Monday, December 29, 2008

The Siberian Express has arrived again!

About once a week, the Siberian Express arrives. No, it's not a special train from Siberia. It's a cold front that nearly knocks us off our feet. At 10:00 a.m. today, the temperature is 28 F but feels like 15 because the wind is 20 mph with gusts up to 31 mph. When it's this cold, you don't want any skin exposed.

In the U.S. we have always joked about it being cold in Siberia. We were right! When this cold front arrives, there is no smog in Beijing. The sky is blue and crystal clear. By the time it warms up a little and we enjoy a few nicer days without wind, it's time for the express to come through again. It's like our Canadian cold fronts except stronger.

In November, when we were flying from the U.S. to China, I watched the little TV monitor showing where we were located. As we crossed over Russia into Siberia, I saw the outside temperature at 30,000 ft. was -175 F degrees and the tailwind gave us a ground speed of 650 mph.

Ron and I cannot imagine how people live in those cold countries of Russia, Siberia and Mongolia.

About 3:00 p.m. we went out to the bank, to purchase Ron's airline ticket for next Tuesday to go to Yibin to sign the contract for the Jackson Family Foundation Christian Care Center, and to the market to get a few supplies. I wore long underwear, two pair of pants, a sweatshirt, jacket and then a long woolen coat, lined boots, hat, scarf and two pairs of gloves. I was comfortable and not cold. Children at the school playground across the street from our apartment were playing ball in light weight jogging suits, acting like it was a spring day. I guess the difference is the age!

When it is so cold outside, we know we must wear layers of clothes to keep warm, but once we get inside a store, market or the subway, it is too hot and some of the layers must come off. It was this way when we lived in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. I have already lost one glove trying to keep up with all the items I take off along the way. I'm glad I brought two pair of gloves!

Sunday's family meeting

Last Saturday, Archer, a fine young man from the Chinese group, went with Ron to find a new location for the Chinese family meeting each week.

They located a restaurant near the same subway station where Archer lives. This is probably as central a location as it could be because people are coming from every direction and live far apart. It takes us about 1 hour by subway (we walk 20 minutes to get to the closest station) and we have to change to another line. We meet at 3:00 p.m. every Sunday afternoon.

The meeting room was large enough for 10 people with a round table. The room was too hot, but otherwise very nice. Most everyone was "frozen" from their travel so the heat felt really good the first half of the meeting. The English names of those present were: Archer, Wendy, Mable, Maggie, Sharon, Rilla, Echo, Ron and Pat. All of the group, except Archer, are young, single professional females. We hope Jason will feel well enough to be back with us soon.

After the meeting, Archer and Wendy left and did not stay for dinner. Archer had taken a bad cold and was not feeling well.

The restaurant will not charge us for the room but we are required to order a meal after our meeting. The food was excellent and not expensive. Each of us ordered one dish (a total of seven items). It was more than enough and cost a total of $35.

Those of you in the U.S. reading this may want to know what we ordered. Here is the menu: Fish hot pot with rice noodles (delicious), beef with vegetables (thin pieces of beef tender as could be), thin strips of beef with hot red and green peppers (good but spicy), pumpkin fritters, Chinese pancakes with chives, green vegetable (something like bok choy), and corn (cooked with sweet red peppers).

Most of the group will have to work this coming Sunday. They get holidays for January 1, 2, and 3 but will have to work on Sunday. Some of the girls are going elsewhere for the holidays, but those who stay in Beijing were invited to come to our apartment anytime during the holidays for a meal. I don't cook great Chinese food, but I doubt any of these young girls can cook very well either. We would still have a good time together and get to know them better. I hope some of them will come. Echo, one of the girls will go to visit her family south of Beijing but she told Ron she would like to "get fully wet" on Saturday when she returns to Beijing. We look forward to that joyful time.

I will get a picture of the group at our next meeting and add it to the blog.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Update on Jason's health

Last Saturday, Ron visited Jason in the hospital. It was the day after surgery and he was still not feeling very well. He had many family members with him so Ron did not stay long and did not find out about his condition. Ron called him yesterday and he was getting ready to leave the hospital to go home. He said he was doing much better. We do not know the results of the surgery but hope that it was successful and he will be O.K.

Jason will be off from work for several more weeks and unable to attend our group meeting on Sunday afternoon. The Chinese group will start meeting this week at a restaurant meeting room. They require that we order a meal after the meeting, but do not charge rent for us to use the room. Food is very reasonable so it will not be much cost. For those who cannot pay themselves for a meal, we can surely cover the costs. We have all single workers in this group except for Jason, who is married and has a child.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Every child is a diamond in God's eyes!

Some of our workers post this statement on every e-mail they send "Every child is a diamond in HIS eyes." What a beautiful thought. I realized how true that is after we spent time with over 200 children this week!

It is so interesting to travel across country. I hope some of you will enjoy reading what my eyes saw from trains and buses. I hope this section is not too long and boring for many people. I wanted to break it up with each orphanage but our travels are so intertwined, it is difficult to separate it.

I also think you might like to know what it's like to keep up with Ron for a week, which is a challenge in itself.

Nanning is the capital city of the province we visited and it was very beautiful with many flowers. I do not remember exactly where I saw some plants but I found it interesting that I could identify many plants, trees and flowers. There were mums, poinsettias, palm trees, four o'clock plants, magnolia trees, pine and spruce trees, marigolds, impatiens, a tropical bush that I cannot begin to spell that we had growing in the Caribbean, roses, century plants, and hibiscus. The beautiful tall grasses that we spend a fortune on at Pike's Nursery, grow wild along some of the roadsides. Light green and dark green plants were nearly trimmed and grown in designs with palm trees interspersed throughout the roadways in Nanning.

We got up in Beijing Monday morning at 3:30 a.m. to catch a taxi at 5:00 a.m. to go to the airport bus stop. We did not know if we would find a taxi that early, so we were prepared to walk the 20 minutes to the subway and go that way if necessary. It was about 10 degrees with a strong wind blowing so we felt so fortunate that we only waited about 5 minutes for a taxi. You can go 30 minutes in a taxi for about $3. They don't charge by the number of passengers but the length of the drive. We arrived at the airport with an hour to spare.

