Sunday, September 11, 2016

Waiting for the train to come



I went on a short train trip yesterday to a nearby city to visit friends. Trains and train stations here kind of fascinate me. They are comfortable and clean nowadays too. Who would have thought the day would come when even small train stations had Starbucks in them?

My blog post title, "Waiting for the train to come" reminds me of a song Russ Taff sings. I wonder if anyone else remembers that song besides me? It's called The River Unbroken. Here is the YouTube version of the song and here are the lyrics. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Two years ago today

Two years ago today I got on a plane and flew back to America. I knew I had cancer but I didn't know what kind or how severe it was. I didn't know if I'd ever see China or my Chinese friends again. I left my dog behind in China on that day and hoped I would be successfully reunited with her. I remember wondering if I'd make it until Christmas, and now it has been two years. It feels a little surreal. Of course I am very thankful for all that God has done for me. Everything in life seems different now though. There is nothing good about cancer.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Cultural event

The business that invited me to this country (you need an inviter for visa purposes) asked me to attend a charity event today. I was asked to prepare an English poem to read at the event. I had no idea what this event was all about, but of course I would cooperate!

I somehow expected it to be a fundraiser. Don't charities always need money? If you need money, you ask as many people as you can to attend. So I expected 100 people or so. Fifty minimum.

When only 11 people showed up and some of them didn't look old enough to be making much money, I worried. Would I be viewed as a rich foreigner who would donate all I own to make their charity a success? Awkward!

A couple of young ladies were sent to be with me at the event. I wanted to ask them about the purpose of the event, but if I asked, then they might think I was complaining, and they would be embarrassed. So I just sat back quietly and played along.

We all sat at a long table with Chinese tea cups and nuts for snacks. We were inside an exquisitely decorated traditional Chinese tea and furniture shop. 

As it turns out, charity is a bad translation for what this group is all about. The group exists to help preserve Chinese culture through sharing poems, playing traditional Chinese musical instruments, sharing photography, and engaging in other arts. Obviously my English poem is not preserving Chinese culture, but hey, they asked for it, not me!

In attendance were teachers, musicians, photographers, and a TV producer. Three of four of those present read Chinese poems. Three played musical instruments. One guy showed his photographs on a flat-screen TV.

The only man present read a long poem. It must have lasted 6 or 7 minutes. He was speaking dramatically as he read the poem. He was halfway through the poem when his phone rang.

He reached over to turn it off.

Except he didn't turn it off, he answered it and had a conversation in front of all us in the middle of his poem! It would be like if you were at church and in the middle of the sermon the pastor's phone rang, he answered it and had a conversation in front of the entire church. 

The organizer lady looked mortified, not so much for herself, but for fear that their foreign guest (me) would think them crude. I just smiled sweetly as if I hadn't noticed. It makes no difference to me really, except it is a little humorous. It's not her fault. People just do things and you never know what's going to happen. 

I had an enjoyable afternoon, and no one asked me for money. I consider that an overall win!

When it was over, we could stay and talk or we could leave. I asked the two young women with me if it was okay to leave. One of them, age 24, did everything but roll her eyes. She said she was not middle aged and she just wasn't "getting the feeling." Chinese culture means nothing to her. I suppose that's why the group feels the need to exist, to preserve what many care nothing about anymore.
  
Traditional Chinese paint brushes on a stand
Beautiful Chinese chess set
Part of the group; I love the lights
Traditional Chinese music instrument
The organizer
More of the group

Smarty pants dog


She knows I'm taking her picture. She's acting like she's ignoring me, but she is completely engaged in the situation. She plays the game better than anyone I know. She is one smart doggy. This photo was taken at my parents' house, and I ran across it the other day. I love it because -- even though you probably can't see them like I can -- I can see the wheels turning in her brain and it makes me laugh out loud. Ah, she's so hilarious and I love her. Here's to YOU, Mimi!

