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.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Christmas in Beijing - November 21, 2008

Ron and I laughed today when we were in a Japanese department store. There were Christmas trees, wreaths, White Christmas playing over the intercom and a TV had a Christmas movie (the one with Martin Short). Although this was a Japanese store, all the clerks were Chinese (dressed in dark blue pants suits looking like flight attendants). To make the scene complete, large posters on the walls of the store had American models. Outside the store on the sidewalk, a very tall artificial Christmas tree was colorfully decorated. It will be interesting to see what other Christmas scenes come alive in the next month.

Shopping for groceries is truly fun in a foreign country. The basement floor of the Japanese department store is a grocery store. Everything looked good - packaged beautifully, arranged like pictures in a magazine and clearly marked with prices. There's everything imaginable in this store (and about half of the things are unimaginable and unidentifiable). Every kind of weird sea life is displayed. A wide variety of dried beans, nuts and dried fruits can be purchased in open bins.

We didn't buy much because we will leave for Yibin, Sichuan Province on Monday. The contract was never signed for the property where we hoped to build the Jackson Family Foundation orphanage. Yibin may be a better location anyway, so we will go meet with the government officials in that city to see if they have an interest in having an orphanage built there. One of our dearest Chinese friends in Montreal, Julie, is from Yibin. She still lives in Montreal and keeps in touch with us. Her sister will meet us in Yibin, get a hotel for us and help us. Julie said her sister's English is not very good but she can get by enough to help us out.

It is good to have a contact in cities because it is helpful in many ways. Foreigners are only permitted to stay in certain hotels (*** or better hotels, which suits me just fine).

One important thing to remember when coming to China is to use the bathroom in your hotel or apartment before you go anywhere. Public restrooms are so bad! There's only an open hole in the floor and the floor is always so wet you can slide down. The odor is so bad you want to hold your nose but you can't handle your clothing in a squatting postion and hold your nose at the same time!

There are strange odors in China. Many markets have a distinctive odor that may be from dried fish or shrimp. I have never truly identified the smell. I did not detect, however, any odor in the Japanese market in spite of the large variety of seafood and other things. I notice odors I cannot identify in hotel lobbies, hallways of the apartment building or just walking along the street. I think it is coming from various foods much as you would smell the strong curry scent if you were in India.

I told Ron that in about one year a foreigner would know their way around and be able to blend in with life and customs in this city. People are the same all over the world. We all need the same things in life. Most people want to be helpful and are very polite. There is little fear living here even if we do stand out because of our appearance and cannot speak the language. The Chinese call America "beautiful country" but there's beauty everywhere because HE made it all!
With Thanksgiving coming in the U.S., there's much to be thankful for no matter where we live. We are so very blessed!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Phone conversation with Tu Ting Ting

Many of you already know Tu Ting Ting, as she is the first heart patient we brought to the U.S. for surgery three years ago. She is 22 now. She has been attending a technical school since she returned to China. Members at Peachtree City have supported her. This is her last year and she is on-the-job training. She's working at a factory but does not like her job very much. The first job the school sent her to did not work out because they saw she had suffered with heart disease and were afraid to hire her. She is perfectly healthy now but they said they thought they heard something unusual with her heart.

She lives at the factory where she works. It is a four-hour trip from Shanghai. We will try to meet up with her on our way back through Shanghai. She was hoping to see us.

Ron spoke Chinese to Ting Ting and she understood. He said she was almost crying as she talked with him. I spoke with her briefly so she could hear my voice even if she could not understand me. I asked her "Can we go shopping?" and she started laughing and saying: "shopping, shopping."

Ya Ning asked her some questions and talked with her a while. She told Ya Ning that she needs to go back to the school in July to get her certificate of completion. She mentioned possibly working at one of our orphanages. We will discuss the possibility with the directors at North Canton Care Center to see if they would be willing for her to come work with them. It would not be a long distance to the home of her uncle and aunt so I think she would like it there. I believe she would be good working with the children since she is an orphan. She is a very sweet, compassionate girl anyway. It was so good to get to talk with her.

Tu Ting Ting is on the phone now with Ya Ning. She said her aunt and uncle wanted to invite us to visit them during Spring Festival (Chinese New Year). That is at the end of January and we do not know our plans that far in advance. If David and Ya Ning do not get back well in advance of Chinese New Year, they will not be able to get train or plane tickets during that time. It could be a problem for us as well because we need to be in Beijing every Sunday. We are grateful for Ting Ting's relatives' invitation but we do not know if that would work out. It would really be great if it worked out for us to go.

Life in Beijing both simple and complicated

Thursday morning in China.
Ron and I are waking early just as we do in the U.S. I think you call the reason "old age." I hit the bed very early last night because I'm not used to all of the walking. We met Ken (a retired Abilene professor who is 75) and his wife, Vivian (Chinese businesswoman about 45) for lunch yesterday. They are a delightful couple with a 2-l/2 year old son. They will be returning to Texas next week and not return to Beijing until after Chinese New Year. We hate to see them leave but it was nice to get to meet them. They have been very helpful to David and Ya Ning in their work here.

Ron and I brought a sum of money from the U.S. in travelers checks to deposit in the Bank of China here rather than wire the money through the Bank of China in New York. The funds are transferred to the various workers for their use. I took a nap on Tuesday while Ron went to a branch close to the apartment and deposited the checks in his name. We stopped at a different branch yesterday for me to sign the checks in my name. This bank teller would not deposit all of mine without some kind of contract so we have to go to another branch today to finish the transfer of funds.

