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.

 

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 http://www.calligraphyforgod.com

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!

Pat

 

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.

Blessings,

Pat

 

 

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:

Turkey

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

Rice

Gravy

Sweet potato soufflé

Hash brown casserole

Corn casserole

Green bean casserole

Cranberry gelatin salad

Broccoli salad

Ambrosia

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,

Pat

 

PACKAGE TIME!!!!

We rarely get packages. In fact, in the past nine months I think we’ve gotten one. Sometimes we feel a bit cut off and need a boost so this year I actually prayed in advance that God would lay it on someone’s heart to send us a Christmas package. God is so gracious to answer prayer- we ended up having several friends offer to send us things. It’s not that we actually NEED anything so much as that boxes from America remind us that we are attached through ribbons of love to family and friends back home. And the fun items they send bring touches of the states to our China home for the holidays.

I thought you might enjoy some photos of the hoopla surrounding the packages that walked in our door today!

A friend in California organized a group of folks who have been or will be in our home to send these humongous boxes our way. Wooohooo!

Grace and Hope walked to the post office to retrieve them. They were pretty excited when they came in!

Since Grace carried the larger one home, she got to cut into it!

“Hmmm… what could this be?” Joy hams it up for the camera!

So much excitement- like Christmas morning!

Oh yeah! Chocolate chips, cow tails, tootsie rolls…. (Don’t worry, we won’t eat this all at once!) This came on such a good day. We had a grueling day yesterday making the border crossing so something fun this morning was just the ticket!

Doing the Snoopy happy dance! And, no, Stacy is NOT biting his finger here!

Ok, seriously, aren’t my Cow Tail models just the cutest?

Score! Strawberry Twizzlers are a favorite of Joy’s! (And Grace’s apparently!)

Hope is so happy, she started crying! Gotta love Cow Tails!

‘Nuff said! LOL

This made a great hit, too. Think of the Dexters huddled around their space heater in the cold of winter sipping specialty cocoas… Is God not good?

I’m really not trying to solicit packages through this post, but rather to give you a glimpse into the “party” we had this morning and maybe bring a smile to your face! It’s always fun to see God answer prayer and to celebrate the joys of life together.

Dodgson family, Natalie, Jeanne, Piper family, Baldivid family- THANK YOU! What extreme packages you put together! Our cup is full to overflowing.

Hebrews 6:10
For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.

My Path through Pain

These past weeks and months have been a season of supporting in prayer dear friends who have had serious adversity in their lives. Our hearts have been heavy, as those we love have lost a child, a grandchild, a husband, and a father while others have suffered depression, illness, and financial distress. Indeed, we know that God tells us not to be surprised by the fiery ordeal that comes upon us for our testing as though some strange things were happening to us. (1 Peter 4:12) As believers we know that we WILL experience seasons of suffering.

My personal journey (which cannot begin to compare in scope to most of those mentioned above) these past few years has been through the valley of physical pain. I am up at 04:00 this morning once again visiting this “friend” with whom I’ve walked so closely for almost five years now. At present it is back pain, but for most of these years I have had a debilitating headache (caused by an old neck injury) which has wrapped itself around my brain twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. Often it has been difficult to speak cohesively or to think clearly, much less to carry out the many responsibilities that come with the task of wife, mother, home school teacher, homemaker, hostess, and Bible study leader. For a year, the pain stayed near a level 8 or 9 of 10 almost continually. Though I was pursuing medical diagnosis and treatment, I was in China where medical care is not as advanced as in America and where pain is French bread. (OK, that’s in France but, yes, I admit it, I am a big “Remember the Titans” fan!) But the point is that in China the medical community doesn’t tend to be overly empathetic and except for anesthetizing during surgery rarely medicates for pain so I was pretty much on my own, except for God (but fortunately, He is an awesome “except”).

This adversity brought me face to face with a long held fear. I had never wanted to be a “sick mother” and, yet, there I was- living smack in the middle of a dreaded nightmare! As a Christian, I believe that God is sovereign; I believe that He is wise; I believe that He is good; and I had a decision to make. How was I going to respond in the midst of the battle? I strongly considered whining about it and throwing a pity party, and I confess that I had days when I tried it, but that was obviously unproductive! Practically speaking, the pain impaired my abilities, but spiritually speaking, I knew that God had my best at heart and I wanted to somehow glorify Him in this passage.

