Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shopping here is truly a moving experience.

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

 

 

Flower Street Fun

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

I think this imposing gate guardian would agree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oranges look like gold coins…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I thought these azalea bonsais were stunning…

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, this is much more our speed.

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

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

…to hand formed clay models…

…cutesie accessories…

…pinwheels…

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

…giant fake candied fruit sticks…

…and Do Re Mi?

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

…aren’t they magical?

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

 

 

 

Fun with Chinglish- Restroom Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps they should eat their Wheaties.

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

…but at least they’re equal opportunity.

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

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

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

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

Talk about a dirty habit.

The next sign I just find thoroughly confusing.

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

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

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

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

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!

 

Things to Buy on Your Next Shopping Trip in China

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

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

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

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

Hmmmm, which one of these doesn’t belong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breath-taking. Literally.

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