When we arrived in Guilin, a three-hour flight, we were met at the airport by a couple of men who were scheduled to drive us to Rongshui (another three-hour trip by car). A businessman we know in Beijing volunteered to furnish us with a driver that works for him.

The highway to Rongshui from Guilin was like a snake. The road was paved and good but it was one curve after another for three hours, over and around mountains. It was like driving through the Smokey Mountains for three hours. Clouds hoovered over the mountain tops and the views were spectacular down into valleys below. There were few villages because of the rough terrain but whenever there was level space, we would see a few houses and fields of tangerine trees, loaded down and ready to be picked.

The only problem we had was the driver was supposed to wait a few hours for us to visit Neil Taylor orphanage and then drive us to Nanning. They let us out at the orphanage and proceeded to leave. They told Luke, our orphanage director, that they could not wait for us, but another driver would come and take us to Nanning. We knew that was not true but we couldn't do anything about it. Later, we were told the men misunderstood. In any event, we were stranded in Rongshui for the night.

The girl on the left is sponsored by Jeff and Loraine Spangler. Luke, our Director, said she is the most appreciative of all the children. She started talking and crying and when Luke translated, I started crying too. She said she wanted to help poor children like her have the same opportunity to get an education as she has been given.

We had a wonderful time with the children and it was so special to see King and Wang Zhen Zhen, a little girl with heart disease that Ron found deserted in a hospital about five years so.
The children performed songs and dances for us and showered us with little gifts and drawings they had made for us.

After visiting the children until about 8:00 p.m. we went to a local hotel to sleep a few hours. We had heat in the room so we fell asleep quickly after a very long day. The weather had turned cold just that day. We dreaded having to wear such heavy clothes when we left Beijing in the cold weather but our warmer clothes proved to be very welcome with the weather in the south very cold.
We got up at 1:30 a.m. and caught a 2:30 a.m. train to Nanning. We rode to the train station in a local taxi. I'm sure all of you will be jealous of my experience riding in one of these vehicles at 1:30 on a very cold morning.

There was no heat in the train station and we had an hour wait because we had to get there 30 minutes early to buy our tickets. The train was also late arriving. We were the only people in our cabin on the train, but it was a very old train and there was no heat. We were already cold waiting in the train station for an hour. We slept in all of our clothes, including our coats, beneath a light weight comforter.

The train ride to Nanning went a different direction from the way we drove from Guilin so the land was mostly flat. Banana and sugar cane fields were plentiful.

Mark Zhu and a driver met us at the train station and we drove three hours to Tian Ding, the location for John Connor Brown orphanage.

Here's a picture of John Connor Brown orphanage:

A former orphan from Yongshan is working as the supervisor for boys at John Connor Brown orphanage.

We arrived that day in time to have lunch with the children. It was a delicious lunch. The chef that day was Phillip, another worker who went to the university with Mark Zhu, our director.

We seldom get breakfast anywhere so we asked Mark to stop and buy some fruit and steamed bread along the way. We are lucky if we are somewhere where we can eat at lunchtime, but sometimes we are traveling and eat only fruit.

The drive from Nanning to Tian Ding was also somewhat crooked with mountains mostly in the distance, but the land is level. The mountains in this province are pointed (a very different sight for us in America). Along the way, more and more fields of bananas and sugar cane were growing. Truckloads and cart loads of green bananas or cut sugar cane were traveling along the road going to market. Peasants had roadside stands, selling bananas very cheaply.

Trees have been planted along the roadside and their trunks are painted white to serve as reflectors in the light of cars driving at night. It is a very beautiful drive and looks very different from the rest of China because we were heading toward Vietnam.

My heart was heavy and tears came to my eyes realizing that we were not far from where Ron's brother, Ned, was killed 40 years ago this February in Vietnam. He saw country just like this for the two years he was in service.
Since we only have 14 children at this new orphanage, I gave the small bag of toys sent by Jacob and Grace Anne Richardson, to these children. Their eyes got bright and they had a wonderful time picking some of the little things from the pile of toys.


Ron was also having a very good time!

Phillip, the worker on the left was the chef the day we arrived. He has worked in a restaurant, so he really had prepared a good meal for us.

We spent time with them until they had to go back to school at 2:30. We went into the town and checked into a hotel. We spent several hours with Mark and Swan (directors of the orphanage). We were just exhausted so we did not go back to the orphanage that night. We had a choice of a room with heat or a room with internet. It was not a hard choice. We took the one with heat.

Early the next morning, Mark took us to the local bus station and we took a bus back to Nanning. We arrived in the afternoon and checked into the hotel. That night at 7:00 p.m. we were invited to the Christmas party for Toyota employees in the ballroom of our hotel. There were about 1,000 present for a big dinner and entertainment.

Pat Martin, the Canadian lady teaching English at Wesley's House, two workers and three children came by bus for the dinner. A presentation was made by the CEO to contribute a truckload of shoes, clothing and books to the children at Wesley's House. Our children sang a song that night.

If you want to view Pat Martin's pictures made at Wesley's House you can go to

Pat Martin has a slide show on her blog so you can see pictures of the Toyota party we attended and many pictures of the children at Wesley's House receiving gifts and enjoying their Christmas party.

When we checked out of the hotel early Thursday morning, we asked the hotel clerk to write down in Chinese the train station to give to the taxi driver. When he let us out, we realized we were at the bus station. We checked to see if there was a bus to Pingguo but it would be four or five hours before the next bus left. We came back outside and talked with another taxi driver (a lady who spoke some English). She said the girl wrote down the bus station so it was not the fault of the taxi driver. She said she could still get us to the train station in time. She went through red lights, around all kinds of traffic and was speeding, no doubt, but we made it with time to spare. I told Ron it was apparent we were not in Peachtree City because there were no police in sight! Police in PTC have stopped someone for a traffic violation every time we drive through.

