Monday, March 26, 2012

Ronald's Apartment in Nanning, China

After living in the orphanages for more than two years, occupying whatever room they had available, Ronald finally got an apartment in Nanning. He married Gigi Gayo, who lives in the Philippines, September 24, 2011. They have spent some time in Hong Kong but this is the first time she’s received a VISA for China. She is coming to China for the first time on April 3rd but it’s on a one entry, one month VISA. In time, they hope to get her here full-time. We will be in Hong Kong when she arrives this weekend so it’ll be our first time to meet her. Her parents are coming as far as Hong Kong to meet us on this trip. It should be an exciting time for all of us since we were not able to go to the Philippines for the wedding.

Yesterday afternoon, we watched Ronald and Gigi’s wedding video. It was a very pretty wedding and we were so excited to see everything about it. We also saw a slide show of their times in Hong Kong and on the island of Palawan (where they honeymooned). The pictures were really beautiful.

Ronald chose Nanning as his home base because we have three of the orphanages in this Province. He can travel to any of these three orphanages in a matter of a few hours. Ron is trying to get registration for Agape in Nanning as our home office, which will eventually allow Ronald more freedom to do banking and other things.

His apartment is on the 32rd floor of a high-rise building. The view from every window is spectacular. From this height, even the slum apartment buildings do not look terrible. There are 12 high-rise apartment buildings in this complex with gardens and walkways in-between. Today the sun is out and it’s about 75 degrees. We walked around the complex and enjoyed seeing the beautiful gardens, manicured plants, pavilions for resting, lovely designed walks and the large swimming pool that is now empty. His apartment consists of a small laundry room (washer and racks for drying clothes but no dryer), a small kitchen, living room and dining combination, bedroom with king-size bed, bedroom with small bed and desk (where he does his work) and small bath (shower head on the wall in one corner). There’s no way to take a shower and not get the bathroom wet but keeping the spray low is the key to containing water mostly in one area and being able to mop the floor once you have finished your shower.

The apartment costs about $300 U.S. plus a small amount for utilities. He bought a small space heater for winter and a dehumidifier. There is an air-conditioning unit in the living room and a wall unit in the master bedroom. It does not get severely cold here in the winter. The apartment is furnished with simple but nice furniture. You might think it all came from IKEA.

It is a quiet apartment. We only hear the next door neighbors on this floor when they come in or go out and slam their door. Oh yes, we can also hear them chopping up their vegetables to cook in the apartment next to us!

It is a bit of heaven in the middle of China. Ronald says he can escape for a short time and not even realize he’s in China but then the difficult task of getting the work done brings him back to reality. We are very pleased that he was able to find this nice place for such a reasonable amount. We are relieved to know how he is living. When we return home, I can picture him in this lovely apartment with Gigi and feel proud.

Ronald’s job is very hard. Overseeing the six orphanages and making sure everything is run well, the children are being cared for properly and costs are maintained within budget, is a huge responsibility. He must spend time at the various care centers doing maintenance on the buildings, inspecting the buildings and grounds for future improvements and spending time with the workers and children. We are lacking in management-skilled workers. All of our workers are inexperienced, young and untrained but at the same time, they are difficult to manage. Ronald has developed a manual for every phase of operation so workers need only to study it and follow it to have a well-run facility. In spite of this tool, they have not yet learned to lean on our guidelines or on Ronald for help, rushing ahead to handle things their way, which is usually more costly and less efficient. We are told that our standards are too high and we are sometimes unreasonable in our expectations. We want our workers to do the best possible job so the children can learn a better and cleaner way to live. If we have high standards, the children will grow up wanting a higher standard for their lives than the poverty from which they came. Ronald has an on-going battle to keep things running well and handle various crises.

