Planes, Benches, and Starbucks: Part Three

For Parts One and Two of this story, please follow these links– and

In no time my alarm clock rang. Springing energetically from bed (or something like that), I prepared for my third day of travel. After a special time meeting Josiah (a baby for whom we’ve prayed more than a year) over breakfast, we again loaded my bags into the car and drove through the Texas dawn to the airport.

Meeting Baby Josiah

More explanation about the baggage at the check in counter, more baggage stubs in hand, and I again headed through security. At Starbucks I pulled out my gift card, and used the remaining amount on a Venti Italian Roast. Ah, that hit the spot.  Blue, cloudless skies shone out the window, and my plane was at the gate. I boarded my second to last flight where I had an exit row seat. Surely all delays were behind me.

The Laaaassstt Starbucks

Half an hour later, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re sorry for the delay, but we seem to be missing a pilot. When he arrives, we’ll prepare for take-off.”

Missing a pilot? Well then, I guess taking off now would probably be a bad idea. I settled numbly back in my exit row seat, stretched my legs out in the seemingly limitless space before me, and tried to read. The words swam before my tired eyes, and I dropped off. Usually falling asleep on a flight is difficult for me. Not that journey. I was completely narcoleptic. I assume the pilot came. Sometimes I was awake when drinks or meals were served, sometimes I slept on. Occasionally I would wake up and think I’d watch something. I watched Rick Steve’s Castles of France three times, snoozing off within minutes each time. I read and re-read my book uncomprehendingly (although in fairness, G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy requires one’s full attention). By the time I landed in Tokyo on the other side of my 17 hour flight, I was beginning to feel more human.

Leg Room!

Once again gathering my things, I headed towards transit security. The attendant asked my name, glanced down at her list, and faltered, “Excuse me, you have seven bags checked??” Futilely trying to explain, I handed her my sheaf of paperwork. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle; she glanced up and said in her cute Japanese accent, “This is a MESS!”

You’re telling me, sister.

After numerous misdirections, I stood before my final gate…which wasn’t really a gate at all, but a door out to a bus. A bus? At this point, it wouldn’t surprise me if they expected me to somehow drive to China. We loaded onto the bus and they took us to a plane parked far from any building. I thought climbing stairs into planes was a thing of the past, but apparently not that day. Come to think of it, I didn’t know they made seats that small. Nor did I know they made meals that miniscule (having neglected to load a GF meal for me, they served not one but two side salads instead, with lemon; mmmm). I didn’t care. I was four hours away from landing home in China. I’d already resolved in my mind to find the first pillar in the GZ airport I could and give it a hearty hug.

Finally, shining dimly through the smog, I could make out the lights of my adopted hometown. Our plane touched down and I sighed with relief. Home. I stepped through the gate and walked towards customs, smiling as the familiar tones of Mandarin washed over me. The end was in sight.

Or was it? I had one last hurdle to overcome, as I picked up my bags and pushed them towards the baggage complaint area. I explained about my missing bag, showed them my paperwork, and they told me that it was unfortunately not their problem, and that I was going to have to find a way to get it from Washington D.C. on my own. It didn’t matter that they were a sister airline, or that my whole story (including the contents of the bag) were already in their system. They said that since my original airline didn’t fly into GZ, the lost bag was my responsibility. Unbelievable. I called my brother (who was waiting outside for me), and he talked with them further. They finally agreed to look into it, but said they could do nothing else that night. (It took a protracted effort on Jeremy’s and my part, and many phone calls, including multiple calls to Japan, but I finally got the last bag back in my possession nearly a month later).

Home at Last

Well, long story short (ha!), I made it. Was it worth it? Absolutely. With every family member’s hug, every friend’s embrace, every beaming kiddo’s joyous greeting, I feel the long journey fade into the distance. In a very small way it reminds me of Hebrews 12:1b-2, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Every worthwhile race must have a worthy goal. Though my prize at the end of this trip was home and a place of belonging, my ultimate reward beckoning me after life’s journey is seeing His face, hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant,” and entering into the joy of my Master. What a homecoming that will be!


Planes, Benches, and Starbucks: Part Two

For Part One of this story, please click here– .

Next day was a blur of standing in lines at check-in counters, retrieving my bags, standing in more lines, shuffling my bags again, and trying to get things sorted with Bob, Denise, Patrick and Mary (you know it’s bad when you start greeting the airline employees by name). Somehow, amid rebookings 3-7, the only thing they actually managed to accomplish was to uncheck my bags from going through to China. I had to pick them up in Dallas, keep them with me overnight (wherever I would be; I still had no idea), and then recheck them the next morning. As a special bonus, they calmly informed me, I would have to pay more money for my luggage “because the other airline’s baggage policy is different than ours. At this point, I put my foot down. I also may or may not have cried. There was no way on earth that I was going pay more for the dubious privilege of being inconvenienced by this corporation.

By the time we finally had it “worked out,” I had a sheaf of baggage tags, boarding passes, itineraries, and other paperwork. I again pushed my trusty cart through security, and headed straight to Five Guys for the first real meal I’d had in more than 24 hours. The only open restaurant in the unsecured area didn’t have food I could eat, so I’d been living on fruit, cheese sticks, and Starbucks. Burger patties with fixings (no bun) and fries never tasted so good.

This doesn't look so bad...Southerners; we can't HANDLE the sleet.

More sleet was forecasted for the evening, so I was pretty much champing at the bit to get on a plane and fly anywhere else, although another night on my bench did sound tempting. By that time, a friend in Dallas had seen my plight on Facebook, and offered to pick me up, feed me, give me a bed, and get me back to the airport in the morning. Things were looking up. We boarded the plane…and again sat on the tarmac. I kept checking the time, knowing with every minute we sat there I was closer to missing my connection to Dallas and any chance of sleeping in a bed that night.

Finally on a Plane!

Fire and Ice

Fortunately, the flight to Charlotte was a short hop, and I landed a good seven minutes before my next plane was slated to take off. Striving for patience, I waited my turn to exit the aircraft, and then flat-out ran to my next gate. I needn’t have worried. That flight was also delayed (for once, I was glad to hear it) due to engine trouble. Was the entire US Airways’ fleet falling apart, plane by plane? No matter, at least I knew that I was on time, and could make this flight. What’s more, there was a Starbucks conveniently nearby. My aunt had given me a generous Starbucks gift card before I left (which was obviously coming in very handy), and I was determined to use every penny of it. A woman has to have goals, even in times of crisis.


Chai in hand, I stood in line an hour and a half later, ready to board the flight. It was actually happening! I was a mere four hours away from a shower and a bed! Handing my boarding pass to the attendant, I smiled tiredly as she ran it under the infrared reader, which emitted a loud buzz. Frowning, she ran it again. Buzz!

“I’m sorry, Ms. Dexter, but it seems you’re not on this flight.”

“Um, yes I am. See? Here’s my boarding pass. There’s the flight number. I’m definitely here.”

“Well, they didn’t think that you were going to be here in time due to your last flight’s delay (which, may I remind you, was nearly two hours ago), so they switched you to a later flight.”

Sigh. “Of course they did. Okay. Can you please tell me where and when this later flight is? Am I still going to Dallas? Will I get there tonight?”

The Waiting Game

With yet another boarding pass in hand, I trudged to my next gate and slumped into a chair. In my mind, I was trying to go over the things I had to be thankful for, and praying that the Lord would give me a good attitude when I was feeling anything but cheerful. His answer was to send a chatty man with whom to trade travel stories, and eventually share about Jesus. I think he was more interested in commiserating than hearing about the cross, but who knows how God will use the seeds sown?

