Sunday, January 25, 2009

Wow! What a New Year's Eve!

We wish all of our Chinese friends in China, the U.S. and Canada, a very HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR!

Today is New Year's Eve in China. Since only Archer and Wendy from our Chinese group were in town, we had our family meeting at our apartment early. They had a train to catch at noon to go visit Wendy's family for New Year's holidays.

Kee Willis, a young university student from Texas, has been staying with us this week. He went with us to a restaurant next door to our apartment for lunch. The menu had pictures but no English so selection was a bit of a guess. We had fried corn, which I've had somewhere before. It's battered and fried and sliced into pizza size wedges. Kee selected a pork and celery dish. Ron chose a green vegetable (they have many kinds of greens in China), some fried patties that ended up to be thin slices of beef that was battered and fried. Ron also ordered some finger shaped pastries that had a cream filling. This meal cost about $23 but we brought the left-overs home and there was plenty for our dinner tonight. It was not quite as good heated in the microwave, but still better than my cooking.

Since I have not been outside the apartment in three weeks, except to go to the family meeting last Sunday, I wanted to go shopping this afternoon. After some research on the computer, I located several shopping centers that might carry Northface jackets.

We got off the subway and went immediately into a huge shopping center underground. We literally walked from floor to floor in and around shops for the next three hours without locating any Northface jackets. We found everything else but looking for something specific was like looking for a needle in a hay stack. We went to two large department stores in the same area where they carry every brand of clothing imaginable (that is, except Northface jackets)! These were very expensive stores but were still crowded with shoppers. It seems that the economy has not hurt people in Beijing. They were out shopping in droves.

We checked out a large bookstore because I wanted to buy a book to read on the plane going home. I refused to buy any because the prices were almost twice as high as in the U.S. Ron said it's because books in English are exported and they have to pay duty on them.

Stores will be closed for the next couple of days because of the holidays, but we will try another area about middle of the week and see if we have any better luck finding specific things we were looking for today. We may have to go to the Silk Road Market, where we found the jackets last time. The Silk Road is an outside market with booths lined up down an alleyway. I was not certain they are open this week with the extremely cold weather and strong wind. It was still cold and windy today, although it has moderated a little since earlier in the week when it was 10 degrees F. and winds were from the North at 25-35 mph. Today, it was about 35 F. with winds 5-10 mph.

When we got off the subway, we stopped at a bakery that Ron has threatened to go in ever since we arrived in Beijing. We bought a loaf of bread for making toast and he selected some small tarts that had a custard filling. Kee and I made ourselves a cup of coffee and we enjoyed them as soon as we got home.

Once it got dark tonight, fireworks started. We have been standing at our bedroom windows looking out at fireworks for the past two hours. It is unbelievable but it's like a panoramic view of continuous fireworks. We are on the 12th floor overlooking a main street and the fireworks are being shot from the street below us and from rooftops of other buildings all around us. You can't get much closer than our window view because we could almost reach out and touch them. It is hard to do anything else when you can stand by the window and have them bursting at our window level right in front of our eyes. It's been non-stop all around us so anywhere you look, you see beautiful fireworks. It's been a fabulous sight. Ron said it makes our 4th of July celebrations look sick. These are not more beautiful. In fact, they may not be quiet as pretty, but the fact that they are so close to us and the explosions are continuous had made it spectacular. There are also just noisy firecrackers going off all the time. It is such a loud noise, it is setting off burglar alarms of parked cars all around us. They are setting fireworks off in the middle of our street right in front of Happy Inn International Hotel. Cars have to drive very cautiously in and around them in the street. They are braver than I would be to be out driving tonight. We don't know if the fireworks will continue on past midnight and beyond or not. They have not slowed down for the past three hours. This is probably going on all over the city and if you could only know how large Beijing is, you would realize that they have spent a very large amount of money for fireworks this evening. If they go all night, we will not get to sleep.

Tonight, Ron has received computer New Year cards, phone calls and text messages from nearly everyone in our Chinese group. People have been so accepting and appreciative of us making the trip to China for them. They can't believe someone our age can do so much traveling and continually work like we do, but they see our compassion for helping others and for saving souls.

Since I have no important news to report, I'll tell you a little about my cooking in China. We have no problem finding every kind of vegetable you can imagine (except yellow squash, maybe). The vegetables are fresher and larger than what we find in the U.S. Leaks are slender but about two feet tall. I've never seen them grow so tall. Celery is the same way. I have to cut the bunches in half to get them in the vegetable bin. Many kinds of fresh mushrooms are available in all markets. Ron said they grow more mushrooms in China than in any country of the world. We have gotten good fish, pork and chicken. The Japanese food market has every kind of seafood (fresh and frozen). Everything is displayed to look good and there is no odor whatsoever in the market. I don't know how they manage that with all of the fresh seafood. None of the food is as expensive as in the U.S. but we buy only a little at a time because we have a small refridgerator and we have to carry everything, including the water we drink.

