Sunday, January 18, 2009


After my brief sojourn in Hong Kong, I headed down to Chiang Mai, Thailand for two weeks of graduate classes. As I talked to people that Sunday, on the eve of classes, a common theme was one of tiredness and exhaustion. We were coming into the week of class taxed by the work of the previous semester. The class was Sp. Formation and the primary topic appropriately was rest. I was a little concerned going into the class that it would be focused on learning many disciplines that would add another burden of what must be done to my shoulders. However, the message that was constantly spoken over us was rest, create margins, say no, do less, be more. Our Western culture's lie that greater productivity and more activities means a better servant was exposed repeatedly as a recipe for disaster. We have a compulsion to fill every moment of our days (excusing our twenty to thirty allotted minutes in the Word each morning), or at least to explain to others that we're using every moment responsibly. It was wonderful to have this reminder as we prepare to go to conference, where comparison to the effectiveness of others can lead to the compulsion to do more. In order to actually practice what he was telling us this week, our professor gave us an incredibly light load during the week. He encouraged us to retreat and simply rest with the Father. This lighter load allowed our class to minister to one another in beautiful ways. Lunches suddenly became four hour affairs where we took time to listen to one another's stories. We were able to experience how much easier it is to follow the Counselor's direction when we're not rushed to move onto the next task of the day. I've left the class with some ideas for how personally to create buffers and margins this next semester, and Wu and I have some ideas for the team as well. Having margins of rest is something I've known is important for awhile, but it was so encouraging to have a respected leader teach the necessity of it to us.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Still in China

After a night and day of traveling, I've made it safely to Hong Kong. HK is a city like none other that I've been to in the world. I really am at a loss as to how to describe it. It has the narrow, brightly lit alleyways that look like the China of the movies. It has apartment buildings soaring high enough to block the sunshine. It has coastlines cluttered with docks and whatever the technical name is for those big cranes that work on the docks. It has a definite British influence, as well as other foreign elements. Ruth Chris and Mortons steakhouses can be found within one block of each other. It's crowded and packed full of overstimulation. Yet it's still China. Upon entering my very nice hotel room (this is definitely the splurge portion of the trip), I was unmistakeably greeted with this fact. On the pillow, on a very nice laminated paper with English and Chinese, was a note informing me that the water would be turned off for several hours today and tomorrow "owing to the regular cleaning of hotel water tanks". Ahhh, yes, in some ways this is still the China I call home.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Olympic Workout

8/8/08 the world sat in awe as they watched the splendor of the opening ceremonies. For years China had prepared for the great honor of hosting the Olympics, and as the eyes of the world turned on her she shined spectacularly. The bird's nest and the water cube are perhaps some of the most memorable Olympic venues in recent history. Visiting them, in hopes of getting a small taste of Olympic glory, comes with an accompanying Olympic workout.

With the brains that went into all of the Olympic development, you think they could have figured out a better visitation system. We arrived at Olympic park on the chilly afternoon of the last day of 2008 quite excited to walk the cement sidewalks we had watched on TV for so many hours in August. It was my first time to Olympic park, so I was not very useful as a guide. We stood in front of the immense bird's nest, and in lieu of any sign telling us which way was the entrance or ticket office, began our trek around the stadium. Like any orderly American, we proceeded in a clockwise circle (this direction had the added bonus of falling on the sunny, hence several degrees warmer, side of the stadium). We walked and we walked. We passed many a lettered entrance, all of them closed up. We could see people walking inside the fenced area, so we knew entrance was possible. We walked some more. I asked some guards. They said to keep walking. Finally, once we had walked almost the entire circumference of the Bird's nest, we noticed stairs going underground. At long last we had discovered the ticket office, which in a sneaky attempt to force exercise on the many souls looking for it was conveniently hid underground. However, upon realizing the ticket price of entrance, as well as reflecting that the U.S. didn't really accomplish much in the Bird's nest, we decided to pass.

