Monday, December 14, 2009

Things I Take for Granted

Morning after morning, I try and remind myself to tell you about some of the sights I see on my way to school. Things that might be foreign to you. Things I take for granted.

Like the breakfast stands. Food is a huge thing in Chinese culture. Around mealtimes, you greet people by asking if they've eaten yet. And many homes in this crowded city do not have big kitchens. So it's not unusual for people to eat out for many, if not most, meals. On my 7-minute drive to school, I pass a handful of breakfast stands. Some sell egg sandwiches. The real traditional ones sell Chinese pastries and soy bean milk, which is often handed to you in a small plastic bag. You can have it hot or cold, sweet or salty. I love sweet, warm soybean milk!

And then there are the people doing exercises. Exercising is as big a thing as food in Chinese culture, partly why you rarely see overweight Chinese people! On my ride to school, I pass two groups of ladies. If I'd drive a different route, I'd see many more men and women working out in the park that I drive by!

The first group I pass never fails to make me smile. They dance. And boy, do they dance. One lady, especially, looks like she may have always dreamed of being professional dancer. Her hair is always put up nicely, and curled. She always wears quite the outfit. And she's totally into the music. Keep in mind, this is around 7 a.m. Her group is comprised of about 20 other ladies who are almost as passionate as she is about dancing.

When I sit at the 5-phase traffic light, waiting my turn to go, I often watch another group of ladies in red and white. They do Tai Chi, I believe. In uniform. In sync. In all seriousness. And those ladies can bend and breathe like I can't at almost half their age. Their workout venue? At the entrance to a large Japanese department store. Where there's a decent space, you'll find people exercising every morning, from the crack of dawn.

Many parks have long stretches of rock, where people take off their shoes and walk barefoot on the smooth river rocks. Except, the rocks are planted into cement, a good inch apart, with the tips facing up. Walking across the rocks is really painful to the untrained foot. But it's great accu-pressure, a DIY foot massage.

On my way home, I often drive past a local market. If you step inside, you have rows of vendors selling fresh fish, fresh meat (with pig heads lying staring at you), fresh noodles, fresh flowers, fresh veggies. And then the odd little corner shops where you can buy fine China and such. Go figure.

The same drive home takes me past numerous food vendors, from young entrepreneurs who set up noodle stands in the back of a little pickup truck, to an old man who blows a whistle every time he's about to fire off his contraption that makes puffed rice. There are rows and rows of snack stands selling everything from shaved ice, hot or cold glutinous rice balls, seaweed treats, or finely-sliced cooked pig ears.

I can walk out any time of the night, if I so wished, and find a number of vendors selling good Chinese food. In my area, these vendors are fewer than, say, downtown, or in the college areas. What can I say? The Chinese people are serious about their food.

By now, you can tell that the Western idea of stereotypical Chinese food is far from correct. There are oh-so-many kinds of Chinese food. And other than deep-fried or steamed fermented soybean curd, I like it all.

Perhaps I should follow the unspoken advice of my neighbors and join them for their daily exercises in the park.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Simply enjoying

This afternoon, I decided to take a different road up the mountain, find a coffee shop, and read there. I remembered that this one road not too far from my home went clear up to the top of the mountain, where I used to house-sit and parrot-sit for friends.

I drove up steep, steep roads (perhaps at a 45 degree angle), encountering at times hairpin turn after hairpin turn. I'll definitely take another route down, I thought to myself. This'd be a bit much coming down on a scooter.

I passed unattended fruit stands, where you could weigh your own persimmons and starfruits and leave the money in a box. I stopped to pick up some seed pods to show my kids. I watched huge butterflies flutter by. I wished I had my camera with me.

The road took me past a pristine little garden on the side of the road. There was nothing there. Someone had simply made the little garden so you could sit there and take in the breathtaking view of all of Taipei county, all the way to the ocean.

I drove past a lazy dog or two, a couple working in their vegetable patch, and then, that was it. Dead end.

It's not the way I remember this road. What about the road to the Perkins' home? I wondered. As I drove back, I saw it. There was a little footpath up to my friends' home. I couldn't go up with my scooter. I'd have to ride down again.

I don't tend to look for the lesson in every single encounter in life, but as I was making my way down the mountain, I couldn't help but think that this is life. Sometimes, our expectations are unmet. Sometimes, the purpose of a journey is simply to enjoy just that very moment.

At times, the road might not lead to new things. But then again, it does, if only we'd open our eyes to what's around us.

And simply enjoy it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Miss Booysen, where does pasta come from? And cheese?"

We were talking about things we're thankful for again this morning. Says my one kid: "I ate pasta last night, Miss Booysen. I'm thankful for pasta! Oh, Miss Booysen? Where does pasta grow?"

We'd been talking about veges recently, and made a chart of which vegetables grow above ground, and which ones under the ground. I asked them to turn to their partners and come up with an answer. When they shared their answers, most thought that pasta grew on trees. I wonder if it is because there are some strange trees in our neighborhood with these strange-looking hairy, rooty things hanging from their branches! It looks kinda like dark spaghetti!

We decided we might have to go back to the market where we bought veges the other day to watch one vendor make pasta!

Then someone said they were thankful for cheese. Asks one of my most curious little kids: "Miss Booysen, where does cheese grow?" (Although it's more like, "Mith Booythen, whe' doth cheeth grow?")

After talking with their partners, some of the boys figured they knew. "In my belly button!" one laughed. "In my socks!" quipped another. Only boys would think of that!

Some thought it grew under the ground, other on trees.

"No!" another one explained. "It's from a cow!"

"It GROWS ON A COW?"

Yip. For real. That's what I like about 4-year-olds.

"No! You take the milk. You hit the milk. You get cheese."

So, there! Now we know!

So tomorrow we're writing down question to ask my friend's dad who used to be a cheese maker, so we can e-mail him or even see if we can set up a Skype call...

Kids are so curious! I love that about them. That, and a million other things. But not the cheese some of them are supposedly growing on their bodies.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Eggs come from CHICKENS??"

I've realized that in the busy-ness of work and studies, I'm losing some of the really adorable things my kids do and say by not writing them down. At lunch after church, a friend reminded me of this, though...

Last week, I took my kids to a local market. We have been talking about vegetables. Where do which veges grow? And so on and so forth. So during our visit to the market, we saw much more than fruit and vegetables, of course. We also saw slaughtered ducks and chickens, fresh fish, and a cornucopia of Chinese treats.

Passing the egg stand, I asked something about whether eggs were vegetables. Which led to a simple explanation that eggs come from chickens.

