Planes, Benches, and Starbucks: Part Three

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

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

Meeting Baby Josiah

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

The Laaaassstt Starbucks

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

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

Leg Room!

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

You’re telling me, sister.

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

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

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

Home at Last

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


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.