Thursday, January 2, 2014

China, November 30 - December 14, 2013

We left our RV at the Smith’s farm in Sanger, TX.  We got up at 2:30 and left at 3:15 a.m. on Saturday morning to arrive at Sam Holt’s apartment building at 4:15.   Sam runs a limo service and told us he would gladly take us to the airport and we could leave our car inside the fenced-in area at his apartment building.  He drove us in a luxurious car but it was not a limo.  We arrived at the airport in plenty of time to take the first flight to Chicago at 5:45 a.m. but since it was the Thanksgiving weekend, we got the last two seats.  One seat was in coach and one in first class.  I made Ron take the one in first class for two reasons:  they served breakfast which he enjoys more than me and he could take two bags on.  They made him check his suitcase carry-on at the plane door saying there was no more space for bags on this flight.  He was able to take his computer bag and one small bag with equipment for the hospital.  My seat in coach was in the center with an Indian girl on my left and a black lady on my right.  The black lady was holding a year-old baby girl.  The lady had on Muslim clothing.  I gave her a little of my space to care for the baby and she was grateful.  We got to know each other a little.  She is 60 years old and raising the grandchild because her daughter is bi-polar and unable to care for the child.  Welfare was going to put the baby in foster care so she is going to raise the child herself.  Her son, who is married to a Hispanic girl, had just returned home to California from duty in Afghanistan.  She had been to visit him and his family and was returning to her home in Detroit.   She said her son will now be transferred to Italy and since his wife can go with him now, they offered to care for the baby but she didn’t think that was fair to them since they have three children.  She had a few questions about me and where we were going and why.  I gave up my apple juice to put in the baby’s bottle and she was very grateful.  She thanked me for my kindness.  I wanted to make a good impression for two reasons:  I wanted her to know I am not prejudiced against her because of her race or religion.  I don’t have to accept anyone else’s beliefs but I can respect the fact that everyone should have the freedom to choose.  None of us had a choice about the race we were born into so we need to love everyone—God made us all.
We arrived in Chicago about 8:30 a.m.   Ron went to log us into the computer for the flight to China so we can get on the standby list early.   We went and ate breakfast (Ron said his on the plane was not very much after all).  We wandered around the airport some, rested in seats at vacant gates, ate lunch and then moved on down to our gate for departure about 6:30 p.m. for Beijing.  We arrived in Beijing Sunday morning at 8:47 p .m. (China time). 
We were #2 and #3 on standby and we were given Priority Boarding.  This is probably not a coincidence.  We got our buddy passes from our dear friend, Sam McLean, Capt. of American Airlines.  Sam has been supporting our work for a couple of years now and helping us in various ways.   Our seats were not Business Class which we usually flew on Delta but First Class seats, the seating right behind the pilots’ cabin.  There were some vacate seats used throughout the flight by the pilots and co-pilots during their rest breaks.  The seats were great and went completely flat for sleeping.  I actually got seven hours of sleep on that flight.  The most I’ve slept in the past was 3 or 4 hours.   This is a 13-hour flight, traveling 6,570 miles or 10,574 km.
My chair would not work automatically.   Normally, I am not mechanically-minded and I have trouble figuring out how to do a lot of things that Ron thinks should come naturally to anyone.  He was sitting next to me with a sort of barrier between us so he could not reach over and help.  He was laughing at me and saying I just needed to push the right button.  I was doing that but nothing was working.  He said it operates slowly.  I told him it was operating so slowly it wasn’t working at all.  Finally, a flight attendant came by (a tall nice-looking man in his 40’s).  He stopped to help and sure enough, nothing was working.  He took the arm off, checked it out, put it back and it still would not work.  He got down under the side of the chair and worked on it a while and tried it again.  It still would not budge so he manually moved the back of the seat and the foot rest and got it in the right position for me to have dinner.  Later, he came to help get it to lie flat for me to sleep but the seat would not go back.  He moved me to a seat up front, made my bed for me and just as I got comfortable, he came and said he got it working.  I moved back to sleep but when I got up about 5:30 a.m. he had to manually put the seat in position again.  He apologized over and over but I told him I didn’t mind since he was so gracious to do it all for me. 
This is the first flight I have ever taken where we were offered pajamas.  I didn’t take them because I felt funny about this in a cabin with other passengers.  Ron said he’s taking them next time but I don’t think I will.   A man and lady across from me changed and probably were more comfortable. 
Our food was fantastic.  We had smoked chicken crostini as an appetizer, followed by prosciutto and mozzarella with honeydew melon, then caramelized onion and leek soup, with a green salad with peppercorn cream dressing.  This is all before the entrée.  I was already full by the time I ate these delicious treats. 
I chose brie and leek ravioli with shrimp in a ginger coconut sauce (they put the tomato sauce instead but I didn’t send it back).  It was still delicious.  Other options for the entrée included curried salmon, stir-fried beef with asparagus, pork tenderloin with asparagus and rice, halibut with sweet potatoes, green beans and corn salsa.
There were rolls and butter and a variety of drinks.  I didn’t have dessert but Ron had a huge ice cream treat.
The midnight snack sounded great but I was not awake for it.  The menu had dim sum (pork and mushroom or shrimp dumplings with noodles; pizza with roasted vegetables and fruit.  Upon arrival (about one hour before touchdown) I had a delicious macadamia nut cream soup, green salad and roll, with a chocolate chip cookie. 
We arrived on time, went through customs, got our bags and entered the main airport to search for the time of arrival for Mike Gifford coming from Seattle.  His flight was arriving in 30 minutes in another terminal so we had to quickly go catch a bus to that terminal.  We had not been there 5 minutes until Mike walked out.  We took the airport bus toward our hotel.  We were told the closest stop would be the 4th stop but when we got off we quickly realized it was one stop too far.  None of the taxi drivers knew where our hotel was located on the 3rd ring around the city.  Finally, after waiting about 30 minutes one taxi driver knew the location and took us there.  It was about 2:30 before we got to bed and we had to be up by 7:00 a.m. to get some breakfast before meeting the attorney at 9:00.  His office was on a top floor in the same building.  Our worker, Hope, had arranged for us to stay at this hotel because of the convenience to his office. 