Honestly, I don’t remember one solitary thing about my flight to Dallas, except that its city lights at night were fantastic, and I was awfully glad to be one step further in my journey.

Dallas Lights

Carrie, my sweet Facebook friend whom I had never actually met before that night, was waiting for me in the baggage claim area. Right off the bat, two of my bags came down the conveyor belt. It was my lucky night! After a longer wait, a third came. Then…nothing.

Perhaps I should explain at this point why I had so much luggage. I’d never done that before, always opting to take only the two free bags that the airlines allowed, plus my carry-on. However, early in my stay in the States, I’d checked with the airline, and they’d said that I could have a free checked-on medical missions bag, because I worked with orphans. So civic-minded of them! I was impressed. The bag was filled in no time with medication, vitamins, supplements, essential oils.

The week before I left, we cleaned out our storage unit, with the things we hadn’t gotten rid of during the previous purges. As I was sorting through my few boxes, I found stacks of photos, my baby book, a picture my grandmother had painted, another a friend had done, a baby blanket my grandmother had crocheted for my first child, and a number of other precious keepsakes that I couldn’t bear to lock up again and probably not see for another twelve years. I prayed about it, and decided that I’d bite the bullet and pay to bring another bag over, since my other bags were full of gluten free food and other things I’d need for my next years in China.

Just a couple of nights before I left, I called the airlines, and received the first rude shock- my medical missions bag was not, in fact, free. And the bag I’d planned to pay for was $50 more than the first representative had said it would be, as well. Everything was already packed, weighed, and ready to go. Leaving the medicine was not an option, so I decided to still take it with me. This was the baggage that they first overcharged me for in Raleigh, when I had no recourse but to pay ($300 more than they had originally told me it would be). These was the suitcases that they unchecked from going through to China, and told me I was going to have to pay more for on another airline (now you see why I put my foot down about that). And these were the bags which were now sitting before me…minus the medical missions bag.

Leaving Carrie with the other bags, I went to the office to file my claim. Sorting through the twelve baggage claim tickets I had on hand (I’ve no idea how I ended up with so many, but I was afraid to get rid of any of them), we figured out that my bag was safe and sound…in Washington D.C. I had not been to Washington D.C. that day, or at any date in the near past, but apparently the powers that be thought that one bag needed to be there. With a decidedly blasé attitude, the agent said that there was nothing that he could do, the bag couldn’t travel internationally without me (since when???), and I would have to figure it out when I got to China.

Fighting back tears, I told him that I was not just some rich woman, and these weren’t excess clothes—this bag was a medical missions bag, and it had medicine for orphans in it. His careless attitude cracked just a bit, and he was like, “Wow, for orphans, huh? That’s too bad. Let me see what I can do.” What he could do was still basically nothing, but at least he was a little nicer about it.

Poor Carrie, between waiting an extra hour at the airport for me to deal with lost luggage, listening to my tale of woe in the car on the way to her apartment, and helping me haul my remaining bags up the stairs, she didn’t know what she’d gotten herself into.  She and her husband were the consummate hosts, though, and made sure my every need was cared for. Soon I was fed (yay for real food!), and I had showered (bliss), and had laid down in a real bed for a solid 5 ½ hours of sleep. Until that night, I never knew it was possible for one to literally be asleep before one’s head hit the pillow.

To be continued…

Planes, Benches, and Starbucks: Part One

Mornings can dawn with such deceptive simplicity. Get up, fix a cup of coffee, spend some time in the Word; plan out a nice, orderly day. February 16th was no different. After an especially challenging few weeks, I had this one day to regroup and say my goodbyes before heading home to China in the morning. One last gluten free Reuben with my friend and her family at the deli before our goodbye, a final weighing of my baggage and reshuffling of the contents so everything was secure; I even had time for a nap! Yup, everything was going according to plan. Ha, famous last words.

It began with an ominous “Ding!” on my phone, signaling the arrival of an email from my airline. The second leg of my journey the next day had been cancelled, due to winter weather in Charlotte. I immediately called US Airways, and made the first of many changes to my nice, easy, original twenty-eight hour hop to Guangzhou. Because the weather affected so many airports, my only chance was to drive 2 ½ hours to Raleigh, take a plane to Philadelphia that night, spend the night in the airport, and fly to Chicago in the a.m., in time to catch my late morning flight to Tokyo. Suddenly, I had less than half an hour to shower, zip up my bags, say my goodbyes, and jump in the car.

Barely arriving in time to the check-in counter, I was greeted by the first unpleasant surprise when they steadfastly refused to honor their online baggage fees, and insisted on overcharging for my luggage (including full price for the medical missions bag, which should have been free). Protests were ignored, except to say I could call their corporate office (which we all knew I didn’t have time for if I was going to catch my plane). Fine, I paid the fees, but told them I would be sending an email later. It was to become an epic email.

Rushing through security and past the concourses, I arrived at my gate just as boarding began. Whew! Little did I know that we would spend nearly three hours on the tarmac, as the weather worsened, having our plane repeatedly de-iced, and waiting for the runways to be declared safe. After rushing about for the last few hours, I relished the chance to relax in my chair, open my book…and listen to the man behind me mutter angrily into his phone in Arabic. All I could understand were his repeated, vehement “Allah,” and “US Airways.” Man, I wished I understood Arabic.

Finally, the pilot announced that the runway was safe, and we’d been cleared for take-off. My relief at this development lasted about eight minutes after we were wheels in the air. From my seat above the wings, I heard the engines begin to make horrible sounds, unnatural wails and screeches that plane engines had no business making. As the plane began to buck, my sinking feeling deepened. The intercom switched on, as our pilot addressed the plane. In all my years of flying, I’d never actually heard a pilot’s voice crack during an announcement (and I can’t say I ever want to hear it again). “Uhh, ladies and gentlemen…we regret to inform you that BOTH of our engine’s de-icing mechanisms have failed, and our engines are freezing. We are, uh, immediately going to turn the plane around and, uh, try to land in Raleigh.”

Wait a minute…TRY? As Yoda wisely said, “There is no try. There is either do, or not do.” I voted for “do” here.

Gradually, the plane began to curve back in the direction it had come, bucking all the way. I braced myself firmly against the seat in front of me, and began praying hard, all while trying not to vomit (it was really rough). Women were crying. Men were pale and sweating. In the midst of my prayers, I felt a stab of remorse, because I could hear the man behind me, and he clearly also wanted to live. Shame on me for misjudging him. I prayed harder.

Agonizing minutes later, our wheels touches down…and began skidding. Brake…skid…brake…skid…obviously the runway had iced over again since we’d left. My prayer deteriorated to, “Father, please make it stop, please make it stop, please make it stop…” At last, it did. The woman beside me said, “Let me OFF this plane!” Another burst into tears. Our valiant pilot’s shaky voice again came over the intercom, “Ladies and gentlemen, we regret to inform you that tonight’s flight has been cancelled. Please deplane in an orderly manner.”

No kidding! Who in their right mind would want to stay on the plane at that point? We “deplaned” with a right good will, and queued up to the desk; more than a hundred people and only two agents working on rebooking. I was far back in line. Inching forward, I finally reached the front of the line with only three people left behind me. When my agent saw my route, she said, “I’m sorry, this is too complicated. You’ll have to call the airline and work it out.”

“Ma’am, my cell phone doesn’t work here. I can’t call the airline.”

