work in Africa, to people advocating homeschooling and stay at home moms.  I read blogs of people who are somewhat cynical of the current state of our faith and those who are having true and deep life changing thoughts about the role of faith in our lives. Recently I've been a little weary of blogs and this quote  by Rob Bell expresses why.

"...so the world is an emergency. It’s on fire. It’s drowning. It’s an absolute crisis, and when followers of Jesus can think of nothing better to do with their time than to pick apart and shred to pieces the work of other followers of Jesus who are trying to do something around the world, that’s tragic, and I don’t owe those people anything. How a person would have energy to take shots at other Christians is just mind-boggling. You have to be so totally disconnected from the pain of the world to think that blogging is somehow a redemptive use of your time."

I blog to keep friends and family updated on our life in China.  I blog to show some of the wonderful things and some of the hard things.  I hope writing the blog is a redemptive use of my time....but there certainly are more important things.
The picture above is one of the hard things.  A team who does medical work in the orphanage was able to have this little guy removed and put into foster care.  At 11 months old, he is under 7 lbs and is in a critical medical crisis.  A single woman who all ready has a foster son  and a full time teaching job has taken him in.
It's not the first time that I have seen this but it is very sobering and makes me want to do more.  

27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.  James 1:27

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Moving in China.

We have moved to a new apartment. Except for our internet connection which is still in our old apartment, where I am now!
Why did we move?  Well, a few reasons.  We were reasonably happy with our apartment that we found a year ago.  It was small, clean and in reasonably good shape.  You can flush the tp down the toilet (instead of putting it in a trash can).  It had a washer, some furniture and was well located.
We bargained to have two more "kong tiao" put in.  Kong tiao are a kind of air conditioner/heater combo.  We had one in the living room but not in bedrooms.  In the month before the government turns the heat on, the kong tiao are life savers.  We also bargained for a bathtub to be put in and a few other things.
We have had a few issues with our landlord- refusal to fix things and so on.  But as a whole, the apartment has been fine.
However, it had one drawback which was that it was so tiny that it was hard to have people over.  The living room and dining room were all the same and it got crowded when we had people over.  So we decided to look for a new apartment.
So how do you find an apartment in China?  Well, you get on your bike and start looking for phone numbers posted in windows of apartments.  You ask your friends to look for phone numbers.  Then you start calling up phone numbers and looking at apartments.
We knew where we wanted to live (same complex, different 区。) We found three phone numbers and called them up.  Apartment number one- very nice apartment, very nice landlord, way too expensive.  Apartment number 2- great floor plan, very dirty, pornography on the walls and on the first floor.  When we walked out, men were  smoking outside what would have been Elisabeth's bedroom window.  No way.
Apartment number 3- this was the one.  Reasonable rent, really nice landlord, apartment in great shape with nothing too gaudy ib decorations.  The apartment is sixth floor like ours is now and we have private roof access!  We can garden and barbeque!
So how do you move in China?  Well, first you have to get boxes.  This isn't easy as box collecting is a way many people make money.  So boxes outside of a grocery store are usually picked up by someone and taken to be sold or recycled for money.  Somehow Paul knew someone who collected boxes and he went and bought boxes off of them.  Then our friends came and hauled stuff up and down six flight of stairs and we transported it by bike, bike trailer and foot!  Our language school found movers for us who came and moved the rest of the stuff.  We had to pay extra for them hauling stuff up  and down six flights of stairs.
One thing that is interesting in China is that there is no obligation to clean your apartment when you move or for the landlord to have it cleaned.  So we had to clean before we moved.  It wasn't that bad when we looked at it but once we started cleaning, oh my!  We are cleaning our apartment that we are moving out of because we believe that is a good witness and just a decent thing to do.
One other thing is that you pay rent by the year and you pay in cash! That means we go to the ATM every day for about a week, taking out the maximum amount until we have enough to pay for the year.
So- that's about it.  We love our new place, can't wait to have people over!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Peanut, peanut butter and jelly..

First you take the peanuts and you smash 'em and you smash 'em, smash 'em, smash 'em....

Anyone else know that song?

So I was Facebook chatting with my friend today and she mentioned that she hadn't had peanut butter and jelly for a while.  I told her that was what we were having for lunch and said I would post a picture of PB and J in China.  So here it is!

Skippy smooth, strawberry jelly, Skippy crunch and Toly Bread- whole wheat.

Add the raspberry jelly that we got at the Japanese market.

Life is pretty normal here!