Saturday, February 28, 2009


From the time I was a little girl, I've always been a planner. My plans stretched from the activities of the day all the way into the future. One very clear and specific plan was dramatized as a child with a pillowcase draped on my head as I marched down the aisle to Mr. Right. Shortly thereafter, a blanket would be stuffed up my shirt and I'd imagine my entrance into motherhood. The plan was always go to college, find your perfect match, get married, and become a mom. The first three steps of that plan were beautifully acted out in my sister's life. I followed her steps to Wheaton, expecting to see my dreams and plans fulfilled. Just in case, I had the contingency plan of following college with a master's degree in counseling. This would provide a career until my other plan came to fruition.

As most of you know, none of those plans happened. What did happen was far beyond any inkling of what I dreamed of as a little girl. Moving to China and building a life there...teaching? No siree, that was nowhere to be found on my page of hopes, dreams, and plans. Throughout the process of getting me here, and getting me to accept an indefinite length of living here, the Father has had to shatter quite a few plans that were of my own making. The lesson He has continually been teaching me is to let go of my plans and ideas for the future, and to live in the sacrament of the present moment. Frankly, I thought I was doing a pretty good job at this lesson. In fact, I was tempted to ask for my certificate of completion in the course of "pry your hands off of your plans".

Today, I have been not so gently reminded how much I still count on my own plans, plans that are in no way guaranteed. Not that plans in and of themselves are evil; they are quite necessary in order to move in any sort of direction. However, finding security and peace in the expectance of those plans is not a good move. Due to the current financial situation, and it's affects on the company I work for, I've found out that I most likely won't be able to work on my graduate degree this summer. There's a chance I'll still have one class, but regardless, my three year degree has quite suddenly morphed into a four year degree. There were several "scenarios" I had in my head about what the next two years might entail, and none of them contained this contingency. My first reaction was frustration and disappointment.

But then my mind went back to my travel experience two weeks ago (see the Amazing Race: Asia for more details). It was as if the Father was whispering in my ear, what did I tell you then? I answered, in that tone of voice children have when they know their parents are right but they really don't want to admit it, "this is not a surprise to me". His next question for me, "and what does that mean?" Still in the reluctant to admit voice, "You are working in this too and you have a greater plan." The fact of the matter is, I should be excited by the situation. Because whenever the Father stomps on, halts, or changes my plans that usually means He's got something pretty good in store. It may not be what I thought was my first choice, but it's just another step in the beautifully orchestrated dance He has for me and Him.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Land of Smiles

I stick out in Asia. I have absolutely no hope of ever being able to completely blend in. I might as well be carrying around a large flag that reads "foreigner". This fact means I draw attention most places I go. There is rarely a moment in public that I'm not being watched. Yesterday at the grocery store two old ladies actually stopped and started to physically rummage through my grocery cart to see what types of food I was buying--and proceeded to ask me questions about some of the items. Hopefully, if you've been reading this blog long enough, you have no doubt of my love for the Chinese people. They are truly the most hospitable people I've had the privilege of interacting with. However, walking along streets in smaller cities in China can be quite unnerving. The constant attention and expressions of onlookers could easily be labeled from an American standpoint as angry stares. In China, it's not common to smile at other people, especially outside of your circle of relationships. When you meet strangers on the street, you don't smile and ask, "How are you?" Upon forming relationships and once you enter someone's home, this situation drastically changes. Yet when I'm out and about around the city, I've learned to in some ways ignore the stares around me.

I stood out in Laos as well. Consequently, I was also a subject of interest. Yet in Laos, those who looked at me did so with warm and friendly smiles on their faces. They had some of the most beautiful smiles I've ever seen, and their warm demeanor made it seem more like they were being friendly than like they were staring. I absolutely loved getting to meet and interact with the people. The slogan for Thailand is "the Land of Smiles", but whoever came up with that must not have visited Laos. The other characteristic of the Laos people that struck me, especially in comparison with China, was the laid back nature of the culture. Time just wasn't all that important. As the class bell rang, very few students were around and the teachers were still lounging in the office. About fifteen minutes later, the teachers leisurely made their ways to the classrooms. The classrooms were empty about twenty minutes before the last period of the evening technically ended. There seemed to be a great freedom from the compulsion to fill the day with as much activity as possible.

The scenery in Laos is almost as beautiful as the people. I was in southern Laos, in the city of Pakse, for about a week. The city is at the convergence of the Mekong and Sedong rivers. The elevation climbs up steadily outside of the city, leading to an area full of gorgeous waterfalls. Hiking out to one deserted falls was one of my favorite activities in Laos. There are few things more therapeutic to me than waterfalls surrounded by dense vegetation. All those hikes my parents dragged my sister and I on as children paid off.

While I thoroughly enjoyed getting a taste of Laos, I must confess the great comfort I had upon arriving back in Beijing. I had the same driver who had taken Kasey and Kurt around picking me up, and his smiling face waiting for me at 1:30 am made the realization "I'm home" wash over me. It was fun to get to chat with him in Chinese on the way to our headquarters in Beijing. My Chinese was a little rusty, but thankfully he's a very patient man! The feeling of home only increased as I got closer to my city.

