Thursday, February 28, 2008

A lunchtime anecdote...

The sun has finally returned to Wuhan, making me willing to venture to the market for fresh veggies to steam in my new-used rice cooker (ahhhh--sing for joy, owners of rice cookers!! Perfect rice every time!!). After class I browsed through the eggplant, the onions, the cabbage, the plethora of unknown veggies that I'm not sure even have an English name...finally settling on some green snap beans and carrots and cauliflower.

Up in the kitchen with the window open and Patty Griffin playing on iTunes, I peeled my carrots and broke apart my cauliflower etc...then commenced mindlessly and rhythmically cleaning the beans, snapping off the ends and peeling the string the runs down the bean off in one smooth motion. Snap....zzzip. Snap....zzzip. Snap...zzzip. Snap...zzzip.

Until I suddenly dropped a bean and had to ask myself....What the heck am I doing???

I've never prepared fresh green beans in my life. My mother didn't when we were growing up (she may have wanted to--but we were true American kids--"We want our canned goods, dammit! Bring on the LaSeure party peas!! Where's my Jolly Green Giant!")

Where, I want to know, did I learn how to snap green beans and peel off the string???? From whence did this knowledge come??? Am I even supposed to do it?

The thing is...it just feels sooo right! I somehow...deep within myself...feel sure that this is what I should to do. It's innate...it's there buried in the stuff of my primordial being...the same force that causes my lips to smile when happy, the same force that knows to put one foot in front of another....that same force somehow knows that before cooking green beans, the stalky end needs to be snapped off and the stringy thing zipped out.

Or maybe this knowledge is stored away in a repressed memory from my Southern childhood. I sometimes see flashes in my dreams of an old woman with green beans held in a kitchen towel laying across her lap. I can't tell if she was a real person in my past or if she's another movie image that carries familiar enough emotions that I accidentally claim it as my own experience. She always appears after the memories of clambering with dad's old t-shirts as cleaning rags and a bottle of windex through the back of the stationwagon on our car-wash days, feeling sticky and grubby and with knees sore from squatting to clean the tires...

Or maybe I'm totally wrong and mom did fix green beans that way for a long time before giving in to our demands for canned-only nutrition. ...

There's also the strong possibility that I'm clueless and the preparation of fresh grean beans has nothing to do with a snap or a zip. It could be that I'm throwing out the most valuable part of the whole thing--making my attempts at a healthy lunch all in vane.

But I have a feeling that I did the right thing.

Laugh at me if you will, you mothers of the South, you health-foodies who have never touched an aluminum can, you Food-Network connoisseurs and you Top Chef wannabees! My spirit cannot be dampened! I feel triumphant, I feel righteous. Today, my subconsious prepared my lunch.

So, yes....Laugh. But then ask yourself: What does your subconsious ever do for you?

And then tell me what I'm really supposed to do with these green beans. Because I have no clue!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Six Months

Six months ago I stepped off a plane, muscle sore and bleary-eyed, into the oppressive heat of Wuhan, one of China's four "Furnace Cities." Adam, Jeremy and I were whisked away from our companions and hurried into a rickety (or so I thought at the time) bus with a reckless (or so I thought at the time) driver. That day we were shown our dirty (so I thought...) apartments and fed unpronounceable food. Our escort gave us each 200 yuan (a number that shocked me at the time...but is only about US$26) and we attempted to figure out the supermarket and the fresh market using only gestures and written numbers. In the evening, the 3 of us gathered underneath my air conditioning unit and Offered Thanks and Shared Hope and Wishes for the coming year.

This morning as I prepared for class, I could see my breath in my own living room. I still have no hot water (it's been a week now)--so washing my face adds a certain zing to the morning that I could probably do without, but that I'm trying to be thankful for. I try to be really animated while teaching to keep myself warm in the unheated classrooms--I still don't understand how these students learn anything in this cold.

