Monthly Archives: October 2011

China-Southeast Asian Expo Spoils

Last Tuesday afternoon, my husband and I spent a wonderful afternoon roaming the Southeast Asian country pavilions at the Eighth Annual China-Southeast Asian Expo held in our hometown.

While we’d heard from other friends that the expo had been disappointing in the past, we were practically drooling over all the foreign products that our neighbors offer and that we usually can’t get in China.  Tuesday afternoon was also the perfect time to go, because there were no crowds, and we sailed in, after getting our foreign expert passes printed!

Me in front of the Expo Center on a rather hazy day.

We made it to every pavilion, except for Indonesia, which they weren’t letting anyone into at 4:30 pm because they were closing down.  Our favorites (pictured below) included Vietnam, where we scored some high end weasel coffee, the Philippines, where I snagged the last jar of coconut oil (and we picked up some coconut sugar, have already used it in a frosting, and will be sprinkling it on morning oatmeal), green curry powder from Malaysia, and peppercorns from Myanmar.

Now,why can't the expo happen more than once a year??

My husband just made his first attempt at a green curry tonight from Malaysia, I baked with the Filipino coconut oil last week, and I’m sure I’ll be hitting up the Vietnamese weasel espresso some afternoon this week.  Ah, the joys of Southeast Asia…in my own cupboard!

Weekend in Guilin (Part 1)

So as I mentioned, some friends, my husband, and I made a quick train trip out to Guilin, a scenic town in Guangxi, for a weekend.  It was a great trip, and here are some of the highlights as promised…

A view of Elephant Trunk Hill, Guilin.

After checking into our hotel (The Homeland Riverview Hotel (see my review, marked “Erin R”: pros- fantastic downtown location, within walking distance from most sites, right on the Li River, and right around the corner from major pedestrian, shopping street, Western restaurant good value; cons- rooms, although nice, were very small), we walked about twenty minutes to Elephant Trunk Hill, where we bought package tickets to four sites for 175 RMB (Elephant Trunk Hill, Seven Stars Park, Reed Flute Cave, and Diecai Hill).  Seemed in the end, when we added it all up, the package ticket saved us at least 30 RMB.

Li River at sunset.

There wasn’t too much to see at Elephant Trunk Hill besides the rock formation, but it was dusk, lovely weather, and there weren’t too many tourists, so we enjoyed clowning around taking photos in front of the Li River and in the nearby Elephant Hill Park.

Taylor and I “hiking” beside the Li River.
Justin and Taylor with their elephant friends.

That evening we took the suggestion of the Lonely Planet, and dined at their number one rated, Yiyuan Restaurant.  Definitely nothing special there.  The rest of the weekend confirmed that the Lonely Planet certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on the “must sees” in Guilin (more on that later).

A view of either the sun or moon pagoda that we took in during our meanderings.

We spent the evening wandering the Two Rivers Four Lakes park scenic area, looking for the night market (I’d been once before but couldn’t remember exactly where it was located).  The park area was actually really cool, all lit up at night (although I think the boat rides would be overrated), with impromptu dance parties like you find all over China, but also a band playing minority music and dressed in costume.

Figurines down the end of the street by Eva Inn.

The night market is meandering and unfortunately kitschy- we did our better shopping the morning before we left at the vendors who place their stands just down the street from the Eva Inn.

More souvenirs from our secret shop stop.

The next day we took in the Reed Flute Cave and Seven Star Park, but more on that to come in the next installment!

Some Friday Goodness

Today I am counting my blessings, both large and small.

It’s one of those weeks, where the busy-ness of life, felt not overwhelming, but meaningful, and where I’ve got this sense that I’ve finally figured out how to embrace the harmony of the present rather than harp on the uncertainty that is characteristic of ministry, research, and life in China.

We’ll see how long that lasts…

But for the moment, let me share with you some of the goodness from this week:

Some of those seasonal fruits and veggies...
  • Rereading the draft of my paper for the AAA Annual Meeting and discovering that it’s not as bad as I remembered it being! (Amazing how our minds run away with self-doubts, turning them into something bigger than they really are…)
  • My husband’s homemade vindaloo curry, leftovers also enjoyed for lunch later in the week.
  • Spending an afternoon at the China-Southeast Asian Trade Expo with my husband, where we got to salivate over all sorts of foreign food, see handicrafts from Malaysia and Myanmar, and come home with a real bounty of fun, new products (more on those later!)
  • Lovely, crisp fall weather that rolled in on Tuesday morning (and no, my Chinese friends, I’m not cold, I’m loving it!), and the seasonal fruits and veggies that come with it: the tastiest little tangerines on the planet, spinach, and hopefully soon, strawberries!
  • A productive meeting with research partners, and hope for upcoming opportunities.
  • Crockpot Pumpkin cake number two devoured with my husband, a friend, and some Australian tea, as well as an evening of easy conversation.
  • An email granting IRB approval for my project!
  • BLEAT (Bacon-Lettuce-Egg-Avocado-Tomato) sandwiches coming up for lunch (we rarely get avocado here in China, so we’re going to make the most of it!)…