One of my girls had this total valley-girl expression on her face, and blurted out, "EGGS COME FROM CHICKENS???" In her world, they've always, always just come from roughly the same spot as the fruit and vegetables at the local supermarket.

Then, on Thursday, when we were celebrating my birthday by baking brownies in class, I asked again where eggs came from. This time, my most expressive boy jumped up from his spot on the carpet declaring, "I know!" and started doing a chicken dance in the center of the group, making clucking sounds to boot.

I really am enjoying working with 4-year-olds! They keep me on my toes, and they keep me on my knees in more ways than one. Some days, they drive me nuts. But most days, they make me laugh. A lot.

I love that. I really do love them. And most of the time, I like 'em, too.

I suspect the feeling is mutual.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Looking back

(Some of this is a repost. Some is new.)

I've walked on the Great Wall,
and dived the Barrier Reef.
I've hiked the Knysna forest
and I've soared over the Serengeti plains.

I’ve hung on for dear life on jeepneys in Manilla,
and in matatus in Nairobi.
I've dodged potholes in the Rift Valley,
and gotten lost in Taiwan.

I've explored the back streets of Manhattan,
and have known the freeways of LA.
I've bargained for fuel in the Congo,
and pleaded with police in Mozambique.

I have walked on a glacier in Alaska,
and sailed around islands
in the mid-summer heat.
I’ve camped on the beach in Niece,
and had dinner in a castle in Talinn.

I’ve sat sat in tukuls in Sudan,
and ghops in Korr/Kenya.
I've heard the people's stories
and kept them in my heart.

I've visited around fires in the Bushveld,
and danced around ones in the Maasai Mara.
I've stood on Table Mountain,
on the rim of the Grand Canyon,
on the Twin Towers
and climbed the stairs of Lady Liberty.
I've picnicked under the Eiffel Tower
and walked on the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

I've swum with wild dolphins,
and watched green turtles lay eggs by my door.
I've watched foxes care for their young,
and lionesses teach their cubs to hunt.
I’ve been chased by a rhino and an elephant.

I learned how to love driving in really bad mud.
I’ve been to more countries than I am old.

I've survived a massive earthquake,
typhoons, and floods.
I had a ticket for a plane that crashed.

I’ve sung in the most beautiful concert halls in the world,
and to an audience who could not hear.

I've lived among people in poverty,
and among ones who have too much.
I’ve had tea with Presidents,
and chai with friends
for whom it was all they had at home.

I have always had enough.

I've taken pictures in the rice paddies in Taiwan,
and in the deserts in Namibia, Kenya, and the USA.
I've had my camera confiscated,
and my voice silenced.

Notwithstanding, I've chosen to speak.

I've watched people die,
delivered a decomposed body to a family,
and have seen a baby being born.
I've seen the dead come back to life,
and those who think they live, slip away.

I've cried hard, and have laughed harder.
I have known and been known.
I've been tempted. I've succumbed.
I've resisted. I have known grace.
I have failed, I have hurt.
I have succeeded, and rejoiced.

I have loved, and been loved.
I have been blessed.
I have laughed with strangers
And have made lonely neighbors smile.
I’ve taught adults and kids alike.

I've been called talkative and quiet,
passionate, adventuresome, intense,
even a bit of an activist.

I’ve been mugged and been conned.
I’ve been attacked by a mob
and have stared death in the eye.

I have survived.

And so, I'll keep speaking for those without a voice.
I'll keep asking questions.
I'll keep taking photos and telling people's stories.
I'll keep sharing that which God is teaching me.
I'll keep living life to the fullest.

I'll choose no other way.

***
Today, I am 41. Last year, I wrote about some of the things I've had the joy of doing in life. I looked at that list again, added some things.

The bottom line? For me, life with God is an amazing adventure! Some uncertainties despite.

This time last year, I was in Nairobi with no idea what was lying ahead. I only knew God gave me total peace about moving on. A year later, I do not regret the move. I still don't know what's ahead after I've completed my studies, but for now, I'll continue to choose to enjoy life to the fullest.

Thanks for being part of my journey.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Thoughts

I'm sitting in "my" gazebo by my old house. The birds are singing, and the river is flowing steadily. The sky is aflame in the most beautiful sunset, which is reflecting perfectly in the river.

It's been good to be back. Good and strange, too. This morning, as I walked to a meeting, it felt like I had never left. I was wearing a skirt and my leather sandals, carrying a cup of chai with me, listening to the staff singing during the staff meeting. It really felt like I had never left.

It's been almost a year since I left the village. The kids were very excited to see me, as I was to see them! It's been equally good to catch up with friends on staff. There have been many, many changes in this village in the past year, and I've been catching up on how everyone's doing...

Today, after several meetings, I went to check how the dental team was doing. They were cleaning the kids' teeth. Katonye (Dennis), one of my favorite little ones in Kipkaren, slid onto my lap. He has a raspy voice, and every so often, he'd just look at me, say my name, and give his raspy chuckle.

I've missed the kids. I'm touched to see that they have really missed me, too.

As for our team: They're doing amazingly well. We've laughed lots, and worked lots. My role with them is mostly liaison. And encourager. They're a great bunch, though. They think BIG, which I love. Nothing's too overwhelming to them.

Right now, I need to head to the library to have dinner. Am planning to do debriefing with the team at the gazebo closer to the river tonight, to the light of just a lantern...

I'm glad I'm here for this moment in time.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Village Life

Got the team up at 4:00 on Friday. Get their luggage out, ready to be taken by road. Except the drivers didn't show up till 5:45, by which time the team was already at the airport.

Got the packing going, then jumped in the car to rush to the airport, simply on a feeling that something's not right there. Got to the airport to discover their tickets weren't paid for. Ugh! No fun. Got that squared away and got them on the flight.

Back to the guesthouse, picked up the last few items to take up north. We were taking along about 200 lbs of veges, seeing that my friends get anything fresh flown in. Nothing but thorn trees grow where they live.

Hopped on our little Cessna 206 (I think--it's a small 6-seater) and were ready to take off when we were told the airspace had been closed due to military exercises. Got off about an hour later, flying over the Ngong Hills, then row upon row of mountains covered in coffee and tea plantations. Then things start getting drier, and you enter desert area. Flew over craters, then lava fields, over manyattas (groups of huts out in the desert), saw some herds of camels and dozens of dust devils blowing around the desert. Landed in hot Korr.

My friends welcomed us, gave us an overview of things going on in the north, and then we were to head out to see where they'd like to build a hospital.

Except, two men showed up with a medical emergency. A young woman in their manyatta had been in labor for about 36 hours. They were fearing for her life. We RUSHED across desert roads, only to arrive to the news that the baby had been stillborn, and the mother is recovering.