Months went by and the headache didn’t stop. In fact, it increased until it felt like a horrendous beast inside my brain roaring at me night and day. As most believers would do, I thought a lot about James 1:2-4, “Consider it all joy, my beloved brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  Through this, my gracious Lord led me to stop running FROM the discomfort, but rather to embrace this journey as a tool He was using to do a work of sanctification in my life. He convicted me that if I believed He really was in control, really was all wise, and really did love me perfectly, that He would only allow this headache in my life if it were for my best and His glory. Gradually the focus changed from “How can I make it stop?” to “How can I live with the headache in a way that glorifies God?” I can only attribute this switch to the amazing grace of Christ working in my heart, because in my own flesh such a thing would never have entered my mind. (And I want to add that I have never stopped praying that whenever God was done teaching me what He wanted me to learn from this, He would remove the headache.)

One problem with pain is that it is so consuming that it’s easy to focus inward, to magnify self, to want the whole world to cater to me. But that path leads only to despair and hopelessness. It was a trail I did not want to tread – but what a battle NOT to live in that dark place! In His grace, and as many sufferers through the ages have done, God led me to the Psalms. The Psalmists often began with crying out to Him with their troubles and concerns, but by the end of their song, they praised God for His mighty works and His holy character. Second Corinthians 10:5 also exhorted me to take my thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ, which became the discipline I desired, by God’s grace, to practice.

In the valley of intense pain, the Holy Spirit turned my gaze to the beauty and majesty of Jesus as shown through some favorite passages of Scripture two of which I will write at the end of this post. In the night watches when I had pain so intense I was in tears, I meditated on these verses, rejoicing in the sacrifices Christ made for us, in the humility He showed in His own sufferings, in the depth of His affliction on behalf of His children. And (this part sounds weird, but it really did help me) as I thought about my beautiful Jesus, I inhaled and exhaled deeply, intent on taking in the goodness of God rather than concentrating on the pain.

Many years ago, I approached a friend who was very joyful in her Christian life and asked her how she stayed that way. I didn’t really understand her reply at that time, because she said, “God has allowed many trials in my life. And I can’t explain it, but somehow at the bottom of them all, I found the joy of the Lord.” Friends, NOW I understand that answer! I can’t explain it either, but as God kindly drew my attention to His goodness and grace in a deeper way, I have exponentially more joy in Him than I ever imagined. He is SO sweet and SO lovely! His grace truly IS amazing!

Though I’ve had some times in the past six months of relative ease from the agony of intense headaches, they and other forms of pain continue to return regularly. I still have to fight my flesh, control my thoughts, and concentrate my attention once again on Christ. The battle is not over, and probably won’t be this side of glory. However, He has given me hope in the midst of the storm. He has shown me that His grace is sufficient, and it truly is sufficient, and it is and ever will be sufficient. And for that, I praise His name, and thank Him for the pain- that at the bottom of it, there can be joy in Him.

By grace alone,

Pat

Below are some Bible passages and the lyrics of a song that have ministered to me in my affliction.

Phil. 2:5-10

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Isaiah 53

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
 And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs
 and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
 we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
 and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
 stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
 and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
 and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

2 Corinthians 4 and 5 have been particularly helpful as well, but I won’t clip and paste those here!

Also, I found my heart’s cry in this song:

Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer by Keith Getty

Jesus draw me ever nearer

As I labour through the storm.

You have called me to this passage,

and I’ll follow, though I’m worn.

 

May this journey bring a blessing,

May I rise on wings of faith;

And at the end of my heart’s testing,

With Your likeness let me wake.

 

Jesus guide me through the tempest;

Keep my spirit staid and sure.

When the midnight meets the morning,

Let me love You even more.

 

May this journey bring a blessing,

May I rise on wings of faith;

And at the end of my heart’s testing,

With Your likeness let me wake.

 

Let the treasures of the trial

Form within me as I go –

And at the end of this long passage,

Let me leave them at Your throne.

 

May this journey bring a blessing,

May I rise on wings of faith;

And at the end of my heart’s testing,

With Your likeness let me wake.

Called to Have Open Doors

People often ask us what an “average” week is like in the Dexter household in China. That question makes us laugh because we don’t have many average weeks. Life is full of unexpected and varied experiences. Learning to be flexible has been a big key to being content in China. But one constant of our lives is welcoming many friends and strangers through the door.