I had a former teammate visiting this week, and now that she's gone vacation is officially over. I'm trying to get as much grad work done as possible before the craziness resumes. In addition, I'll be working on a listening curriculum for the semester this week. Back to the grindstone!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Amazing Race: Asia

Three countries in one day. Buses and border crossings. Trying to bargain and communicate with drivers of Tuk Tuks (local transportation). Napping in a deserted airport waiting for a flight. Running at full speed upon arrival at an airport. Pleading with a taxi driver who has limited English to drive fast. It all sounds like an episode of the Amazing Race, doesn't it? And it all describes my travel back to China from Laos.

Sunday morning, I woke up early to finish packing before catching a bus to Thailand from Laos. I was checking my email one last time and writing down my flight information for the day. Suddenly, I noticed something a little disconcerting. For my first flight of the day, which took me to Bangkok, I didn't recognize the name of the Bangkok airport. I called over my friend who teaches in Laos (and who frequently travels through Thailand) and asked if indeed this was the same airport my other flight took off from. "" When we had booked my flight, we failed to consider the fact that there were two airports in Bangkok. Suddenly, my two hour layover to go from my domestic flight to my international flight seemed incredibly short. Like falling dominoes my mind went through visions of being stuck sleeping in the Bangkok airport, missing my arranged car that was picking me up at 1:00 am in Beijing, missing my friend who was meeting me in Beijing, missing my already-purchased train from Beijing to stomach turned. But instantly, Sarah and I went into crisis-solving mode. If the taxi drove fast, and I took the more expensive toll roads, I should be able to make it between the two airports in forty minutes. Add in time waiting in baggage claim...too close. Our conclusion: I need to go all carry-on. Luckily, the suitcase I was traveling with was very reasonably carry-on size. (Yes, I was traveling for six weeks. Yes, you should be impressed.) So, after ditching some toiletries per liquid restrictions, and with the hope no one would be strict about weight, I was ready to fly all carry-on. The saddest loss in this transformation was shaving cream from the States. With a plan in mind, and a certain level of confidence from the awareness that the situation came as no surprise to my Father, I headed out for my long day of travel.

I took a three and a half hour bus from Pakse to Ubon, Thailand. Arriving there, I arranged for a red truck taxi (cheaper than regular ride on the back of a truck that has benches bolted to it) to the airport. I arrived at the airport a full four hours before my flight, which was the only flight flying out of there in the afternoon. Consequently, I joined a grand total of two people in the airport--one working a small snack stand and the other a guard. I got some food, napped, and did grad work, trying not to think of the next hurried transition. We boarded the plane and took off a few minutes late, but I figured we would make up the time in the air. I was a little concerned by the old man who sat next to me, not wanting to have to tackle him in my rush off the airplane. Fortunately, though, he wanted more space and moved to the empty back of the plane shortly after take-off. As we landed, I prepared myself for sprinting. As soon as possible I was out of the seat, my suitcase was out of the compartment, and I made my way through the crowds of people up the gangway. I hit the hallway of the airport at a run, weaving in and out of people. The plane landed at 5:05. By 5:11, I was in a taxi. I almost took out a sliding door in the process. A little out of breath, I told the taxi driver, "airport, highway, FAST!". He obliged. We sailed past other cars and I was at the airport by 5:38. There was no line at the check-in counter, and despite the fact that I was in the slowest immigration line EVER (the next line over was moving at a rate of four people to one person in ours; yes, I counted), I still had time to grab one last blizzard before boarding my plane to China. Another day of travel in Asia successfully completed.

I'm now back home in China, spending time with one of my former teammates who is up for a visit. Pictures from my time in Laos are slowly being put up on flickr. I'll post a little more about that trip soon! For now, here's one of my favorite pictures, taken on the Mekong.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Another year older

Since moving to Asia, my birthday has always fallen during my company's annual conference. While some would be excited to celebrate with 600 of their closest friends, sitting in sessions all day, this setting is not really my venue of choice. This year I was excited to find out my birthday fell the day after conference ended. After the hustle and bustle of conference, a couple of friends and I headed up into the mountains around Chiang Mai for two days of quiet rest and reflection. I can't think of a better place to celebrate my birthday! After three weeks of being in the heart of Chiang Mai, in the midst of traffic, noise, and hordes of people, the stillness of a secluded mountain resort was incredibly refreshing. After sleeping, reading, and watching the sunset the first day, we headed to the nearby Queen's Botanic Gardens the second day. I spent my birthday hiking through the jungle, running into a grand total of one person (other than my hiking companions). We hiked, we laid on a bridge staring up at the trees, we sang songs to our creator. It was an absolutely perfect day, and probably one of my favorite birthdays ever. On the way to the airport that night, we stopped in a little chocolate shop to pick up some Belgium truffles for a sweet ending to a marvelous day. I'm now in Pakse, Laos, enjoying riding motorbikes around a city surrounded with rivers and mountains. I'll be spending a week with the team of teachers here before heading back home.