Ronald has developed programs to track cost of various things at each center and make comparisons to get a complete picture of how money is being spent. He spends a lot of time reviewing the petty cash expense reports from each center, approving them for accounting purposes. He also has to review and approve the monthly budget and request for the next funds to be sent to each care center. For six orphanages, it is a lot of work. We spend about $50,000 every month to care for the children, pay workers and overhead expenses. This is for six care centers caring for about 650 children. Twice a year, the budget will include extra expenses for tuition and cost of living expenses for the middle school and high school children that live at the schools and only return to the care centers on weekends. Sometimes, we have children in the hospital and more is needed for their medical care.

I really don’t know how Ronald will continue handling all of this and find time to oversee the construction of a small 12-bed hospital and clinic for Dr. Joshua to serve the poor people who cannot afford medical care. This building project will take him away from this nice apartment and he’ll have to find a temporary place to live in a remote area of Henan Province for about six to nine months. Overseeing construction is also very difficult. The standard construction is poor workmanship and use of improper building methods. It will be a huge task to have a good facility built within budget.

Tomorrow we will get up about 5 a.m. and go to John Connor Brown Christian Care Center in Tiendeng. In my next segment, I will give a report on our visit there and post some pictures of the children.

A Better Week

This has been a much better week for me. With the extra rest and sleep, my health has improved considerably. I have gone to bed by 8 p.m. almost every night and slept all night, sometimes with an afternoon nap. Ronald’s apartment is quiet and comfortable. The cough and congestion has improved day-by-day. Tuesday, we went to Wesley’s House Christian Care Center. We took an 8:30 a.m. train and returned about 3:00 p.m. by bus. We arrived about an hour before the children returned from school for lunch. We ate lunch with them. We had rice, carrots and greens, cooked with a little pork. It was very tasty.

The children were very happy to see us. It was especially nice to see Lankui, the little girl that came to the U.S. for surgery on her jaw. She had surgery in Nashville almost two years ago. She lived with us for six weeks before going to Nashville for the surgery, so we got very close to her. She was delighted to see us and we had some good hugs. Several of the girls, along with Lankui, went to their rooms and designed some wonderful drawings for us. It is their way of giving us a gift. They had glued small objects, such a colorful feathers or beads on the drawings. The older girls, including Lankui, took the same bus back to school that took us downtown Pingguo to catch the main bus back to Nanning. Lankui got off to go to school at her stop and waved until we got out of sight.

On Saturday, we went to Ronald’s grocery store, several blocks away. We woke up the morning before with a strong wind and storm at 6 a.m. It cleared out the fog and smog so Saturday was a warm, nice day. Ronald’s market, not the open street market, is very nice. Although it takes time to find things with everything in Chinese, there is a large variety of nearly everything. The vegetables and fruits in China are especially good. The spring time brings many good things from the farms and the stores are overflowing with food. Things are very cheap compared to the U.S. A package of green peppers (about 6) costs about 90 cents, a large tray of shitake mushroom costs 50 cents and three large, beautiful carrots cost 50 cents. We got a large amount of vegetables for this week. I have cooked a variety of rice, noodles, dumplings and vegetable stir-fry dishes. Each of us fixes our own breakfast each morning. I have cooked most other meals and Ronald cleans up the kitchen. We have not been out to eat but will have some meals out when we get to Hong Kong this weekend.

Today is Sunday. We had our service at 9 a.m. with Max, Ronald’s assistant, with us. Max has only been working in this position a little over a month but he had given his notice to quit at the end of the month. Ronald gave him some computer work three weeks ago, asking him to enter into excel spreadsheets some of the orphanages’ expenses. Everything was given to him so all he had to do was type in numbers in the correct columns. He still had not done any of the work on Tuesday and said he had not done the work because his eyes had been hurting. There is no doubt he is capable of typing in some numbers in a master form but it apparently this job is not what he wanted to do.

On Friday, when he resigned, he stated that our standards are too high after hearing Ron’s evaluation of how things are going at Wesley’s House. We found areas that needed to be cleaned with trash piled up and dirty walls that could be cleaned with soap and a rag. The Chinese workers think we should accept things the way they are used to, but we have told them all along that we expect our orphanages to have a better standard. Workers sit around while the children are in school - doing nothing. At Wesley’s House, they have a huge storage room of stuff, including clothing, bedding, toys and supplies. There were boxes and boxes of things the director has not opened and has no idea what is inside. A lot of these things have been donated. They don’t even know if it is things they can use. They are not of any benefit to anyone stored away like this. When asked why workers are not sorting through things while children are in school, he said they only did this on Tuesdays.