I boil water to wash vegetable and cook with because the water from the faucet is probably not safe for drinking. We have not gotten sick the entire time we've been here so most restaurants are safe. We warned Kee not to eat food cooked and sold on the streets. Some of it looks and smells delicious but not safe (bacteria-wise) for Americans.

It's been a challenge to cook with so few kitchen items. I would have bought more, but we have traveled so often, we have had little time to eat here. I asked Ya Ning how she cooks with so few pans. I found out she doesn't cook much. They sleep late each morning, get showers and go eat an early lunch out. They bring the leftovers home for their dinner. It's just as cheap to do this as it is to cook in, but probably not as healthy. Ron thinks he has blown his healthy diet while in China. We have had so many government dinners and eating out during our many travels, so we try to cook here as much as we can. I have one wok, one two-quart boiler with cover, a tea pot, a chopping cleaver and chopsticks. And a microwave, which I would definitely be lost without. I bought a small fry pan so I can cook a few pieces of fish or use to toast bread for breakfast (Texas style toast, literally). I bought a small boiler for Ron to use to cook his oats. We have three cups, a few plates, a few bowls and that's it! It's been a challenge to say the least, but we have had some very good meals.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Joint Venture with Charity Foundation in Beijing

Since arriving in Beijing, Ron has been meeting with and checking out charity foundations to find one that will cooperate with us for fund-raising in China. In order to establish our own foundation in China that would allow us to collect funds here, the requirements would include having a lot of cash on hand in a bank account. Ron has narrowed down the search to China Association of Social Workers, a foundation that has a good reputation for honesty and are willing to form an agreement with us so we can use their name. They will require a small fee for use of their foundation. We will still have full use of the funds in whatever manner we desire, once the fee has been paid to them. Our attorney in Beijing is working on the contractual agreement between the Charity Foundation and Agape.

As you may recall from a previous segment, Toyota gave our orphanage at Wesley's House in Pingguo a truckload of shoes, clothing and books for our children. At the Toyota Christmas party dinner we attended, they gave large sums of money to two different groups helping poor children. It is companies like this that would be willing to donate to our work in China. We have contact with a businessman in Beijing who reports that many companies are willing to help serve the poor but they don't know which organizations they can trust. They don't take the time to research the various charities to see which ones are reputable so they don't give to any. We will have many people who will give leads for us.

In conjunction with this new approach to fund-raising, Ron has hired a 40-year old Chinese man named Leo in Wuhan to work full-time raising funds for Agape. Leo is a Christian. He has been working the last few months in Sichuan doing earthquake relief work. Ron will fly to Wuhan tomorrow to meet with Leo to give him the parameters of his job description and discuss how he is to go about doing the work.

For several years, Ron has been concerned about the future of China Mission. The work has a good foundation in China but without Ron doing fund-raising, the work would end quickly. Dr. Joshua, our PHd physician, is head of all operations in China and will assume complete oversight of the work in years to come.

At our age, we know our productive years are coming to a close. If God grants us a few more years of good health, we hope things are in place for the work to continue. We request your prayers for our work and for us.

I will continue to add to the blog after we go back to the U.S. for those who want to keep up with the progress of our work. I will not report as often as I have from China but when events happen, I will write up a segment. Check it from time-to-time if you are interested.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ron reached agreement with another heart hospital

On Ron's recent trip to Changde, he met with two hospitals. You can see the welcome banner they put up outside the hospital in the background. This is an excellent hospital and does both heart surgeries and cleft palate surgeries. It is the one that has a contract with Smile Train to do cleft palate surgeries but they said they did not do any for Smile Train this past year. Ron will find out if Smile Train will allow them to use this hospital this summer for the next medical mission. If not, there is another hospital that is available in Changde, but it's smaller and not as well equipped as this hospital.

Ron was invited to come check out these hospitals by Lilly, a nurse who worked about three years ago at our cleft palate medical mission. Her husband is a brain surgeon and they are wonderful people. They are on the right in the picture with their son to their left. Their son will go to the U.S. to study and become a doctor. The girl in the brown coat, seated next to Ron in the photograph, is also a nurse who worked at the last medical mission. She plans to go to the U.S. to study to be a RN. Lilly and her husband have formed this first congregation of the Lord's people that we know of in that city.

