Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Beijing and homeward bound

We arrived in Beijing early Friday morning and spent the next four days with David and Ya Ning Langley, our workers in Beijing.

Along the way, Ron hired two young men, both with masters' degrees who will work with the orphanages and oversee David's work in Beijing when he needs to return to the U.S. Both young men went to university with David and they were all good friends so there will be a good relationship between them.

We made a stop in Changsha to meet with Jim and Jane Self. Jane is Chinese. This young couple married a month ago after a year's courtship. Jim has been teaching English in China for several years. He is from Columbia, Tennessee and a graduate of Freed-Hardeman University.

We intended to drive south from Xi'an to meet the second young man but the train schedule would not work out for us. It would have been a rainy three-hour drive on mountainous roads so we decided it was too dangerous. Instead, Ron got on the computer with Skype (telephone over the computer) and spoke with James Triplett for almost three hours. With this telephone interview and excellent references for James, Ron offered him a position with China Mission. James has been teaching English in China for six years and well accustomed to life in China. He wants to continue to live in China after a trip back to see his family in Mississippi.

While in Beijing, Ron had two appointments to meet with charity foundations that have expressed interest in working with us to raise funds in China for our work. Each meeting provides more information and moves us closer to working out a suitable arrangement.

On Sunday, we got to see many of the friends we made during the last time we were in Beijing. It was a wonderful day. The weather was so nice (windy but dry) as we recalled the cold temperatures we endured in January before we returned home early this year.
Sunday afternoon we met Peter, the young man in the picture with Ron. He is 15 years old and speaks good English because he attends a Foreign Language School. He asked questions about the most prestigious universities in the U.S. and we know he will make it to one of them if he chooses to do so. He is very smart. His father drove us to see the 2008 Olympic sights. We learned that both Peter and his father have accepted the teachings of the Good Book.

We left Beijing early Tuesday morning to fly to Shanghai. We met up with Vivian, a Chinese writer who works part-time for us. She has probably located the site for our next orphanage not far from Changde. She said the government in Sichuan is also interested in giving us a second site for an orphanage there. Her negotiations with government personnel sound very favorable. Ron will make a trip to see these areas when he returns to China in July to prepare for the cleft palate medical mission.

We were not successful in finding a location in Xi'an because the two available sites do not have clear title to the property. It would be impossible for us to register and have any assurance that the land would remain under our scope of work.

Our flight back to the U.S. was uneventful but lengthy. No matter how much rest you get beforehand, the 15 hour flight to Atlanta gets very tiring. We are only sleeping part of the night so it will take about a week to get our internal clocks tuned back to Atlanta time.

Thanks for your interest in our work and for your prayers for our safety.

Next Stop - Xi'an

Ron spent about l/2 day visiting the construction site for the Jackson Family Foundation orphanage in Zigong. After meeting with workers, the school master, local government personnel and construction workers, he enjoyed a very big lunch hosted by the educational department.

Having completed his work in Zigong, there was a big rush to get us bus tickets and train tickets so we could move on to the next location. Reversing our path there, we took a three-hour bus to Changdu and then caught the night train to Xi'an. We were on the train about 16 hours, but we had a soft sleeper compartment and made it fine. Once it got daylight, the countryside was spectacular with mountains, rivers and villages along the valleys. I was able to see one area of cave homes. I think there are several thousand people who live in caves in this area north of Xi'an. With a fast-moving train and going through many tunnels due to the mountains, I was not able to snap any other pictures.

Two young Chinese men shared the other two beds in the train compartment. One of them spoke good English and asked Ron about our trip to China. He became very interested in what we do and volunteered to help us in any way he could. He owns a small pharmaeutical company, specializing in organic herbal medicines, mostly doing research. He said he had many professional friends in business and it would be easy to get them to help also if we have any project near Chengdu and can use them. It's always encouraging to find people in China who are so appreciative of what we do and are willing to help.

We arrived in Xi'an and spent two days there. Xi'an is a very busy city with crazy driving. I complimented Jackie, our worker, because anyone who can cut in and get through the traffic in Xi'an without having an accident has to be an excellent driver.

The first afternoon after we arrived, we visited Dan Dan and her family. She is the little girl who was burned and came to the U.S. for surgery. She's been back in China one year and doing well. The scars around her eyes are heavy but once she returned to China, she stopped using the plastic mask required by Shriners' Hospital. We understand that it's hot and attracts a lot of attention, but it is essential to smooth the scar tissue. Dan Dan is still studying English but said she had already forgotten a lot that she knew because she cannot speak it regularly with anyone in China. She was very happy to see us.