I played with the kids a little while my friends were talking through things with the families. Then we were off to see the area.

My doctor friend committed to getting the first steps done to building a hospital: drilling for water. If there's water in that area, they'll do the next steps of starting building.

Life up north is HARD. We saw several dead camels in the desert, the drought is so severe! I'm told people have lost more than half of all their livestock. They have no food. UNWFP drops off food twice a month, enough for 5 days. So they have food for 10 days a month. Nothing grows. Nothing but thorn trees.

We chased ostriches on our way home (the ostriches outran the car), stopped by a group of ladies under a tree having literacy class, and headed into the compound to the sight of a beautiful sunset.

Had dinner with our pilots (they were waiting for us till the next day) as well as 2 teachers who are helping at the first-ever high school for Rendilles, built by my friends, the Swanepoels.

Walked home under a solid sky of stars. No light pollution. No pollution at all. No clouds. Just stars as far as you can see.

Fell asleep knowing to a desert breeze cooling down the room.

Up early to a beautiful sunrise. After breakfast, headed to a Rendille culture day. My friends encourage the Rendille to maintain all that is beautiful in their culture, so all their schools get together to sing songs and enact customs.

After 4.5 hours in the sun (and more than 300 pictures of everyone in their traditional clothing), we headed back home to freshen up for our flight, passing up on the meal of camel and rice.

Flew over rows and rows of mountains, finally approached the Great Rift Valley, and was welcomed by the team. Then off to Ilula, where I had lived for half my time in Kenya.

It was GOOD to see the kids in Ilula. Boy! Have they grown! My hand hurt at the end of the night from shaking so many hands so tightly. (Also from hanging on for dear life with one hand and a baby in the other hand on the back of the truck in Korr, after culture day.)

Visited with the kids; showed them photos of Taiwan and heard stories. Got out of team meetings too late to go and tuck them in... Bummed about that, but that's life.

Up early for chai and team meeting, then off to the Rono family to visit. More chai. More news. They are thrilled to hear that Esther is doing well in Iowa.

When I got out from their house, kids were waiting to show me how Flannel is doing. She's fine. :) And to show me how they've grown.

Then to church. But that goes on for very, very long, so I slipped out to write this since I know I won't have a chance soon again! There are already several people asking if they can "talk to me" after church. It will all be requests for money. It's one of the toughest things in Kenya, and my least favorite part of being here.

Sat with the Sifuna kids for a while in church. They beamed when they saw me. As did I. They're looking healthy. No jiggers. And they're clean from head to toe!

After lunch, we're heading to Kipkaren. Looking forward to seeing my friends there, too.

The next three days, I'll be helping at meetings regarding clinic stuff, and doing some photo shoots the staff had asked me to do. And assisting the team to do what they've come to do: provide healthcare.

Some of them are doing eye care, some are doing dental care, two are doing general care, some are working on water projects.

It'll be a busy 4 days ahead. Not sure when I can write again. Will try to post at least one update.

All is well. I'm glad to be here. I'm glad I get to connect friends with friends for projects. And I'm glad I get to go home to Taiwan on Saturday again.

Friday, October 09, 2009

dust devils in the desert

this is a funny keyboard, and i'm on solar power and someone's satellite, so just briefly:

* flew in a teeny tiny cessna for about 90 minutes to get to a very remote part of kenya, where I had visited friends prior to leaving kenya last year
* saw dozens of dust devils in the desert as we approached the 'town' of Korr, also herds of camels
* had a very productive meeting, then went out to look at the site for a possible clinic, but first had to stop for a medical emergency - a young mom had been in labor for almost 36 hours in one of the local manyattas and they were fearing she's dying. by the time we got there, the baby had already passed away, and the mom was resting
* didn't go in to see the family, but had a blast playing with the kids outside. most were naked or half-naked; the teens and grownups all in traditional garb. will load photos later
* tomorrow they are having a cultural day at the school. 400 kids plus their parents will be doing traditional rendille and samburu dances.
* i'm tired, wind-burned, but happy
* due to the extreme drought, most families here only have relief food, which is enough for 10 days. the rest of the month they have nothing to eat
* tonight, i'm once again especially grateful for food, running water, electricity, a roof over my head, friends around me, opportunities to study and enjoy life, medical services, LIFE itself, and for God, who is close to the Rendille even through their difficulties

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

"Miss Booysen's going to Africa!"

I get to go back to Kenya for a few days. When I was in Iowa this summer, friends of mine asked if I'd lead their team on a return medical mission. I was thrilled to do it, thinking time is not a problem--I work part time. Right?

Not any more!

When the school asked me if I'd take on a full-time pre-K teaching position, I explained that I already had a commitment in October. They were gracious enough to understand. It turns out that though I'll be gone for 10 days, I only miss 4 school days. That's a God thing, really. It "just so happened" that this trip, planned months ago, is falling over two 3-day school weeks.

My little ones are excited for me to go to Africa. When one of the moms asked her daughter what I'll be doing there, she said, kind of in a moms-just-don't-get-it manner, "To see giraffes and zebras and lions, of course!"

So I explained to the kids today that I'm going to "help sick people." How else do I explain that I'm a part of a medical team but have no medical expertise. I'm going as a liaison, helping to facilitate meetings for some future projects (planning to build a clinic in the remote north of Kenya) as well as for ways in which the team's involvement so far can be maximized. (In other words, how can the clinic they funded in Kipkaren be self-sustainable?)

Until this morning, it really hadn't sunk in that I'm going.

I've been pre-occupied with getting things ready for parent-teacher conferences starting the day I walk back into class. And with finishing a Church History class. (Yeah! I'm another step closer to being Dr. Booysen!) And with working on the coursework for two other classes as well, one of which is the start of my dissertation.

Back to Africa, though.

So it really only hit me this morning that I'm going back to Kenya tonight...

Some things I am really looking forward to:
* Seeing my Kenyan friends, especially the kids in Ilula
* Catching up with my friends in Kipkaren, and meeting Allison and David's baby boy
* Telling the kids about life in Taiwan
* Spending time with God by the river in the mornings
* Watching the African sunrise and sunset
* Journeying with the team, helping them unpack what they're learning
* Spending the last two days in the Maasai Mara with the team
* Buying little gifts for my kids here, so they know I was thinking of them

Things I'm not looking forward to?
* Being confronted with overwhelming needs, and trying to discern where to help and where not to help

Each and every one of my little rugrats gave me the biggest hug this afternoon. "Be careful of tigers, Miss Booysen," my quietest boy said. It doesn't matter how many times I've told them that there are not tigers or bears in Africa.