Ron worked out an arrangement with this hospital where they will do heart surgeries for us at a very reasonable cost. They said there are many poor children in this area with congential heart disease. Jackie, our worker in Xi'an over the medical program, will make a trip and check out potential children and schedule surgeries.

It was a very profitable trip. Not only do we save children's lives; we also develop goodwill with the government in another area of China that gives more credibility to our work. This has been the foundation of our goal all along - to serve mankind as Christ would have us do and prepare the field to spread the Gospel. More and more we see the trust developing as we serve the poor and orphaned children in China.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Two more weeks in China

David and Ya Ning are scheduled to arrive in Beijing January 28 or 29, depending on their flight from Shanghai. We have tickets to fly to Shanghai the morning of February 1. If seats are available on Delta, we will leave that afternoon for the U.S.

An e-mail from Dr. Joshua informed me that from looking at the pictures, Ha Ha's burn on his leg is first degree burns and will heal without leaving scars. Ha Ha's mother's leg is much worse and is probably a second degree burn. He told Jackie, one of our workers, what to do to care for them. Continue to pray for their wounds to heal without infection. Ha Ha's mother had put a hot water bottle in bed with them to keep them warm, but it burst because of the extremely hot water.

Our meeting with the Chinese was bitter sweet today. Some of the young people had already left the city to go home for Chinese New Year holidays. Others are leaving this week. Only one couple will be here next Sunday, but they will leave by train about noon that day. We will have an early Sunday morning service with them at our apartment before they leave. It was hard to tell these new friends goodbye. Jason was well enough from his surgery to attend today. He and his family will also leave this week to return to his home to visit family members.

Thursday and Friday were peak travel days. CCTV said 180,000 left on Thursday by train from just one of the stations. Although they added more trains, tickets are completely sold out for each train. With so many leaving the city, it seems the city would be empty, but I guess an equal amount of people arrive in Beijing to celebrate holidays here with families.

We will have a young man from the U.S. arriving on Tuesday to stay with us a few days. He is coming here to study at one of the universities. He has another place to stay with some other international students but can't get in the apartment for another week. We have an extra bedroom so the timing will work out fine for us to help him out. Christians should always help each other whenever there's an opportunity and we are happy to help Kee and give him a little of our experience about Beijing that might be helpful.

Travels are completed for us. For the two weeks remaining,, Ron will work on e-mails and we will do a little shopping. Today, the weather was very mild but another cold front is coming in on Wednesday.

We are grateful for those who have followed my blog and been interested in our trip. Please pray for the Langleys and us having safe return trips. I appreciate those who made comments on my blog, the many e-mails we recieved and we are especially grateful for your prayers

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Contract signed in Zigong for new orphanage

Ron arrived home a very tired but happy man. The people who came to Yibin looking for Ron last week are also very happy. They have four different locations available and those sites are still being evaluated to narrow it down to the best for our purposes. The location is north of Yibin. Jacob, our construction superintendent, will do all the work to find an architect, get soil borings and whatever else is needed in the preliminary stage before construction can begin. Jacob's wife and little son live at Wesley's House until he can settle in enough for them to move there to be with him. Jacob and his wife would really like to be the directors of this orphanage when it is ready to open.

The government officials had already scheduled a trip for Ron to see the dinosaur museum. He said it is fantastic and you cannot imagine the size of the skeletons. They unearthed the skeletons and built the museum around them. There are also petrified turtles and crocodiles there. They said this area used to be a lake and it is believed a big flood killed all of the animals. They do not know how many more bones are in the area, believing a lot of them washed down to this area during the flood.

They also took him by the salt mine, for which this
is well-known. They go down something like 8,000 feet to bring up the salt. In addition to a big dinner and lunch, they paid for his five-star hotel and furnished him a driver for the three hour ride to the airport at Chongqing, which is the third largest city in China. So many of these cities are unknown by Americans even through they are very large and famous with history. Ron has traveled to many cities that most Chinese people have never visited and do not even know.

I will close this segment with relief. After six months of searching and negotiations, we have finally settled on where to build the Jackson Family Foundation Christian Care Center!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ron just left for Changsha

Ron was fortunate to get a soft sleeper on the train to Changsha tonight. Travel for Chinese New Year has begun. They have added more trains to the schedule and some were added just for students going home. CCTV reported in the news that Thursday will be the biggest travel day and trains, buses and airports are already packed. Ron will experience the crowds like we've never seen before.