“Well then, go home, call them, and try again tomorrow.”

“Ma’am,” I glanced at her nametag, “Nadira, I am trying to get home, to China. My family here is a 2 ½ hour drive away, and the roads are too icy to travel. This is your airline’s problem, please fix it.”

Half an hour later, she waved me over with a smile, and said that her contact in the back had found a way, and that I was booked to fly to D.C. the next afternoon, spend the night in Dallas, and head to Tokyo the following morning. It was a much longer route than I’d had originally, but I was so happy to have something booked that I hugged her on the spot.

“Could I please have a hotel voucher, since I’ll have to be in your airport overnight due to your plane’s malfunction?”

“I’m sorry, we’re out of those.”

“You’re out of them? How can that be?”

“We only had 200, and gave them out almost immediately.”

“Ok…then what am I supposed to do?”

“First of all, we’re going to need to escort you out of the secured area.” Right, because it was after twelve, and I was all set for some serious mischief after what I’d been through that night. “There’s a Starbucks open 24/7, and I can show you several benches where you could sleep.”


As Robert (my armed escort) and I walked towards the unsecured area, I queried, “So, Robert, was it just my imagination, or was the pilot actually afraid just now?”

“Well…yes…he was. Pilots don’t like it when their engines fail.” I’d say that was the sign of a sensible pilot!

Nodding, “I thought so. He was trying to put on a brave front, but a cracking voice is never a good sign.” We continued chatting amiably until he had showed me both the Starbucks and my very own bench. Yippee! At least he brought a pillow and blanket, and I had my cart for my carry-on and backpack. One night into my journey, and I’d already been reduced to the status of bag lady. This was not an auspicious beginning.

Sleeping with my boots on

Placing my Starbucks decaf in my cart’s basket, I rolled over to my bench and began working on how to protect my belongings while I slept. The backpack and purse I placed between myself and the wall, and looped my arm through the straps. My carry-on was trickier. What was I to do with that? After thinking a minute, I took off my belt, threaded it through the handle, and strapped it around my leg. Done, my own version of airport security. Comfy cozy, now I could settle down to sweet sleep. And listening to the cleaning crew laughing and calling to each other in Spanish (How did they get here, anyway? The roads are all iced!). It was a long night.

My version of airport security


To be continued…

Trip to the Fabric Market

Keeping ourselves in decent clothing is a challenging. Except for Hope, we are not the shape of most Chinese people so few shops, and no inexpensive shops, carry clothing that fits us. When we go to America we stock up on new things, but by the time we have been back in country for a year, most of those are looking quite ratty. I’m not sure why our clothing seems to wear out so quickly but a few reasons come to mind – public transportation is quite dirty so anything light colored gets dingy fast; we rarely have more than a week’s supply of reputable looking items so those are worn and washed often; the polluted water with which we wash clothes is not pristine so they never really get super clean; and we have never discovered good quality spot cleaners in GZ. Whatever the reasons, our year anniversary of being back in China passed in February, making us now overdue for some replacement clothing. What’s a tall, overweight, or differently proportioned foreigner to do? (Differently proportioned translates to someone who actually has thighs or hips!)

After a number of years here, we finally discovered that we could go to the fabric market, buy cloth, and get a tailor to copy the clothes we already have which we like or duplicate clothing from a photo out of a catalogue. Isn’t that expensive? Well, it didn’t used to be! Now it’s costlier than purchasing items at WalMart or on sale at other stores, but similar to paying full price at mall shops. Prices aside, it’s just what we have to do to have decent clothing, so we do it!

Going to the fabric market is kind of fun. We usually set aside a full day to do it because even if we’re only there a few hours, we’re exhausted when we get home since the market is four or five stories high in two different buildings! It is a feast for the eyes and the senses! These pictures are in order as we came to the shops. If they seem kind of random, that gives you a better idea of our shopping experience! One can find linens in an amazing array of colors, patterns, and qualities…

Probably fifty stalls have Chinese silk. The ladies stand out in the openings of their stalls and when we walk by they say, “Silk-a, silk-a!” (Excuse the photo quality- they are cell phone pics!) There are silks from all over China. On the right of the sales lady you see dark greens, maroons, browns… Those are Guangdong silks. They are soft and luxurious feeling- good job Guangdong! The ladies offer us cigarette lighters to try to burn the edges of their silk. If it’s the genuine article it won’t burn.

But not everything is silk-a! We call this the “tacky shop”. Taken individually, some of the cloth is quite pretty, but altogether it looks as if the flower fairy overate and regurgitated here!

These ladies sell all kinds of trim and decorations. The selection is mind boggling!

Each little stall is independently owned and operated. Prices vary wildly and are higher until the vendors realize that we actually live in China and have some sort of a clue about the norm.

Here and there throughout the market, tailors have set up shop. They make some clothing “on spec” as you see hanging in the back and tailor for others to your specifications. Those prices vary wildly, too, as does the quality of the workmanship. 

We were looking at some fabric in the “Beautiful Flower and Fashionable Cloth” shop when Joy and I decided to try a little experiment. We had carried along the clothes we wanted duplicated and the lady assured us that the fabric we were looking at was perfect to make Joy’s skirt. (The fabric we look at is ALWAYS perfect! Apparently we have immaculate taste.) Anyway, I whispered to Joy, “Ask her if it would make a good pair of pants.” So Joy says, “What do you think, would this make good pants?” “Oh, YES! Very good!” “How about a bathing suit? Would it make a good bathing suit?” “Very comfortable swim suit! Very good.” “What about a nightgown? Could I use this to make a nightgown?” “Of course! This would make a perfect nightgown? So very comfortable!” “Hmmm. Or underwear? How would it work to make underwear out of it?” (Straight face. Slight pause.) “Very comfortable underwear!” Joy and I quickly dodged out of the shop before she caught us giggling! Seems we had found the perfect all purpose cloth- skirts, pants, night wear, swim suit, unders…. We hope the sales lady had as much fun that night recounting the tale of the crazy foreigners who wanted to make underwear out of linen as we did!

As you can see, the choices are almost limitless.

Button, button, who’s got the button? Why, the owner of this shop, of course!

Some of these vendors are very eager to sell their wares, but others not so much. Once at the fabric market we approached a stall similar to the one below. Deep in the recesses of the mess was a lace we were interested in for our daughters-in-love’s wedding gown. We asked the attendant, “Would you please get this ream down for us so that we could look at it?” Said he, “Not unless you will buy it.” Said we, “How do we know if we want to buy it if we don’t look at it up close?” “Not my problem. If you won’t pay for it first I won’t get it out.” “Well, how about we get it out ourselves?” “No. We’re not getting it unless you buy it first.” “We’re not buying it unless we can see it.” “Mei banfa (No solution).” Ok, then, well… We went on our way without his fabric wondering, “What in the world?” Go figure!

These little stores, as you see, are jam packed with fabric, small, and crowded. We were looking in this nook when, surprise! This little lady peeked out at us from between the patterns on the back wall! At another place, suddenly feet descended a hidden ladder from the ceiling where the shopkeeper had gone to retrieve something. Never a dull moment at the fabric mall!

Imagine floor after floor of small cubicles chocked full of linens, cottons, silks, laces, polyesters, nylons, rayons, blends, suiting, buttons, beads, spangles, bows, zippers, elastic, snaps, threads, needles in every color of the rainbow! Maybe that’s why it’s so tiring to go- the senses are almost overwhelmed! But for the seamstresses and quilters among our readers, I imagine it would be great fun for you. Come visit, we’ll take a day and go wandering. Fabric anyone?