I'll be careful.

But not so careful that I don't have fun. And not so careful that I don't discover unexpected surprises in unexpected places. By that, I don't mean a snake in the bathroom. 'Cause that might happen, you know? It's just the way it is when you're right by a river.

But the river brings good surprises, too.

I know it does. When I was praying about leaving Kenya last year, God kept impressing on my heart that I need to step out in faith, that as I cross the river before me, he will make my feet sturdy, and that he'll build the bridge as I walk.

He has done so indeed.

What a GOOD GOD we serve!

I'll try to post updates from Kenya, of course.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

At the right place at the right time

It seems to be the story of my life in so many ways, this being at the right place at the right time. However, since I believe in a Higher Design, I know that it's more than fate. The story of my life is a God thing.

And so it happened that when I came back to Taiwan earlier this year, I came with the intention to find a part-time job, earn an income, do my studies, and seek ways to honor God in the process.

Within a day, I started tutoring my first student, and within 2 weeks, I started working as a substitute teacher at TAS. I considered a freelance marketing/writing job in China, but after my trip to Shenzhen, decided not to continue down that path. Instead, I'd just focus on teaching.

When I came back from the US after the summer, I started subbing and tutoring again. Soon after the school opened, I was asked to work with a pre-K (KA) class. That's 3- and 4-year-olds. These little ones remind me of my kids in Kenya. They, too, are little. And cute. Adorable. Difficult sometimes. They're kids! They're also very, very different.

I love 'em.

And when the teacher I was subbing for decided to move on, I was asked to stay on. (Yes, I am a certified teacher. That's what I started out my career as. As an ESL teacher. Didn't know that, did you?)

So for going on 3 weeks now, I've been a full-time teacher to mostly 4-year-olds.

I am loving it!

I'm no longer tutoring as my commitments as a full-time teacher do not allow the time or energy to do that. Nor am I coaching swimming any longer. I also quit the Taipei Philharmonic since I need every free evening I can get to work on my studies.

As for my kids? They are amazing little ones. A diverse group of 12 balls of energy. For professional reasons, I won't be writing much about them.

But I did want to explain to all of you what's happening in my world.

Just so you know and so you can rejoice with me.

God certainly has very interesting ways!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Blessed

I am blessed.

I don't doubt that for a moment.

I am in good health. I have a great job. I have wonderful friends all over the world.

And I've had amazing opportunities to grow, learn more, be stretched.

I've faced my share of challenges, but it pales in comparison to what some of my friends have gone through.

I truly am blessed.

It struck me again today as I sat with some amazing people and shared with them the challenges that some of my friends face in Africa. It was part of a fundraiser friends of mine put on for ELI.

In the process, I got to exhibit some of my photos from Africa.

For me, showing the photos is about inviting people into the story behind the picture. It's about educating them, whether about nature or about people and customs.

I've been blessed with a camera that helps me capture pictures that speak to people's hearts.

I. have. been. blessed.

So today, as I try and mentally prepare for the rest of the week (teaching my precious little ones, working at completing two doctoral classes, ironing out details of a medical team I'll be taking to Kenya in October, running to the coffee shop after school to be at the photo exhibit), I will not be overwhelmed.

I will keep smiling.

Erwin McManus shared a thought that's been mulling around my head for a while now. "Joy is not something you find when circumstances change. It's what changes circumstances."

I've seen that in my mom over the past few months. When we thought she may be facing a terminal condition, she remained upbeat. Through her neck surgery, she and my father have stayed positive despite the pain they've faced together.

I'm blessed to have parents who choose to look at the bright side of life.

It has rubbed off on me.

Not a bad thing to have rubbed off, I'd say.

And so, this week, as people come and look at my photos of Africa, I hope that they'll fall in love with my continent. That they, too, will stand with my friends who've faced more challenges than we might typically face in some other parts of the world.

I hope that they, too, will find the hope behind each of the photos.

And that they walk away realizing how blessed we all are for understanding more about one another's journeys.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Life

Last weekend, I hopped on the high-speed train and headed down to Kaohsiung for the weekend. Due to work, I wasn't able to go with the church group I first thought I'd join, so I connected with my friend Marion instead.

I had met Marion about 10 years ago when she was an intern at ORTV, and though I hadn't seen her, we've kept in touch over the years. And so, Friday after work, I hopped on the train and headed down to the very last stop on the line, where Marion, her husband Kris, and their 3-month-old son Kaeden met me.

I think I fell in love right away with Kaeden.

Look at this. How can one not fall in love with this kid? He wakes up with a smile. For real. And at times, when he's not so happy, his dad takes him flying around the house. He hums the Superman tune to him, which always makes Kaeden smile.

I think Kaeden might truly believe someday that he can fly...

Kris and Marion put Kaeden in a little Superman outfit for church on Sunday.

Just for fun, they put on Superman T-shirts to church, too. As you can tell, they're a great family, and I had an awesome time visiting!

On Saturday, we left Kaeden with a sitter and joined a local church to do some cleanup in a nearby town. Typhoon Marokot, which hit the island on August 8-9 and dumped close to 10 feet of rain on parts of the island, causing landslides and burying some villages in the mountainous areas. At this stage, the official death toll is 376, with another 254 people still missing.

Obviously, the storm has wreaked havoc on the island's economy. Here's an excellent set up pictures from The Boston Globe about the extent of the storm, including damage in the Philippines and China. But the worst damage was in Taiwan.

As you can imagine, the villages that had been affected the worst have been getting the most help so far. In areas, relief crews are still digging for bodies...

So our crew went to Kaoshu (meaning Tall Tree), a village in Pintung County where things weren't necessarily as bad as in other places, but people still needed help!

Kris, Marion, and I joined three other people and helped a coconut farmer clean out his house.

The farmer and his family had about three feet of muddy water wash through their house. We helped to sweep out some more mud. And wash off mud from walls, and from furniture, and dig out mud from behind pipes... It was unbearably hot, but working as a team, I know we were able to bless this farmer and his family!

Here I am trying to get the pressure washer to work so I could spray off some mud from the walls. You can see the mud line on the walls above my knees...

The shelf against the wall is a family altar where this family would be bringing offerings to their ancestors. The urn on the floor below the altar is what people use to burn ghost money in.

After a long time of digging out mud and carefully carrying it outside, we took a break to drink some water. The farmer brought us some fresh coconut water earlier, too, which was a bit hard for me to get down since we simply weren't too sure about the cleanliness of the tools with which he would've split the coconuts. But what can you do when the guy hands you a cup of coconut water and waits for you do drink it?