A hospital official will pick him up when he arrives and drive him to Chengde, a few hours away. He will tour one hospital on Wednesday to see if it's suitable for the next medical mission. The second hospital has an on-going contract with Smile Train to do cleft palate surgeries so we cannot use that one. However, they state that they have state-of-the art heart surgery abilities and there are many patients in their area that need surgery. They are willing to work with us in some way to complete those surgeries. Ron will meet with them on Thursday to find out more about their hospital and see if we could work with them on some basis. On Friday, he will visit hotels in the area to see which one will give us a good deal for our medical team if we decide to use the hospital there for the next medical mission.

Saturday, Ron will fly to Zigong to attempt the last signing of a contract in Sichuan to build the Jackson Family Foundation orphanage. I say "attempt" because three different governments in that area have failed to work things out for us. We are hoping this one will be different. Ron will fly home Saturday night.

It will be a busy but hard week for Ron. It's not easy to stay here without him because I don't have enough to do. I am recuperating from a recent illness. I have been fighting a sinus/bronchitis infection for almost three weeks. I did not feel like going with Ron on this trip. He didn't want to leave me at home, but there's nothing he can do for me. I am not strong enough to fight the difficult schedule.
I am still coughing, but it is getting less day-by-day. The congestion in my chest is breaking up. The cough medicine must have codine in it because not only does it make me drousy, it has also upset my stomch. I've taken a sleeping pill the last three nights to get a little sleep. I've never taken sleeping pills, so they give me a hang-over the next day. Often, I find medications cause more problems than they are worth. I just could not win with this infection no matter what I tried. I'm resting a lot and napping some during the day. A few more days and I should be over this bout. Ron's hoping I will be well when he gets home.

We have two weeks remainding after this week. Next week, a young man from Texas (I think) will stay with us for a few days. He's found a place to live, but can't move in until the first of the month. We have space and will be happy to accommodate him.

Ron and I plan to make a few trips to shopping centers in the next two weeks. We have not had time to do any "looking around." I still have not had my Beijing Duck meal at the restaurant either.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Things are always changing

In regard to Ron trying to sign a contract in Yibin for an orphanage, the day he left to return home, a man drove in there from Zigong, just north of Yibin to meet Ron. He met with Jacob, our worker, and said they have several good plots of land and would be very happy for us to build an orphanage there. What a change of thinking from the people in Yibin! They came to find us to build an orphanage.

Jacob has continued to pursue the offer and see if it's suitable. Today. Jacob said they will sign a contract as soon as Ron can come to sign it. Ron tried to get them to FAX it to him, let him sign it and send it back but that's not official in China and they insist he must come there. Ron is traveling tomorrow to Chengsha to visit a hospital to check it out for the next cleft palate medical mission. If he can get tickets, he will go from there to Chongquing and Jacob will pick him up and drive him the rest of the way to Zigong.

Reading on the internet about Zigong, it is in the Province of Sichuan but outside of the area where the earthquake occurred. It has a dynasour museum, having many fossels in that area and perhaps one complete skeletin. It's also known as the salt capital with an ancient history of processing salt. They have big lantern festivals there during Spring Festival. The county population is four million. It has subtropic weather without cold winters. I really like that for the children so they don't have to spend cold winters. It probably gets hot in the summer but that usually does not bother children very much.

If this location works out, I'll confirm it on another post and tell more about the location.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Blankets are being distributed to earthquake victims

As I write this, the workers may be distributing the blankets that so many of you contributed to for the earthquake victims. I hope to get some pictures from them as they work their way through the tent cities to provide needed cover to these people.

We had some delay in getting this done because there were no blankets to be purchased in this area. Our worker contracted with a manufacturing firm to make blankets for us but they ran out of material and had to order more. I don't know the exact total of blankets ready to be distibuted but we collected almost $10,000 U.S. for this project.

Thank you so much for your tender hearts and concern for the poor people who are cold and suffering, still living in tents. Ron visited the factory and said the blankets are very thick, warm and of good quality.
I don't know if I should tell you this or not but Ron visited one government office and saw thousands of army blankets stacked up and not being used. We wonder why they could not have been distributed to these victims but it's probably because of one of two reasons:

1) Regulations forbid the use of army supplies to be used by civilians, or

2) They simply don't care for their suffering people.

Based on their concern for the poor orphan children, I feel that the second reason is probably the answer.

When I return home the first of February, I will send each person who donated to the quilt fund, a thank you card and some of the pictures. We are very grateful for your quick and generous response.