Recently I was researching the definitions of the word “hospitality” and found something surprising. When people think of hospitality, they often think, “Oh, my house is too small. When I get a bigger house I’ll invite friends over.” Or, “I’m not a very good cook. If I learn to cook I’ll have guests.” Then there’s, “I can’t afford to entertain.”  But hospitality doesn’t really have much to do with the size of our abodes, the quality of our cooking, or the state of our wallets.  Rather, the Biblical definition is “love to strangers” and according to one online dictionary it is the “quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” As with all of the important things in life, hospitality flows from and reflects our hearts.

Early in my life with young children, God convicted me about my attitude in offering hospitality. Everything had to be perfect! I’d get all stressed out, become impatient with my children, and just make life generally miserable for everyone. Everyone in the home almost hated having guests over because my attitude was so miserable. In my Bible reading, God in His kindness gave me Proverbs 15:17, which says, “Better are vegetables served with love than a fatted ox with hatred.” That became my goal in opening our door to family, friends, yes, and strangers! I have a few tips that have helped us enjoy this lifestyle God has called us to:

  • Make it a family affair. Involve children and teach them early how to take ownership of the joy of hospitality. If everyone works together to prepare meals, set up the room, and greet the guests, it’s just more fun. Interacting happily and cheerfully while working makes sweet memories and teaches practical life skills.
  • Keep it simple. It doesn’t need to be complicated, expensive or fancy to make friends welcome. Once in Texas when we were really broke, (really, really broke!) we had a friend whose wife and kids had just left him, so we invited him over once a week for a pancake supper! At that point we were eating pancakes four nights a week, and that was what we had to offer. The first time we had him it was a little embarrassing, but he just loved those pancakes and he was happy to get out of his quiet house once a week.
  • If you feel you want people to especially enjoy their meal, you can serve them almost anything for the main dish if you give them a good dessert! People remember what comes last! (And if it’s chocolate, that’s all the better, but maybe that’s just me!)
  • Hospitality is all about the people so work to have individual conversations with as many guests as you can. Ask questions, interact, and engage. Even if you have a room full of people that you want to greet, when you’re speaking to a person give him your FULL attention even if you have to move on quickly. Look her in the eye and listen when she answers!
  • Treat guests like home folks. Relax and enjoy the people God has brought into your life for that period of time.

I’ve had this subject on my mind lately because July has been the month of the open door in our household.

Our granddaughter, Angela, came and stayed for a few days. (Ok, that’s not really hospitality but I wanted to show her off!)

Lacy and Alyssa came for about three weeks to work alongside us.

Alyssa enjoys one of the babies at the orphan camp.

Lacy + violin = music therapy!

Grace doing her bit by giving Lacy a massage!

As I said, sometimes our guests are strangers. (Some are stranger than others!)

One week, while the “girls” were here, was especially full! On Friday, we hosted the orphan camp. It was not at our house, but together with our good friends at the Fountains we provided food, fun, and fellowship for the orphans and the staff from the orphanage.

We were blessed to be able to present gift bags to each member of the orphanage staff who came to this event, thanking them for allowing us to be involved with what they are doing for these precious kids. The bags contained some very fun things among which were specialty foods, travel bags, tea “bottles”, fish oil capsules (coveted by many Chinese because they believe American fish oil is the best in the world), compacts, sets of dishes, tote bags, and some most excellent reading materials.

This is a group shot of the orphans, the orphanage staff, and some of the volunteers who were there that day. Unfortunately, none of the superb staff of the Fountains (who are good friends of the orphans and share sponsorship of this event with us) were there for the final photo as other tasks had their attention at that time.

Then, two days later on Sunday, two families who are friends through adoption, Ruthi,  Amy and Bill along with their daughters (9 total), spent Sunday afternoon and evening with us. They were kind enough to bring us all kinds of things for both the orphans and our family, as we fellowshipped over a spaghetti dinner. Our girls had fun playing Uno with some of their daughters!

On Monday, our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, Mark, Ryan, and Joe showed up on our doorstep after a few weeks of traveling around China. They get the vote for being the most fun to feed of anyone we’ve had in our home this year! Their hearty appetites and “Mmmm” sounds during the three days they were with us made our summer. I even got word that one of them was crying over the roast beef. They can put their feet under our table any time!