Here I am outside the house. (My face is beet red from working in the hot house.) The water next to the house is mixed with sewage, so we were very careful about not splashing any of the mud we carried outside. The farmer, on the other hand, was walking through this water barefoot!


The neighbors' house. Though the damage outside doesn't look so extensive, it's really bad when you step inside the house and there's mud in everything!


After a long day of working, Kris, Marion and I were thankful to head home and clean up!

Throughout the day, I was reminded a lot of last year's flood in Cedar Rapids as well as of the earthquake in Taiwan on September 21, 1999. I was living on the island then, too, and went down to central Taiwan to help with earthquake relief work.

No wonder my niece Clara thinks everywhere I go, disasters follow! I've lived through a major earthquake, several major typhoons or floods; I survived a tough season of living in the boonies, a civil war; I even held a ticket for a flight on an airplane that crashed (I had changed my travel plans just days before to leave one day earlier)!

But I've survived. No, I think I've more-than-survived all these crazy events in life. I've been able to enjoy life.

Which reminds me. A mom cornered me at school the other day. Her daughters used to be in my youth group years ago, and she asked me why I'm not married. (In this culture, as in Kenya, it's very unusual for people to choose to be single.) Though I was taken aback my her frankness, my answer to her was what I always tell those who ask: that I've had offers, but have not yet met a man whom I've wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and that there are worse things than being single...

"But Adele," she objected, "what if you cannot have a baby?!"

I wonder if that is supposed to be the ultimate goal in life: to procreate.

Maybe I'll think differently about these things if ever I have the blessing of marrying an amazing man and having a child, but for now, I find immense blessing in simply living life to the fullest, in making the most of the freedom afforded by being single and grasping opportunities to live abroad, get a doctorate, and simply enjoying life. Some people might think that's selfish. I think I'm being optimistic.

And so, when I cross paths with friends like Kris and Marion and get to fall in love with their little one, it's not because I desperately "want one of those" for myself, but simply because I find immense joy in seeing friends (and family) grow into a family of their own. I love seeing the promise that a little life holds.

And when that little one has a dirty diaper . . .

. . . I can hand him back to where he came from. :)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

There and back again

Wanting to get out of the city for a bit, I asked Jeremiah (whose family I used to live with in California) to meet me for dinner in Tansui tonight. It's a town at the end of the river that flows through Taipei and spills out into the Taiwan Strait, the body of water that separates the island from China.

I had time to take a few photos before Miah showed up. Didn't have my tripod with me, so the photos aren't as crisp as I'd like them to be, but you'd get the idea of some of the nightlife, regardless.













The main night market in Tansui -- where we ended up having beef noodle soup at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant













The night markets all over the island are this crowded every night













The signs in Taiwan crack me up sometimes! "The best saporous chicken..." I had to look that one up. Saporous means flavorful.













There's a potato restaurant. Look at the small print:
Ireland's proverb says: There are two things in the world that can't be joked. 1. Marriage 2. Potato













If you don't want saporous chicken or Irish potato, how about some coagulated pig's blood (mixed with rice) on a stick (on the far left) ...













... or some fried squid on a stick?













Want something sweeter? How about caramelized cherry tomatoes with pickled plum?



















Along the main drag along the coast is this little Taoist temple. There were numerous urns along the water where worshipers would burn ghost money for the spirits to protect the fishermen



















Another Taoist temple along the waterfront. Taoist gods are very scary-looking!














Tired? Get a quick massage!













I was impressed to see most kids wearing helmets. You still often see entire families on a scooter without the little ones wearing helmets. In case you're wondering, the fruit on the table next to the family are similar to litchis. They're a tropical fruit called dragon eyes













Off in the distance you see Taipei City. It takes about 30 minutes or so on the MRT to get from Tansui back to the suburb where I live. A good little getaway for the night.

Heading back to the train station, I ran into Charis, a kid that used to be in my youth group years ago. She and their YWAM team were just coming back from the south of the island, where they were helping with typhoon cleanup.

It was especially good to see Jeremiah again, and to visit about everything from family to studies. It's good to be able to connect with someone here who's known me a bit longer than most of the people around me!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Big Picture

Here's an excellent set of photos from the typhoon. The majority of the photos are from southern Taiwan.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Life at the Foot of a Volcanic Mountain

I live on an island, just a hop, skip, and jump from the coast. Not really. You'd need to hop, skip and jump over the mountains first. Between the apartment I call "home" and the ocean lies a mountain. I live at the foot of a gorgeous volcanic mountain.

Watching the moon set
Seeing that it was still early, I could easily pull over and take in gorgeous little waterfalls

The volcano is extinct, though. But it still has sulfur springs. Some are hot enough to boil eggs in. Which people do. Just for the fun, I guess.

You can smell the sulfur as you ride up the mountain. Having lived higher up on the mountain during my previous stay in Taiwan, I've grown to love the smell. I had driven the roads around the northern tip of the island many times, usually in the small car I used to have. I called it the Silver Bullet. It was actually gray. And not too fast. The name was an optimistic take on life.

Today was my first time to drive these roads on my scooter. A friend had left me her 150CC Yamaha scooter, which has been a tremendous blessing. I'm calling the scooter Solomon, since it has three stickers on it with Salomon written on it. I'm guessing it's the snowboard company. I'll call it Solomon instead. For the wise king of Israel. Partly because I'm working on a class on church history right now. But mostly because I seek to be wise. Part of my Chinese name, in fact, is "wisdom," since that is what I seek to have.

But that's another story.

Seeing that I've been waking up at crazy hours, thanks to jet lag, I decided this morning to head up the mountain. Beat the crowds and go early. 'Cause the mountain really gets crowded on Saturdays. As in bumper-to-bumper traffic most of the afternoon.

Once you're up on the mountain, you can explore various nearby mountains, all with hot springs

By 5:30, I filled up Solomon (it cost me all of $3 to fill its tank with gas - nice!) and headed up the mountain.

There were hardly any cars on the road. Some bicycles. A few other scooters. The cars started trailing up the side roads only as I made my way down.

It didn't take long before the smell hit me. Sulfur. It made me smile. I passed the turn-off to my former home, passed the alleys leading for former friends' homes who have all since moved. Stopped at the 7-Eleven high up on the mountain to get a cup of latte. The Starbucks next door was still closed, else I may have stopped to study there.

Kiptoo and I, stopping at the top of Yangming Mountain (with the Taiwan Cultural University in the back) to enjoy some hot latte from 7-Eleven


But I kept going higher up the mountain, passing many older people who were heading out for early-morning walks. Many greeted me in Taiwanese as I waved at them. I don't speak Taiwanese, only Mandarin. But a smile and a wave transcends language barriers.