On embracing servanthood

But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.  And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father–the one in heaven.  Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.  The greatest among you will be your servant.  All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.  –Matthew 23:8-12

A dear friend of mine is preaching on this lectionary passage this Sunday, and we used it as our meditation verse for silent prayer this morning over skype.  I’ve been reading through the book of Matthew myself, and have been struck by how many of the passages deal with this theme that we must lose our life to save it (chp. 16), that the last shall be first and the first shall be last (chp. 20), and that whatever is done onto the least of these is done unto God (chp. 25).

And this morning I heard God reminding me that that group of servants, students, sinners, the least of these, oh yeah, that’s me, that’s my group.  So often I fool myself into thinking that being in a position to serves others means having it all together, being in control, and being somewhat above others.  But instead Jesus says, “You are not to be called rabbi, but student.”

It’s not to say we don’t have gifts, that we don’t have much to give, but merely to remind us that if we’re to receive grace, we must first be humbled.  We must first admit that we belong to that rascal group of sinners rather than the rabbis and the saints (like everyone else!), and no matter of goodness or service can get us out of debt.

We’re all students on this journey, but if we’re not willing to embrace that position of student or servant, then God can’t lead.

Do I really believe God is guiding me today?  If so, how will I humble myself in the sight of the Lord and others, so that I may receive the grace that makes me whole again?

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Welcoming November

I keep thinking, I can’t believe it’s almost November.  And I’m kind of freaking out, because October just flew by, what with the national holiday, during which it poured for almost 10 days, our visitors from the states, my 30th birthday, and a few significant milestones for my research.

I have to remind myself that I’m making progress on the research front or I’m wont to lose track of not only the noteworthy accomplishments, but also the things to look forward to on the horizon.  I also have to remind myself that fieldwork comes in an uncanny rhythm of feast (strings of 18-hour days) or famine, and that a little rest and rejuvenation in between is blessing, rather than cause for self-loathing anxiety…duh.

So, instead of dwelling on time I may have lost or progress I haven’t made, here’s some things coming up for November that are worth falling for (oh, what a terrible pun):

  • Fall weather here in Southwest China (as of this morning, and which, I think, is finally here to stay).  I’ve been longing to cuddle up in some sweaters, and retire my tired summer wardrobe for the season, although I am no way ungrateful for the great weather we had in Guilin the other weekend!
  • Delivering my first conference paper at the AAA Annual Meeting in Montreal.  (Anyone spent time in Montreal have any suggestions for fun things to do or places to eat while I’m there??)
  • Following the meeting up with a visit to my best friend, Jessie, who lives just an hour south in Plattsburg, NY.
  • And following that up with a visit to the East Coast to spend Thanksgiving with my nuclear family, my Auntie, and my Grandpa!
  • While I’m missing my husband stateside, I’m excited that he’ll be traveling back to Yunnan to do another trip with PFF and visit some minority churches, which is another great opportunity for him.

I love Thanksgiving, as does my husband, and this is the second one in a row that we won’t be spending together.  And yet, I’m exceedingly grateful as I look forward to all the opportunities God is placing in both of our lives.  As I mentioned, it’s important for me to receive God’s grace and the blessings in front of me, one step at a time, finding peace in God’s provision for this moment and the next.

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Learning to love again

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing…

I’m back from a weekend of out-of-town, where I was blessed to spend some time with Chinese families with children with disabilities, be present to their struggles, witness their patience, and hence the title of this post, learn to love all over again.  

At a previous camp for families with children with disabilities.

Yesterday morning, gazing at a twelve-year old girl, who wore double hearing aids and a wide smile, and jerked along as fast as her legs, hampered by cerebral palsy would carry her, an NGO staff member murmured, “I wonder what it must be like to have a capable mind and yet be trapped in a body that just won’t do what you want it to do.”

I can’t imagine.

But I also can’t imagine a love that surpasses all mysteries, all knowledge, the strongest faith, the kind that moves mountains, and then some.  The other day I read a reflection somewhere that reminded us that faith, love, and hope, all of which come from God, don’t actually take away our struggles, or our challenges, but they give us strength for the journey, they empower us to go on, and they allow us to leave our worries and our fears of this world behind.