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Daily life

A lady barber cuts hair on the side of the road in north central China. It's common to see sidewalk barbers in China.
The energy-sapping humidity of summer has finally relented and gone away. I couldn't be happier. Now I can get out on my e-bike and explore this beautiful city!

Most of my trips are across town. My physical therapist's office is roughly 12 miles away, and it takes 45-60 minutes to get there by e-bike, depending on whether traffic is bad or ridiculously bad. I have PT once or twice a week. It would be a beautiful drive if I wasn't always having to watch out for the other guy.

The part of town where the Brazilian PT works also is home to most expats in town, so there are American-style grocery stores and American-style restaurants there. (There are also German restaurants, Italian ones, etc.) After PT, I generally go to a grocery store and stock up on enough groceries to fill two reusable tote bags and I carry home groceries on my e-bike. All summer long I couldn't carry home butter, because it would melt, but now I can buy butter too. I don't buy a whole lot of American-style goods though. A can of Campbell's vegetable soup costs over $6. I sometimes buy tortilla chips, pickles, Kraft macaroni and cheese, and canned beans. The stores are not large.

I'm also attending an expat ladies' Bible study in that part of town on Tuesday mornings. It's held in an upstairs coffee shop of a ritzy hotel; the coffee shop is seldom used by others. The expat church is also on that side of town, but even further away. My e-bike can't make it as far as the church, so when I go there I have to go by taxi.

The Tex-Mex restaurant and my hair dresser are over there, as is my regular doctor. I suppose it would make sense to live over there since I go there so much, but I live in an interesting part of town too. My apartment, if in the expat part of town, would cost twice as much, and I would have to downsize and have poor quality living conditions. I get to know the entire city better than most by having to traverse it as I do. I live in the historic district, and it is beautiful.

I'm afraid that when the north winds start to blow, I may not be making as many trips to that part of town. But for now, I'll enjoy it as much as I can. If not for PT, I'd like to explore other directions in town.

Footnote: Pray that I'll be able to get more range of motion in my neck and right arm/shoulder. That's what I go to physical therapy for. My pain level will go down too if I can get these damaged neck and arm muscles stretched out. They were damaged during surgery a year and a half ago, and radiation "cooked" them so they are not normal anymore. Nothing is impossible with God, so I have great expectations for good. My PT is a believer! 

I love Jesus

Today I was on my e-bike, and I passed by an old tired-looking Chinese guy on the sidewalk wearing a white t-shirt that read, "I {heart} Jesus." It had a big red heart on it.

I thought about running over to talk to him, to tell him I love Jesus too.

Then I realized that he probably doesn't know what the English words on his t-shirt even mean. His wife probably found the shirt at a thrift shop, a discarded item left behind by some zealous foreign tourist who visited here.

I didn't go over to talk to him. Frankly, I would have caused a wreck in the e-bike lane if I had tried. But I was glad to see Jesus' name proclaimed even if no one knew what the shirt said but me.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Lunching with the ladies

Playing an ice-breaker game before we eat lunch.
I'm back overseas, but while I was away, some of my American friends had left. Returned home! Imagine that! 

Other American friends have been gone for the summer. So I decided I need to find some new expat friends. I love my Chinese friends, but it's helpful at times to be able to talk to people who relate to your background and upbringing. 

I went to the international church in town last week, and they announced a women's potluck luncheon the following week. So I went. It was held in the home of a couple who are here on an "expat package." I suppose that most foreigners here are on that type of support package. That means they generally have a huge, expensive multi-level house with a yard, a full-time maid, a chauffeur at their beck and call, and for those who have kids, tuition paid to attend the international school in town. All costs are covered by their employer.

For the luncheon, we met at a villa. It is unlike any other kind of housing in this country, so it really stands out.

It was a far cry from my usual life, but it was fun anyway. The lady of the house was humble and said it wasn't really her house, they were just tenants. One lady said she didn't like having a driver because she misses her independence and the ability to come and go as she liked. 