Onward we moved to the true place of American Olympic Glory, the Water Cube. Little did we know that locating the Nest's ticket office was a mere warm-up for the hike of purchasing tickets and entering the Water Cube. I was quite pleased to quickly find an open entrance, where streams of people were pouring through. I stood back a few paces and scanned all nearby locations for the ticket office. Finding nothing, but determined not to miss an underground hidden office, I proceeded to ask one of the guards at the gate where to buy tickets. He told me to walk alongside the building and go around the corner. I withheld my comments on the absurdity of not having a ticket office anywhere near the entrance gate, with the thought that perhaps there was another entrance near the ticket office. Onward our group marched (Kasey, Kurt, and two of their friends from California). We walked and walked. Down the whole length of the building. Around the corner. Along the whole length of the end of the building. Every ten yards or so, like a trail of crumbs, would be a sign with "Tickets to the Water Cube" and an arrow below it (in reading skills paid off for once!). Once we reached the end of the building, we crossed a street and walked further and further away, still following the signs. Finally, we reached 5 little ticket huts and proceeded to buy our tickets. Now the hunt for an entrance began, and we quickly realized that the gate we had seen before was the only entrance. We continued our walk around the entire exterior of the building back to the original gate. After burning enough calories to consume a Michael Phelps' breakfast, we sank into seats in the Cube to marvel at what had taken place there.

My bags are (mostly) packed and my papers are (mostly) written. Tonight I board the train for warmer weather and a rendezvous with Mickey. Goodbye long underwear, hello flip flops!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Scaling the wall

Of all the sites in Beijing, the Great Wall is probably my favorite for the simple reason it's not in Beijing. Don't worry, I'm not going to go into a tirade about the ills of Beijing again. Yet the scenery surrounding the Great Wall is almost more attractive to me than the wall itself. Getting to the wall involves a two hour drive, which ends in twisting roads through mountains and forested parks. After four months of living and traveling though cities of row upon row of cookie cutter concrete buildings, this scenery is a breath of fresh air. I forget how much I miss nature, and hills that are taller than me. Being able to stand on the wall, with a glorious blue sky, and nothing but hills upon hills in front of me was simply spectacular. Not to mention, it was a special day since I was celebrating Kasey and Kurt's third wedding anniversary with them. Missing their wedding my first year in China was one of the hardest days of my time here, so it was great to mark this occasion together. We couldn't have chosen a more perfect place to celebrate!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Beijing in the winter

I hate Beijing. The crowds, the traffic, the smog, and the immensity always make me appreciate my little China city all the more. As an admittedly impatient person, the fact that it takes at least an hour to get anywhere in the city tends to grate on me. I much prefer my city, where it takes about 10 minutes and costs 5 RMB to get just about anywhere. 7 RMB and 15 minutes will take me to my farthest destination, the nice grocery store in town. Granted, Beijing is much more modern with its shiny subways and roomy smoke-free taxis. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the treat of piping hot pizza at Krow's nest just as much or more than the next person. However, I have no desire to ever live there. Considering the fact that I also never really had the desire to live in China in the first place, I have a slight sense of dread that the Father may call me there sometime in the future.

But I digress. If I must be in Beijing, take me there in the winter. In fact, I would even say I love...let me take that back...I have a warm admiration for Beijing in the winter. No, I do not have a morbid love for bitterly cold winds. However, crisp, smog-free, crystal clear blue skies make exploring the many "places of interest" in Beijing a sheer delight. The reds, greens, golds, and blues of the recently-repainted-for-the-Olympics historic sites spectacularly pop against such a backdrop. While showing my friends around the city, I relished in being able to get photos that would have looked comparably drab in the typical summer smog of Beijing. I will likely be posting more pictures on flickr than you would ever care to look at, but I just couldn't get enough of those blue skies.My paper writing break time is about up. I've finished 2 of the 5 papers I need to write this week, and am midway through 2 others. I'm hoping to wrap all those up by the time I begin my southern migration Wednesday. First stop is hanging out with Mickey in Hong Kong.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A few of my favorite gifts

Due to the busyness of travel the past week or so, Christmas already feels like it was eons ago. It felt a little strange to return to my apartment last night and see Christmas decorations still up. Those will definitely be coming down soon! However, before I completely packed away Christmas, I wanted to share with you some of my favorite gifts from this year. I believe most of them will speak for themselves.
Pigs are thought to be very lovely and cute here in China. Who wouldn't agree after seeing these?
I think this next one is supposed to be a necklace hanger.And perhaps my favorite gift ever. My cleaning lady brought this to me (as well as toilet bowl cleaner) and explained she got it because it had instructions in English as well. Make sure you read all of the package, as well as the notice from the side of the package.
In all seriousness, the best gift was having my good friends here for Christmas. It was great to be able to show them my life in China. Here they are modeling one of their gifts from the team. These face masks are not for germ protection, but rather are to keep you warm in the bitter wind up here in the northeast of China.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New favorite sign in Beijing

Ah shucks, guess I can't bring my car bomb on this street.

After a whirlwind of touring, I'm headed home today. More of an update later!