I asked if the children were allowed to play with the many toys I saw in the storage room. The director said there were not enough for each child to have one so they just kept them locked up. I asked what is wrong with teaching children how to share toys. No comment was made to answer my question. So, if you have 25 hoopla hoops and 100 children, you don’t let them play with any of them? Their answer is to just lock them up in a storage room?

Ronald offered Max the opportunity to have a job at Wesley’s House to help them since there is no male worker there, other than the director. Max said he’d just take his chances of seeing what other kind job he can find. When we found Max to come work at John Connor Brown, he was washing dishes in a restaurant. When he resigned that position (without any explanation as to his reason), he went to work for an orphanage with handicapped children. He lasted about a month. He said that was not for him so he asked to work as Ronald’s assistant. But, now he doesn’t want to do this either or take another position at any orphanage. Max is a good guy, a faithful Christian with good English skills, but he lacks motivation to work. It seems that the average Chinese does not see any need to put forth much effort in a job. When we arrived in Nanning and he learned we were staying with Ronald, he said if we didn’t need him the next day he would just go somewhere to ride his bike. Ronald told him it was still a work day and he could do some of the work he gave him three weeks earlier. It just wasn’t what he wanted to do, unfortunately. He is a university graduate with good English skills but he’ll end up working again in a restaurant at low wages simply because he does not want to work hard.

Finding motivated workers has been our greatest challenge. They all want to do as little as possible. There is no pride in doing things the best that can be done. It isn’t that they are incapable; they just do not see any need to make things better, especially if it means they have to work hard.

The children deserve to have a better chance in life and it’s up to our workers to teach them. We have two American couples who have worked in China for several years teaching English in universities who are discussing the possibility of moving to one of the orphanages to work with the children. If this happens, the children will have English classes and help with their homework to improve their grades. We hope the American couples at the orphanages can motivate workers to improve the living conditions and raise the standards, but we never know whether Chinese workers will conform or simply quit, like Max, saying we expect too much.

Thanks again for your prayers for my health.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Trip to China March 13th

We had a busy week getting ready to go to China but we made the flight to Seattle without a problem. We spent one night there and caught a night flight the next day to Beijing. We arrived in Beijing about 11:00 p.m. I thought everything was well until I started taking my bag up the ramp from the plane. It hit me all at once that I felt very sick. Ron had gone ahead and was waiting for me in the terminal.