And for inquiring minds, this is what we bought minus a few pieces we’ve already had made into clothes. Lots of dark things that won’t get ruined right away.

Chime Long International Circus

The Chime Long International Circus is considered the number one tourist attraction in Guangzhou by Trip Advisor ratings- and with good reason! We had never gone due to the high price tag of this 1.5 hour show, but after hearing so many great reports, we gave ourselves circus tickets for Christmas which we finally redeemed just last week. We borrowed Jeremy’s high quality camera with which Joy caught some great shots. Nothing, however, could quite capture the fast pace of this creative, colorful, quirky, and entertaining show! But….come to the circus with us and we’ll walk you through part of the experience!

Caleb was so excited! He could hardly wait for it to start, but he had to! We arrived an hour early in order to get good seats which are first come first served within boundaries.

With no introductions, the extravaganza began with a laser light show, singers, dancers, people spinning on wires suspended from the ceiling, and LOUD LOUD music!

You will quickly notice that not all the faces are Chinese. In fact, our assessment was that the majority of the players were from outside China with a large contingent from formerly Soviet block countries. The second act was trick riding, during which one flexible and bold young woman hung backward off the horse, then crawled underneath the belly and back up onto the saddle from the other side. Eek! 

For some reason, this act featured a large Atlantis-like shell on which reclined what appeared to be a fake lion and a real tiger (not sure the lion was fake- just a guess). Don’t ask me what the shell had to do with anything, but the riders were excellent. Forgive the heads. In our seats, it was impossible to shoot around everyone sitting, standing, or walking around in front of us.

Angela’s favorite performance was the aerial ballet. The music was quiet, the mood serene, the lighting muted and romantic. During this, she tapped her Aunt Joy on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, excuse me! I have to dance!” Unfortunately, no photos of that but suffice it to say she was the cutest performer in the show, and probably the most modestly dressed!

That was followed closely by the trapeze artists. They did have a net, which I appreciated. It made it much more relaxing for the audience! 

As soon as one act finished, the next came on. In this photo notice the clowns already onstage as the trapeze-ists (trapezoids? swingers?) take their final bows.

We were amused by the wide variety of animals who appeared in the course of the evening. If you have an aversion to trained animals, this circus is not for you! We guessed that this troupe takes advantage of the safari zoo next door- thus the strange assortment of creatures that took part including this hippo and these… guinea hens? Meanwhile, the clowns did magic tricks/comedy in the background.

And the monkeys and mama pig with piglets!

Following the clowns was a group of springboard performers among which was this guy on stilts…

Then back came the clowns with trained bears who could ride bikes and motorcycles, push wheelchairs….

and walk tightropes!

Of course, there was the obligatory elephant performance.

This shot was taken at the end of this trick, but the elephants turned a jumprope with their trunks while this man jumped. It was pretty cool!

Afterward, six South American dare devils rode small motorcycles in this globe. Though the set is a bit tacky, their riding was incredible and they did some amazing tricks.

Then we saw more aerial performers in this “Sky Dance”. Notice the giraffes at the bottom of the second photo following. I didn’t even notice them because I was looking up. However, afterward when we asked Caleb what he liked best at the circus he answered, “The giraffes.” Go figure! But this act also included trained deer, camels, a zebra, and some swans.


Then another horse act, voted by our family to be the most underwhelming part of the show.

While setting up the stage for the next big event, these acrobats put on a quick paced, fun, show in the runways around the stage. They moved so fast that this was the only pose we got a clear shot of, but we hugely enjoyed watching them.

Following them was this Wheel of Fire- our family’s favorite performance of the evening. A very fit young woman walked in the middle ring steadily throughout their act, to keep the wheels in motion.

The four buff men in pink did various tricks in, around, and on top of the wheels, keeping their own wheels spinning as well. Here they jump rope.

Then they did it blindfolded. They must be NUTS, buff nuts, but still… (That man is not falling, just doing a stunt.)

This was a great shot, though we just missed the guy’s head. These folks earned their applause with constant action, creativity, and heart stopping antics.

The girls were enthralled.

The ensuing parade around the ring included flamingos, mountain goats, and a gazelle, among other things!

Then, lo and behold, the little river running around the stage which had featured lights, smoke, fog, and fire turned out to have a deep enough section for diving! This act had divers, trampolinists, and even a slip and slide portion.

The final feature was an American man shot from a cannon. The actual shooting had so much light and smoke that the photos didn’t come out, but Joy got a great shot of the guy’s shadow in the lighting as he flew!

And…just like that, an hour and a half later with no breaks, no intermissions, split second timing…the show is over and it’s time for the last parade and final bow!

The pictures really don’t do justice to this, the largest permanent circus in the world. They put on a really stunning show which cannot be fully appreciated in only one visit. As I looked at the pictures Joy had taken I realized how many facets I had missed. It was well worth the expensive price tag and made a great family memory.

For those coming to Guangzhou, the Chime Long International Circus costs 250-280 yuan for adults, 125-150 for kids or shorter adults from 1.2-1.5 meters tall, free for children less than 1.2 meters one per adult ticket. VIP tickets are available for an extra 200 yuan. These allow you to have premium, reserved seating.

To get there, take subway line 3 to Hanxi ChongLong; take Exit E; and take the ChongLong shuttle to the circus.

The circus begins at 7:30 but opens at 5:30. If you arrive early, you can get very nice seating without paying the extra price. The better seats are to the left and right of VIP seating down by the “river”. If you are seated in any of the rows along the river you will have access to the many stuffed toys, etc, they throw to the crowd. We arrived at 6:30 by which time those seats were taken.

The facilities include food kiosks, souvenir shops, and so forth, and abut the ChongLong Water Park, Amusement Park, Safari Zoo, and hotel.  All are similarly priced and offer good entertainment for longer term visitors to Guangzhou.


Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

One thing I’ve discovered since coming to China is that a lot of how beauty is perceived is cultural. While many westerners like the glow of sun-kissed skin and straighten their hair for maximum shine and manageability, most Chinese prefer to avoid the sun to keep their skin as white as possible, and go to great lengths to get their hair to hold a curl. Beauty tips abound. Some of the ones I’ve been offered include, “Your skin is too dark; you’d better go take a shower,” (I had a bit of a suntan) “I think you paint your eyebrows too much,” (hmmmm, nope, that’s all-natural) and the very helpful “Your hair looks like an explosion,” (perhaps not quite the look I was going for; drat the humidity).

Whatever the beauty short-fall, there is almost surely a product or service you can buy to take care of it. Did you get a little too much sun? Try some…

…it’s sure to leave your epidermis the perfect color and, er, texture.

Feeling a little rough, unkempt and unloved? I’m sure some

is just what the doctor ordered. It comes only from the most warm-hearted cows.

Speaking of kind and warm-hearted, I think the ad campaign that indicated sunscreen was for losers was perhaps a tad harsh…

If they don’t use sunscreen now, might they not need White Slime later? I think it’s a conspiracy.

For those who caved to the pressure and didn’t use sunscreen, what to do with the resulting lines and wrinkles? A quick visit to

should do the trick. I have to say, I think the sign is ironically appropriate. My question is not how did they choose the name for their shop, but how could it have been so wildly popular as to be the second one opened?

Though artificial shortcuts to a more youthful you abound, some people desire to tone and tighten the old fashioned way. No needles, no fillers, just the-

If your arm keeps waving several seconds after you stop, try the Arm Shape Roller, by Little Devil Ver. No muss, no fuss, no pesky gym membership; just roll out a slimmer, sleeker you!