This six monthiversary is particularly poignant, because after class I hurried home to say goodbye. Jeremy is leaving Wuhan after exactly six months of never-ending adventure. His injuries will require at least 3 months to fully heal and it's best for him to recover back in the States. We all hugged and tried to laugh--making stupid jokes about elephants and China, but it was a pretty sad day. Jeremy lives directly underneath me...and he's the type of big brother who makes you feel safer just having him nearby. Those first weeks in China, I both loved him and couldn't stand him--he'd cook Adam and I dinner and was so good at knowing what to do to feel at home--but he had/has a barbaric sense of humor and a wild personality. It took a few months, but eventually his big ol' heart won me over and we started spending alot of time together each week. More than anything, Jeremy is an energetic and bold Servant and I hope that I can continue his energy in my own Work here in Wuhan.

Now I sit here in my apartment--eating a weird meal of mashed sweet potato, banana, black sugar and yogurt all mixed together (don't knock it til you try it, people!)--all ingredients of which I can ask for and bargain for in Chinese now with my favorite vendors at the market. I have one semester behind me and one right in front of me. I have a Chinese Family who I meet with each week now. I have great friends as well. I have traveled throughout Southeast Asia and I've seen more of China than I would have expected. I am about to buy a couch and have some art framed. I can give directions and figure my way around alot of Wuhan.

I don't flinch as often when my taxi driver swerves into oncoming traffic, or when he throws the car into reverse on the highway when he misses an exit, or when he decides to use the sidewalk as a way to pass slower cars. I don't flinch (or gag) as often when someone hocks a big, nasty loogie onto the street inches from my feet. I don't notice all the time how dirty the city is....or how bad the air pollution is (oh--but it's still terrible--my lungs have just adjusted--much like a smoker's). I don't get as irritated when a student quotes Marx to me after I mention my religious background. I don't feel as invaded when I am surrounded my strangers staring at me and saying "hallo" just to laugh at my response.

Sarcasm aside, I am just grateful that in these six months I've found more of my place in this world that surrounds me. I remember my boss at my PR firm telling me that it usually takes about six months to adjust to a new job--to really feel on target and in control and confident etc... and I feel that now that this learning period has passed somewhat, I can really dig in and be more purposeful in my Tasks. I think that in China, we foreigners are ALWAYS stuck in the vicious learning curve--the country is moving too fast to figure out much before it changes--BUT, I do feel that I know how to swing and swerve China-style more easily now.

That's the report from six months in. I'll be home for 2 months in July and August. Then I'm coming back for round #2 (Father-willing). Pics will come SOON of the SE Asia trip--I promise!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hong Kong and now HOME

After 5 looooonnnng weeks of travel, countless bus and train rides, unending mosquito bites and sunburns, pounds and pounds of luggage hauled around, a few blowups, a few mistakes, lessons learned and memories made, billions of wrong turns, pages and pages torn, highlighted and dogg-eared in our not-so-trusty Lonely Planet guide....I am home.


35 days. For 35 days we bashed our way through SE Asia. I still can't believe it.

The End of our Tale:

After leaving "Paradise Island," Jen and I headed back to Bangkok to meet up with Justin and Rachel--and I was able to spend one last day with Jeremy in the hospital before our flight. He was discharged and is actually now back in Wuhan, where he's packing up and getting ready for a long voyage of flights to get him back to America.


Our flight from Bangkok to China was short and sweet--we flew into Shenzhen because it was the cheapest option, and then arranged train tickets from there. Jen needed to get back to Wuhan to start teaching, so she hopped on a flight from Shenzhen to Wuhan--while Justin and Rachel and I had tickets arranged for a few days later.


As soon as we arrived back in China, the culture shock began to hit me hard. Everything in China is just....different. Dirtier. More chaotic. Uglier. It's only while in the grips of Culture Shock that I ever feel this way, and it only hits me occasionally...but it was STRONG while we were in Shenzhen.


Sooo......we left!


From Shenzhen it takes about an hour or two to get into Hong Kong...so we left and spent our 3 nights there while we were waiting for our train to Wuhan. And IT WAS HEAVEN!!!!