Looking down at my neighborhood... Due to the haze you cannot see it clearly, but the ocean is visible towards the top right corner of the photo

Not wishing to go all the way over the mountains to the coast (not today, I didn't want to be stuck in the traffic later in the day, plus I need to study), I turned around at the entrance to Yangming National Park and took a side road down to my neighborhood.

I took a side road down to my neighborhood

The side road is much steeper and way more curvy. You constantly have to make hairpin turns. I was glad there were only a handful of cars winding their way up the side road by that time.

Suddenly, a rock about the size of 3 baseballs landed a meter or so in front of me... I looked up and saw a whole group of macacus monkeys up in the trees right above me. They weren't happy, for whatever reason, so I didn't pause to take a picture...

Passing through the bamboo forests

As I kept winding down the mountain, I passed through bamboo forests, then past small-scale farms until the road spit me out in Tienmou, my neighborhood, where I stopped for breakfast and to come and change into something cooler.

Closer to the foot of the mountain, some small-scale farm with persimmons ripening on the tree

At the same farm, the "moon fruit" aren't ripe yet, either. These are giant grapefruit that are usually ready by Moon Festival, which is coming up next month

Entering Tienmou, I passed by two local temples. The one at the back is a Buddhist temple (it's more simplistic) while the one in the foreground is a Taoist temple

Some detail on the Taoist temple roof

Now, I'm heading out to make myself at home in some little coffee shop someplace and study.

Life at the foot of this volcanic mountain is good.

Hot. But good.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

RIP, Kevin Kiprotich Busienei

I received sad news yesterday from Kipkaren.

My dear friends John and Veronica Busienei (or Bush, for short) lost their 8-year-old son Kevin. I have not yet heard what the cause of death was; I was just told that he was being treated during a short illness and passed away yesterday morning at 2 am.

Since Kevin's parents are the directors of Kipkaren Children's Home, Kevin spent much of his time with his 100 "brothers and sisters" at the home.

Kevin (on the left) with Collins and Rooney

Please pray for the Bush family as well as for the community in Kipkaren, especially the kids at the children's home, who are all too familiar with the pain and reality of death.

The funeral will be held on Tuesday.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

"Highest Noon" Festival (aka Dragon Boat Festival)


According to the Lunar calendar, today is the 5th day of the 5th month. And the 5th day of the 5th lunar month is the day when the sun is at its highest and the heat starts to become oppressive. On this day, many people in this part of the world prepare sacrifices to protect themselves against the spirits that allegedly thrive at this time of year.* And on this day, there are lively races in many places around the world where you find Chinese people.

The festival officially started about two weeks ago, when the dragons where "woken up" by having their eyes dotted. And teams (most local teams, but some are international) will have been practicing for a while now. Especially the ones who are serious about winning, not only for the money, but also for the bragging rights.

The team from the Philippines have been competing since 1995 and are one of the favorites. You can see a marked difference between the teams that are serious about winning and those who compete for the fun of it. Look at that teamwork!

I headed down to my old neighborhood (Dazhi, where I lived & worked for almost eight years) and joined a small army of photographers on the bridge, from where we had a bird's eye view of the races. (I'd've loved to get close to the boats to take more photos, but by the time I got to the races, that area was off limits to the public.)

From the bridge, I could see most of the 500-meter stretch of the race. I have no idea how many times each team had to race, but it looked insane! They'd race, then paddle back to the starting line and race again without resting. I'm sure there are many aching bodies tonight... And the races continue this weekend!

The three boats in the center are racing. The two on the left are returning to the starting line. In the background, you can see one of Taipei's landmarks, the Grand Hotel. I'll never forget: The very first day I worked in this area, the top floor of the Grand Hotel burned down!

Backing up into the starting spot. In the background, you can see another one of the city's landmarks: Taipei 101. At 509.2 meters (1,670.2 feet) tall, this is currently still the tallest occupied building in the world. A building in Dubai has surpassed it in height, but it's not yet occupied... The 101 also has the world's fastest elevator. It ascends at almost 17 meters per second, or more than 55 feet per second!

So what do boat races have to do with the start of the hottest time of the year?

The best-known legend concerning this day revolves around a poet named Qu Yuan who lived in China in 340-278 BC. When Qu's talents became the target of slander. So he committed suicide on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month by weighing down his clothes with stones and jumping into a river.

Legend has it that local fishermen raced to help him (hence the boat races today) and threw rice in the river to prevent fish from eating him... Hence, another tradition for this day is to eat zong-zi, sort-of like rice tamales.

We had zong-zi as part of our dinner tonight. Vivian and Keith (whom I live with) had spent the afternoon at Keith's mom's place. Chen mama cooked the rice filling, and Vivian (who is Filipino Chinese) learned from her mother-in-law how to fold, fill and tie the zong-zi.

Inside the glutinous rice stuffing, Chen mama had put chestnuts, mushrooms and pork. You can get all kinds of different zong-zi stuffing. Some are just glutinous rice.

Though the actual races focus on teamwork and competition, there still is a strong spiritual connection with the races, from the dotting of the eyes to teams offering ghost money to the spirits. In fact, some of today's boats had wads of ghost money stuffed in the dragons' mouths. One tradition is for competitors to toss the money into the water before a race, feeding the money to the dragon (and probably burning it after the races for the spirits) would be a different option. There are also specific ceremonies along the shore facilitated by Buddhist and Taoist monks to invoke blessings on the events.

Notice the ghost money hanging out from the dragon's mouth

I continue to be amazed at the intricacies of the Chinese culture. So many of the day-to-day cultural activities go back centuries, and hence helping someone understand the dark side of many of these practices is very difficult.

I wonder how many of our Western cultural practices have very dark roots...


*According to my book, the "five noxious creatures," (the scorpion, centipede, snake, lizard and toad) arrives during the summer and bring with them unseen evil spirits. At this time of year, many people will hand sprigs of calamus and mugwort on their door to protect them against these spirits. I've seen many children specifically wearing protective talismans during this time.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Because I Want to Know

Yesterday was Matsu's birthday, I was told today after asking my Chinese colleagues about the craziness around our neighborhood.


Eight Generals 6, originally uploaded by Boyznberry.

(Click on this photo to see more photos from Matsu's birthday parade.)

Rather than rely on bits and pieces of information I had heard before from Christian colleagues from before, I've decided to ask my Buddhist and Taoist colleagues whenever I have questions. Not that I might always get an accurate answer, I know. Even if you'd ask a handful of Christians about certain practices or beliefs, you might get contradicting answers.