What started as a sinus infection almost seven days prior to this turned into bronchial asthma. I felt fine in Seattle and while on the plane to Beijing. Pulling my luggage up the ramp felt like I was climbing a mountain with a very heavy load. I was out of breath and exhausted in the short distance to where Ron was waiting. I told him I needed to rest a minute. We stood there a few minutes until my heart beat got back to normal. We walked slower than usual through the airport terminal, through immigration and out to the airport exit. Ron began looking for the hotel buses. Since they built a new airport three years ago for the Olympics, everything had changed. He left me with the luggage and went looking for the bus. I literally sat down in the floor beside the bags and did not care that many people stared at me. Ron soon returned saying we might as well take a taxi. We had to stand in line outside for about 30 minutes as people were lined up for taxis. The air was invigorating and I could breathe deeply without a problem. When we got to the hotel, I quickly got in bed but the rasping in my chest was such I could not sleep. I don’t remember ever feeling so tired. Ron asked what we should do. I told him to wait until morning and see if I was better. He rested a few hours and awoke to see about me. I told him I could not sleep and would need a doctor but I had hoped we could reach Dr. Joshua (where we were going the next day) because I trusted him. Ron agreed and said we needed to get ready and get to the airport early so he could get a wheelchair for me. He thought we could get there quicker than I could be admitted and treated in a hospital. Since we arrived at the airport early, and although it took an hour for them to find a wheelchair for me, we still had plenty of time. They rolled me through fast security so that helped a lot. The young man that pushed the wheelchair took us to the gate and waited until the plane took off. We had a two hour flight to Zhengzhou. When we arrived, someone was waiting at the plane entrance with a wheelchair so they rolled me to the passenger waiting area when we met Joshua. I explained briefly how I felt and he got a taxi. On the way, he made a reservation at a hotel near his apartment. He said he lived on the 5th floor with elevators so he didn’t think I could make it there. His wife met us at the hotel with his medical kit. He first checked my oxygen level and although it was a little low, he said it did not appear that I had a lack of oxygen. He said if my oxygen had been less he would have taken me to the hospital for an X-ray but he did not think it was pneumonia. He heard the rasping in my upper chest and immediately asked if I had ever had asthma. I’ve had two episodes of something like this, but not to this extent. Once, while we lived in Montreal, Quebec, I was diagnosed with bronchial asthma. I was also sick with bronchitis while we lived in Beijing. Joshua called in a prescription for me that time. His wife went to the pharmacy and I began my round of medication. He said I definitely could not take the train that night that would have gotten us into Changsha after midnight so they returned the train tickets. He made us a flight for the next morning and said if I was not able to go, I could stay with them three days and he would put me on a flight straight to Nanning, where our son, Ronald, lives. I slept all afternoon and all night. He told me the medicine would help me sleep because I had lost two full nights of sleep with the flight over and the night in Beijing. Joshua is as fine a doctor as you will find anywhere and I trust him with my life. He and his wife are wonderful people. Ron met with Joshua to discuss plans to build a small hospital and clinic to serve the poor. We have funds from several individuals already so construction will start soon.

I was remarkably better the next morning after sleeping more than 12 hours. I showered and still felt strong enough to dress, go down for breakfast and catch the airport bus. I was able to walk through the terminal but we took it slow. I still had fatigue but not compared with the day before. Our plane was two hours late leaving so when we got to Changsha, they told us the bus from there to Pingxiang had left and we’d have to take a bus to the South bus station to get the 4:30 bus. We got to Pingxiang at 7 p.m. and were met by Abraham, the director of the Refuge of Grace Christian Care Center. We went to the hotel in Luxi and stayed in for the night. We went to bed very early. I was very tired and the rasping was still in my chest so I slept on several pillows to help me breathe better but I also had a headache for two days. I showered and went to the buffet breakfast (if you could call it that) and then back to the room. The breakfast consisted of rice soup (congee) that is terribly bland, balsam (steamed bread with a little meat filling inside) and boiled eggs. That’s all there was – nothing to drink. I went back to bed and rested until the group arrived to have church service in our room. There were two directors from other care centers that came there to meet with Ron. We had five men and Hope, our English worker and translator. After our worship and class, the two directors from the other care centers stayed to talk with Ron about their situations and ideas for what needs to be done at their care centers. At 11:30, we all went to Refuge of Grace to have lunch. The children were so precious waiting for us to arrive. After about 30 minutes of greeting them and having them all around us, we went inside for lunch. We got in line and ate with the children at their tables. One little girl about 3 or 4 years old at my table stopped eating and pouted when I sat down across from her. I could tell she was shy and maybe even scared so I ignored her. She finally began to eat as I was finishing my lunch. They had cooked cabbage, cooked winter melon, rice and a meat dish that I did not try. It was obviously hot because of the red pepper that occupied a major portion of the dish and I had no idea what kind of meat it was. I do not eat meat in China without knowing what it is.