Hong Kong now rivals New York City for my affection. Indeed, it's the only major metropolis that I've ever been to that compares to NYC. Ahhh....I can't even describe it! The streets are clean (though after dark, I suspect it's alot like NYC before Guiliani took over and cleaned it up--we saw the drug dealers guarding their territory and the prostitutes working on the alleyways...but during the day this is all hidden). The people all speak English...and when they're not, they're speaking Cantonese--so we can avoid the Mandarin for a bit longer. Plus, I suspect that Hong Kong is as much Chinese as Puerto Rico is American--the politics are all that ties the city to the great One Nation. The streets are VIBRANT and bustling and alive and it's a city filled with its own personality and pulse and radiance---I just love it.

While there, I:
  • ate a steak dinner at TGI Fridays!!!
  • Caught a magnifiscent performance at the Cultural Center of the Stuggart Ballet (from Germany) performing Swan Lake!!!!
  • Spent a few hours at a BOOKSTORE--a REGULAR one, like Barnes and Noble or whatever--bought copies of Time, Newsweek, the Economist, and The New Yorker!!! (I've developed a voracious appetite for US Media since I've been away--speaking of: How about the Primaries being MORE EXCITING than reruns of West Wing! You guys keep up the political drama over there--I'm hooked!)
  • Joined the Phillipino Catholics for Mass at a downtown cathedral--held a beautiful Phillipino baby through half of the mass. (seriously...I DID NOT baby-snatch!!! The mom just smiled and handed me the baby! What do you do in a situation like that--I LOVED IT)
  • WATCHED A MOVIE IN A MOVIE THEATER!!!! (PS--I love You with Hillary Swank--quite the tearjerker)
  • Took the Tram to Victoria Peak and gazed down at the bay and the city
  • Watched DAVID LETTERMAN on the US channel!!!!
  • Got teary-eyed from incense coils in the famous Man Mo Temple
  • Ate a RUEBEN SANDWICH and german potato salad from a delicatessen!!!

I think Hong Kong may have been just the right way to end the trip--and to keep me from being TOO homesick for the US. In an upcoming blog, I'll try to share all the things that I miss most about home--and all the things that I love most about being here...but I'll go ahead and tell ya that MOST of what I get homesick about is listed in the above bullets--movie theaters, late night TV, cultural opportunities etc.... If I could have seen a pro football or baseball game and eaten at Chic-Fil-A--that would have covered it all! Unfortunately--Hong Kong did up our expenses for the trip...so I'm gonna be eating alot of fried rice during the next month! Haha.

And Back Again

So now I'm back in my apartment and trying to get cozy--which might happen once they come and repair our water pipes, which busted while we were away. I have a small stream of icy cold water that comes out of the spiggot--but definately no hot water. We think that the repair men will be here this week--if it gets too long then we might go to the campus hotel for showers!

I'm beginning to feel rested again though and ready for the new semester. I have a renewed sense of purpose and really want to be able to put into practice some of the things I learned last semester. I have lived in China for 6 months now and I've learned so much. This semester, I hope to start taking Mandarin lessons and writing more about life here--possibly creating some articles for freelance work--and mostly really devoting myself to the Family work and to my students. I have some relationships that I think have a lot of room for Father to move in--and I'm Hoping that I can really give everything this semester to my Dad to use and shape for His Honor. I'll be sure to keep you all updated as we go! Love to you all!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Bangkok and Paradise(ish) Island

Before I write the following, let me first remind all of you that although I LOVE to take part in the wonders of new cultures and cuisines--I live in CHINA...so there is an element of this trip that consists mainly of ESCAPE...getting away from unknown people and places and foods and cultures and enjoying time with my friends and easy home-like joys. OK--disclaimer over.

SOOOOooooo...Here's what I enjoyed in Bangkok: BURGER KING, SUBWAY, STARBUCKS, AU BON PAIN, 7-ELEVENS ON EVERY CORNER, HOT DOGS, DIET COKE!!!!

These are all non-existant in China (and all those other countries we've been to in the past month) (except Subway--which is in Beijing). We were all so excited to see everything--but our stomachs had quite a time dealing with the return to Western food!