Peter picked us up at the train station and drove us out to the orphanage. It is only about 10 minutes from the town of Pingguo. We spent the entire day there and intended to see the children's Christmas performance that night but Ron's back was hurting so much we went to the hotel early. Ron had not slept well the night before so he was not feeling very well that day. The children were precious and warmed up to us quickly. They kept bringing us drawings they had made for us.

We were surprised to find the cook at Wesley's House is a former orphan from Mama Jo's House in Biyang. He is now working there as the cook.

The laughter of children was heard at each orphanage. There were smiles and happiness everywhere. It was a joy to see the children clean and happy. If the joy of helping others is complete with the Christmas holidays, we truly experienced it overflowing this past Christmas week.

For lunch Christmas day, we ate with the children, enjoying our rice with cooked carrots and turnips (or some type of root vegetable). Christmas night, we had rice with a pork stew. They had bought steamed buns and fruit for the children as well.

Life is very simple for our children and workers but such joy to behold! The children take turns washing the bowls they eat out of and they were doing an excellent job. We had no worry about unclean dishes with these children doing the cleaning.

Little boys were happier playing with a certain rock they had found in a pile that would spin like a top than our children in the U.S. are with a $100 present. It humbles you to see the little children and know what they have experienced and been through and still they can smile and be happy again. This happiness is only because of the sponsors who make it possible.

Ting Ting, the first heart patient we brought to the U.S. is working in a factory, as she completes her on-the-job training from a technical school. She has expressed an interest in working at one of our orphanages. I believe she would be good working with young girls because she can relate to their lives, being an orphan herself. Ting Ting called us on Christmas day to wish us a happy holiday and told us to "wear more clothes to keep warm." Since she speaks no English, Peter took the call for us while we were at Wesley's House.

Friday morning, we took a local bus from Pingguo to Nanning. By the way, I must side-track to tell you that the worst public restrooms are at bus stations and on trains, but I've learned to hold my nose and use the hole in the floor nevertheless. They compare with a very bad restroom at a service station in the U.S.

At Nanning, we took a taxi to the airport. We had time to eat at a restaurant at the airport before our flight. We arrived back at our apartment in Beijing about 7:30 p.m. Friday night.

Five days of travel and we packed in so many places, experiences and beautiful faces of children! It was a joy to be with our workers and get to know them better. It was really a spectacular week and one we will never forget. No Christmas will ever "top" this one.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Panda Bears are buying fur coats!

Forecast next 7 days (Beijing)

Friday high: 41 °F low: 15 °F
Saturday high: 30 °F low: 5 °F
Sunday high: 14 °F low: 5 °F
Monday high: 29 °F low: 14 °F
Tuesday high: 35 °F low: 17 °F
Wednesday high: 39 °F low: 17 °F
Thursday high: 36 °F

Add Beijing's wind to that and the chill factor is even worse! We are heading South Sunday night where it's warmer for Christmas Day. We will see King on Monday, the Lord willing. We hope to work our way to Wesley's House for Christmas Day. Will report back from Beijing next weekend.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Driving in China

Many thanks to those of you who have made comments and sent me messaages. I read all of them today and caught up on what people have said. I enjoyed hearing from you. Unfortunately, I wanted to reply to some of the comments and it didn't give me the e-mail address of the person making the comment.

Today, I have worked on learning how to add pictures but they are always added at the top of my blog, not at the place where I want them. Our dear, sweet secretary at PTC has been inserting them for me. They say you can't teach old dogs new tricks and I guess that's partially true, but I never expected that I'd be doing a blog in any shape or fashion. Anyway, I've written Jennifer to tell me how to do it so I can try to learn.

I must tell you a little about how they drive in China. I've been driving over 50 years, but there's no way I would try it here. If there are two lanes, you can be sure the Chinese have made it a 3-lane road. If you drive in the middle over the line, you can work your way into traffic either to the right or left. There are 10 rules of the road, but David, one of our workers, could only remember two of them. He's a new driver so he better know all of them to survive. He said the two he could remember are these:

1) Whoever gets there first, gets to go first.
2) If the other vehicle is larger than yours, they get to go first.

Taxi cabs can work their way into any traffic, in front of buses, around pedestrians and bikers with skill. If I drove in China, I would really hate taxi drivers! No one stops for pedestrians and pedestrians are so brave they venture out even if cars are coming so they only know Rule #1. Drivers seem to think if you have time to just get a corner of your car in front of someone, you can soon pull ahead of them, and it's true. There seem to be no rules concerning right-of-ways. If there are laws, they are not observed by any driver. I cannot imagine how any policeman could determine who's to blame for any accident. Horns are always blowing. I told Ron that there are so many people in the road (they seem to prefer walking in the road than on the sidewalk) if you gave them the right-of-way, you would never get anywhere. I decided the horn is used to say, "I'm coming through so watch out." Some drivers do use turn signals but most just use their horn. The only good thing about driving in China is that you have to drive slowly. There are just too many cars, buses, motor bikes, bicycles, carts, 3-wheel vehicles, and pedestrians to go fast. There would be many more accidents if people could travel at a faster speed. So, that's the good news about driving and surviving!

By the way, this is the way people stand in line also. You don't make a straight line - you spread out and that way you can work yourself in and get ahead. When we arrive at the train station, we get in a long line for a taxi. Well, it's not really a line. As I said - it's just a mob of people in one area and as the mob moves forward, people push and go around everyone in any way they can. I saw one old lady (older than me) work her way through 50 people to get ahead for a taxi. I think they learned how to do this from taxi drivers!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A bitter sweet trip to Xi'an

Sunday, we had just finished our morning service when we received a phone call from Walter Castro and his wife, visiting in Beijing from Charlotte, North Carolina. He said he thought he would just search the web to see if there could possibly be a church here and our Beijing Church of Christ popped up. We took a taxi to their hotel, visited with them a couple of hours and then we all took a taxi to Archer's apt. for the afternoon meeting. The Castro family is originally from Ecuador. Walter works for Bank of America. They have a little girl, Christine, four years old. The entire afternoon group had dinner together at a nearby restaurant. The Castro family took a taxi back to their hotel and we took a taxi to the train station.