When your teeth get a little dingy and need some whitening, don’t reach for the Colgate- try

…the difference in your smile is dramatic (we just won’t say how)!

Unfortunately, some people’s smiles turns to frowns when they glimpse their cute little noses. They think that bigger is better (yet another cultural difference). For those who desire a more Romanesque sniffer, there is-

Simply roll the “US Nose Combo” up and down on either side of your schnoz to turn a button into a beak. Yeah, I don’t think I’m going to be needing one of those!

Speaking of noses, for those of us with sensitive ones, our olfactory impression of someone could factor highly into our perception of their attractiveness. For men looking to set just the right tone, look no further than

If you thought you were just a bit TOO suave, debonair, polite, pressed and polished, spritz on a bit of this. Some have even chosen to drench themselves in it to avoid any ambiguity regarding their persona. One whiff of this screams “I am a turkey!” It’s actually pretty accurate.

On the other hand, the gentler gender might choose to make a softer statement…

I guess the perfume on the left would accomplish that goal, but not sure about the one on the right. Would you say it’s pwctically pwrfect in every way?

Personally, I believe that beauty comes from within. I guess these people do to…

…although I didn’t realize there was a “Mylike Aesthetic Medicine” you could take for that. Maybe our methods are a bit different…

Apparently so. However, after the “Initial Unusual Experience” in the “silence of time” that “touches your soul with five senses”, where can you possibly go from there? For all your beauty needs, look no further than-

Shopping here is truly a moving experience.

Next time you look in the mirror, remember that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. You could Slime or Crust your way to attractiveness, pay a lot of money and Gag, or work from the inside out with Mylike Aesthetic Medicine. But just remember, those products you’re shelling out big bucks for at the BM are just as likely to create a Turkey Impression. :)



Flower Street Fun

When most foreigners think of Chinese New Year, they think of fireworks, Dragon Dances, and egg rolls. Though there are fireworks in abundance, I’ve never seen the famous Dragon Dance (though we have witnessed many Lion Dances), and have to go to America if I want an egg roll. For native Chinese, Lunar New Year means family, food, and pretty decorations…much like many of our western holidays. One of their (and our!) favorite traditions is Flower Street. Whether they are set in narrow alleys or sprawling squares, for three days leading up to midnight on Chinese New Year’s Eve, these bouquetted boulevards are sure to be thronged with a press of people, a plethora of posies, and  tons of toys for the patron’s purchasing pleasure. :)

Many people will meet up for a meal before going to the market. Hot pot and BBQ are both popular choices, because they allow people to sit around a warm pot or grill (remember, the indoors is usually unheated, and it can get cold), chat, and leisurely fix their food to suit their own fancy.

Our friends had found a Groupon-style deal for a BBQ grill, and we thoroughly enjoyed the unique experience.

As we chatted, we grilled thinly shaved pork and beef, small steaks, chicken, sardines, eggplant, sausages, green vegetable #9 (not sure what it’s called in English or Chinese), and mackerel steaks- all seasoned to perfection with cumin, garlic, soy sauce, and numerous other sauces.

Though it may not have been what westerners would think of as BBQ, we gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up.

With happy bellies, we made our way to the Flower Street at the sports center- the largest Flower Street in GZ. What a spectacle it was!

We knew there would be a huge crush of people once we went in, so I told the ladies to keep an eye out for the white hat bobbing above the crowd and follow that. It pays to be tall sometimes.

I think this imposing gate guardian would agree.

The square leading up to Flower Street was massive, teeming with people, and lined with beautiful traditional decorations.

In a nod to China’s long history of celebrating this lunar holiday, they had set up mobile museums displaying traditional artifacts and historical tidbits.

From here we took a deep breath and waded into the crush of people. Please excuse the quality of some of my shots. Not only was it night time, but sometimes the only way I could get a picture was to hold the camera over my head and shoot.

Did I mention that there were a lot of people there?

Flower Streets are a conglomeration of time-honored “lucky” items, beautiful flowers, fun toys and food. While we don’t believe in luck, it’s interesting to understand the mindset behind these traditional items.

No, these are not lemons with udders. They symbolize “five generations under one roof.”

A bunch of these would symbolize the giver’s desire for your family line to continue and prosper, and for all of its members to love each other and live in harmony together.

Having this in your home would show a desire for success in your career. Each tier represents a promotion, until you’re the big boss at the top of the pyramid.

Some things are tied to accumulating wealth, because of their visual resemblance to money-

Oranges look like gold coins…

…and pussy willow (at least in its natural, undyed state) looks like silver coins.

This unique pitcher plant is given to families hoping for children.

Peach blossoms are traditionally put in the homes of single ladies to advertise the need for a husband. Many friends are encouraging me to buy some this year…

…but I decided I didn’t need them to meet my Mr. Right. Or is he Mr. Wong???

Not all flowers are “lucky.” Some are just lovely; these are my favorites!

Hu die hua (butterfly flowers) are both popular and expensive.

It’s easy to see why these beautiful flowers are so coveted.

I thought these azalea bonsais were stunning…

…and the paperwhites delicate beauty and sweet fragrance make them another perennial favorite.

You’d think with these and many other flowers perfuming the air, the Flower Street would be a pretty nice-smelling place to be. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Hanging over everything was a really dreadful stench. I kept checking the bottom of my boots, looking to see if we were near portable outhouses…but I could not figure out where that horrible smell was coming from. Then, it dawned on me. Check out the food vendors.

After all, their offerings were, shall we say, a little out of the ordinary?

The Tibetan BBQ guy, dancing to the rhythmic beat of the music as he tossed and turned his meat skewers, checked out okay.

Here we find the culprit- a huge mound of chou dou fu- aptly translated as stinky tofu. I won’t go into details about how it’s cured, but sufficed to say I plan to stay away from it.

Ah, this is much more our speed.

This is all-natural cotton candy; no artificial colors or flavors. It’s practically health food.

To make it more fun for the young and the young at heart, vendors hawk everything from balloon sculptures…

…to hand formed clay models…

…cutesie accessories…


…blow up hammers (which many boys/men were having way too much fun with)…

…giant fake candied fruit sticks…

…and Do Re Mi?

Probably  my favorite part was the red lanterns swaying in the trees overhead…

…aren’t they magical?

Flower Street is a fun blend of old and new; traditional and whimsical– a great place to go to experience the full effect of the pageantry of this country and the warm, joyful spirit of its people.




Preparing for Chinese New Year

The time has come again to ready ourselves for the biggest holiday of the year here in China. In the West, we call it Chinese New Year, but it is referred to here most often as “Lunar New Year” or “Spring Festival”. In the press, it is sometimes called the Great Migration since it is the season when the largest percentage of the world’s population is on the move as people return to their hometowns to see family.

For us, we traveled ONCE during CNY and plan never again to make that mistake! Not only is it the most expensive time of year for transportation costs, but every conveyance is chocked to the gills, making it uncomfortable, stinky, and unpleasant to get around. Not only are we not going anywhere, but we find that we have become a travel destination as we have become “family” to some who have moved to other parts of China and take this chance to come “home” to visit us!

We will share other aspects of the holiday in later posts, but I thought some of you might enjoy hearing what we do to prepare and why. One tradition we have skipped this year is deep cleaning our home. With the broken leg and other health issues, we have settled for a “relatively clean” house, but we have managed to get ready in other ways.