We met with the attorney for about two hours to go over the establishment of a central legal registered office for Agape in China and to review what would be needed to get a license for the new charity hospital we had built in Wadian, Henan, China.  He indicated that the process was going to be very difficult.  He made many suggestions and was very helpful in educating us about the process.  He is very young but very smart.   He is a member of the Lions’ Club and since he is very charity-minded, he will handle our legal work free-of-charge.  He even said he might be able to get the Lions’ Club to pay for the surgery we need done for the boy who needs eye surgery before he can have his second surgery at Medical City in Dallas to reconstruct his face from being born with a severe cleft lip and palate. 
We went to a nearby restaurant for lunch and then took two taxis to the South Train Station.   We had too much luggage and people to fit into one taxi.   One of them fussed the whole trip about having too much luggage although he certainly didn’t have much with us dividing people and bags up between two taxis.  It was a 30-minute race with the way they drive and then they let us out a long way from the train station when they could have driven right to the front door.  They are very rude and try to take advantage of people every way they can.  Of nearly everything in China, I detest taking a taxi about the most.
Our train was the first for Julia Ng, our new Operations Manger from Hong Kong, and Mike Gifford, our new CEO in training to someday take over the operation of Agape.  We had an overnight train in a soft sleeper car all together.  Bags were still a problem because, besides our personal luggage which we all kept to a minimum, there were two bags with hospital equipment to be left at our next stop in Wadian.
We arrived early that morning in NanYang and were escorted to a five-star hotel.   Our check-in was completed (without our passports, which is bypassing the system in China) and we were shown our rooms.   After a short break we went downstairs to meet with those associated with the hospital in Wadian.   Dr. Joshua was there.  He originally worked with Ron to build the hospital.  Tony, a minister from a church in Shanghai (also working with a church in Hong Kong) was there.   Ron had asked him to be on the advisory board for the hospital.  Mr. Liu, the developer was instrumental in giving us the rooms in the 5-star hotel so he was present. The meeting in the lobby of the hotel lasted a couple of hours and then he took us to meet several people and to have lunch. 
We drove in two cars for 45 minutes to Wadian.  We spent the next two days there in various meetings about the operation of the hospital.   That has not yet been resolved. 

From Wadian, we traveled to Pingxiang to visit the Refuge of Grace Care Center in Luxi.  Julia, Ron and Mike met with the director first and then with each employee to go over the new management changes and asked questions about their jobs.  A tour of the building was also conducted.  
Ron, Mike and Julia traveled on to Guilin and went to Neil Taylor Care Center in Rongshui, Jackson Family Foundation Care Center in Zigong and to Wesley’s House in Pingguo.  They conducted the same tour and meetings with each director and employee.
During this time, I stayed behind at RGCC with Ronald and Gigi for one more day and then we took a night train (with James, Ronald’s translator) to Guilin.  Ronald and James had completed their work at RGCC so we were meeting up with Mike, Ron and Julia a few days later at John Connor Brown in Tiendeng.   The day we arrived in Guilin, we checked into our hotel, had lunch and went to Elephant Hill Park (within walking distance).  It was a beautiful park with ethnic dancers and beautiful trees and plants.  ‘We climbed the mountain and had a wonderful view from the top.   After dinner that night, we had an hour’s walk around another park that was bright with pretty lights and two pagodas in the center of the lake.  