We entered the train with a tourist group from Germany. One lady spoke good English and she was rearranging passengers so they could all be together. Their tickets had been pre-purchased by an agency so it had split up couples into different cabins. It involved our cabin, so we just waited in the hall to see how all the sleeping arrangements would be worked out. One of the train workers came in and when she saw the many changes that the woman had made, she just shook her head and gave up. A young man (train worker) came along and she explained it to him. It appeared that he let the Germans stay the way they had worked it out and took us to another car and found an empty cabin for us.

Jackie, our worker in Xi'an (pronounced She Ann) met us at the train station and took us to a nearby hotel to check in. (We saw the German group in the lobby but didn't have any more contact with them.) After freshening up a bit, we left the city to visit Ha Ha. The drive to Lantian, the closest small city to his home, was about 25 miles. It was a pretty highway with a mountain range on the side of the highway. Most of the land was flat and good farm land. When we arrived in Lantian, we met up with Paul, the worker who visits the orphans in this area. He was purchasing cooking oil, rice, vegetables and fruit to take to Ha Ha's family. While we were waiting for him to get the things together, Ron and I watched two women making thick bed comforters. They had a table in front of a shop and were quilting through the heavy batting with very skilled hands. They didn't have a pattern or lines to go by but their stitches were perfectly straight. They used a heavy cord and took log stitches to quilt the batting into place. They could complete one in about 15 minutes.

From Lantian, we drove another 5-10 miles to the area where Ha Ha lives. His house is not directly on the main road but the road down to his house is dirt, rough and rocky. We parked the car and began walking. Ha Ha and his mother were waiting in the road for us. She was very happy to see us but Ha Ha was so shy he would not have anything to do with us.

He hid behind his mother as much as he could. We all walked on to their house but Ha Ha still did not warm up to us. He did not even want to look at us. The men took the groceries inside and Ha Ha's mother welcomed us to sit on the bed in the little front room. Ha Ha pulled away and went into a bedroom. We left him for a while but Ron and I each peeked in and smiled at him a few times and began to get a little smile from him. When we went in the room, however, he still would not let us hold him and he would not look at us. I tried to get a picture made with him but he squirmed from my arms and got on the bed.

Ha Ha's grandmother lives with them now. She is 53 but looked to be in her 70's. The peasant women age very fast and look much older than they are. She had prepared lunch for us and there was no way we could refuse to eat. I looked into the kitchen and saw so much wood and sticks piled up in the room to build the fire for cooking, that there was hardly any room in front of the stove for her to work. I don't know how you could cook a meal in that little turn-around space.

The meal consisted of dishes of steamed rice, cauliflower, green peppers, fried eggs, garlic greens (tops of the garlic plant, which is very delicious) and a dish of meat that looked like Bologna, which we did not eat. They have a well so we assumed the water would be clean and the food would be sanitary. We were lucky because we did not get sick from eating the meal. The food was delicious.

Ha Ha's mother told us that the night before she told Ha Ha we were coming to visit. He was very excited and talked about us. The morning we arrived, he woke up early, got dressed and kept going outside to see if we were coming. We are certain that he knew us but was just too shy to have anything to do with us. If we had stayed several more hours, he might have shown some interest. He and his mother walked with us to the car but he still hid and did not want to have a picture made. The workers took the pictures on the sly when he wasn't posing for them. The only picture he wanted us to take was the one with his sister, who is 10 years old. She was home from school to eat lunch.

Ha Ha goes to kindergarten. His mother said he likes it but will not talk at school. She showed us his tablet where he is writing the Chinese characters. It is like our children repeating the same letter over and over to practice writing. His handwriting was excellent and he made 100 on every page. We are so happy we were able to correct his little fingers from the bent position caused by the burn. Otherwise, he would not be able to do this beautiful writing.

Ha Ha's mother complimented Paige on the good training that was given Ha Ha while he lived there with his host family. She said before coming to America there were many things that he needed to learn such as respecting what belongs to someone else but when he came back he had very good manners and knew what to do. She is very grateful for the love and help the Peterson family gave him.

Ha Ha's father is working as a cook in another city. He and one other man cook for 150 factory workers. In factories, many (or most) employees live there in dormitory-style housing.

It was sad to leave for several reasons. The new house already looks like it's 10 years old. It's substantially built and is certainly warmer and better than the old house but they already have it in a mess. We decided that no matter how much paint you use and no matter how nice the things you give them, it will be back to their way of life within six months. It is all the peasant people know and it is their comfort zone. It is still sad to see children growing up in this lifestyle. There are literally millions that live this same way, not only in China but in many countries of the world.

I knew I would not see Ha Ha again unless we bring him back to the U.S. for more surgery around his eye in a few years. This visit would have made me feel a little better if he had been warm toward us. I know he's talked about us since we left and was happy to see us, but he didn't act that way. I have to remember that he's only four years old and he's a shy little boy. Every time he came to my house from Paige's home, it took him a while before he began to talk with us.

When we arrived back in Lantian, we met the man in charge of the Charity Federation. He walked with us to the nearby high school to find a student, #7 Kang Sha, supported by our daughter, Leigh Ann Dotson and Tim and Tracy Petrik. (Leigh Ann gives double support but we need three sponsors to cover the expenses for Kang Sha in this school).

Nothing in China is simple, I've found. The workers and the man at the school went down a long list of students' names trying to find her. After 15-20 minutes without success, they let us inside the school grounds and Paul went up to the classrooms to find her.