My husband went to the bank to get new money to stuff our red envelopes. Though people will take old money, new money is thought to be more appropriate for the New Year!

We get different denominations for different levels of gifts. One yuan is worth about 16 cents so you do the math. We give little kids that we don’t know five yuan and work our way up through various acquaintances, service people, security guards, friends, and children of friends to the higher numbers. Except for service people, recipients of lucky money are young and single.

We buy “red envelopes” to use in giving the money (referred to as “lucky money” by many.

If you look closely, you can see much symbolism on the envelopes. Goldfish are not only cute but they stand for money (gold). The pink one with the plum blossoms would be for a single lady since plum blossoms signify needing a husband. Firecrackers are used to scare bad spirits away. (We don’t believe the superstitions but rather buy the ones we think are pretty or fun!) Bamboo stands for long life and virtue- sort of a symbol for righteousness. And most of them have “fu” characters on them for blessings. Some of these have little birds on them. As far as I know there is no significance to the birds other than welcoming in the spring, but there may be something I’ve missed! (Cranes stand for longevity but most red envelopes don’t have cranes on them.)

Then we stuff the envelopes. Hope was happy to have a task she was able to do from her wheelchair!

She and Grace enjoy putting the money in the envelopes along with something much better than money (a tract) and marking on the back in small numbers what’s inside!

To ask for lucky money, many will clasp their hands and express a wish for a prosperous new year. The implied meaning is something like, “I hope you’ll share your prosperity with me!” I enjoy giving red envelopes to faithful workers, friends, little children whether I know them or not, and children of friends, but it’s amazing how many workers come out of the woodwork in our complex during Chinese New Year who are complete strangers! Our complex houses 40,000 people and has about 32 towers. The workers from ALL those buildings tend to congregate publicly to “wish us happy New Year”!  A few are friendly and helpful year round and we reward them well with good envelopes, but many would not open a door for a mom carrying a baby, holding a two-year old by the hand, and struggling with groceries if their lives depended on it. It’s a good time to remember that we ourselves are recipients of grace we never deserved! And since we share Good News with everyone to whom we give red envelopes, we can genuinely smile and wish them Xin nian, hao!

We also purchase decorations for our windows and doors that consist of a variety of fu characters. Interestingly enough, many Chinese hang them upside down to “catch the blessings” in the same way that some Americans hang horseshoes.

These are paper cuts- aren’t they pretty? The large one in the middle communicates “blessings from heaven” which is the closest we could come to a Christian idea. But our daughter-in-love, Christy made us some calligraphy banners for our front door that have a New Year’s greeting with a Christian connotation. I’ll post a picture later- we don’t have ours hung up yet! But you can see Christy’s calligraphy art for sale at

We also decorate in a traditional way by purchasing many varieties of flowers, both potted plants and fresh cut. Stacy and Grace went out today to buy them.

Joy and Faith are actually at a flower street tonight so I think Joy will have more good shots for you. Stacy outdid himself and brought home a beautiful bowl of paperwhites, purple dahlias, yellow mums, sweet williams, impatiens,  an azalea, and six orchids.

The Chinese name for orchids is hudie hua, which means “butterfly flowers”. Don’t you love it?

Actually, Lunar New Year is said to herald the beginning of spring. I’ve never really gotten that since it’s in the middle of winter, but I love flowers and enjoy the chance to fill my home with them at least once a year. I think we spent about $60 total for our bounteous beauty!

And finally, we purchase snacks to put on our coffee table to share with those who come to “bai nian” – pay respect visits. We get an assortment of candies, nuts, seeds, chips, cookies, and so forth. Notice the cute papercut designs on the Pringle’s cans at the top left! Pistachio nuts (whose Chinese name means “Happy nuts” because they look like they are smiling- I love that!) and sunflower seeds are very popular because they take a while to open and eat so people can politely take food but not eat too much since they make many respect visits and are offered food at each one.

So tonight we have everything we need in the house- new money, red envelopes, plenty of snacks, decorations, and flowers. Tomorrow we’ll set about the real business of decorating and setting things out to prepare for the guests who will begin to come on Sunday!

Stay tuned for more Chinese New Year fun here at Pearl River Diaries!

‘Til next time!



Hope’s “Event”

Last Thursday, Hope, Grace, and I went to a birthday party at The Fountains. During a game of tag, Hope took a bad fall during which she broke her tibia and her fibula. Those nearby heard the bones snap as they fractured, making it immediately obvious that the day would not go as planned. We were blessed to be surrounded by caring friends, who gathered to help us. A car was brought around, pillows to cushion her leg were located, and we were loaded up for the very long trip to the emergency room.

The drive was grueling since Hope’s bones were unstable and the bottom half of her lower leg was more or less hanging loose. Every stop and start was excruciating. Hope was not the only one in the car crying by the time we arrived!

A kind friend who worked at that hospital registered for us before we arrived, but the process was still agonizingly lengthy. From the ER we pushed her bed outside and over to the radiology building. The area was just crushed with people. This hospital sees 10,000 patients per day- if you can imagine! Just getting her bed into the elevator was a test of patience as everyone felt they needed to crowd and push in front of the little girl on the bed who was crying and screaming in pain. Ugh. Finally, Joy and I screened off entrance and told everyone to just back off and let this child get into the elevator. Two mama bears in action- for sure. I hate to be an ugly American but there are times when enough is enough and that was one of them.

In China there is some philosophy about pain that is not immediately obvious to me. Perhaps it is that doctors deal with so many people daily that they distance themselves from the pain they see. Perhaps it is a toughness in the psyche. I really don’t know what it is, but there is definitely a coldness regarding suffering that is a culture shock experience every time we go to a Chinese hospital. The x-ray room we entered and the technician we dealt with were cases in point. Hope’s screams of agony notwithstanding, the technician just manhandled her around with indifference. I left the room for a minute, thinking I might pass out just seeing my baby’s pain (her daddy stayed with her). When I came back in our friend the doctor had the technician over at the side, was down in her face, saying, “Do you or do you not speak Chinese? I don’t want to have to tell you again! Be careful with this little girl!” Had it not been so intense, I might have applauded.

Finally, with the x-rays taken, we went back outside and into the main building again where we waited for half an hour for the report. Hope’s comment was that it was nice to be able to rest for a few minutes before the next bout. The x-rays showed that the bones were badly but cleanly broken. Surgery was indicated, but first the bones had to be set to be stabilized before any further steps were taken. Fortunately, they did give local anesthesia for the setting, which somewhat deadened Hope’s discomfort, but the setting was still horrifying. Hope squeezed my hands as hard as she could, looked into my eyes, and kept asking me to quote the Bible to her or sing hymns. She knew where her comfort would come from and was intentional about focusing her eyes on Christ. I was so proud of her.

In the excitement of the moment, I had forgotten that Rebecca’s brother-in-law is head of orthopedic surgery at a different hospital, so knowing Hope had to have surgery we invited him into the loop of treatment options. At the hospital we had first gone to, surgery could not be done that night. Apparently, surgery with such a break should be done immediately OR the patient would have to wait three days or so for the swelling to go down. So the treatment at the first hospital included three days of waiting IN the hospital before surgery on Monday. Rebecca’s brother-in-law kindly agreed to perform the surgery in his hospital that night, so we piled into the car (our friend had left his car and driver with us for the day- a wonderful gift that saved us a lot of misery, time, and aggravation!) at rush hour to go to the other hospital. With Hope’s bone set, she was not as uncomfortable as previously, but this trip was no piece of cake either.