The next morning, we ate breakfast and caught a local bus to the end of the line to tour a cave.   It was an hour’s tour through an amazing cave with unusual formations, beautiful lighting and a power point on the side of the cave at the largest part of the cave.  It was truly a great experience.
We returned about half-way to the hotel and stopped off at McFound’s Restaurant for lunch.  It was really unique and the food was delicious.   Everything we ate in Guilin at different restaurants was good.  
That afternoon we left at 3 p.m. for Nanning.  It was supposed to be a 5-hour trip but ended up being a 12 hour trip because they are working at the Nanning train station.   We had “hard sleepers” where there are six beds to an area without a door so people are walking up and down the halls all the time.  Since it was a day trip, we thought it would be fine but as it stretched into a 12 hour trip, we ended up sleeping some of the time.  We got to bed at our Nanning hotel at 3:00 a.m. and had to get up early to catch a bus to Tiendeng to meet up with Ron, Mike and Julia at that care center. 
We had the rest of that day and the next day until in the afternoon at this center and then Ron, Julia, Mike and I left our sweet kids behind to go back to Nanning by bus.  We got in at 8 p.m. and had a horrible hotel.  We walked to McDonald’s to get something to eat and then to bed because we had to catch a 5:30 a.m. bus to the airport.   We got Julia off on her early flight to Hong Kong and the rest of us caught a 7 a.m. flight to Shanghai.   Mike decided he would stay in the airport and begin standing by for his Delta flight to Detroit to commute on to Atlanta.   Ron went to check with American Airlines and was told that every flight was sold out through Wednesday.  They suggested we begin standing my for each flight in the event two seats came available.  We stayed the entire day in the airport.  Mike got on the flight at 5 p.m. but got a coach seat (he also had lst class on the way to China).  We got the last two seats on the AA flight at 7 p.m.  We had tight coach seats and it was rough for 14 hours to Chicago.   We went through customs, got our bags, and after several security checks, put our bags back on at AA for the flight to Dallas.  We got to the gate just as they were boarding and did get the last two seats on this flight.  We were not seated together but for the last three hours it really didn’t matter.  We just wanted to get back to Dallas.    We could have stayed overnight in Chicago but we would have had to stand by for every flight the next day and it might have been even harder to get seats.   As they say, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”   We were exhausted but glad we could make the connections and get home.  
From the time we left the hotel in Nanning until we got to our RV in Sanger, TX, it must have been well over 30 hours.   We could only sleep for a few minutes with a seat crammed in so tightly with other passengers.   What made it worse was that a Chinese girl about three years old a few seats away from us cried or screamed for at least 10 of the 14 hours we were flying.   After I had gone up the ramp from the plane, I heard a man behind me say “I can still hear that little girl screaming.”   
It was a successful trip.  None of us got sick and we returned home safely.   It was a great experience for Mike and Julia to see all of the care centers and meet our workers.  It was a great bonding time for them to see if they can work together.  It was made clear by Ron what responsibilities each would have.  It was clear that Julia can run the operations in China and has the resources and ability to do so.  It was clear that Mike needs her in order to leave this portion of the work to someone else without having to be involved to any large extent.   Mike is greatly needed in the U.S. to learn the accounting and operations from this side and get fully involved in the fund-raising.
Julia plans to spend the first year just overseeing the care centers and gradually begin taking over the record-keeping from Ronald.   Ronald will complete one or two more projects and return to the Philippines by the middle of January.  He will continue to work with Julia for several months from the Philippines while awaiting a decision for a possible orphanage there.  

When the Agape office is registered by our attorney in Beijing, Julia will be able to begin raising funds in China.   With her CFO background, there’s no doubt she can bring in a lot of money.  Many Chinese corporations give to charities but they want to be sure they are registered charities before doing so.  Each of our care centers are registered with local governments in each area but Agape is not centrally registered.   The young attorney knows a way to get us temporary registration so Julia should be able to begin this work in about a year.
We had a wonderful time with Ronald and Gigi.  They have worked tirelessly in China under the most difficult of circumstances.  We would have had to make 4 or 5 trips to China each year if he had not done this work for the past five years.  I would compare his job to a prison sentence since the conditions have been about as bad.  He had been trustworthy and done an excellent job.  He deserves to have a place to settle down.  We know there’s a great need for an orphanage in the Philippines and they will run it well.  It is my prayer that they will be able to settle down there soon.  

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