Planes, Benches, and Starbucks: Part Three

For Parts One and Two of this story, please follow these links– http://pearlriverdiaries.com/blog/2015/03/27/planes-benches-and-starbucks-part-one/ and http://pearlriverdiaries.com/blog/2015/04/07/planes-benches-and-starbucks-part-two/.

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– http://pearlriverdiaries.com/blog/2015/03/27/planes-benches-and-starbucks-part-one/ .

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.

Refueling

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.”

Sigh.

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…

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…

…pinwheels…

…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.

 

 

 

Fun with Chinglish- Restroom Edition

Going to the restroom in China can be an adventure. During our 10 years of living and traveling here, we’ve just about seen it all. Squat pots are the least of our worries (in fact, I’d far rather use a squatty than a dirty western toilet). Many public restrooms are simply a shared trough separated by half walls…and no doors. A nice country rest stop has continuously running water through the channel. A more rustic version might have a clay pot that slowly fills with water and dumps occasionally through the trench, washing away most of the waste. Others just have a ditch that slopes slightly downhill into the pig pen in the back. It definitely makes one question their future pork consumption.

Two of my favorite restroom stories actually happened in one night, on a trip on a night bus from Shangrila to Dali. To start out with, the bus was one of the most malodorous places I’ve ever been trapped in my life. My friend told me that it was full of a particular people group who traditionally only bathed three times in their lives- when they were born, when they married, and when they died. Bless their hearts, apparently none of them were very near those desirable events. They crawled into their berths and kicked off their shoes, belched and aired themselves until it was truly a thrilling relief when they started smoking (and that is saying something, because I’m allergic to cigarette smoke).

I settled into my berth, comfortably stretched my six foot frame into the three feet of bed space, and determined to make the best of the 8-10 hour adventure. Imagine my relief when, four hours into our trip, the driver finally stopped at our first rest stop. Gulping great lungs full of fresh air, I staggered through the darkness towards what appeared to be rudimentary outhouses perched on an embankment. Strange, I thought I could hear water rushing somewhere. Fishing my penlight out of my backpack, I entered the rickety enclosure and stumbled to a stop before a hole in the floor. Shining my flashlight down, down, down through the opening, I could make out a raging river 30 feet below. Good thing I was prepared and packed that flashlight! Otherwise, in the darkness I could have easily fallen through that “toilet” into the frothing waters beneath…unless my western hips had saved me, in which case I would have certainly given my family something to talk about for years to come. “Remember that time we had to fish Joy out of the “toilet” on the way to Dali? She was stuck in it, tight as a cork. Ahhh, good times.”

Another four hours into our journey, we pulled into a small village in the middle of nowhere for our second and final rest stop (that driver must have had a bladder of steel). When I asked a local where the nearest W.C. was, he replied with a shrug “We don’t have toilets in this village. There’s an alley over there you could go in.”

Well okay then. That was definitely a new experience for me, but I was pretty desperate, so I was willing to give it a try. Using my trusty flashlight, I picked my way through the piles in the alley until I found a secluded corner. Trying to shut off my inhibitions, I prepared to do my business…until I heard skittering rats in the rubbish all around me. Nuh uh, no way was I foolhardy enough to go any further at that point! I grimly determined that I would wait until we reached a “proper” restroom (and by this point, my definition of that was extremely loose) if it killed me.

Perhaps you can understand now why I appreciate the following Chinglish restroom signs so much. They’re an indication that someone cares enough to make the business of using the necessary as pleasant and polite an experience as possible. For that, I’m truly grateful.

Here’s a clear, well-appointed sign showing the location of the latest facility…

…which on closer inspection is best used by people whose diets are a bit deficient in fiber.

Perhaps they should eat their Wheaties.

This attempt at political correctness falls just a tad bit flat, although I’m sure they didn’t mean to be insulting…

…but at least they’re equal opportunity.

Once you reach the restroom proper, it’s always good to know how to utilize the facilities. First, if you’re lucky enough to have a door, then you should…

I’ve never been all that mechanically inclined, so any explanation is appreciated.

For those used to using squatties instead of their western counterparts, this admonition might cramp their style…

…but I cannot imagine that even the most die-hard smoker would find it pleasant to take their cigarette break in the toilet.

Talk about a dirty habit.

The next sign I just find thoroughly confusing.

What does it mean? It wasn’t an electronic toilet. I find the idea of a “flush and run” or a “run and flush” for that matter, to be a bit disconcerting.

Finally, you know that you’ve come up from the world of alleys, troughs and squatties when you are invited to…

I can only surmise that this is a very luxurious experience. However, I personally am happy to settle for something with a light, no rats, and even (gasp) toilet paper.

So next time you take the opportunity to utilize one of your western restrooms, just remember the wise advice from your eastern counterparts- turn the little round lock, don’t step on the closestool or smoke in the toilet, and hurry to have flush. And for those days when you want to treat yourself a little special- have a spa for your rectum!