Dr. Luke met us outside and shepherded us to a room. After looking at the x-rays, he confirmed that surgery was indicated. Even though the breaks were bad, the surgery was simple and included the insertion of plates and screws. Surgery was completed around eleven that night, and Hope entered recovery phase.

Even though it was a tough day, we saw God’s grace everywhere- friends who helped us get to the hospital; doctor friends who made the path easier for us; messages and calls all day from folks who cared and wished to help; Hope’s own sweet attitude and concentration on God’s goodness… We felt loved and blessed in the midst of the suffering.  Ps. 31:21 says, Blessed be the Lord, For He has made marvelous His lovingkindness to me in a besieged city.” That is a great description of last Thursday- it was a hard day; our city was besieged; but God’s lovingkindness was, indeed, marvelous.

We’ve had a number of medical emergencies since we came to China. Hospitals are a bit different here. In America, we go to the hospital for major events, but since there are no private doctors’ offices here, the hospital is the standard for day to day medical care. Folks go for scrapes and scratches as well as for major catastrophes- thus the huge number of patients daily. And since costs must stay comparatively low, all services are not provided. Among other things, patients must provide their own supplies. So when Hope checked into the hospital, we had to “gather”. Our list included items such as: a basin, soap, washcloths, towels, toothbrush and paste, toilet paper, tissues, wipes, chucks for the bed, bowls, silverware, and bottled water. This ward was relatively clean, but in the past we’ve even brought in our own cleaning supplies to freshen things up a bit (or a lot!)

Much of the care is, in fact, self service. If the bed needs changing, you can go ask for sheets or even go to the linen room and get sheets to change the bed. Clean hospital clothes can also be obtained by asking. Bed pans and “pee pitchers” are available in the housekeeping room where you can go and get them. If samples of urine or feces are needed, containers are left for the caregivers use. Trash can full? You know where the bags are! Have dirty gowns or sheets? The laundry trucks are in housekeeping! Obviously, if patients are not ambulatory, are young, are old, or are otherwise incapacitated, a 24 hour caregiver is mandatory.

Other things that are different include: The hospital rents out cots for caregivers each night for 15 yuan. My husband’s pithy remark was that you could buy one for ten yuan or rent it for 15! He was probably correct in that, but it was nice to have a place to stretch out. Patient meals are not automatically provided, though they can be ordered. Most families bring in food for their loved ones during their confinement, which is what we did for Hope. Pain management is often almost non-existent so we were thankful for our supply of pain medications on hand that helped Hope handle the worst of it. I knew that headache was good for something! I imagine it would have been frowned upon to supply our own pain medications, but that detail somehow didn’t get communicated! Ah well, needs must…

Another difference is the length of stays in Chinese hospital. Hope’s roommate was having arthroscopic surgery on her knee, but she entered the hospital on Thursday for a Monday surgery. Patients often endure lengthy stays since they not only go in for a long while before a procedure but stay for a long time afterward. Since many hospitals are not as clean as this ward was, infections are easy to come by. We felt blessed that Hope was allowed to get out only three days after her surgery. Another thing we were grateful for was that though she was put into a room with three beds, only one other was occupied and that by a very kind older lady.

Climate control is also subject to culture shock. Windows are left open in almost all weather, welcoming in the pollution, the heat, the rain, or the cold. The open windows sport clothes racks so that patients can do their own laundry and hang them outside in the “fresh air” to dry!

Privacy is nonexistent. Beds have no surrounding curtains or screens. Everyone can see what is being done to you and most folks feel free to comment or offer advice! “Ice is not good for you. Drink warm water!” “Her arm hurts. Slice a potato and put up her arm where the IV enters.” “If she’s nauseated, cut a lemon and put it over her nose.” Indeed, one is amazed to see a roomful of patients whose arms are covered with sliced potatoes and who have lemon quarters on their noses. :)

During holidays such as the upcoming Spring Festival (called by foreigners “Chinese New Year”), mostly junior doctors are left in the hospital. Few services are available during holidays, weekends, or evenings. It does NOT pay to get sick during an off time! During one Spring Festival, the newspaper said that 82% of laboring women had Caesarean births. The doctors were definitely not into missing more of their holidays than absolutely necessary. I know it sounds weird, but we were really thankful Hope didn’t hurt her leg a week or two later or it would have been even more trying than it was.

Payment plans are “Pay as you go.” Deposits are given to bookkeeping, and whenever the care has exceeded the money down, caregivers are required to go put down more money. We have heard of many situations where patients are discharged when their ability to pay runs out, regardless of the medical needs remaining. You probably wonder what the cost of Hope’s care was- the total between the two hospitals was right at 13,000 yuan, so a bit over $2000. Though that’s a lot of money, it’s not much considering an emergency room visit, a bone setting, surgery after hours, and a three day hospital visit! The entire charge was on one bill. There will be no bills coming in from doctors, surgeons, therapists, lab work, anesthesia, and so forth. So we’re, thankfully, not waiting for the other shoe to fall. And if you were appalled by the amount of self care and provision required by Chinese hospitals, notice the difference in price tag! Yes, American hospitals are more convenient and provide more supplies and service, but the cost is SO much more that it’s a nightmare. Personally, for our pocketbooks (we have no insurance), we prefer to do more of the work ourselves and pay less. We would RATHER bring in our own basin than to pay $15 for one, or whatever the cost is these days! At this particular hospital and ward, the doctors and nurses were competent and provided necessary care. It probably helps our level of satisfaction to have been here for over ten years so that our expectations have been transformed.

Hope is now home and recovering well. Thank you for all the prayers over the past few days. In a few months, she will have another surgery to remove the plates and screws but they will use the same incision. We appreciate your continued prayers.





Thanksgiving Traditions

Since we are often asked how we celebrate Thanksgiving in China, I thought I’d give you a glimpse into our home. I’ll put some photos together and insert them later- just couldn’t go through old photographs right now and still get a meal on the table!

Many years ago, about 33, we moved away from the East Coast, where our families lived, to Austin, Texas. That Thanksgiving we felt pretty low as we looked forward to celebrating apart from our parents for the first time, but as we thought and prayed about it, we realized that we knew many people who were in that circumstance. So waaaaay back then, we developed a family tradition of inviting to our home any friends (or sometimes strangers) who had no one with whom to celebrate Thanksgiving. This turned a bleak outlook into one of anticipation. We asked them to bring favorite side dishes or desserts that were traditional in their homes. One benefit of that was that some of their favorites became our favorites, too.

Over these years we have had many happy Thanksgiving celebrations and the joy of having new friends as well as old ones around our table praising God for His benefits to us. Even if we weren’t always blood “kin” family, we were family for the day! And through the years this became our favorite holiday. We never call it Turkey Day. For sure, turkey is our friend and shows up on our table each year, but our emphasis is definitely on giving thanks to our lovely, mighty, and holy God as we delight in the family, friends, and other blessings He has given us.

Sometimes we go through life and this happens or that happens and we don’t think much about it- we just go with the flow; but then we enter a new stage of life and suddenly realize that God has been at work over time preparing to bump us up to “the next level”! That’s what happened when we moved to China and found ourselves, that first year, many miles from “home” again, with Thanksgiving in the offing. From that first year here, we have carried on the habit of inviting folks over. It’s just always so much better to lift our eyes up and out rather than feeling sorry for ourselves and throwing a a pity party!