While they were here, on Wednesday we gave our friends an opportunity to invite their friends to our house for dinner and a lecture. As stated in a previous post, most Chinese are very community oriented and like to share their experiences with their friends, so every now and then we give an open dinner invitation. On this night we had fifty-five enjoying our menu, which was sort of a “Chinglish” mix- fried chicken strips, Chinese fried noodles, fried rice, white rice, dumplings, corn on the cob (not really a meal item here, more of a snack, but we serve it at meals anyway), broccoli, salad (with LOTS of ranch dressing! Our friends here LOVE ranch dressing and will literally use it as gravy on almost anything on the table!), rolls, several kinds of fruit, and oatmeal raisin cookies for dessert.

Oops, how did this photo of me holding my grandson, Josiah, end up HERE? Oh, well… That’s Josiah’s gong gong” on the left. (The “o” makes the long sound and it means his grandpa on his mom’s side.) You can tell that I’m saying, “Oh, MY! What a darling child!”

This is our foyer that evening!

As you see, we have a lot of cheap, portable accommodation for large groups. We set up small tables and plastic stools. We always try to rent apartments with spacious living rooms because we give a lot of parties. After dinner, all the tables were folded up and the stools were moved out into the room. Here, Joe is telling about his past life, his present life, and his expectations for the future.

The guys left on Thursday morning and you’ll never guess what we did THAT day? We rested! It was a great week- lots of people, lots of fun, and lots of work – a perfect mix. Thanks, Lord!

Lest I sound as if we are always on the giving end of hospitality, I’d like to relate some special memories we have of times in other people’s homes. We are often traveling when we are in America, and have been very blessed by so many along our path. I can’t possibly relate every episode in this space but will give you a variety! I hope this will encourage you and spur you on to open your homes to friends and strangers and give you ideas of ways you might make guests feel welcome!

  • On a recent trip to Los Angeles, Raj and Tracy welcomed us in, having never met us. Tracy had their guest bath set up with luscious organic hair and bath products that I would never purchase for myself. She also had a cute little shelf with all kinds of samples and small items we might need. Every trip to the bathroom was a treat and a luxury. I felt like I was in a spa!
  • We usually fly in and out of Raleigh, NC, arriving late and leaving early for those transcontinental flights. Two families there take turns hosting us during those transitions. Their homes seem like refuges to us, since those are very stressful times. Once, upon arrival, we found that Mary and Curtis had put Russell Stover chocolate covered marshmallow candies on each of our pillows- my favorite candy in the world! Another time, Tricia and Mark made us “to go” breakfast bags to eat at the airport. We felt so loved…
  • My friend Janice (who may be the most hospitable person in the world) usually has a little gift bag to greet us with things for our girls to do/play in the car as we travel along with clothing items she has purchased for us, knowing that when we get back to the states our clothes are pretty ratty. She has nice taste and purchases the things at thrift stores, so these items don’t bankrupt her, but her thoughtfulness and attention to detail make us feel special.
  • Laureen, another dear friend and busy mama, took two hours out of her always tight schedule to make a quiet two hours just to visit over glasses of iced tea. I treasure that memory! That meant even more to me than the huge fourth of July pool party she hosted on our behalf so that we could see friends in her area!
  • Carol and David, a brother and sister in Houston, had visited our home in China and remembered us mentioning what foods we most missed from America. When we arrived at their place, they had the freezer stocked with ice cream in my husband’s favorite flavors! They gave us freedom to make ourselves at home, to sit on their front porch and let Texas soak into our bones, and to rest our weary souls. It wasn’t just the food and rest that showed love to us (they took us out for yummy Mexican food- the favorite of many in our family), but they spoke many words of encouragement and prayed with us and for us.
  • We parked our camper in Stu and Pam’s driveway for several days and felt like part of the family as they and all of their children made us welcome. They allowed us to be silly, to laugh, and to be ourselves. (Some people treat folks in our position as if we forged the holy grail!) We truly did “Consider ourselves…at home. Consider ourselves…part of the family.. (Think “Oliver”) After a few days it was almost hard to see where one family ended and the other began! (Of course, it didn’t hurt that one of their daughters had lived with us for three years:-D)
Time and space do not allow for all the blessings others have given us through hospitality, so I hope no one I left out will feel overlooked. I hope those of you who leave comments will include some of your ideas for things that others have done that have encouraged you and ideas God has given you as you have sought to use your home to “contribute to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.” (Romans 12:13)

 

Photo credit- Alyssa was the official photographer for these events!

 

A Sense of Community

The longer we live in China the more we realize that Americans and Chinese approach life from different perspective. The American viewpoint is individual, whereas the Chinese viewpoint is communal. When we first arrived we often wondered “Why?”

Why do people here go outside in their pajamas?