Fun with Chinglish- Food Edition

During my years in China, one hobby I’ve taken up is documenting the amusing Chinglish translations on signs and packaging. When I moved here, I decided my sense of humor was going to be an invaluable tool for the transition, and I haven’t regretted it. :) Menus, park signs, packaging, and clothing provide an almost endless source of fun. Over time, I’ve built up quite a collection of signs that have given me a chuckle. I intend to share them in installments in hopes that you will enjoy them, too.

Please be aware that I am not making fun of my Chinese neighbors. Goodness knows, I’ve made enough language mistakes of my own to leave no room for finger pointing. When I visit the States, I frequently find similar mistakes in Chinese (for instance, one man had a prominent tattoo which he thought said “wolf,” but which actually meant “pig”…oops!). I only hope they enjoy my occasional blunders or quaint phraseology as much as I do theirs.

You can tell a lot about a restaurant by its name.

Something tells me this food will be quite tasty.

East meets West in this one…

…and creates quite a funny mental image. Think the Chairman with a big, polka-dot bow.

This bakery is bending over backwards to bring us a beautiful appointment, coming song.

Let’s see some of the tasty treats we might find inside this accommodating eatery.

Mmmmm, that’s hard to resist…literally.

Smokin’.

On occasion, I stumble across that rare gem of a restaurant that doesn’t make me come inside to discover their specialty.

You had me at “frog eggs;” although the “sticky nice balls with tar” were a close second.

Unfortunately, most cafes aren’t so forthcoming, and I have to peruse their menu to see their offerings.

Good thing I can be “surrounded by the sweety feelings” here, because I still have no idea what they’re selling. If their fish are on dialysis, I’m definitely skipping the sushi.

Let’s face it, most of us don’t have the luxury of eating in restaurants often. Grocery stores are where we buy our food, and we create delicious, well-rounded, healthy meals at home. I find when stir-frying it’s usually good to start with…

…that Inedible Blend Oil is just nasty.

Over in the refrigerated section, I like to search for all-natural ingredients, bursting with flavor, like…

…nothing says “farm fresh” like “Burger King Colored Burger Slice.” Yummmm!

I would say that Classy Kiss comes from classy cows, but that just sounds wrong.

When simple bacon just doesn’t make the cut, this bacon is a cut above.

For those people on a no-frills budget, try…

If disapproval, we will drawback; now how’s that for a guarantee?

There is also a wide assortment of appetizing snacks, for the “kitchen impaired.”

Or not so appetizing.

That’s more like it. Although, if I were the “Saying Plum,” I’m not sure it would be super smart to say, “Hey, so delicious, let us try it fast!”

I’m sorry, but as a Christian, I just wouldn’t feel right buying “temptable food.” How could I live with myself if I led it astray? I want my food to stay on the straight and narrow, even “while travelling.”

The more times I try this, the more “specious” I feel. This delicious snack really fit me.

So next time you’re in China, be sure to sample some of their culinary masterpieces. Whether you’re wowed by their frog eggs or lured into sampling the dialysis fish, we know that nowhere else can you get that same specious feeling as China. It is, indeed, a Delicious Place.

 

Things to Buy on Your Next Shopping Trip in China

Today Faith and I took our two visitors to the wholesale market at Yi De Lu, where shopping is always an adventure. One day soon, we intend to write a longer post about the street where we buy everything from our foreign food to umbrellas to remote control helicopters to red envelopes. Tonight, I wanted to highlight a few must-haves next time you go souvenir shopping in our fair city.

Please excuse the quality of the photos- I only had my cell phone. :)

As we approached the wholesale building, what should greet us but this lovely exhibit? A trader was selling pelts of all varieties (one of which looked like Scrat on Ice Age…very attractive). Perhaps to convince us of the freshness and authenticity of the furs, the seller had put the head of one of them in the stone lion’s mouth, where it dangled artfully.

Hard as it was, we resisted this enticement, and headed indoors, where other delights awaited us. For the coffee and tea lovers in the group, a variety of mugs beckoned.

Hmmmm, which one of these doesn’t belong?

For that sporting, international set, who dream of the Eiffrl Tower in Paris…

And for that die-hard Starbucks fan, introducing Chachabucks Coffee, by Pullbbang. It’s an entertainment portal!

What to get for the really hard-to-buy for individual in your life, that serious minded one with weighty matters of national importance on his mind? How about this-

An Obama Ecoey Pet? It’s both politically correct and “green,” and will provide endless hours of amusement and delight. Not sure it can be as tasteful as advertised?

Now that is a Head of State if ever I saw one.

For the one who is looking to trim and tone just a bit-

Try the Arm Roller, by Little Devil Ver. Simply place the device over your arm and roll up and down for smoother, leaner, more sculpted limbs.

Lastly, for that elegant lady who wants to make a statement with her accessories, our friend Alyssa modeled this fabulous piece-

Breath-taking. Literally.

So next time you’re in Guangzhou, consider a less traditional route in buying gifts for your loved ones. I’m sure their response to such unusual gifts will warm your hearts, or at least give you all a hearty chuckle. :)