We have very fond and funny memories of that first celebration in China. Some of you who have been with us for a long while remember us cooking our turkey in our twelve-inch toaster oven. We whacked the legs off and fried them up on our gas stove; then stuffed the breast cavity and baked it smashed into that tiny oven! One challenge that we faced then and still face is that our ovens have a 60-minute timer so we had to rig a butter knife and duct tape doohickey that kept the timer dial from turning.

We also laugh remembering that we didn’t have nearly enough dinner plates and could not find more anywhere. So we used round cake pans for some guests, shallow serving bowls for others, and just generally did the best we could. I don’t think anyone minded! We had only been in China for two and a half months at that time, so our household was not completely outfitted. Ten years ago Western dining accouterments were difficult to find! We fondly remember putting our Thanksgiving salad in a plastic dog bowl that we were using as a serving dish! (No worries, we’ve never had a dog- the bowl was new!)

As do most of you, we have various traditions we associate with Thanksgiving. One of our favorites is that the children and I prepare for it together. I write our menu and they each choose one or two items that they want to make. Then on Tuesday and Wednesday, we turn up the praise music and pitch in to work together. Sharing the preparation has helped them to take ownership of hospitality; has taught them to cook; has made the day less work for me (especially once they got older and didn’t need continual supervision); and is a lot of fun because we are all happy in the kitchen together. My married sons have carried on this tradition and still enjoy helping their wives prepare for holiday meals.

Another thing we do is to make our cut out and decorated sugar cookies for Thanksgiving instead of Christmas. Christmas is just so busy and pressured! We find that we are more relaxed and have more fun doing this time-consuming activity before the mad rush of Christmas.  While our holiday desserts tend to run to pies and cheesecake, cut out cookies seem to move pretty fast. Even when guests are full they seem to have enough room for “just one more cookie!” I confess, I don’t get it since these are not on my top fifty favorite desserts list, but people do mention that they look forward to those cookies from one year to the next! We baked and decorated our cookies Tuesday with Jason, Christy, Caleb and Joey over for the fun.

A few years ago, I was wishing we had kept a record of the friends who had joined us for Thanksgiving over the years. I couldn’t do anything about the past but we did begin a new tradition to rectify that. At Ikea we bought a long piece of fabric that is “Thanksgiving-ish”. We put it on the serving “table” (which is really boards stuck on dressers…) along with permanent markers, asking each friend to sign their names and put the dates on the cloth. Each year we get it out, read it, and remember previous years. And because the ex-pat population is so transient in Guangzhou, the tablecloth reminds us of when this person or that one was in town.  Just yesterday Hope was ironing the cloth in preparation for our dinner and I was reading the comments friends had written on it, smiling at the reminders of those who had joined us in the past.

This year we are adding a new tradition of having everyone in attendance write something they are thankful for, which we will put in an envelope marked “2012” and store in a special container Faith decorated for the occasion. Then each year we’ll add a new envelope to the can so that we can look back from year to year and remember.

We also make decorating our house beforehand into a party. Fall is our favorite season in America but it’s not usually so pretty in Guangzhou. We have some nice days but also many icky white out type of days. So having colorful autumn things about adds zest and freshness to our lives! Most of our decorations are homemade and very simple (craft items the kids have made, coloring pages printed off the internet and embellished by Grace and Hope, fresh vegetables and fruits….), but we do have one straw wreath with orange ribbon, sunflowers, and a scarecrow that sports that traditional Thanksgiving greeting, “Willkommen” – a gift from a friend a few years ago. LOL We also use Indian corn brought with us when we moved here and ten years later is still in use!  (Twinkies are not the only things with long shelf life!) We’ve learned to keep it someplace where people aren’t tempted to pick kernels off it, since it was getting pretty ratty after the first few years. A number of years ago, Joy, Grace, and Hope made leaves using waxed paper (brought from America) with grated Crayolas melted between the layers. This year we laminated them to try to increase the life span.  (What a mess THAT made in our laminator!) We hang these on our plate glass windows and laugh about our lovely fall color against the backdrop of thick gray pollution.

One amusing quirk of our day is that years ago someone burned a DVD of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Every single year, we stick that same DVD in and run it in the background while we prepare:)

But what you’re really wondering about is the food, isn’t it?  You’re wondering if we eat ducks’ beaks, fish eyes, and cow tummies instead of turkey, huh? Well, as a matter of fact, we DON’T! I expect our menu looks much the same as yours, we just have to pay more to prepare it since many of the items are imported and work harder to get it on the table since we don’t have time saving products available.

Turkey is always on the menu. We go to the foreign food restaurant wholesale market and pick up three of those bad boys at $3 a pound! We make sweet potato soufflé starting with fresh potatoes rather than canned. Our pumpkin pies are created the old-fashioned way from real pumpkins, which we cook and puree before mixing our filling. No refrigerator case hash browns are available for making the traditional potatoes au gratin dish we enjoy, so we boil potatoes halfway, then grate them ourselves. Piecrusts are strictly from scratch – no refrigerated crusts on our shopping lists! Usually corn for corn pudding is hand cut off the cobs, but this year we found cans of creamed corn so we crossed that extra labor off the “to do list”.  Our ambrosia features pomelo, a large citrus similar to grapefruit but drier and sweeter as well as imported navel oranges. If we make green bean casserole (which we do only for guests we know particularly love it since it’s not our favorite), we start with fresh green beans which we julienne and cook lightly and we make fried onion strings ourselves from the Pioneer Woman’s recipe. Those bump green bean casserole up to a whole new level! If we hadn’t come to China we never would have known that! Probably the biggest luxury item that we buy for the day is sour cream. It is not readily available in small containers so at the foreign food street we plunk down $25 (yes, dollars, U.S. dollars) for a five-pound tub of sour cream! But that hash brown casserole is worth it- it surely is! And we have enough left over to make chicken enchiladas for Joy’s birthday on November 26.

What, besides labor saving conveniences, do we miss from American Thanksgiving celebrations? Not so very much! We do miss collard greens and butternut squash – two vegetables we can’t get here. And ham…. (We buy one ham a year and that’s at Christmas, about the only time they are available and even then for about $10 a pound! Yikes! But, it is still a holiday, right? J) But we are not deprived in any way. Though our meal may require a bit more work and cost two or three times as much as yours does, we have NOTHING to complain about! Our meal will be a sumptuous repast, a feast of the Spirit in giving thanks and of the body in receiving abundant delicious food.

We expect a smaller crowd this year than in the past, only twenty-five to thirty, some who will be here for the large dinner and others who will drop in later for leftovers and desserts. This year for the first time we will have two celebrations with a different group coming on Saturday. This has solved our dilemma of how to cook three turkeys in our two large toaster ovens! Here is this year’s menu, keeping in mind that we are not preparing every item ourselves, as some of the guests will bring dishes to share:


Stuffing (not dressing and NOT that cornbread mess some of you might call stuffing! Excuse me, but that’s just nasty, though I can still be your friend if you like it. No one is perfect! NOT trying to start a “stuffing war”, just sayin’…)

Mashed potatoes



Sweet potato soufflé

Hash brown casserole

Corn casserole

Green bean casserole

Cranberry gelatin salad

Broccoli salad


Dinner rolls (homemade, always homemade on Thanksgiving!)

Chocolate chip pumpkin muffins

Pecan pie

Pumpkin pie

Apple pie

Tollhouse pie

Cut out sugar cookies

We hope you and yours have a happy Thanksgiving. Don’t stress out; enjoy the day; make some good memories; turn off the football game for a few minutes so that you can talk about what you’re thankful for; and cherish the moments you have with loved ones.

From China with love,