Why do girls clean their boyfriends’ ears in public?

Why do people ask us how much we pay for rent or how old we are?

Why are there generational names by which they call strangers the same thing they call their family members?

Why do the ladies in Bible study wait to “go together” after the lesson even if they are just riding the elevator downstairs and then taking different buses?

Why are we constantly offered advice, especially about how to take care of our young children?

Why do the elderly still have friends from grade school?

And the list could go on (and on and on and on….)!

The answers to those questions would have many facets, but a common thread would be that Chinese live in community with others. You might wonder if this is part of being a Communist governed society, but I don’t think that has much to do with it. One contributing factor is likely that China has a long and varied history, which is shared by all people. It is not a “melting pot” of different cultures but rather a very homogenous society. While we Americans treasure the diversity and differences various ethnicities and races bring to our collective, my Chinese brothers and sisters value their shared roots, their well-known history, and their national pride. In America it tends to be “all about ME” whereas in China it’s “all about US!”

There are situations where we may tend to question that thinking, and, in truth, it is not always a good thing. However, our passion for individualism at the expense of the common good is not always healthy either.

Another reason for this mutual life would be sheer numbers. Masses of people living in high-rise buildings next to high rise buildings; crowded villages with open courtyards where people gather; cities of millions…. Many people plus little space equals cooperative lives!

Our purpose in having this blog is not to criticize our host country. We will share the good, the bad, and the ugly things we see to some extent, because every nation has its warts and we would be remiss not to mention some. However, neither will we be disrespectful of a country, which has welcomed us in and given us so much- including a daughter, two daughters-in-love, and many friends. With that in mind, I’m not telling you the downside of this equation, but highlighting the positives I see in this mindset.

• The elderly are included, respected, and not set aside.

• No need to worry about what others would think if they knew this or that, because they do know!

• No preoccupation with privacy

• Lack of self-consciousness

• More opportunities for the gospel

• Crimes, at least petty crimes, tend to be punished immediately within the community rather than before a court of law resulting in greater hesitation to do it next time!

• Less loneliness

• Within one’s own circle, people tend to take care of each other with a system of mutual support. (i.e. In your circle you have a doctor. You have made him sticky rice dumplings for Dragon Boat Festival. When you get sick, he will contact a friend in the medical field of specialty you need and help you get proper care.)

• If you don’t know or forget someone’s name, you can just call him a generational name!

• You know what relationship someone has with another by the name used. (There are special names for “younger sister’s daughter” or “grandmother on my dad’s side”. It’s very complicated to learn but once you’ve learned it you can save all that explaining of who’s who!)

• Safety in numbers

I am sure there are others, but those are off the top of my head. I’ve mentioned it briefly earlier, but one funny aspect of this is the “yiqi zou” idea, or “going together”. In America we see it a little in the example of ladies going to the restroom at the same time, but in China you see it continually. People just prefer to do things together. Recently I saw this during Dragon Boat Festival. Let me depart for a moment to explain this holiday so you’ll understand the context.

Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. This year it was June 23. Legend has it that Dragon Boat Festival memorializes the patriotic poet Chiu Yuan who committed suicide by attaching a large rock to himself and jumping into the river. Chiu Yuan is said to have been the primary advisor of the Chu kingdom, making him the target of jealousy, which resulted in slander. When an interloper killed his king, Chiu lost his position and went to the countryside to write poetry. There, he is said to have met a peasant who didn’t care about the country but only about himself, so the disillusioned Chiu jumped into the river to drown. (Seems drastic but you know those poetic temperaments!)

According to the story, all the neighbors came out in boats to seek the fallen Chiu. (You see, they KNEW he had done this AND they came to help him!) They threw sticky rice pyramids (called zhong zi) into the river to attract the fish to keep them from eating his body, and they also beat drums to scare predators away. Somehow a dragon entered the story so villagers poured white rice wine into the water to make the dragon drunk, causing him to leave poor Chiu alone! Later, a drunken dragon-fish flew up out of the water with shreds of Chiu’s garments hanging from his whiskers. Thus began the festival today called Dragon Boat Festival!

What does all this have to do with communal living? Here it comes! This year, we live along the river, so we enjoyed watching the long, thin boats practicing the week before the event.

Local companies sponsor boats, as does every little village that can muster a crew to man one. The long, skinny watercraft can hold about fifty passengers most of whom row, but there is also one at each end of the boat yelling a cadence to keep the tempo, people who toss firecrackers in the water ahead, and, of course, a pair or two of drummers. Down river a short distance, we could see two gathering points for boats, which we hoped meant that we would see a race on the actual festival day.