And so this was and is my prayer for these families, that they will feel God’s peace, in the midst of struggle, that they will know hope instead of fear, that they will receive grace, even when they’re angry, frustrated, and impatient.  And that they will continue to look on their children with the kind of love that has no conditions, knows no boundaries, and breaks all barriers.

Today I read a reflection on the web that encouraged us to mindfully look upon those in our midst with gratefulness.  As I sat in silence this morning, these children flashed through my mind, and I felt grateful.  They are good at loving their parents, at loving me for the short time we were together, and perhaps most importantly, at loving themselves.  May all who love them, their parents, those who seek to help them, love them as God loves them and as they love others.  May we all, like children, learn to love again and again.

…Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  –1 Corinthians: 1-7

Amen.

Smelling China

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a scratch-and-sniff app for blog posts like this?

Or maybe not.  You’ll have to be the judge after you finish reading.  This post is inspired by a comment I made to my husband just a few minutes ago.  The conversation went something like this, “It smells like someone is cooking squid for lunch next door.”  “They probably are, ” he replied.  Only in China.

Having our friends around this past week reminded me what it’s truly like to experience China through new eyes, er, I mean, noses.  The unusual smells (both good and bad) are one of the more palpable experiences of feeling like a foreigner here.  

Oh so innocent looking, but so very stinky in real life!

One of the infamous smells includes the stinky tofu that students love to pick up as a snack off the street from the vendors on the corner.  It’s a completely overpowering, putrid one, although everyone will tell you it doesn’t taste nearly as bad as it smells (not really the overwhelming vote of confidence you’re looking for when you’re venturing into new food territory!).

My friend, Justin, snacking on rice noodles on our recent trip to Guilin.

Here in Southwest China where the popular cuisine is rice noodles, my friends noticed a sweet or sour smell in the air, probably to do with all the pickled vegetable varieties local Chinese like to add to their noodle bowls.

My husband’s artsy shot of some hot peppers.

There’s even a Chinese saying for the whiff of hot peppers when they’re being stir-fried that gets caught in the back of your throat and makes you cough: qiang!  If you’ve never experienced it, you really should get to China and start cooking with fire (literally).

When I walk into candy shops here, I always have to prepare myself for the unfortunate odor of dried fish that comes along with it (yes, they sell the dried fish in the same shop as the candies!).  It was even worse in Hong Kong, where the shops selling a wide variety of dried seafood were open to the air, and I learned to hold my breath as I walked by in order to avoid having to breathe in the fishy fragrance.

We tend to cook Chinese more often than not, simply because we shop at local markets, and it’s not so easy to cook Western food with Chinese ingredients.  However, today after the unpleasant smell of something squid-like from next door, we decided to go all-American: bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwiches for lunch.

After all, nothing in the world smells quite as good as bacon.  Am I right about that?

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Come on ride the train…

Boarding the train on our trip to Guilin.

I’ve mentioned in my Current Loves section at the top of this blog that I am currently, utterly in love with train travel in China.  

So, when the flight times to Guilin proved inconvenient this past weekend, we decided to get ourselves a soft sleeper and “rough” the five hours coasting past beautiful scenery and enjoying one another’s company in our private cabin.  

See, while I’m into train travel in China, I realize how fortunate I am to be able to afford to travel in comfort, rather than the typical experience for the average Chinese traveler, which can involve hard sleepers, hard seats, or even worse (see this previous post for a heavy dose of that reality).  I’ve been on trains during holiday season, and it’s not pretty.

Chinese passengers on the train.

We shelled out a little extra money to sit on what they call “soft” beds all the way to Guilin and back, and it was quite pleasant.

So, what exactly do you do on a five-hour train ride?

1.  Admire the scenery, punctuated by lots of oohs and ahhs and take thousands (ok, tens) of photos that your meticulous husband will later subject to his extra critical eye, and delete all but two, one of which he, himself, took!

This is the one that I took!

2.  Play cards, of course!  Euchre and Monopoly Deal were the two staples of this trip.

Playing euchre on the train.

3.  Eat instant noodles!  Chinese trains have boiling water on board, which means most people go the instant noodle route.  We also snacked on sunflower seeds, oreos, almonds, raisins, and granola bars, but I’ve seen Chinese passengers bring a wide variety of fruits (my friends actually cut up a watermelon on board on one trip!), zongzi (glutinous rice with meat stuffed in reed or bamboo leaves), salty eggs, and all sorts of dried meats.  Instant noodles was the most Chinese we got in the food department for the train ride, though.

Pouring boiling water into the noodles using the thermos in the cabin.

4.  Giggle with good friends.  The time passed so quickly in the company of friends we hadn’t seen in far too long.  Here they are on the train ride home, and still smiling!

Our friends on the first trip to China!

What are some of your favorite travel memories, and why??