Soon, Kang Sha and her sister (#40 Kang Yixiao, supported by Ron and Kathryn Denney), came to see us. They were all smiles and happy girls. The older girl had to leave right away for class but Kang Sha talked with us for several minutes and had some pictures made with us. She said she is so happy at this school and feels so lucky. When we found her more than two years ago, she was living alone in an old abandoned building. She now lives at this nice school and makes very good grades. I asked the worker if she understood who we were and she spoke up herself and said, "Yes, I know." Her English was better than some of our workers. She is 15 years old. She is very smart and she definitely has a bright and hopeful future because of the support, giving her this wonderful opportunity for an education.

The next day we went to visit Dan Dan. She was home for her lunch break. Her parents were both there and welcomed us with open arms. Dan Dan and her mother attend the Sunday family meeting every week. It was so nice to see how pretty Dan Dan looks after all of her surgeries. I think she's had the most improvement in looks of any of the children who have come for burn surgery. Dan Dan's face was really bad but now she's a very pretty girl and her hair has grown thick and beautiful.

Dan Dan answered all of our questions, understanding English very well. She could talk with us fluently and had such a good time laughing about things that happened while she lived with us and Sherry. She loves the family who kept her in Nashville and they call her every Saturday night. She talked about her life with them and it was evident that she was happy living with them. She said she didn't know if she wanted to come back to America for another surgery because it was so far from her family. She said she loved her time in America but she missed her family very much. She has a good mother and father and she loves her little sister who will be three in October. Dan Dan had grown a foot taller since we last saw her. She is a good student and loves her school. She said she forgot a lot of her Chinese and the first few months back in China were very difficult for her. She asked her mother why they had to eat rice or noodles all the time. She couldn't adjust back to the simply Chinese diet after having such a variety in the U.S.

To get to Dan Dan's home, from the street, we had to walk through an alley where they were cooking every kind of food imaginable. This is where Americans can really get sick - eating the street food. We had not had lunch and it looked and smelled wonderful so I can see why Americans are tempted to try it. In addition to the cooking areas, there were fruit and vegetable markets all along the way. Usually, locals have never seen foreigners in these areas, so we create quite a stir of interest as we walk through.

Dan Dan lives at the end of another alley, where there are just rooms where people live all down the side as you walk. They have only one room with a side room (probably bath and storage). There was a small bed (Dan Dan's) and a medium size bed backed up together into a "L" shape. There was a small area where she cooks and that's all the space they have. The room was no larger than 8' x 8.' They told us that their family comes from the north and still live in caves. Ron says that thousands of people live in caves and that area. We saw pictures of their family members. Dan Dan's mother said her mother was 54 years old but looked much older than me. The peasant people think Ron and I are in our 50's.

Dan Dan and her family walked back through the alley to take Dan Dan back to school so they saw us to the car. Dan Dan didn't want us to leave. Later in the afternoon, she called the worker that was with us and said she missed us so much and wanted to talk to us again. We talked to her on the phone and promised her we would call her some more from Beijing before we go back to the U.S. She is a precious little girl and she has a sweet and thankful family.

Her father is learning to drive and hopes to be a taxi driver. I won't get into driving in China at this time. It would take you another 15 minutes to read how it's done in China! Let me say, it's not for the faint-hearted, whether you are the driver or the passenger.

Jackie, our worker, stopped at a restaurant for lunch that he said should be safe for us. He said both Aubrey Johnson and David Langley had tested it and not gotten sick. He ordered a plate of dumplings stuffed with pork, a dish of various kinds of mushrooms, a green vegetable with tiny whole fried shrimp (too small to peel and eaten whole), and a dish of steamed Chinese cabbage with thin noodles in a spicy sauce). This four-dish meal cost a total of $12 and there was enough left over for Jackie to take home for their dinner.

On Monday night, Ron had a meeting with the hospital officials (director of the cardiac division and surgeons). We have completed 43 open heart surgeries at this hospital so far in 2008. They have also done a lot of cleft palate surgeries for us. They seem to be kind-hearted men and dedicated to saving lives and helping the poor so they are very thankful for our work and what we are accomplishing for these families.

After the meeting, they took us to a private dining area of the hospital. The hospital is very large, much larger than Emory or Vanderbilt. It is very clean and beautiful. The dinner was probably the best gourmet meal I've ever eaten. It was not easy to eat with chopsticks, however. I was a little out of my comfort zone, to say the least. Here are some of the dishes they served: Smoked salmon, displayed over slices of cucumber, small shrimp (boiled and in the full shell - I decided it had to be a "finger" food), whole small crab, placed on our plate and very difficult to eat even with fingers, goose liver pate over a wedge of toast (very expensive and delicious), sausage made from pork ears (too much grissle), sweet and sour fish (excellent), spinach and mushroom soup, noodles with sauce and ground beef, tree ears (mushrooms) with white roasted walnuts (served cold), sprouts (many different kinds), green vegetable (maybe bok choy), and several types of bread. One bread had many layers and you put hot sauce in between the layers. We also had fried dumplings (vegetable) similar to pot stickers. At the end of the meal, there was a platter of watermelon and tangerines.

The top surgeon that sat next to me explained what some things were and shared how to eat them. His English was excellent and he was a very interesting person. He made me feel at ease, as much as was possible in this setting.

The weather was warm in Xi'an. At night, it was close to freezing but by noon, it was in the high 50's or maybe 60 degrees. I am happy the weather there is not so severe because of our little Ha Ha and Dan Dan. We arrived back in Beijing to a very cold temperature and a strong wind.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Prayers requested for Jason

Jason is one of our dedicated members of the Chinese group that meets on Sunday aftrnoon. He is a very kind and good man. He entered the hospital today and will have surgery on Thursday. We ask that you pray for the success of his surgery and Jason's complete recovery.

Jason is probably in his 30's. He is married and has a child. He said he's not been feeling well for some time and his feet have grown larger. His head is also abnormally large. He's not obese but he is a larger man than you usually see among Chinese men.