We took a taxi to the largest electronic store in Beijing. For Americans, it would seem gigantic. It's like a 3 or 4 story department store with booths side by side on every floor. They are independant businesses and much of the merchandise is the same. It is like a large flea market in the U.S. with consignments booths. Everyone "bargains" for the price in China (a practice I am certainly not good at). Ya Ning enjoys it and takes care of everything. Ron will have to use his skills at bargaining after today. I was about as knowledgeable in this store as I am in Home Depot. So much stuff and nothing that I need!! We bought a printer. David and Ya Ning did not have one and there are times they need one also.

David said we would come back by the subway since it was close by the electronic store. We had to made transfers on three or four different lines and each time we changed trains, there was a long walk and many steps (either up or down). After we got to the end of the line where we got off, we had a 20-minute walk to the apartment. I think we must have walked at least 10 miles and went up and down no less than 500 steps. I was really tired last night, not being used to this much walking in one day.

They say a store is nearby but to us in America, it would not be considered nearby. It all depends on where you live and how you look at the whole picture. Where we have an interstate highway (I-285) circling the city of Atlanta, Beijing has five bands of these highways circling Beijing. That's how large this city is so when you say something is nearby, it is relative to the big picture. Getting somewhere is not simple or easy.

Life is less complicated in China because we live simplier lives just as we did in the Caribbean islands. We live with very little, only buying things really needed. In America, we hoard up enough for several families and keep on buying more or seeing more that we think we need. All of the time we have lived outside of the U.S. it has been refreshing to live simpler lives, uncomplicated with so much "stuff." If you have to walk 10 miles to bring something home, you stop and think, "do I really need this that badly?"

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cold weather in Beijing

Beijing is windy and cold. It is about 18-20 degrees each morning and the wind chill factor makes it feel about zero. It warmed up to about 40 yesterday but the wind kept it from feeling that warm.

The apartment is very warm and cozy so we only feel the cold when we go outside.

Last night we went to a restaurant close to the apartment and had dinner with a young Chinese man who is a member of the church. His name is Archer and he is a patent expert with his company. His girl friend had to work late so she could not join us. She works with trademarks. They used to be co-workers in these related fields. He spoke good English and helps with translation in the Chinese group.

Today, we have an appointment to have lunch with a couple, members of the Sunday morning group. Then we will go to the hotel where we hold services on Sunday to meet the manager. We will go by the bank and complete the process for our bank account.

It not a tough schedule but David and Ya Ning are filling us in on a lot of things. They will show us where the markets are located. All of this is important for an easy transition.

When we begin traveling to the orphanages, I will not have as much time to write trivial stuff and we will have more pictures of the children and the workers to post of this site.

Thank you once again for your prayers.

34 Hours to Beijing

We left Atlanta at 10 a.m. Sunday. The flight was very smooth and the landing was the smoothest ever. We were able to upgrade our buddy passes (donated by Mike Elliott) to first class. We didn't get seats together but the spacious seats and excellent service made the trip very pleasant. For those of you who have never flown to China, the flight goes over western Canada, the Northwest Territories and crosses into Russia before heading into China. The distance from Atlanta to Shanghai was approx. 7,000 miles. After we got over China, we had a tail wind of 175miles per hour part of the time and the aircraft was traveling at a ground speed of 600 mph.

We cleared customs and immigrations quickly in Shanghai and took the high speed train for 30 minutes to the end of the line. This train traveled at 480 km per hour. The train was so smooth, it was hard to believe we were traveling that fast but if you looked out the window, cars we passed along the highway looked as if they were standing still. From the high speed train, we took a taxi for about 10 miles to the train station for Beijing. Young people in the airport and train stations, and even young policemen standing around, graciously helped us with our bags. None of these would take a tip. The elderly are still respected greatly by the younger people. Others with carts to help passengers wanted high prices because they saw Americans who they consider very wealthy. They didn't know we are just poor missionaries.

When we arrived at the last train station, Ron left me with the bags and went across the street to find our part-time worker who was supposed to meet him at Kentucky Fried to get our train tickets. Unless tickets are purchased early, sleeper cabins are not available. Ron found that there were several Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants all along that block but they finally found each other.

At the train station, a young man driving a cart with bags to the various trains, gave me and an elderly Chinese lady a ride while Ron walked to the train. It was a wild ride along railroad tracks with him driving dangerously fast and close to the edges of the tracks. He had some difficulty finding the right train. He drove from one track to another and stopped and phoned several times. Finally, I saw Ron approaching the train and knew we were finally in the right location. The young man helped take our bags to the sleeper cabin and we settled into the bottom beds. A young Chinese lawyer occupied the top bed over Ron. She spoke excellent English and was very interested in our work. The beds were so good after the long plane ride in reclining seats. They had starched sheets and a good comforter so Ron and I were asleep by 9:00 p.m. I awoke about 5 a.m. and watched daylight come as I saw the train passing factories, villages, cities, nuclear power plants and a prison.

The train was very quiet and smooth but traveled at a speed of about 50 miles or less per hour. It took 11 hours from Shanghai to Beijing. It cost about $70 per person, much cheaper than an airline ticket. If we had flown, we would have gotten to Beijing well after midnight. It was better for David and Ya Ning to meet us at the train station at 8:00 a.m.

We have registered with the police station today, which is a requirement for all foreigners. We must keep our passports and permission to live here with us at all times.

We do not feel unsafe walking the streets or living in China. People stare at Americans but most will flash a big smile if I smile first. I took a nice nap this afternoon while they went with Ron to the bank to set up an account. The jet lag is not bad coming to China; for some reason it is going back home that takes a toll on your strength.

David and Ya Ning will show us around the area in the next day or two before they leave for the U.S. Tonight we are having dinner with some of the church members to get to know them.

Arrived in Beijing

After about 36 hours, we arrived in Beijing. All connections with trains were made and everything went smoothly. It is just a long way to China!