Negotiations in Yibin fell through

After weeks and weeks of negotiating with government officials in Chengsha, Yibin and a village located about an hour from Yibin on the way to Yongshan, Ron has scrapped plans to build the Jackson Family Foundation in the province of Sichuan. Each time they came close to signing an agreement they would decide they needed more proof of our work in other areas and further discussions. Ron supplied everything they needed and they got references from government officials in other areas. Ron returned to each of these cities with the hope of finalizing any remaining questions they might have and then get a contract signed. Getting approval to do anything in China is like the President of the U.S. getting something passed in congress. No matter how good the program may be, there's much negotiation, compromise and changes that need to be made, but if there are people against it, there will be unresolved problems. It just seems that it was not meant to be for us to build in Sichuan. One by one, these three areas turned us down. With government officials this suspicious and uncooperative, we don't know what the future relationship with them would be like anyway.

They seem to be "old time," compared to progressive, officials wanting to hold on to their control and suspicious of anyone who wants to give them something for free. They said that they didn't understand anyone paying this much money and not wanting something in return. They feel that "down the road" we will put some kind of demands on them. The other comment was they are afraid we will sell the orphans. That is an unbelievable statement. Even if we wanted to adopt the children out of China, there is so much red tape to go through to do it, it would be impossible. No one in China wants the poor children so we could not adopt them to Chinese families. They already have more than they can care for and they think we are foolish caring for poor, worthless orphans. They feel that Americans are so wealthy they don't know how to spend the money and throw it away on these wayward, unimportant poor children.

I told Ron one excuse is as good as any other when you simply don't want to do something. It does not have to make sense to anyone and the true reason is usually not known. Underlying everything is usually a selfish motive.

There are so many homeless children in this area due to the earthquake and it made sense to built an orphanage there to care for them. Instead, we will build one in Xi'an where the goverment welcomes us. We can still bring earthquake victims to Xi'an, but it's a further distance.

We believe that if we put forth our best effort to accomplish something and then it fails, that perhaps it's God's will and for the best. We cannot know the future results of where it is best for the orphanage to be be built. We do know that there are still at least a million orphans who need care and no matter when we go, there are children who need us. We must work where we can accomplish the most good without constant interference from the government.

In contrast to the thinking of these officials, there were 20 carloads of government workers from Nanning that drove to Pingguo the day after Christmas to shower the children at Wesley's House with gifts and well-wishes for a happy holiday season. They reported that everything was run well, the children were clean, happy and well-cared for. These are the type of people we need to associate with so we can accomplish the good for the most children. Being turned away in Sichuan may end up being a good thing. I didn't classify this as one of the bad things that happened this week because it might not be. The bad things are in the next segment, unfortunately.

A bad week!

I wish my blog could have been happy and positive all of the time but life is not like that and bad things happen. They say things happen in threes so maybe our week of bad things will be the end of them for the time being.

Ron got word that one of our heart patients at Xijing Hospital died. This is the first patient we have lost at this hospital. It is the second best heart hospital in China and has excellent surgeons. But even the best cannot perform miracles and sometimes cannot save a life. It is sad to lose a child. The parents had high hopes that finally their child had a change to live and now their hopes are dashed to the ground.

We also got the sad news that Ha Ha and his mother have been burned. (Ha Ha is the child we brought to the U.S from April, 2007 to April, 2008 for burn surgeries at Shriners' Hospital in Cincinnati.)

Details are unclear as to how it happened. It seems that some container burst and threw hot water on them. I would be speculating to say she had build an open fire in the floor to keep warm and had a container of hot water on it. Jackie, our worker, said the container is cheap and known to be defective. I asked Ron if it could have been some type of hot water bottle she had filled to warm up the bed but he didn't think that was the case. I made sure the stove in their kitchen is built up and in a separate room off the back porch so he would not likely get burned there. When I have more details of what actually happened, I will update the blog.

There's the danger of infection and gangrene setting in if they are not treated properly. Medical care in the local hospital is poor.

It appears that Ha Ha's mom, like many peasant women, have no common knowledge and without education, she is careless and unaware of the many dangers raising a child. It is such a shame that the little children have to suffer from the ignorance of their parents.

I have fought a bad cough and bronchitis for the past 10 days and it's still not over. I do not have a fever and there's little congestion, but I have a sinus drainage and the coughing is almost non-stop, in spite of using cough drops, cough medicine, chewing sugarless gum and sipping water. I've consumed three gallons of water in just the past five days. Ron took this infection at the same time but he is only occasionally coughing up congestion from his lungs. My coughing is totally unproductive and seems to be more related to my dry throat and dry bronchi due to Sjogren's Syndrome. After a cold, I usually go through this phase.

I have had very little sleep this week, so Ron gave me l/2 of a sleeping pill last night. I've never taken a sleeping pill in my life. I slept seven straight hours but I have a little feeling of drousiness today as a result of the pill or the cough syrup. It is extremely cold with a strong wind blowing so I will not attend the Chinese group meeting today. I'll give my body another week to regain strength.