From what we can determine, Jason has an enlarged (possible tumor)pituitary gland. It is located near the optic nerve so the surgeon will go in through Jason's nose to remove the enlarged portion of the gland. According to the internet, most pituitary tumors are benign. Please pray that Jason's will be so he can be assured of a quick recovery. The Pituitary gland is responsible for several different hormones, one of which is the growth hormone. Here's what the internet said about that:

Growth hormone-secreting tumours excess production of growth hormones can cause a condition called giantism. This leads to abnormal growth that is known as acromegaly. This causes enlargement of the hands, feet, lower jaw and brows, and can also lead to high blood pressure and diabetes.

Jason will need to rest and take it easy for about six weeks. He cannot work during that time. We will keep you posted on his condition.

Friday, December 12, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Last night we traveled to the end of the main subway line to meet a young Chinese couple (Bret and Gloria) for dinner. Bret was an English student under Mrs. Yeary who now lives in Abilene, Texas. He was also a university student with Mark Zhu, one of our workers. He and his wife work for Price-Waterhouse. He is an auditor for the Bank of China. He said there were 6 million Chinese who lost their jobs the past few months and it will be more difficult for university students completing their education to find a job. He and Gloria are very fortunate to have finished their degrees and have a good job.

It was a delight to be with Bret and Gloria. Gloria said it was her first time to speak English with anyone from another country. Both of them spoke quite well and it was not difficult to communicate with them.

They asked us to meet them at THE PLACE, which is well-known in Beijing. We walked about 5 minutes after we got off the subway but were not sure we were going the right direction. We stopped at an upscale hotel to ask directions. The doorman immediately asked to help us and said THE PLACE was more than a 30 minute walk. He told us to wait in the hotel lobby and he would get us a taxi. Inside the beautiful lobby, a Christmas tree more than 30 feet high was covered with brown teddy bears (1' and 3' sizes) with red bows tied around their necks. It was a beautiful tree but we didn't have a camera with us. The taxi cost about $1.50 and it was more than five miles away.

Arriving at THE PLACE, we realized that it was a huge shopping mall with upscale shops. In the center of the buildings, there was an ice skating rink, filled with skaters. Above, more than two stories high was a screen with scrolling scenes, much like what you would see at IMAX theatres. A huge Christmas tree was decorated in tiny blue lights and every tree in the area was covered in tiny white lights. It was a very beautiful thing to see.

Bret and Gloria said in years past, you would not see any Christmas decorations but now there are snowflakes on the windows, wreaths on the doors and trees lit up everywhere.

It was a very cold night but we had a great time walking around to see the beauty of the area.

We walked together to a closer subway station. They insisted on going with us until we got on our direct subway line heading in the right direction. Every Chinese is so kind and thoughful and helpful. I think they are all concerned that we, old Americans, will get lost. Ron knows a lot about travel here and speaks a little Chinese, which is helpful. Ron does not mind asking for directions before we get too far off the path so traveling around this big city is not too fearful. As we walked back to the apartment at 10:30 p.m. from the subway station, I mentioned that it would not be safe to walk the streets of Atlanta at night but seems perfectly safe here in China.

A cold front came through yesterday (no rain) but cleared out the smog and today we have clear blue skys but it is windy and cold.

Sunday night, we take an all-night train, leaving at 9:30 p.m. and arriving at 8:30 a.m. in Xi'an. This is the city where we do all of the open heart surgeries in China. It is also the home of Ha Ha and Dan Dan, the little children that came to the U.S. for burn surgeries. We look forward to visiting both of them and their families. Our daughter, Leigh Ann, supports a high school student in Xi'an. If her school is not too far away, we will try to visit her. We will take a night train Tuesday night, arriving in Beijing Wednesday morning. Ron needs to meet someone in Beijing on Wednesday before they leave on a trip so we cut our trip to Xi'an shorter than planned.

I will post pictures and report on our trip to Xi'an next week.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Oh, the joys and challenges of communication

Ron did not make the trip to Zhengzhou as I reported yesterday. When he got to the train station last night, he found that his ticket had been made out wrong. You have to get tickets in advance in order to get a sleeper car. He is sure he wrote down the correct day he wanted to travel but somehow the ticket agent did not understand. From now on, he will carefully check each ticket before he leaves the agent's desk. To get another ticket last night, it was "standing room" only on the train, so he returned home and will try for another day.

The crowd of people in China is what strikes Americans as unusual. The vast number of people in China is too much for all of the transit systems. We rode buses and subways in Montreal, Canada and sometimes they were very full, but nothing compared to the total number of people crowded into every bus and subway train here. It is difficult to believe that so many people travel on every cross-country train and local subway train every mintue of the day and night. It does not matter when you travel, it's the same thing.

Some of the signs posted will have the English name of the city or station but others are totally in Chinese. I am never sure if we are going in the right direction or have taken the right train but Ron knows enough to figure it out. It would be very difficult for anyone to get around without a guide here unless they had been here as many times as Ron. I think this is his 40th trip to China.

With the subways so packed, we are careful that both of us get on and get off at the same time. With the crowds pushing and rushing, we sometimes get separated so we watch each other to be sure we are making the same changes. I'm not a very adventuresome person so I would not know how to get back to a location if I got separated from Ron. Few people can speak enough English to really help with directions. If Ron wanted to lose an old wife, this is the place he can do it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Reflections with a quieter week

This week, only Ron will travel to another city. He will leave tonight by train to Zhengzhou to spend a few hours with Dr. Joshua. He will return on the train tomorrow night. There was no need for me to make this trip so it will save some money and give me time to do more work here. I also felt that I needed some rest. The apartment is very secure. Yesterday, we purchased enough groceries so I will not need to go out.

The weather in up and down. Thursday and Friday were extremely cold with a strong wind. By Sunday, it had moderated and was not bad. Yesterday, it was very pleasant walking and shopping. Cold weather pushes down from Russia and Siberia just as the U.S. receives a cold front from Canada.

There's been no rain in any of the cities we have visited for quite some time. Everything is very dusty and dirty. Cars are covered in a thick layer of dust and trees and plants are gray with dust. Some days we see a blue sky but most days there's smog in the distance.