Hence, I ask questions, and I refer to this book I bought called, Private Prayers and Public Parades: Exploring the Religious Life of Taipei, which has been very insightful, to say the least.

I ask, because I want to understand.

And I ask because, in the last three years, I've learned to ask far more questions and listening more.

Not that I don't desperately want to engage in further conversation with some of these friends! Out of respect for the people, and out of a desire to know first what they believe, I will listen.

And so yesterday, I was sitting in an office at school, working on a project for one of the departments. A dozen or so Chinese colleagues sat down for lunch at the table where I was working. During a lull in their conversation, I politely said, "Xing wen..."

In other words, "May I ask..."

And were they keen to tell me all about the day.

"It's Matsu's birthday," the seemingly-most-knowlegable and possibly-most-devout among them explained. She explained that the parade was to honor Matsu, and to pray for the neighborhood.

The ladies continued to talk among themselves about some of the recent events in Taiwan regarding honoring gods. I listened on, trying hard not to let my face show how utterly bizarre I think the practices are. For example, due to the H1N1 epidemic, worshipers at one temple in Taiwan dressed their gods with face masks.

"So, if you don't want H1N1, do you go to pray at that temple?" I asked.

The explained that that was not the case. "We are just protecting our god," one colleague explained proudly.

My eyes must've given away that I thought it's pretty sad when humans have to protect their gods against viruses. "Actually," she said, "our gods protect us, so we also show them respect by protecting them. It's the same as when we take them food."

"So who exactly is Matsu," I asked another colleague later in the afternoon, when the crowd had left and she came to sit down for lunch. I had been told earlier that she was one of the most knowledgable persons about Taoism.

My colleague proceeded to tell me about Lin Mo, a girl who lived long, long ago in China. She was a very good girl, and she didn't get married. One day, her father, a fisherman, drowned, and she tried to help him. "After that, the god said she should be a god."

"Which god?" I asked inquisitively.

"A fortune teller."

"So when did she change from Lin Mo to Matsu?"

"When she became a god. Later, her sisters also became gods. Everyone can pray to them, but fishermen really pray to Matsu and her sisters. In fact, it is said that when the waters are rough and your boat is in danger of capsizing, if you see the ghost of Matsu, you have peace that everything will be fine."

Interesting.

Matsu herself wasn't carried down our streets yesterday, though. Those were other gods, smaller gods. All came out to celebrate Matsu's birthday, because she is considered the queen of heaven.

Noted.


From my book on Taiwan's religious practices, I also learned that Lin Mo was born around 960. Either way, she died at age 28. The book explains that the incident of saving her father (or it could've been her brothers) didn't really occur, but that it happened during a dream or a trance. Her ghost is said to have saved a high-ranking official in 1122, and hence she was promoted to Queen of Heaven. However, this promotion may have been a political move during the Yuan dynasty to win the allegiance of the coastal peoples. Within the temples that have her statue, she is usually flanked by two demons called "Ears that Hear the Wind" and "Thousand-Mile Eyes," both who were hapless suitors...

What I do not understand yet is how the people here have such a fascination with a religion that has openly-evil components.

Matsu's suitors, for example, are flat-out called demons. And they're in the temples.

And when you look at the photos, the "Eight Generals" in particular are downright scary! As are many of the other rituals which I'm sure I'll get to share about as time goes by.

Last month in China, I gained some invaluable insights on why/when the Chinese switched from a nation called "God's country" to referring to themselves as "Descendants of the Dragon." I'll share more upon completion of my China paper, but for now, the connection with the events surrounding Matsu's birthday is the following. I'll quote it directly from C.K. Thong's excellent text on Chinese history, Faith of Our Fathers: God in Ancient China (p. 267):

"Satan's tactic, ever since his rebellion, has been to try to get to every human being to do his will instead of God's. He is an adversary of the person and the purposes of God and seeks to usurp God's position. His schemes are wonderfully planned and executed; he does not work haphazardly. His ways are subtle. To deceive mankind, he often appears attractive. His aim, however, is to hold us captive to sin and to destroy us. ... The central characteristic of his modus operandi is fear, not love. He uses counterfeits, such as lust instead of love. While God draws people to Himself with His unfailing love, Satan uses deception coupled with fear to gain control over mankind."

I worship this God who sent His Son Jesus to redeem us from the consequences of sin.

I worship Jesus who came to earth as a human, yet was sinless, performed miracles, died on the cross, and conquered death by raising from the dead.*

I worship him for his love and for the hope I find in him. Not out of fear or superstition of what may happen if I don't please him. Nor because of religious bondage. I worship him out of love, because he loved us first.

My desire is to continue sharing this hope, freedom, love, forgiveness and meaning we can find in Christ with my neighbors.

But for now, I'll listen and learn. So that I'll know what my friends believe when I do engage in conversations with them.

* Interestingly, a "major solar and lunar eclipse" was recorded by Chinese imperial astronomers in A.D. 31, the year of the death of Jesus. They also recorded a strange halo in the sky three days later. Fascinating, isn't it??

Friday, May 15, 2009

Perspective

Last weekend, I was listening to a Mosaic podcast (while lying in a hammock by the beach, having just scuba dived). I had just read a chapter of one of my text books and rewarded myself for doing so by listening to the aforementioned podcast.

In a lesson from a series on the beatitudes, Erwin McManus says, "Joy is not something you find when the circumstances change. It's something that changes the circumstances."

In the past 6 months, I've especially found this to be true. During my time of transition to a completely new world, I could find plenty to grumble about. But that won't change a thing. I'd just be unpleasant to be around.

Hence, I've chosen joy. And bit by bit, I've seen how God's used that to open my eyes to the blessings around me. And more and more, good things happen. Like the jobs I have, and the place I now live. And opportunities that come by that I embrace with both arms wide open. Such as the unexpected diving trip, to name but one of many fun opportunities I have chosen to embrace.

I was skimming some of my friends' blogs this evening, and I've noticed that just like me, my friends choose to look at challenges from a different perspective.

It's worth reading Marcia's experience trying to cook a meal the other night, or Jen's challenges in adjusting to a new life in Bukavu, Congo.

It's all a matter of perspective.

Michael J. Fox says it's a matter of looking up.

I agree.

I choose to look Up to the One who came to give us life in abundance.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Catching Up: China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan

For reasons far beyond my control (i.e. world politics) I couldn't write a whole lot of in depth insights from China. And so, I sort-of lost touch for a little while.

After two weeks packed with lectures, visits to historical and contemporary places of interest, my friends and I parted ways. I was off to the next thing: meetings in Shenzhen, which is in the south of China.