At 2:30, a busload of university students arrived to put on a show for the children. The college kids nearly drove Ron and me crazy, asking questions constantly, wanting to practice their English. They put little stools out for the children to sit on and used the front entrance of the building for their stage. They had musical instruments and amplifiers that were loud and ear-piercing. They sang some songs, a boy did a magic show with coins and cards, and a group of girls did a hip-hop dance. A group of our little girls got up and danced around holding hands. It was very unorganized but because the children were very small, it was cute. About this time, two more buses arrived with well-dressed young families. We found out later they were from the city and had come to see the children. But also in the group were some of their little boys that performed a karate act. The children really enjoyed it. These people brought in loads of gifts for the children. Hope told me their office was piled up with many gifts of food and clothing. They brought clothing their children had outgrown. They were so well-dressed that there is no doubt the clothing they brought was nice.

It was sprinkling rain all day and the temperature was in the 40’s. I was a little concerned about being out in it but I had dressed in layers and did not feel cold. Ron did not bring warm clothing like I did so he was chilled and taking a cold already. I was more concerned about him. He has a bad infection now that is worse than just an ordinary cold. We went back to the hotel about 4 p.m. and both went to bed at 6 p.m. It was 5 a.m. when we awoke. Abraham came at 7:45 a.m. to take us to a meeting with the government official. It was about an hour long meeting and then we went to the bus terminal to catch a 10:30 a.m. bus back to Changsha.

We had rain and fog in Beijing which delayed our flight out of there and every flight we took thereafter. We saw a little sun in Zhengzhou the day we arrived but have not had any more. We have traveled a very long way from Beijing to Nanning and still there’s a heavy cloud cover mixed with smog and fog. Every flight is delayed and the airports are a real mess.

When our flight was finally called from Changsha to Nanning, we boarded and waited and waited. They brought everyone a dessert snack (cookies, cake and a few other things). By the time they picked the garbage back up, the plane was still sitting on the runway. They had us all go back to the airport waiting room, taking our luggage back off as well. In about an hour, they started giving out the dinner meal to people in the waiting area. Before anyone could finish eating, however, they started boarding again. We got to Nanning about 7:30 p.m. We had been in the airport since noon when the bus arrived from Pingxiang to Changsha.

I told Ron if we had not had bad luck on this entire trip, we would have had no luck at all. We still have problems. Our flights from Nanning to Hong Kong next week have been cancelled twice. We now have reservations to go into Shenzhen (I think) which is right across from Hong Kong. We will have to take the subway from this airport into Hong Kong. We are hoping it will not be cancelled.

Ronald and his assistant met us at the airport when we arrived in Nanning. We took a bus to a terminal not too far from Ronald’s apartment and then took a taxi to the building. We are staying with him but I worry that he will get sick before we leave. He has a small bed in the room with his office so he took that room and gave us the king-size bed. He has a very nice apartment but the humidity is so high, mold is on everything and nothing will dry. He has a washer and a drying room but with the moisture, nothing dries for days and days. They bought a dehumidifier this afternoon. He has some plants (which are healthy) but water is literally dropping off of the leaves. Two days ago he showed us a wood picture frame that he had cleaned two days earlier and mold was all over it l/4” thick. I have never seen anything like this. It is mild outside and comfortable inside but you can feel the stickiness of the high humidity.

Yesterday morning, we walked quite a long way to the police station to register. Foreigners are normally registered with the police through the hotel where they are staying but since we are at Ronald’s apartment, we had to register within 24 hours of our arrival. The walk was through muddy alleyways, markets, and shopping areas before we reached the police station. I was feeling really tired but able to walk. They had put newspapers on the tile floor of the police station because of the muddy shoes that constantly tracked in water and mud. It was still horrible. Of course, they spoke no English even though they are registering foreigners. Ronald had to get Max, his translator, on the phone to talk to the girl for a few minutes to explain that we were staying with him. He had papers to prove his address and resident permit. The girl looked at all the VISAs in our passports (even those expired) and all the stamps in the passports collected from entering and leaving China through the years. She apparently did a complete police check on us also. It took a long time. Banking is the same way. You cannot do any transaction quickly.