These particular ladies really seem to have no idea how the rest of this country lives, but it is their reality. It's certainly not their fault they have an easy life.

The pastor's wife, from South Africa, told me she was raised a Baptist, and they always had potlucks in South Africa. I laughed. Isn't it the same in the U.S.? She quickly realized that asking people to bring dishes of food in this country was rather inconvenient. A few had carried their dishes by subway, a few by foot. I brought mine across town by e-bike. The rest got their food there by chauffeur-driven vans. 

I met ladies from the Philippines, Brazil, South Africa, other parts of Africa, Germany, U.S.A., Malaysia, Taiwan, and I forgot where else. 

The Chinese government doesn't allow Chinese to attend the International Fellowship. Only foreign passport holders are allowed to attend. Many foreign Christians live in this city. Who knew?!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

First haircut in two years

It takes a long time to grow hair back after you lose it all. It was finally getting long enough to look normal, but was a little bit uneven. I needed a trim.

I read another cancer survivor's account of growing her hair out for over a year, only to have a careless hairdresser cut off all her progress. She was devastated. So to avoid the same thing happening to me, I had to choose my hairdresser carefully, and had to be able to communicate with that person well.

I found one. My hairdresser, a Chinese young man with the English name Steven, listened carefully and is helping me with my plan to grow my hair out. He trimmed it, gave it some layers in appropriate places, and decided a few highlights would make it look better. 

It was nice to save money on haircuts for the last couple of years, but it better to be back among the normal people who have to pay to get haircuts!

And, by the way, I would also choose baldness over cancer and its consequences. Some people make too much of their hair, letting vanity take precedence over fighting cancer with all of one's strength. Having hair again feels nice, but it is not everything.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Random Summer Summary 2016

HOTNESS

You know it is hot when you have to travel to Thailand to cool off.

The heat index got up to 126 degrees Fahrenheit one day here where I live in the Middle Kingdom. Most evenings the heat index has been at least 100 degrees. Not every summer is this hot. For instance, any summer I am not here, it is not that hot. It wasn't that hot here last summer.



THAILAND

I am not in this picture and I did not wear a swimsuit, so don't be wondering which one of these Russian exhibitionists is me. 

Some day when I am full of energy, I will get the good photos off of my good camera instead of just showing you my phone photos.

Honestly, while in Thailand I saw the beach for about five minutes every day, usually just before the sun set, but I wasn't at the beach much. 

I have been on three trips this summer. I have been to Taiwan, Thailand, and a desert area of China. I did fine on each trip, but when I got home from the trips I had trip recovery issues. Maybe when the weather cools down, I can recover more quickly. My health still drags me down. 


FRIENDLY MUSLIM LADY

One day near the end of Ramadan, on one of my trips, I was out in a public park and the Muslim lady above invited me to her house for dinner. She was very friendly and insisted. I told her I would visit her house, but I wouldn't eat because I'd already eaten dinner. I got there and she started cooking, because she didn't believe I'd really already eaten. I wasn't really planning to eat her food, and she wasn't planning to eat it either because she was still fasting. So finally we just took photos and laughed and talked about things. Here she is at the sink washing the food she planned to cook for me. Her hat is what Muslims wear. Sometimes they wear scarves, but the purple hats are easier to throw on. 

She told me that her husband was staying with their daughter for a few weeks, because he wanted to eat and his daughter would cook for him. So this lady was willing to cook for me but not for her own husband.

UNFRIENDLY MUSLIMS ... OR NOT?

One day, in my own city, I went to eat at a Muslim restaurant. The Uighurs who work there are very conservative, cover up with scarves, and are very unfriendly. You can say hello to them and they won't even acknowledge your existence. People go there to eat because the food is good, not because they want to be acknowledged as human beings. 