But much to our surprise, there was no competition nearby. Guangzhou has one huge race featuring entries from all over the surrounding area. So why were they meeting outside our window? Yi qi zou! All the boats from this district- and there were tens of them- left at the same time to go down to the race. So though we got to enjoy the excitement of the continual drums and firecrackers all week, when race day came we only saw them join together and leave as a group! For us, it seemed anticlimactic.

But for our neighbors, this translated to great fun as huge numbers gathered around the river, cheering, shooting off firecrackers, and just generally giving their friends and colleagues a big sendoff. After all, what are holidays for except to gather together in community, making noise, eating traditional foods, and just hanging out? This is only one example of people going to great lengths to “go together” but I hope it demonstrates the idea at the same time as it educates you regarding one of the more popular celebrations of the year. At any rate, it provided me with a chance to post a few of the photos taken from our window, showing that there really was a plan behind my convoluted posting.

 

Tenth Year Reflections

Ten years ago this summer, we moved to China- 10 people, each with two seventy pound suitcases, a carry on bag, plus rather abundant “personal items”. We almost made “The Beverly Hillbillies” look classy! Our luggage contained everything from a frying pan, to bath towels, to spices, to silverware, to toys, to bleach. Yes, bleach. All of that goes to show that we really had no idea what was available in China and what was not. I admit to taking a lot of static for the bleach in the ten years between now and then. A confessed cleaning product freak, I couldn’t imagine living where my house wouldn’t smell clean! Neither did I imagine what a spilled bottle of bleach would do to my wardrobe, the spices, or the luggage.  Sigh. 

Doing the math on the above, we arrived in China carrying over a ton of “stuff”, schlepping it across the borders from Hong Kong into China through sheer muscle, determination, and stubbornness. Almost ten years later, we have enough “stuff” to fill an apartment and most of our muscle has either moved out or atrophied. (Why is it that stubbornness isn’t as easy to get rid of as muscle?) We have lost all three of our parents who were living when we moved, but we have added three daughters-in-love and four grandchildren, with a fifth on the way.

We’ve learned a lot of things since we’ve come to Guangzhou among which is that we can buy bleach in China. We’ve learned to find comfort in the smell of rice cooking in the rice cooker. We’ve learned to carry tissue packs in our purses at all times. We’ve learned to appreciate the melody of Mandarin Chinese spoken around us with its musical tonality. We’ve learned the economy and joys of public transportation. We’ve learned how to use squat toilets without sacrificing our footwear. We’ve learned that chopsticks can fix almost anything. Most importantly, we’ve learned much more about the sufficiency and beauty of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Since He is the preeminent One, we want to give Him glory in our first home page blog post.

We came to Guangzhou expecting that God would use us here- and we hope He has. But much more than that, we have seen Him use China in us. Leaving behind the things we know and moving someplace totally unfamiliar in language, culture, and living conditions is humbling. Gradually selling one’s house, then selling one’s business thereby losing one’s stable means of support is unsettling.  Having children living half a world away is heart wrenching.  Yes, and we praise God for all of those things! There is a lot to be said for having some of the props knocked out of our lives.  Is it easy? No. Is it comfortable? Nope. Abraham Lincoln once said, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I have no place else to go.” Peeling off comfort in layers, does cause us to recognize the frailty of our flesh and to appreciate our sovereign and powerful God who is the same yesterday, today, yes, and forever.

One of my favorite Scriptures passages is: 2 Corinthians 4: 7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. … 16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Unlike the early disciples, we are not being delivered up to death day by day! But in small measure, we have experienced some hardships we had not previously faced. These things have helped us focus our gaze on Christ, to meditate on the eternal rather than focus on the temporal, and to see the beauty of the Lord more clearly. And those are very good things.

Therefore, when people ask us what the most amazing thing God has done since we moved to China, we say that He has shown us that His grace is, indeed, sufficient, and that His power really is made perfect in our weaknesses. As many who have gone before us, we have found Jesus faithful, able, and enough.

We still have a lot to learn about God’s faithfulness and about China; there are certainly many things I’ll never understand about both. So far it’s been quite a journey! We’re very glad we came and are looking forward to seeing what God will teach us in the future. Who knows? Maybe He will even help us to understand why our neighbor yells like Tarzan every evening!