Ron fits right in with the Chinese people. He is short and not easily recognized as an American. It's a different story for me. With my brown hair, fair complexion and blue eyes, everyone stares at me. Most Chinese women do not wear make-up so I stand out for that reason also. When the wind is blowing, I wear my white fur hat that I wore in Montreal. It is definitely noticeable in China. If anyone looks at me very long, I smile at them. Almost never do I get a smile in return.

I will never forget what Susan Swang said when she came with us on a medical mission. With people staring, she said she knew exactly how Julia Roberts feels when she walks down the street. Susan is so pretty, it could be the same situation with her, but for me, I'm afraid they are wondering who this old woman is visiting China. It's like they say about your passport picture - you don't look like you are well enough to travel anywhere!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A hard week's work completed in three days!

This has been an unbelievable week and to think we are still alive and well! Sunday afternoon we went to the apartment of a Chinese brother for the afternoon family meeting. Afterwards, he took us to dinner and got us a taxi to the train station. We left Beijing at 7:30 p.m. and arrived in Changsha about 7 a.m. We had a very nice cabin and no one shared it with us so we enjoyed the privacy. It is amazing how well Ron and I sleep on the train but we actually get a good night's rest. Many of these cities cannot be reached by airplane so the night train is the best way to travel. Train stations are always packed with people and only the sleeper cars have any empty areas. It costs more, of course, but for an overnight sleeper, it is still l/3 what an airline ticket would be even if you could get a flight to a city near where you are going. We took a taxi to the bus station and had 3 more hours before we reached Longhui, the city where North Canton Christian Care Center is located.

As we were waiting for Abraham, our worker to show up, Ron had his shoes shined by a street person for 25 cents. I saw a young boy walking toward us and I told Ron I recognized him. He is #14 and sponsored by Carol Mitchell of Hendersonville, Tennessee. Shortly, Abraham appeared and got a taxi for us to go out to NCCC, about 10 minutes from the city.

When we arrived, the middle school students were there eating lunch. They all smiled at us but were shy. They left shortly to return to school. We made a tour of the facility with Abraham and Esther to give them a punch list of things that need to be done to improve the building and living standards. They had many questions and discussed the work freely with us.

We had not eaten since Sunday night so both of us were hungry. On the train, I had some symptoms of a stomach virus so I was afraid to eat earlier. The cooks prepared some eggs and tomatoes and rice for us. Ron also ate some tofu but I am avoiding all soy products since my breast cancer. Soy has natural estrogen and could increase my chances for a return of the cancer.

It was not long until the elementary school children started arriving from school and they all crowded around and wanted affection and attention. We got pictures made with those who were not too shy and ran away from us. We spent time with them until it got dark and they had to go in to do their homework. The middle school students ate dinner and returned to school again to complete their homework so we did not get to talk with many of them.

We spent the night in the guest room at NCCC. It was a warm day but down to freezing during the night. They have no heat so we rolled up in heavy comforters but the next morning we had no way to take a shower. They have only cold water in the director's living quarters and both the shower and commode leaks anyway. We left early and took a local bus into Longhui to get a bus to Shaoyang where we could take the train to Zhumadian.

The local bus is very dirty and filled with peasants who all smoke and stare at us. We were warned that pick-pockets are bad on these buses. It was a short ride into town and we caught the nicer bus for the 45 minute ride to Shaoyang. We bought a sack of fruit and some snacks and boarded a 12:30 p.m. all-night train to Zhumadian. We did not arrive until 3:30 a.m. a 15-hour train ride. We had the cabin to ourselves but it was a hard sleeper so there were no doors to the cabin and people walked up and down the aisles all the time and it was noisy. In spite of this, we still slept.

Ron asked the worker to reserve a hotel room at Zhumadian for us since we were arriving in the middle of the night and we really needed showers. Instead, he showed up at the train station at 3:30 and said he reserved a room for us in Biyang, the city where Mama Jo's is located. It was a 3-hour ride in his van to Biyang. We got our showers and changed clothes for the first time in almost three days. We went down for the free breakfast but it was not ready before the worker picked us up to go to Mama Jo's.

We spent the morning at Mama Jo's going over the facility, making a check list of what needs to be done there to improve the conditions. The children came home for lunch about 12:30 p.m. so we spent time taking pictures and talking with as many of them as were willing. After they went back to school, the two workers took us to eat at a restaurant in Biyang.
We were afraid of bacteria in the food at Mama Jo's because it is certainly unsanitary by our standards and Americans will get what Ron calls "Chairman Mao's Revenge." They drove the three hours back to Zhumadian for us to catch a 7:30 p.m. night train

A worker went into Biyang and bought our train tickets and got sleepers in different cabins for us. Ron and I intended to switch cabins depending on if there was a lady in one of the cabins so I would not be alone with men. At the train station, the train officials gave us first class treatment (because we are Americans and elderly) and let us go ahead of others in the car. They put Ron in the same cabin with me on the top bunk. I was very grateful since there was only a middle-aged man in this cabin. If it had been a hard sleeper section without a door, I would not have minded so much but there was no way I was staying in this cabin alone with a stranger.

We arrived in Beijing at 7:30 this morning. I don't think it matters what your originating city or destination is, the train is still going to take at least 12 hours. They stop at every station for passengers to embark and load and sometimes sit on the track a long time to allow other passenger trains to pass so they can switch tracks. It is a relatively smooth ride. I'm beginning to feel that the night ttain is my home but the apartment in Beijing really looked good to us this morning.

The weather was good at all of the cities this week with warm days above 50 degrees. But, there is a strong wind in Beijing today and it is 27 degrees this afternnon, which feels about 12 with the wind chill factor. Ron went to the bank to transfer funds to a worker and did a little grocery shopping for us. He came in so bundled up he looked like he had just arrived from Siberia.