So imagine my shock when I went to the restaurant one day and one of the women came over to TALK TO ME. She wanted schooling help for her children and thought I would have information to help. Her husband came over and we exchanged contact information. I texted a Chinese friend to say I was at this restaurant, and that Chinese friend wrote back asking if they were being mean as usual. I wrote back and said "NO, WE ARE FRIENDS NOW!" My Chinese friend thought I was being sarcastic and didn't believe me! Haha.

I've been back several times. The last time I was there, a torrential thunderstorm came up. The sidewalks became rivers. I had to stay at their restaurant a really long time. I thought I could chat with them more, but they were busy running the restaurant. 

COFFEE SHOP IN THE RAIN

When a mild break in the rain came, I ran across the pathway to a coffee shop and hung out until the storm ended. It was one of the most beautifully decorated coffee shops that I've ever been in.

                  




I felt bad that Mimi was home alone during the storm though. Poor dog child.

IN CONCLUSION

Besides going to the doctor for appointments, these are the sad little highlights of my summer so far. Thank God I've been able to do this much!

I've tried to write blog posts more often, but the internet always seems to cut out when I have time to write. Thanks to the Great Firewall of You-Know-Where, I have to use a VPN to write on this blog, and VPN slows down the internet and doesn't work at all sometimes. I do the best I can with what I have.

Please pray for good health for me and my family (my parents in particular). And, as always, please pray that cancer stays away from my body forever, please.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

"He was asking for it," says Mimi

My dog bit the groundskeeper this morning. I was trying to talk to him and I was holding her usually tight leash a little too loosely. She must have not liked the look or smell of the guy, because she went right for his ankle, a move she tries on every person and dog that comes too close that she doesn't take an immediate liking to.

I think Mimi thought in her own little brain that she was playing with him, because she didn't try to kill him or anything. She just got her slobber all over the leg of his trousers, like she was teasing him to come chase her or something. He pulled up his trouser's leg to see if she broke skin, and though we could detect a little redness, she hadn't broken his skin. The groundskeeper is such a good sport though; he laughed it off and said "mei shi," no problem.

Mimi was all smiling and everything. She looked at me for approval and wondered why the game ended before it ever got started good. If only we could find a game for her that didn't involve her teeth and "mouth water" as they call it here....

I understand the groundskeeper's initial fear. In this country, rabies are a big problem. If you get bit by a rabid dog (which Mimi acts like sometimes, but is not), you have to go to the hospital and pay a couple of hundred dollars for a series of rabies shots. If you don't, you may start foaming at the mouth, bite people and die within a few months. If Mimi had seriously bit this guy,  I would have had to pay for his shots, and rightly so. I know, I must remember to keep that leash tight, or else pick her up and throw her over my shoulder like a baby when I stop to talk to someone!

In America, Mimi and I would walk and walk and walk and never encounter another person. But in this most populated country of the world, we can't walk more than five seconds without passing someone or some group of people. I'm usually very careful to keep her leash pulled tight so she can't lunge at anyone.

I told the guy Mimi has had her rabies shots and cannot carry the rabies disease. But no one here believes that story, although in my case it is true. Even if you showed them your pet's rabies' certificates, they would assume they were forged. Lots of people try to save money by not getting their pets vaccinated, and some find fake certificates to use. But my dog really did get rabies shots, in Texas in December. So she is really good.

And when I say good, I mean bad. Mimi is really bad to be biting people. She has a bad master who could never figure out how to train and restrain this notoriously off-the-wall doggy breed.

On the other hand, her behavior works great for her watch dog status, and I always feel very safe with her around. If the delivery guy tries anything funny, Mimi will have him for lunch.

My 11-year-old Mimi is so sweet, calm and loving when she is home inside with me with the door closed. My neighbors who share the elevator with Mimi wouldn't believe it. I've told them as much, and they are like "are you kidding me?"

Anyway, she's my sweet little wolf, and I"m keeping her.