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…

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.

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!

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.