Other than that--I spent as much time as possible every day at the hospital with Jeremy--who continues to recover and is great spirits, although still in so much pain. His body has a long way to go to heal, so please keep him in your prayers and consider contributing to his medical fund if you have the means (see posts below). He now is free of all tubes and has had his major wound stitched up. It was hard to see such a vibrant guy dealing with so much, but I know that Father has great plans for him--there is no other way that Jeremy would be alive today without the Plans of our Father. I will wait and post Jeremy's story later--I think he's going to write a brief account of what happened for everyone later and I think it will be best for him to tell it himself--but I'll be sure to share it all with you when he does.

The area where we found our hostel in Bangkok was definately Hippie Central. It was fun. It's the "backpackers area" and filled with all sorts of people and parties--but we really were only there to sleep while we were going to and from the hospital. It was great for Jen and I--who at this point are beginning to feel the effects of weeks on the roads and too many buses etc. It was a relief to relax in a taxi and not hunt for sights to see or restaurants to try etc.

From Bangkok Jen and I parted with Justin and Rachel for a few days and continued our flight south. We're now in southern Thailand on the INCREDIBLE island paradise of RaiLay. This island is south of Phuket--where we were originally going to stay but decided to bypass after we heard about the high levels of sex tourism and the ridiculous prices.

We're MOSTLY thrilled with RaiLay--it's a tiny island that we could walk all the way around if it weren't for the cliffs--which, did I mention, THERE ARE CLIFFS!!! These cliffs come straight down to the water, then are surrounded by astounding white sand beaches and crystal clear blue/emerald waters. I used to not be much of an ocean girl--my intense fear of sea creatures makes it hard to enjoy--but I've never been in water this clear...so now I can say--I AM an ocean girl!!! Or...maybe an Andaman Sea girl! Seriously--I'm in the place that is shown in the images of Paradise.

The island and surrounding islands have great spots for rockclimbing and scuba diving--so far Jen and I have just been resting all day on the beach and enjoying the beauty and great food. We've made some friends and had interesting convos etc...I love it.

So...why the (ish) in the title and the aforementioned "mostly"? Well....I haven't yet mentioned our accomodation. The island is filled with bungalows and cabanas to stay in and they're all really cute and cheap enough...but then you find the frog in the shower...or the bugs in the bed...and there is an element of the appeal that is somewhat lessened. I guess I didn't go camping enough as a child--MOSTLY I love it...It's A LOT of fun...but if the bungalows were a bit more secure from the jungle surrounding us--it'd be a complete paradise.

It's alot like that commercial for Hotels.com that has a woman shopping online for hotels--she sees a description and says "Oh! Bungalows!" then it flashes to an image of her and her husband trapped on a bed inside a mosquito netting that is covered in scary bugs! She then uses the website to find a tasteful hotel room with no bugs or netting. It's a little like that in our bungalow. But Jen and I are embracing it and gathering plenty of stories that will forevermore begin "One time, on this island in southern Thailand...."

Buggy bungalow or not--we are living a charmed life.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Feeble Attempts

Chinese:
Hello --> Ni Hao
Thank you --> Xie Xie
Vietnamese:
Hello --> Sin Jeao
Thank you --> Cam On
Cambodian:
Hello --> Sue se day
Thank you --> Acun
(spellings are phonetic--I can't spell correctly in English--I certainly am not going to attempt it in Mandarin, Vietnames or Cambodian!)

The past few days in Cambodia have really opened my eyes in ways I didn't expect. Last night we went to a cello concert to raise money for a free children's hospital that operates in Siem Reap. We expected a few cellists and a bucket of money for donations. What we saw was a despirate appeal by one doctor fighting time, poverty, history, the WHO (World Health Organization--who says that his hospitals are too sophisticated Cambodia's ecoconomy--promoting (according to the doctor) a "poor healthcare for poor countries" mindset) and the "me first" nature of Capitalism-- to try to provide proper health for the poor children of Cambodia.