We did not get to visit Ha Ha, the little boy that came to the U.S. for burn surgery at the same time that Dan Dan came. He is now in kindergarten and it did not work into our schedule to drive out to see him after 4 p.m. when he is home from school. It takes almost an hour to get to his village. We brought little gifts for him and left them with the worker to take to him on his next trip to Lantian village.

I had a crown to come loose. Next to the hospital where we do open heart surgery, there is a dental hospital. Many people go there because you don't need an appointment. The heart worker from the Xi Jiang hospital took us to the dental waiting room and asked if they could see me. I had a very nice lady dentist who spoke excellent English. She cleaned the area and had the tooth glued back on in just a few minutes. The heart worker said her boss at the Xi Jiang hospital would pay for my visit.

Ron met with the Xi Jiang director and surgeons to discuss the upcoming surgery for Huang Ping, a 30-year old man who needs surgery. Congential heart disease runs in the family. He paid for the surgery of his little son and China Mission paid for a recent heart surgery for his little daughter. Both of them are doing well. Now, Huang Ping needs surgery if he is to live very long. His surgery is at high risk because he needed to have surgery when he was a child.

Ron and Jackie, our worker, met the next day with Huang Ping, his father and brother-in-law to discuss the situation. Even with the great risk, Huang Ping was agreeable to surgery. They understand that the hospital will absorb some of the cost and we will pay a portion of it but we take no responsibility for his survival. The family understands and agreed that they would never try to take action or do any harm to our work in China should Huang Ping not survive.

This is a later posting to add Huang Ping's picture following surgery. He had successful surgery and is probably at home in Zigong by this time. We are very pleased with his progress.

This photograph is Ron, Eric Tan, David Fang and Jackie Feng. David teaches English at one of the universities and works part-time for China Mission visiting orphans in the countryside of Xi'an. Jackie is our worker over the medical portion of our work in China.

Eric Tan, whose home is in Singapore, is working with the family in Xi'an. He and Jackie had completed some meetings with Huang Ping and his father. After Ron met with Huang Ping, they conducted another in-depth meeting. Huang Ping said he understood and accepted. We took Huang Ping and his father to Eric's apartment. Shortly afterwards, Huang Ping's father also made the great decision. Afterwards, we took them back to the hospital and left to catch our next night train for Beijing.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Four Different Cities in 30 Hours!

Next year I will no doubt remember what I did this Mother's Day. We traveled for about 36 hours before having another bed to sleep (unless you can count sleeping on a noisy overnight train!)

Professional photographers took pictures of the hospital contract signing. I hope to get some of those pictures to post to the blog later. After lunch, a hospital van and driver took us to Chengsha, a two-hour drive. Judy, our co-worker, went with us to spend the next few days with a relative before returning to Shanghai and on to Atlanta. The college-age daughter of the hospital administrator's assistant also rode back with us after spending the weekend with her parents.

We arrived at the train station about 4 p.m. and checked our bags with a service near the station so we could be free for the next four hours. We met Jim and Jane Self and walked around the city to find a restaurant where we could eat and talk. Jim is a graduate of Freed-Hardeman University and a friend of David Langley's. (He was so much like David, they could be brothers!) He has been teaching English in China for the past two years. I believe he had a previous assignment here a few years earlier. Jim met Jane a year ago and they were married last month. They will have an official big ceremony in June when Jim's parents can travel to China. Jim is also from Columbia, Tennessee, and knows Bo Pugh, our youth minister, who also went to school at Freed-Hardeman University and is from Columbia. Jane is a very pretty and sweet Chinese girl. She spoke excellent English.

We left on the train at 9 p.m. heading to Shen Zheng. (I hope I have spelled that city correctly). It is near Hong Kong. Aida, one of our Chinese workers in Atlanta, used to work in this city. The train was especially noisy and stopped many times along the way, so we did not get more than five hours of sleep. We arrived at 8 a.m. the next morning.

At the train station, we met with Joe and Crystal, a Chinese couple from Hong Kong that has been in correspondence with Ron for some time. Crystal presented me with a beautiful fabric bag with note cards and other little gifts for Mother's Day. I loved the gifts very much and I am grateful for their thoughtfulness and generosity. (They also paid for our taxi fare to the airport and lunch!)

When we arrived at the airport, we checked in so we could be free of two of our bags. Then we found a restaurant in the airport and spent almost two hours with Joe and Crystal, getting to know them and giving them more information about our work. They have already visited our Neil Taylor orphanage in Rongshu and given some money to help there. We are very grateful for Christian couples like them. They are dedicated to their Saviour and want to do all they can to help the less fortunate.

We boarded our plane at 12 p.m. for a two-hour flight to Changdu. I hope I am getting the names of the cities correct. You may have noticed that the last three places we have been are similar in name (difficult for me to get them straight). I have trouble remembering which city is which when the names are Changde, Changsha and Changdu.