When we returned to the apartment, I went back to bed to rest. Ronald and Ron went to the grocery store. Ronald and I have fixed some good stir-fry meals and we are enjoying being with him. He’s in his office on the computer all day and Ron’s on this computer. I only have it now because they are gone. I have rested, read, and crocheted. It’s been a good time for me to gain back my strength. I have almost completed the medication and I only have a small amount of congestion in my bronchi with a little coughing. But, the fatigue has been difficult. I have an autoimmune disease called Sjogren ’s syndrome. I was diagnosed in 1990 right before we moved from St. Barth’s (in the Caribbean) to Montreal, Quebec. This disease is related to and similar to Lupus in that the immune system has turned against itself and destroyed the moisture glands. I have no saliva or tears. I have learned to have something to drink when I eat to keep from choking and eye drops to keep my eyes moist. Along with these two major symptoms, there are many others, including fatigue. Whenever I get sick, it takes me two or three times longer than anyone else to get over it. My immune system is overactive (which resulted in the destruction of the moisture glands) so I can’t do much to improve it. For severe symptoms, prednisone or other NSAIDS are given to reduce inflammation in the body but I have never been given these drugs. I avoid taking anything because the side-effects are sometimes worse than the problem. There is no cure for Sjogren ’s syndrome. It’s just a matter of controlling it and enduring it. It just takes time to get over an illness and gain back my normal level of energy.

We are waiting for the government in Tiendeng (John Connor Brown Care Center) to give us an appointment before going there. They are causing some trouble for our director and we expect they do not want to meet with Ron and will not find time for us while we are here. Ron will just have to give them fair warning in a letter that we will not continue to tolerate their troublemaking. There are new workers now from the ones we dealt with in the past and our director says they just want a bribe, which they will never get. We planned to visit Wesley’s House Christian Care Center in Pingguo tomorrow. We will take a train early in the morning and return by bus in the afternoon. It’s just an hour or so away. Many shipments of blankets came to Ronald’s apartment so we have packed them in suitcases to take to Wesley’s House tomorrow.

We leave Nanning on the 30th and will be in Hong Kong until April 3rd. Ron will speak at the congregation in Hong Kong on April lst. Ronald will go with us to Hong Kong because his wife, Gigi, and her parents are coming there for a couple of days. It will be our first time to meet them. Gigi was only able to get a VISA for a single entry for one month so she will return to Nanning with Ronald on April 3rd. She has met him in Hong Kong twice but it’s the first time she’s been able to get a VISA for China. Ronald and Gigi wanted all of their parents to meet because we never know if there will be another opportunity. They wanted to treat Gigi’s parents and us to a tour in Hong Kong. It will be a little sad with everyone going different directions on the 3rd, but I will be very happy that Gigi is coming back for a month in China. We hope this is a start to get her to China full-time but we have to work it out for that to happen.

This has been a difficult trip. I think it’s hard enough when we feel well. While I was so very sick, Ron carried his luggage and mine. I know that was very hard for him. I will take much less from now on but 3+ weeks with a few clothes is difficult unless you have time somewhere along the way to wash out a few things. With this humidity, nothing dries, so it was not possible on this trip. I realize that nothing goes as planned on most trips, but every time we turned around, there was another delay or problem this time.

We shipped a box of blankets by FedEx and put a few miscellaneous things in for Ronald so we didn’t have to carry them on the plane. Wouldn’t you know it, the bill inside the box with the list of contents was lost and we’ve been fighting a battle with FedEx locally. They wanted to know every item inside, brand name, cost and weight. Of course, I had to just guess at all of that and then remembered a few things later that I did not mention. They are going to charge us tax or duty on the items. It’s still held by the FedEx office so I don’t know when they will release it. If they are unreasonable, it will cost more than what I paid for the items. I won’t try that again. It is the way of everything in China – difficult.

I know my writing has been rambling and poorly written. I have to share the computer with Ron so I didn’t have time to write things down as they happened. I didn’t feel like it anyway. I hope that the rest of our trip goes better than the first half. We hope to leave Hong Kong on April 3rd, spend one night in Seattle on our way back. We are supposed to arrive in Dallas on April 5th.

Thanks for your interest in us, our work and for your prayers.