Dr Beat Richner lived in Phnom Penh before the Khmere Rouge takeover and returned in 1991 at the request of Cambodia's King. He holds concerts for tourists every Thursday and Saturday night to educate the world to the health situation in Cambodia and of the West's resposibility for the current condition. He uses the phrase "passive genocide" to describe the international community's apathy towards the health of Cambodian children (case in point: when SARS broke out 4 years ago--CNN, TV Cinq, CCTV etc....all filled their broadcast hours with coverage. At the same time in Cambodia, a Denque outbreak was paralyzing and killing thousands of babies throughout the countryside--many more than were affected by SARS...but no coverage). If you are interested in learning more, you can view Dr Richner's website at http://www.beat-richner.ch/index.html

Dr Richner states in no uncertain terms that the US Secret Bombing of Cambodia and the distruction that it caused (about 2/5 of the country was destroyed by US B52's with no US public knowledge of the action until much later) allowed the conditions for the takeover by the Khmere Rouge and Pol Pot's genocidal reign.

Whatever you believe and whatever the causes are--the fact remains that Cambodia is just now emerging from a long history of war and terror. After the Khmere Rouge came the Vietnamese invasion...and the result of it all--war from the US, the Khmere Rouge, Vietnam...the Cambodians are still dealing with landmines, poverty, Dengue Fever, inadequate healthcare and vast corruption.

In the face of all of this--we find ourselves making feeble attempts to make pennence to this country--and the others that we visit along the way. And I must again assert that these are feeble efforts at best. We buy our souvenirs from businesses that sell the goods of crippled children or who employ disabled persons. We eat at restaurants that pull young people off the streets and train them in cooking, food service and business. We give money to the crippled landmine victims. We invite our tuk-tuk drivers to diner (that was Justin and Rachel's doing--and I can't commend them enough for their thoughtfulness. Tonight we ate with our driver, his wife and their two children and it was one of the highlights of the trip). After hearing about the Dengue epidemic that is taking so many of the children here, I went to the hospital today and tried to give blood--but wasn't elligible for now--I'll probably try again in Thailand if they need it.

Anyway--we try to be conciensious travelers--we try to show respect to the inhabitors of the country that we are trapsing through--we try to learn enough basic phrases to be polite--we try to shop wisely etc....but all of it seems soo slight. How do you apologize for being a part of the System that keeps the rich rich and the poor poor? More importantly, how do bring about change? Not just change in the sense of where we choose to buy souvenirs, but change in the lasting, systemic way.

As I write this, I know that I'm just another traveler backpacking through Southeast Asia and that these thoughts are nothing new. It's a 'coming of age' for all rich, white people when we are first surrounded by poverty and when they see the effects of warfare on regular people--the ones who are called "collateral damage" by our government. I'm just another one in a thousand--and I know that. But I have this blog and this is what I see and what I'm thinking--so I figured that I might as well share it all tonight.

Because I'm feeling that "feeble attempts" just won't get the job done.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Goodbye Saigon, Hello Cambodia

In all, we spent about 11 (or was it 12?) days traveling through Vietnam. We all admit that the country was a total surprise to us--we had no idea that we'd love it that much. I think what amazed me most was the wonderful blending that occurs between Vietnamese culture and globalized influences. The stores carry "western products," but there isn't a McDonalds in sight. The people speak wonderful English--but maintain what they can of their culture after years and years of war and internal political struggle. The food is incredible, the travel is relatively easy and mostly safe (there were a few incidents--mais c├ęst la vie!) and the history is fascinating and thought-provoking (there's no way to describe how it feels staring at photos of the damage that your own country did to the country you're visiting). We've all decided that it's going to be incredibly hard to appreciate China after all that we've enjoyed here.

Which--have I mentioned--it's COLD in China!!!! 'We've been watching news reports while traveling that claim that it is the worst winter that China has experienced in 50 years!!!! Emails from friends have told us that the snow (which had just fallen when we left Wuhan) has not melted and is deeper and icier now, buses have stopped running in Wuhan, trains are delayed throughout the country, water reserves/pipes are frozen so several of our friends have no water and it sounds basically...well, miserable! The entire country is worried because Chinese New Year/Spring Festival is February 8--and is the busiest travel time for all Chinese as they return to their hometowns to gather with their family. We learned most of this news while we were in Nha Trang...on the beach...for 4 days...getting tans. We are actually a little worried about our apartments flooding from burst pipes or something like that--but we'll deal with all of that when we return. For now--we're enjoying our summer!!!!