We have a few days to catch up with our work and rest. Sunday night, we will take our over night train to Xi'an, the city where Ha Ha and Dan Dan live. Our workers, Paul and Jackie also live there. From Xi'an, we will travel to Dr. Joshua's hometown and spend one day with him before returning to Beijing later next week.

We are getting all of the nothern visits made before the heavier winter weather arrives.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Trip to Yibin

This past week has been so full of things to write about, I will try not to bore you with too many details. Last Sunday, after our family meeting, three couples went to lunch together and had a great time getting acquainted. We returned to the apartment and had our second family meeting with two additional couples, both Chinese. After they left, we finished our packing and headed to the subway station to fly to Chengdu. It was a long walk to the subway with our bags but a very nice young man took my bag as he was going to the subway himself. He made sure we knew when to change lines to head to the airport. We did not get into Chengdu until nearly midnight. On Monday, Ron met with the government for the last time to make a final decision concerning the building of an orphanage in that city. There were too many problems with this government so he decided to forget that location. We traveled that afternoon by bus to Yibin, about three hours away.

The countryside was very interesting as we saw many houses along the way with people living in the same lifestyle we find many of the orphans. I especially enjoyed seeing the vegetation. As we got closer to Yibin, we got into rolling hills and saw more and more rich garden plots planted on every hillside, slope and even the roadside right-of-way. No small area of land is wasted.

The climate is mild in this area so vegetables are growing beautifully. There were many kinds of greens, cabbages, onions, leeks, and many other winter vegetables covering the hillsides. People were working the land so there were no weeds to be seen. We began to see more and more rice paddies and the hillsides terraced and irrigated for the rice crops.

In Yibin, we met Teresa, the sister of a dear friend of ours we knew when we lived in Montreal, Quebec. Ron taught English to Teresa's sister, Julie, while we worked with Chinese students in Montreal about 10 years ago. We were very close to Julie but never dreamed we would ever get to meet her family. Her parents had us for dinner one night and went to a lot of trouble and expense preparing a special meal for us.

Teresa works for the government so she set up meetings for Ron with the important people and they began to show us sites available for an orphanage. They had a big dinner for us one night. We saw several abandoned school buildings but all were too far gone to rebuild. The land mass was not sufficent to construct a new building. One had no road to the building and we had to walk a narrow, muddy path through the rice paddies to get to the location. Another one had a rocky, rough road for several miles and only a four-wheel vehicle can travel on it. A third building was an abandoned technical school on top of a mountain and had no road access. I did not see this one, but Ron said there were several hundred steps to take to get up to that building. These factors alone ruled out these locations even if the buildings had possibilities.

At the government dinner, I must confess that I ate fried bees. Ron was insistant so to be a good sport, I tried one. It was actually quite good and when he said I could not say I had eaten bees with only one bite so I ate the second one. I did refuse blood pudding, but everything else at the dinner was vey delicious.

Jacob, our construction superintendant was with us all week. He will remain in Yibin to continue to search for a location and see if we can finalize things with the government to build the orphanage there. Jacob is truly a gentleman. He made sure we had everything we needed and took care of us in the finest way. Jacob did the remodeling for NCCC and built the new building for us at Wesley's House. Jacob's brother, Luke, is the director of Neil Taylor Christian Care Center in Rongshui.

The city of Yibin is considered a small city with a population of 5 million. There are narrow streets going in every direction with shops, stores, businesses of all kinds along the way. No one drives in their lane so horns are honking and people are everywhere. There are motor bikes, three wheel carts (bicycle up front) with a two-seater cart behind to ride passengers or carry things. The sidewalks are full of people walking so the streets are noisy and busy all of the time. There are many high-rise apartment buildings surrounding the city where people live.

On Thursday morning, (Thanksgiving Day in China) we walked to an area of the city where two rives come together to form the Yantzee River. It was a beautiful location and people were there enjoying the sun and flying kites. Afterwards, we ate noodles for lunch. Teresa said Yibin has the best noodles in China. Ron told her that every Chinese person says their city has the best noodles. She smiled with her cute dimples sparkling in the sun and said, "Yibin noodles best in the world."

On Friday, Teresa and her family rented a van and driver and took us to see the Bamboo Sea (forest). It was a delightful trip about an hour's drive outside of Yibin. The entire mountain is covered with bamboo. We wound up and around the mountain for many miles. It's height would be equivalent to being in the Smokie Mountains. There were trails, waterfalls, a museum and many things to see in this beautiful park. There are many kinds of bamboo and they make everything imaginable from bamboo. We saw many roadside gift stands and several small villages in this huge mountain area. Huge ferns grew on the hillsides overlapping each other and creating a beautiful effect along the roadways. A beautiful Chinese girl got in the van, dressed in native costume, and served as our tour guide.

We ate lunch at a restaurant in the park also. It was delicious food but you can't have a queazy stomach and eat really traditional Chinese food. There was a hot pot in the center of the table and many side dishes of bamboo, mushrooms, sausage and vegetables. As they stirred the hot pot a black chicken foot popped up to the top. I just kept enjoying my meal and was almost full when someone put the rooster comb in my bowl. They said it is delicious but I was not able to do anything but take their word for it. I was very pleased that I had finished my meal before I was given this special treat!

Teresa's English teacher, Tiger, took time out from his classes and served as our translator all week. He is a very nice young man and seemed to enjoy practicing his English with Americans.

We left Yibin Saturday morning and returned to the apartment in Beijing late Saturday afternoon. Our plane was two hours late leaving Yibin. We have washed our clothes and repacked our bags to leave again tomorrow night (Sunday night). We will take an all-night train with a soft sleeper to Chengsha arriving early Monday morning. From there, we will take a 3-hour bus ride to Longhui to visit the North Canton Christian Care Center. We will stay a couple of days and head to Biyang to visit Mama Jo's House orphanage. We will return to Beijing late in the week.

We wanted to cover both of these orphanages in the north this week while the weather is mild. It will get colder in the weeks to come.

I will post again next weekend and tell you about our visits to the two orphanages.