Someone wrote and asked me if I had anyone to call in an emergency. I have been so miserable, I thought to myself, I would not call anyone in an emergency. I have a better place to go to and the way I feel, it would be a welcome relief. I'm not afraid of dying; I'm mostly afraid of living!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Oh Happy Day!

In spite of cold weather and both of us fighting a week-old sinus infection, we still had a wonderful Sunday. Most of our Chinese group had to work this Sunday. They had January 1, 2 and 3 off for the New Year holidays but had to go to work on Sunday (a six-day work week for them). Only one girl in our group came for the afternoon meeting. She had already told Ron that she was ready to "get fully wet." Ron studied with her for about an hour, then we prepared the bathtub full of water for the "burial." Afterwards, we had communion, sang some songs and studied for another hour. Her English name is Echo. Echo has attended the group with David and Ya Ning and she also attended one of our groups while she lived in Xi'an a year or two ago. She knows many of the people we know in Xi'an. She is quite and shy, but very sweet. She feels comfortable in our presence and is getting close to us.

About 6:30 p.m., two young people who had to work all day came to our apartment. Mable served as translator for "Super" who can speak some English. "Super" said he chose this name because of Superman. After an hours' study, Super also wanted to get "fully wet" so we had our second addition to the Lord's church on Sunday. He had been sprinkled in the Three Self church, a government-approved religious group but he said it has always bothered him feeling that sprinking was not what the Bible commanded. Mable has already been baptized properly so she was in full agreement that he needed to do this. She was very happy to serve as tranlator and help her friend. She took some pictures for Super.

It is interesting how some contacts have made made since we arrived less than two months ago. About two weeks ago, Ron met with a man who runs a charitable company supplying hospital equiment to hospitals. Ron wants to ship some equipment donated by Project Cure and needed someone to clear shipments into China. When Ron met with this man, he and a group of his workers took Ron to dinner at a seafood restaurant. Ron came home saying how surprised he was when they offered a "blessing" before the meal. That is not often done in China.

The next day, one of the girls, Mable, called Ron and said she wanted to meet with him. He met her and had lunch with her, expecting a lot of questions. She just confirmed that she is a Christian and was happy to know him. She said she wanted to meet me too so we invited her the next night to join us at a restaurant for dinner. Last Sunday, she came to our afternoon meeting and brought her roommate, Maggie. Maggie does not speak much English so Mable translated quietly for her. Maggie is interested in learning and had several questions for Ron.

Mable called Saturday and said she and her friend would like to come over. We expected Mable to bring Maggie with her, but it turned out her friend this time was Super, a young man who works with her. Ron spent some time showing them on the computer about our work in China and then had a study with them. I cooked dinner while they were studying. They both had good appetites and said my Chinese cooking was very good.

Super bought us a sack of fruit when he came last night, saying he wanted to give us a gift. He is a very nice young man and left our apartment very happy and thankful for his new life in Christ. We look forward to seeing these wonderful young people at our Sunday group meetings the rest of the time we are in Beijing.

Jason, who recently had surgery, is feeling much better and hopes to be back with us next Sunday. Please pray for these fine young people because they are His great servants in China for future generations.

Friday, January 2, 2009

My Christmas present

Before we left the U.S. Ron said he would get me a Christmas present in China. I told him I didn't need anything but I wanted to go to Beijing Duck Restaurant. We were visiting the orphanages the week of Christmas so we had to put off our dinner until we got back to Beijing. This week, we have both had sinus infections and not felt well. I pulled up information about the Beijing Duck Restaurants on the web so I'm getting myself worked up for this special meal. It was my favorite meal when we ate there four years ago. There's no way I can tell you how good it was so I'm going to copy the internet article. If you are interested, you can read it.

The Quanjude Restaurant, the largest roast duck restaurant in Beijing if not in the world, opened for business in 1979. Located near Hepingmen Gate (Peace Gate), it has a floor space of 15,000 square meters divided into 41 dining halls, including one, which can serve 600 customers simultaneously. The dining halls reserved for overseas guests can accommodate a total of 2,000 diners, and include a hall where all-duck banquets in which all the dishes are made from parts of the duck can be served to 600 people. Filled to capacity, Quanjude Restaurant can serve as many as 5,000 meals a day.

The art of roasting ducks evolved from techniques used to prepare sucking pigs. For more than a century, specialized chefs have developed the idea that the skin of the duck should be so soft and crisp that it melts in the mouth. In applying the traditional method of preparation, the chefs at Quanjude pay particular attention to the quality of the duck, the auxiliary ingredients and the type of wood burned in the oven. Special farms supply plump Beijing ducks weighing an average of 2.5 kilograms each. The two famous Beijing condiment shops, Liubiju and Tianyuan, supply the dark tangy bean sauce spread on the pancakes. The fragrant sesame oil and refined sugar are also specially selected. Finally, only the wood of fruit trees such as date, peach and pear are used in the roasting process to give the meat its unique fragrance.