Saigon (now called Ho Chi Menh City...or HCMC) was a mix of beauty and disrepair. Once called the 'Paris of Asia,' it seems that it may have lost some of its spendor over the years. We visited the Reunification Palace (the cite that the Vietcong went straight for when they took the city after US forces left), the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Mosque, a Hindu Temple, the Opera House, the Train Station, LOTS of shopping stores, and the backpackers area where we got a hostel. The sun was bright and hot and Jenn and I spent quite a while just sitting in a park basking in the sun.

We arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia, two days ago. Coming into Cambodia is alot like going back to China. The poverty level is even lower than in China--we're staying in the city that makes the most money from tourism, so we're in a nice area...but at all times it's impossible to ignore the standard of living that the Cambodians exist in. The children have perfected their routines when selling bracelets and cold drinks--some choose the pitiful whine, some are comedians ("Hey mista--how many people are in the US? You don't know? I'll tell you--300 million minus 4. Why minus 4? Because you fine people are here in Cambodia!) and some are wilting flowers. We tend to buy from them--how can you resist!

We're here to visit the Temples of Angkor--the most famous of which is Angkor Wat. I cannot describe these in words--and the pictures won't do it justice either. Tomb Raider was partially filmed in one of the Angkor Temples--and the rest all looks like something out of Indiana Jones. I'll post pics when I get home and show off.

There are moments in life when you realize that you're living your childhood dreams. While biking through Yangshuo (China) or HoiAn (Vietnam), I remember circling the street on Woodside Drive for hours and hours--imaging adventures and scenery. While clambering and crawling up the massively steep steps up the Temples of Angkor (Cambodia), I remember the days on the Jungle Gyms at the playground or in imaginarly palaces we made in the woods with Irene. While sipping Vietnamese coffee at a lakeside cafe in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, I remember the tea parties I'd have with Diet Coke for tea or coffee with my neighborhood friends in Roanoke. I'll say it again-I live a charmed life.

On Monday we're heading into Bangkok--which is where my friend Jeremy has been moved to while he recovers from his elephant attack. If you live in Middle Tennessee--you may have seen his story on the Channel 4 news (http://www.wsmv.com/video/15158943/index.html)! Jeremy is recovering but is in alot of pain and currently is being watched for his fever--he has an infection and if his fever doesn't go down in the next 48 hours they will have to take him into surgery to clean up the site of the infection.

I'll be spending the majority of my time in Bangkok with him at the hospital--and then we're going to try to head down to Phuket before flying home(ish) later on. Thank you all for your prayers for Jeremy--please keep praying because although he's recovering and the greatest fears have diminished--he's still in very serious condition. I'll post the last email I received below concerning his health insurance--his alma mater has set up a fund to help cover his continueing expenses. If you feel called to contribute--I know that it will be a blessing to him.

This morning (Friday, February 1) we have learned that Jeremy's medical insurance is almost maxed out. His policy has a maximum limit of $50,000. The medical evacuation cost $23,000 USD and the first 5 days at the hospital in Bangkok (in ICU, surgery, medications, etc) comes to $22,030 USD (680,744 Thai dollars). The hospital in China has still not been paid. We learned from insurance company that once the $50,000 runs out the hospital will then look to Jeremy to cover his medical expenses.

Jeremy's prognosis calls for at least another week in the Bangkok hospital and possibly longer. The doctors are still continuing to evaluate his case.

If possible, please present this urgent need to your home group this Sunday on Jeremy's behalf. Donations to assist with Jeremy's medical expenses can be made directly through Freed-Hardeman University.

Freed-Hardeman University
ATTN: Jeremy McGill
Medical Fund
158 East Main St.
Henderson, TN 38340

If you or your home group has any questions about Jeremy's medical fund, please
contact Jud Davis at FHU: 800-630-3482 or 731-989-6023.

Thank you for your consideration of this special need and for continuing to remember Jeremy in your prayers.