Guilin Sneak Peek

I’ve been off the internet almost a week, mostly for good reasons to do with hosting friends, a birthday, an impromptu trip out of town, and some hard work in between.  For all of you who were curious, the recipe for success was a success! I hand-wrote a draft of my paper in under an hour and typed it up later in the day. Amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it and set yourself up to believe it’s gonna happen!

I’ll post a bit more about our weekend trip to Guilin later in the week, but for a quick synopsis, let me first say, do not believe anything the Lonely Planet Guide has to say on this city.

Perhaps it was the fabulous weather we enjoyed each day, or the relaxing train ride in a soft sleeper to and fro, which showcased the amazing Guangxi landscape, but Guilin was a true hit, and the city seemed to us unspoiled by tourism and the landscapes still mind-blowing despite the modern buildings in the skyline!

Unfortunately our friends had tired themselves out by our last morning in the city, and only Evan and I had a chance to sprint up to the top of Diecai Hill (or Folded Brocade Hill as it’s called in English), which boasts a 360-degree view of the city’s craggy karst mountains, numerous rivers and lakes, and stunning pagodas. Here’s some shots from that short, but sweet sprint, which would be my vote for the top tourist spot in Guilin!

The city of Guilin nestled amidst the karst mountains.
Me at the Diecai Summit.
Gorgeous waters as visible from the peak.
My husband's glamour shot.
A decidedly beautiful Chinese landscape!

Recipe for Success

I’m stressed.  Again.  I know, not great content for the blog world.

But I’m determined to not let it get in the way.  As in, I’ve been reading and thinking about (thanks to my wonderful husband) ways that I can set myself up to succeed, and get a draft of this paper written, even when something (my fear of failure, is it?  those damn expectations, again?) seems to be getting in the way.

The way I see it, that something someone is only me.  And I’m taking myself out of the equation.  (I had, by the way, at the height of my frustration, considered throwing in the towel and opening my birthday presents early, but as happy as that thought sounds, it wouldn’t actually get a draft of my paper written, so I’ll wait ’til Thursday…).

Instead, tomorrow’s equation includes these simple steps:

Gorgeous morning view (not mine, but hey, a girl can dream).

1.  I’m getting up early…and I have been for weeks, but it’s important for me, because I know my best brain time is in the morning.  Plus, I simply enjoy that time of day the most, which brings me to step two…

My jones.

2.  I’m making myself a big bowl of peanut butter and banana oatmeal and a big mug of coffee.  I recently read Leo Babauta‘s 6 Small Things You Can Do When You Lack Discipline, and while they were all good, #5, Focus on Enjoyment, really spoke to me. Creating an environment you generally enjoy to do something you need to get done just makes sense, and after all, no one should skip breakfast (or coffee, in my opinion).

This is one of my favorite postures for Centering Prayer, when I'm reminding myself to simply breathe deep the breath of God.

3.  I’m starting the day with silence.  On Monday morning my good friend and I read scripture together on skype and sat in silence across the distance for eighteen minutes.  Everytime I bathe in silence in God’s presence, I realize how little silence there is in my life, and how often I crowd all the nooks and cranies with my requests, anxieties, and ideas.  So it’s not surprising that I feel closest to God when I drop all that at the door and resolve to simply be.  On Monday I heard God simply asking me to rest in God’s presence.  Now, I would be a fool to turn that down, so count me in for silence tomorrow morning.

4.  If I get stuck I’ll just talk to someone, or do some yoga, or take a walk.  When my husband was asking me how I deal with stress tonight, I realized that I rarely take advantage of these simple ways to get my head out of the sand and see the forest for the trees…okay, mixed metaphors, but you get the picture.  Suffice it to say, Evan making me walk to the store tonight to get some lemons was the best thing he could have done, because I had to take my mind off of my paper for a bit, which led me to do some creative thinking (and no I did not make lemonade…yet another pun, ugh).

Kickin' it old school.

5.  I’m going to write by hand.  There’s always been something freeing and fluid about writing by hand for me, whereas sometimes the prefectionist in me that invades the backspace and the delete keys gets in the way of all that.  So I’m going back to old-fashioned pen and paper tomorrow morning for a change.

6.  I’m not going to worry about it.  This is clearly my biggest challenge, but I am up for it.  Here you go God, all my worries, all my plans, yes even this recipe–may the only thing I seek is to be closer to you, and may that faith and peace guide me like no other.

Amen, and goodnight!

Very spookily after I typed these final words, Pandora started playing Jeremy Camp’s “Give me Jesus.”  Not to be dramatic, but how ’bout that?!

In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise

Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus.
You can have all this world,
Just give me Jesus.

What’s your recipe for success when you’re struggling to get something done?

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