The preparation of the dish requires a series of complicated steps, which include inflating the unbroken skin like a balloon so that it roasts just right. Quanjude employs chefs who specialize in these techniques, while other chefs prepare the non-duck dishes. Whereas in the past the restaurant's staff numbered no more than 40, it has at present grown to over 1,000. Among them are chefs and managers with records of 40 or 50 years of faithful service.

The slicing of the meat from the carcass of the duck is an art in itself. A skilled chef is able to cut between 100 and 120 slices in four or five minutes, each slice with an equal portion of both skin and meat. Inventiveness is another quality cultivated at Quanjude. One seasoned chef has mastered more than 80 dishes made from the duck's innards, head, wings and webs. A selection of these dishes, whether hot, cold, boiled, fried, stewed or pickled, will be the makings of an all-duck banquet.

The first restaurant to bear the name Quanjude opened in 1864 during the reign of the Qing Emperor Tongzhi. Due to its high standards, the restaurant's fame spread rapidly and for many years the supply of roast ducks could hardly satisfy the demand. For this reason, the restaurant was rebuilt and expanded in 1948. In 1954 a branch (known as Hongbinlou) was opened in West Chang' an Boulevard and another in Wangfujing Street in 1959. These additions, however, still did not solve the problem, and with the opening of the Quanjude at hepingmen in 1979, it was no longer necessary to make a reservation a week in advance to taste Beijing's most famous culinary delight.

The history of the roast duck can be traced back to as early as the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368) when it was listed among the imperial dishes in the Complete Recipes for Dishes and Beverages, written in 1330 by Hu Sihui, an inspector of the imperial kitchen. Details regarding the cooking process were also described in this early cookbook.

In the early 15th century, when the Ming Dynasty capital was shifted from Nanjing to Beijing, roast duck remained one of the famous dishes on imperial court menus. According to the local history, the earliest roast duck restaurant in Beijing was the old Bianyifang Restaurant, which opened during the Jiajing reign (1522-1566). Distinct from the method in which the duck is hung from a hook in the ceiling of the oven and roasted over and roasted over burning wood, the Old Bianyifang Restaurant roasted its ducks with radiant heat. The walls of the oven were first heated with sorghum stalks whereupon the duck was placed inside and cooked by the heat given off by the walls. A duck roasted in this manner is crisp to the touch and golden brown in appearance; its flesh is both tender and tasty.

During the Qianlong period (1736-1796), roast duck was a favorite delicacy of the upper classes. According to Recipes from the Suiyuan Garden, the famous cookbook written by the poet and gourmet Yuan Mei, "Roast duck is prepared by revolving a young duckling on a spit in an oven. The chefs of Inspector Feng's family excel in preparing this dish." Other scholars, after dining on roast duck, were inspired to poetry. In one collection of old Beijing rhymes (Duan Zhuzhici) one of the poems reads: "Fill your plates with roast duck and suckling pig." Another contemporary annotation reads: "When an official gives a banquet he will choose dishes to please each of his guests. For example, Bianyifang' s roast duck "

To satisfy the growing demand for roast duck, and with an eye on the profits to be made from a good name, many restaurants opened from a good name, many restaurants opened under the Bianyifang name. In fact, in 1926, nine roast duck restaurants in Beijing carried this name. In the late 1960s the Bianyifang Restaurant's name was changed to the Chongwenmen Roast Duck Restaurant, but in 1979 it resumed its former title. Its menu includes more than 20 traditional duck dishes, including the Four Delicacies: wing and web, liver, heart and pancreas.

We have given much information about the history of this noble dish but none at all on how it is eaten. The simple procedure is as follows: Pick up a pancake in one hand and, using a section of raw scallion as a brush, paint a few splashes of bean sauce on the pancake. Next, place the scallion in the center of the pancake, and with your chopsticks add a few pieces of duck, finally rolling it up for convenience's sale. Here then is one of the most unforgettable mouthfuls in all of Chinese cooking.

