Tag Archives: international move

The culture of things

One of the qualms that comes with an international move (apparently) is that cultural values in regards to things, abundance, and excess inevitably don’t quite match up.  

I mentioned that in China, many of my friends only owned one or two pairs of clothes, many families had just a few possessions, the insides of their homes, some with dirt floors and concrete walls, appeared barren to my Western eye.

Before we moved to China, my husband and I sold many of our possessions.  But another young couple used most of our furniture for the two years we were in China, and we had other treasured things–wedding photos, souvenirs from travel, and books–stacked in footlockers waiting for our return.

We’ve all but completed our move and our set-up here in our new apartment in New Jersey, and the business of making a home is fun, and one that was made quite a bit easier and more affordable given the items we kept those few years.

But everything I’m reading lately (see here, here, and here) reminds me that we live in a climate of excess here in America.  Every time I go out to eat and a huge portion greets me, or even when warm water runs over my hands in the kitchen sink, or when I’m sorting through boxes of items that we’ve amassed over the years I’m embarrassed, stunned, and overwhelmed by things and their hold over me.

Views of the countryside in Yunnan province. Photo by Evan Schneider.

A fellow blogger recently discussed the growing materialism in China today, while also remarking on the lively debates we Americans get into over PC vs. Mac, or the way we caress our computers and phones.  She argues that Americans are simply unaware of their materialism, to the extent that they are unable “to separate material (especially techno-consumerism) from their identities.  America is so accustomed to its wealth that we are loathe to part with the products that make us who we are.”

We speak of things we need that we don’t really need.  We choose to feel inadequate when we don’t have enough “furniture to fill the space” and we buy more things as we can afford bigger spaces.  This morning I heard on NPR that the average cost of raising a child from age 0 to 18 in America is $250,000, but that’s relative to your income–as in the more money you have, the more money you will spend on a child.  

How does God desire that we live, and is that living relative to the country or the continent on which we find ourselves?  

I’m asking you this morning because I’m still parceling these things out as I go.  I’m still reeling from this new context in which I’m making my home and trying not to live in a nostalgia for China that romanticizes poverty, but rather a life that realizes authenticity and simplicity.  And God knows I’m finding it difficult…what about you?

 

 

 

Advertisements

Peace for the moment

Warning: International move in progress…and shown, along with reverse cultural shock,  to also have side effects of extreme sappiness.  Please humor me these next couple of weeks, dear readers!

Feeding the fish in Guangxi, Guilin.

Maybe things aren’t working out perfectly, and maybe they’re even about to get really, really hard, but just as there’s been grace for moments like these, I’m reveling in the peace, God’s peace, that’s been washing over me these mesmerizing last days in China.

Walking with friends in downtown Yunnan, Kunming.

It’s such a peace that’s got the husband and I dreaming with a reckless abandon (rather than worrying with wracked paralysis!) about what’s in store for the future.  As we sort through two years of papers and research and clutter and life here, I find myself looking over at him and being ever so thankful for his goodness, his curiosity, his companionship.

Evan and I in Guangxi, Yangshuo on our third anniversary.

As I walked back to the orphanage the other evening with one of my Chinese friends I told her the gist of how my husband and I got to China, how it was he, who ten years ago came here for two summers and found himself drawn to the culture, the people, and the place.  But in varied twists of fate, he never made it back, and went sifting through a bundle of doubts and questions and frustrations and miraculously through all of it found his way to seminary.

And as we became friends, fell in love, and eventually married, he told me of that dream to return to China and his passion captivated me as well.  So without knowing that the seemingly rash actions I took at the time–enrolling for Chinese 101 with the undergrads and beginning this study of Chinese foster mothers despite the plans I had to write my dissertation on Mexican women in the Pentecostal movement (I’ll get to that project one day!)–were the stuff of faith, I began to feel my way toward this place, China, as well. 

Girls playing in the Li River, Guangxi, Yangshuo.

And as I told this story to my friend the other evening I said that I’m not too certain of many things in my young life, but despite the wildness and the difficulty of it all, I’ve always been fairly certain that Evan and I were meant to go to China together.

It’s funny because when we first got here, everyone we met in China wanted to know if it was Evan who followed me here or the other way around, and despite my incessant claims that we’d very much come here together, because we both wanted to be in China, I could tell that didn’t make sense to them, not grammatically, not culturally, not logically.

Hiking the rice terraces with my family in Guangxi, Zhongliu, June 2012.

So it is that peace comes to us, surpassing all understanding, and settling into the cracks of ill-conceived plans, pushing aside our greediness for things like power and security, and our obvious limitations.  And so people who need each other find each other and not logically or fantastically, but quietly and providentially.  And peace lives and breathes in a place where faith is rich and alive, and the rest is just details.  That place, for my husband and I, has been China.

My husband and I in Green Lake Park, Yunnan, Kunming, June 2012.

Where have you found peace?  And what has God made you certain of this day?