Upon our arrival, we took an airport bus downtown. From there, we took a taxi to the local bus station and boarded the bus for Zigong. It was a three-hour bus ride. We arrived at 8:30 p.m.

It would have been a wonderful drive if we had not been so tired. It was beautiful countryside and so interesting to see the crops growing, orange groves, banana trees, and especially the rice paddies. People were harvesting ripe rice crops, cutting the tall sheaves (is that correct for the ripe rice plant?) They are stacked up in bunches or sheaves and laid out on the ground to dry. Some people had sheets laid out on the ground and were thrashing the grain from the dried plants. I saw children helping with this phase of the work.

Others were in the wet marshlands planting new rice plants. People are industrial because the growing of food is their way to provide enough food for themselves and sell the excess for their income to purchase other things they need.

Our workers, Jacob and Stephen, met us at the bus station and brought us to our hotel. This is a hazy view from our hotel window this morning. There are apartment building as far as you can see in every city. I think most people in the world live in apartments. How else could you provide space for so many people to live? There are many industries in this area which may contribute to the smog in the atmosphere.

We ate dinner at 9 p.m. here at the restaurant with Jacob, Stephen and another worker. We slept well in a very quiet room. After 36 hours of traveling, the hard beds of China feel wonderful.

Today, Ron is with the workers at the orphanage construction site. This is the first of three orphanages to be constructed with funds from the Jackson Family Foundation. We are very grateful to Rick Jackson and his children for their support of our work in China.

Nobody is Somebody in China for a Short Time

Not many Americans visit the cities we work in so the average Chinese on the street finds us very fascinating. Of course, Ron and I dress our best to gain the respect of the people but it may also lead strangers to think we are VIP's. Everyone at the Changde hospital treated us with admiration for what we are doing for children in their province and all over China. They escort us everywhere and see that our comfort is their duty. We were treated to excellent meals and offered every possible accommodation to make our visit pleasant.

I told Ron I feel like "Queen for a Day" when I'm in China. This picture proves my status, if only for a moment! This is part of the furniture in the lobby of the hotel where the medical team will stay in August.

At the hotels, the bell boys escort us to the elevator to get the elevator for us. I'm shocked to see so many young people working in the hotels, restaurants and airports. They are all very young and most do not look like they could be through high school much less working. They are all polite and helpful. We have learned that if we need directions or any help with anything, some of these young people are always willing to help.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Special welcome in Changde

When we landed in Changde yesterday afternoon, Judy Yang, our Chinese worker from Atlanta who works with the burn patients and cleft palate children, met us. A female doctor and another hospital worker was with her and presented me with a large bouquet of flowers to welcome us to their city. A photographer was taking pictures of our arrival. A driver took us to the hotel and after getting refreshed from the trip, we went with them to dinner at a nearby hotel. Some other officials from the hospital joined us for dinner.

Changde is a very pretty city - not large like most, but very nice and clean. The streets are beautifully landscaped with colorful clipped shrubs, hanging baskets of petunias and pots of other flowers arranged in designs along the walkways. You see quaint restaurants and shops occupying street after street as you travel along dodging taxicabs, three-wheeled cars, buses, bikes and pedestrians. Don't ever plan to drive if you come to China. You have to be out of your mind to drive here. You will be a nervous wreck just riding with an experienced driver!

After dinner last night, we toured the hotel that will be used for the team arriving for the cleft palate medical mission in August. It officially opened today, so we transferred from the other hotel to spend one night here to see how it checks out. It is very beautiful with large comfortable rooms. This is only the standard room where we are staying, but there are deluxe rooms the doctors can use if they really want first-class accommodations. Those rooms are particularly fancy and look out over the river with a spectacular view of city lights at night.

I asked Ron what hotel he would compare it with in the U.S. He said it's only considered a four-star hotel in China, but it's almost as nice as a Hilton. I know it's much nicer than most hotels we stay in as we travel in the U.S. It's been years since we were in a Hilton hotel.

So, how much does a hotel like this cost for a standard room which includes a breakfast buffet? We will be given these rooms for 200 RMB or about $28 per night. It's a real bargain, I can assure you!

We had breakfast at the other hotel this morning. Ron was not thrilled with the buffet, but I enjoyed it because I've gotten used to having a Chinese style breakfast. I will not be able to remember all of the dishes available but from the cold buffet table, there were plates of vegetables such as sauted zuchinni, snow peas, green beans, and spicy Japanese style noodles. I didn't try the platter of sea horses, however. On the hot table, there was bacon, fried rice, noodles, dumplings, steamed breads, soups (rice congee for one), soft tofu (similar to yogurt) and watermelon. We also requested a fried egg from the kitchen. There was tea and coffee as well as juices and milk (which is not safe to drink in China).