Note: The roast duck restaurants of Beijing are distinguished by their nicknames: the Big Duck, on Qianmen Avenue, an older restaurant not described above; the Small Duck, the old Bianyifang Restaurant; the Wall Street Duck, the Quanjude Restaurant, the largest and newest addition to the Beijing "duck family" at Hepingmen Gate (described above); And the Sick Duck, so called due to its proximity to the Peking Union Medical College Hospital.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's in Beijing

While those in the U.S. sleep after seeing the New Year's arrival at 12;00 a.m., people in Beijing are out in droves, enjoying New Year's Day. On New Year's eve, we watched some of the New Year's Eve celebrations on TV but went to bed at our usual time. We left at 11:00 a.m to meet Alina, a Chinese friend, who invited us to a famous Beijing restaurant for lunch. It was a very long way to that location and the subway was really packed. We had to change to the third line to reach our destination. We thought many young people would be staying home, not feeling so good after late night celebrations, but we were wrong. Every train was packed. In the station, you could hardly walk for the crowd of people. Sometimes, we had to wait for the second train because all of the people could not pack on the train. It was what we would say in America "packed like sardines." It was actually tighter than that. You didn't need to worry about falling because when the train started, there was no where to go, not even down. When we got off, I said my hands were cold. Ron said, "well, you could have stuck them in anyone's pocket."

I now know my way around all of the subway lines, which direction to go, etc. It was helpful learning the subway in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, while we lived there. Ron used to take the subways in New York many years ago. I could find my way back to the apartment on the subway now. Ron's chances for losing me in Beijing are over! Since the Olympics, English words are posted and stops are announced in both Chinese and English. This is also true in most trains and buses. The most difficult is trying to explain to a taxi driver where you want to go. The city is so large, many of them do not know the entire city very well. Most of the drivers do not understand or speak English. You need to have your destination written in Chinese for taxi drivers. It's also helpful if you have a Chinese friend you can call and get them to talk to the taxi driver to tell him where to go.

The signs on the subways say the seats are reserved for the elderly, handicapped and those with babies. To tell the truth, I've only seen a few babies, very few elderly but no handicapped people. The crowd is mostly young people under 30 years of age. I do know why. Changing from one line to the next involves going up hundreds or steps, walking for a very long distance and then going down hundreds of more steps. You have to be in good physical shape to do all of the walking and taking the steps. Not to mention, being able to hold on to your place and not let them push or shove you. On the subway, there's no courtesy. One young man smiled at us today when we were packed in the middle of the train. We, older Americans, stand out like a "sore thumb" on the subway. I find it a lot of fun to observe people observing us. The many billboards around the city of Beijing have Americans advertising almost everything, but when it comes to seeing a real live American, it's almost like a panda bear suddenly appeared at the subway station.

I find it interesting to observe people, but I try not to make it obvious. Many young Chinese women are now curling their hair and changing the color. I saw a young Chinese boy with very blond hair today. He was a cute guy so it really looked good. A few young men wear their hair in punt rock styles, but not too many. In Beijing, where fashion trends are probably ahead of most Chinese cities, many young women have hair in many shades of brown and red. Some are quite pretty. The pictures in the windows of beauty shops show various shades of hair from brown to red hair and mostly curly. With a better economy than in the past, young professional women can afford to have their hair done.

The jean trend is toward jeans with many built-in wrinkles around the knee section and sometimes all down the leg. These are not small wrinkles, they are almost folds which means if the leg of the jean was spread out, there would be an extra foot of material in each leg. Actually, they are quite cute on most of the girls and look better than the straight tight-legged jeans that fit like a second skin. The duck down coats and letter boots are most popular.

The lunch was delicious and we had a leisurely and nice time with Alena. She's a very lovely and kind girl. She works in finance in Beijing and has a high degree and special license in this field of work.

We first had a spicy dish with vegetables and frogs. They were small frogs, not frog legs, but whole frogs. I think I ate three of them because they were very delicious. Ron could not eat this dish because it was too hot, but he would have otherwise have thought it delicious. We also had two green vegatables; one was cabbage cooked a special way. Then, there was a fish soup with a large, whole fish cooked into tender pieces, which Ron enjoyed. We had fried sesame balls filled with sweet bean paste and finally a platter of fruit for dessert. If, like Alena said, having good food on New Year's Day sets the trend for a good and prosperous New Year, we are off to a good start.

In the U.S., for years, Ron wanted to clean out the basement on New Year's Day, because we didn't have time the rest of the year. I always dreaded New Year's Day for that reason and the years we didn't have a basement were quite nice. He said last night, "We don't have a basement to clean out tomorrow." I told him if he insisted on working, I guess he would have to scrub the cracks in the tile floors because there's not much else to do in an apartment. Actually, neither of us are feeling very well. We both came down with a cold early in the week. Ron's has moved to his chest and he's got a lot of congestion. We will take it easy the rest of this week and hope to feel better soon.

We wish all of our friends and family a very HAPPY NEW YEAR!