However, I had only been given a 2-week visa, which meant that on the Friday that our trip ended, I had to hop on a plane to Shenzhen and from there on a bus to Hong Kong. I tried my best to get the visa extension over the weekend, but alas, I have a passport that limits my travels quite a bit. Hence, on Saturday afternoon, I hopped on the ferry to Macau. (Taking ferry to Macau and staying with acquaintances is far cheeper than staying in Hong Kong. Plus, in all the years I had lived in Southeast Asia, I had never made it to Macau.)

And so, on Saturday afternoon, I met up with Jana Hoobler, someone who also has strong ties to Cedar Rapids. And thus I saw a bit of Macau through Jana and her friends' eyes on Saturday and Sunday.

An interesting place, that is. Macau used to be a Portuguese colony, so signs are in Portuguese and Chinese. But a few years ago, they reverted back to Chinese rule, as did Hong Kong. So technically, Hong Kong, Macau and China are all one country. But since the former two are called "Special Administrative Regions," they are self-governing, and I have different passport stamps for all three places. (China considers Taiwan to be a similar region, but that's a whole nother can of worms which I won't address.)

After two nights in Macau (and more than two of their famous egg tarts), I hopped on a ferry back to Hong Kong on Monday morning, handed in my visa application, and headed to Sai Kung, a fishing village in the northern suburbs of Hong Kong. There, I spent the night at Sue and Dave Eitemiller's place. I know them from my previous years in Taiwan.

Tuesday morning, back to Wan Chai (on Hong Kong island). Picked up my passport. Hopped on a bus to Shenzhen, China. By late Tuesday afternoon, I was back in China, and started learning all about what was to be a new part of my life--a writing job in the world of baby goods manufacturing.

I spent a week writing press releases about diaper bags and pop-up cots (or pack 'n plays, as Americans call them). I learned a lot. And after a week, I came to the conclusion that if I'm going to be a writer, I'd far rather write about things that I am passionate about, such as travel, or leadership topics. Not diaper bags. I thanked my friends in the baby-goods business for the offer to let me join their world, and moved on, understanding a bit more about the way forward, and a lot more about the manufacturing industry!

Hence I am now marketing myself as a freelance writer/photographer. And a teacher, of course. Since being back in Taiwan, I've been subbing a lot at the school. For two days, I was a swimming couch. Today, I'm a Kindergarten teacher. Later this week, I'll be teaching first grade for two days.

What a love most about this job at the school is the fact that I'm gaining invaluable insights in a WIDE variety of challenges teachers face at different levels. I'm also getting fun face-time with kids, and learning a lot from them, too.

As for my studies, it's going very well. Three classes are done. I'm currently working on my paper for my fourth class. After this, I have three more really intense classes, and then I'll be on to my dissertation. If I can remain focused, I might be able to graduate by next summer... But a lot has to happen before then!

By the way, I've moved. I was offered an opportunity to rent a room from people whom I've known for years. The apartment is right against Yangminshan, (a lush, green mountain), though I can also see the sprawling city of Taipei from my window. I cycle to school every day, which is a good workout, though it's not terribly far.

Since school will be closed for the summer, and since I do not have to be here for any other jobs, I'll be going to the US for June and July.

I'll offer a one-day workshop on "Joy at Work" at House of Hope at the end of July, so if you're in Cedar Rapids area, keep your eyes open for announcements regarding the workshop.

It's time to head home. The kids are back from Chinese class, and I get to walk them to the lobby.

Tomorrow, who knows, I might be teaching high school!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Random photos from the past 2 weeks

It's way late. And I'm wiped. But I want to get some photos up so you can see more about the fascinating world I visited the past 2 weeks to learn more about the culture of China.

A relatively new phenomenon in China is local tourism. Wherever we went, no matter what day of the week or what time, there were tour groups. And many of them! The vast majority were from other parts of China. This particular group, if I remember correctly, was from Anhui. Notice their different style of dress!


At the Temple of Heaven. This is where the Emperor would come every year to worship the God of whom you could make no idols. The rituals for worship are VERY similar to Old Testament practices, another reason to believe that the Chinese had known about God for thousands of years.

I had a blast hanging out mostly with these couples (from San Diego and Vancouver). Also had fun getting to know the rest of our group of 27!

The ornate decorations at the temples amaze me. The primary colors at the Temple of Heaven was blue and green (representing heaven and earth) rather than the red and yellow at the Forbidden City (representing the Emperor).

It was amazing watching how people would come and meditate at this one spot in order to get "good chi" (or energy). This is a very Taoist practice ...

... and this is where they were trying to get their energy from - a tree!

These were twins we saw on the grounds. In a country with a 1-child policy, twins are considered an amazing blessing (and you can keep both without paying the US$18,000 fine for a second child).

There were many groups of people gathered all around the Temple of Heaven grounds, playing cards, dancing, making music. This old man simply sat and watched his friends play. I wonder what stories he has to tell...

On our last afternoon in Beijing, we were taken downtown, where 3 of the guys from class (Darrell, Mark and John) decided to go for it and be shot up in the air in a giant slingshot!

On the train to Xi'an. It was an overnight train. I hung out with my buddies (Rob, Terri, Laura and Scott) for a while. We had good wine and a wonderful time visiting!

This is a classic shot of a kid wearing kai dang kudze, Chinese-style baby pants which make it easy to train the kid to go...

In the suburbs of Xi'an, I saw this kid in a traditional stroller. Since I am now entering the world of baby strollers and such (with my new PR job), it's fun to notice old strollers!

A handful of the Terra Cotta Soldiers. I don't have the energy right now to explain the story behind them. Read it here.

Each one looks different since they were modeled after real soldiers!

There are thousands more to be excavated, but they've stopped the process for now.

Kiptoo decided to practice his leadership skills and order a few of my miniature soldiers around.

Atteeeeen-tion!

There were many amusing road signs, like this one: "Do not drive online." OK. I'll only chat online. Or post photos online. Or search for information online. (We know it's good not to drive on the line, yes.)

We visited the Nestorian Pagoda, which is a pagoda built in 600-some A.D. when the Nestorians came to bring the Gospel to China! It's now used as a Buddhist pagoda.

No, I wasn't "squatting" in the winter wheat field. Just having fun taking photos!

At the market in the Muslim Quarters of Xi'an. Lamb feet, anyone?

We hiked on the 600-some-year-old Xi'an city wall!

While some classmates chose to bike the wall. (Here's Mark, Rick, Paco and Darrell.)

On our last day in Shanghai, we visited a migrant school. Walking to the school, I saw these kids. Then, afterwards, I noticed the 5th kid in the back...

At the migrant school, a little one is practicing calligraphy.

At the school. It was one of the most fun places to visit!