Today's lunch was at the hospital in a private dining room. The standard buffet dining room looked really nice and will work out well for our medical mission team. They can enjoy all of their meals there, if they wish. I can assure you, it will not be like hospital food in the U.S. There will be some weird things, but, for the most part, 90% of the food will be very delicious. Our lunch was extra-ordinarily good today.

Many times, when I tell someone we are returning to China, I will be asked "What will you do about the food?" I always say, "I eat the food because it's very delicious." It's not like the Chinese food we get in the U.S. restaurants. It's much better! We were seated at a large round table with a glass lazy susan in the center. Food is brought from the kitchen and surrounds the glass lazy susan. As it turns, you can try different dishes as you choose.

Today, we had a vegetable I'm not familiar with - similar to zuchinni squash but somewhat different. There was a pot of beans similar to lima beans cooked with chunks of pork (probably high in fat content but oh, so tasty). My favorite vegetable I discovered in Beijing last year was there. It is the tops of the garlic plant that resembles small green beans cut in 1-l/2" pieces and cooked with small pieces of pork. It has only a slight garlic flavor. We also had steamed eggs that is almost like a custard with a topping of some kind, as well as baked eggs with chives, which was also delicious. A steamed whole fish was very tasty with a flavorful topping. There were pressed duck cakes (just fair), sweet potato balls (fried and delicious), a platter of greens, rice and pickled white radish chunks.

Now, which of those dishes would you not want to try? Ron and I ate some of everything and loved it! I told them early this morning that I would stay in the room and work today. I planned to skip lunch because I had a large breakfast. I planned to eat a granola bar if I got hungry. I should have known they would not let me do that. The doctor from the hospital came to my room to get me at 11:30 a.m. After enjoying the lunch, I was glad she did!

All morning, the hospital officials met with Ron and Judy to finalize plans for the cleft palate medical mission. Ron said Judy handled the meeting very efficiently and received full coopertion from the hospital. Tomorrow, there will be an official contract signing with the top hospital officials. This is usually a very special event as it signifies a special joint commitment between our foundation and the hospital. I will try to get pictures and post to this blog later tomorrow.

Saturday night, Ron and I will take an all-night train somewhere. I can't pronouce or spell the name of the city where we are going next. Maybe a post over the weekend will give details of that particular segment of our work.

Judy has completed all of the many things she planned to accomplish while in China to get her long-term VISA to work in the U.S. She will return to Atlanta next week but she's enjoyed a short visit with her sister in Shanghai and her parents in another city. She spent some time with David and Ya Ning in Beijing while we awaiting the approval of her VISA.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Arrived in Shanghai

We arrived in Shanghai at 1:30 p.m. (1:30 A.M. Atlanta time) on May 6th. The flight was very smooth and on time (15 hours from Atlanta). As we landed in Shanghai, a doctor and six fully clothed nursess in white uniforms (from head to toe with face masks) boarded the plane to take everyone's temperature before we could depart the plane. They were being careful that no one came in with the new flu virus. This took about 30 minutes to check everyone on a full plane.

It took an hour in the Shanghai airport going through customs and getting our bags. We spent about 30 minutes trying to locate the right bus for the hotel (after asking four different people and getting four different answers). Finally, we boarded the bus and spent an hour in the bus during late afternoon traffic rush. Once at the hotel, it took another three people and about 30 minutes to get us connected to the internet. It was 6 p.m. and we were both very tired from the long trip.

At 7 p.m. (7 a.m. Atlanta time) we headed to bed. It had been exactly 24 hours from the time we left our house until we climbed into bed. At 10:00 p.m. we were awaked by a phone call from a girl we met in Beijing that we wanted to see while we are in Shanghai. By 3 a.m. Ron and I are both awake and ready to get up. Ron started on his computer and I read until 5 a.m. It is daylight and the sun is coming up at that time in Shanghai. During the winter, it was not daylight until after 7 a.m.

Ron is having breakfast this morning with a businessman from Singapore that is interesting in knowing more about our work in China.

The landscaping is beautiful here. Everything is very green and healthy looking so they have had plenty of spring rain. Flowers and colorful shurbbery are everywhere.

We leave about 1 p.m. today from the small airport near our hotel to fly to Changde. We will meet our co-worker, Judy Yang, there to complete the work needed in preparation for the August cleft palate medical mission that will take place at a hospital in Changde.

I'm not sure where we will go from there. I will try to post each day to the blog and report on what we have done each day. I hope to connect on my computer (not Ron's) from other hotels because I am much more familiar with it and have a wireless mouse. I can't seem to work the built in mouse very well on Ron's laptop.

Thanks for your prayers for our safety and success on this trip.