Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mimi says "hey"

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Mimi, my beautiful Pekingese

Mimi is doing well. She has had an eye infection for two months. Once it was almost clear, but she rubbed it and it got messed up again. Now, it's almost better again. She's taken antibiotics and had eye gel applied -- not willingly though. She is 12-1/2 years old, and I guess it is taking her longer to heal than it would if she was younger. She's more moody and grouchy than she used to be, and I don't know if it can be attributed to age or illness or both. I love her and I know she feels the same about me, even when she's grouchy.

And for those smarty-pants among you who wonder exactly when it was that my dog was NOT grouchy, all I can do is wrinkle my nose and glare at you. Please leave my doggy alone. What you consider as aggressive behavior, I consider part of her job as my protective detail. She was merely protecting me. :-)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Brief updates: weather, friends, TV, movies, transport

WEATHER: June serves up pleasant weather where I live. July and August are unbearably hot and humid, but June's [usually] mild rains, known as the plum rain season, make for bearable temperatures. I'm trying to get out as much as I can before it becomes too hot. Today we had torrential rains instead of mild rains, but that's not common.

FOREIGN FRIENDS: Most of my foreign friends in town are leaving for the summer, but will be back in the fall. Chinese friends will still be around though, most of them anyway.

TV VIEWERSHIP: I get CNN International and Fox News on satellite TV, so for the most part, I hear the same news you do. I usually watch CNN in the morning (Anderson Cooper, et al) and Fox and Friends in the evening. (I'm in a different time zone, remember?) The toxic, argumentative political atmosphere bothers me though, so lately I've had have to turn off the TV often to maintain peace of heart and mind.

MOVIES: I don't watch movies much, but I watched the movie "Lion" on the airplane a few weeks ago, and I loved it. It is about an Indian boy who ends up being adopted by a family in Tasmania, where I once lived. The boy arrived in Tasmania the same year I did, in 1987. The movie is a tearjerker.

TRANSPORTATION: Bamboo Forest is opening more and more subway lines, and it makes life easier. When it rains and I have to get out, I stress out trying to plan the best way to get where I'm going and back. Taxis fill up with passengers during rainstorms and vacant ones can be hard to find; e-bike travel is not a great option; I'll get wet walking to and from the subway station, and sometimes at the other end, my destination is too far from the subway station. Buses seldom go where I want to go, so they are ruled out quickly. If you've always had a car, you've probably never had to think about this kind of thing.

Hope you've enjoyed these random updates!

Boating in the water town village

Sunday, June 04, 2017

African safari

Mongena Game Lodge at Dinokeng Game Reserve in northern South Africa, north of Pretoria
Zebras roamed freely at the lodge
The zebras are considered wild animals, and we were warned not to try to pet them, but it was not a problem to get near them to photograph them. 
The brush reminded me of central Texas. Dirt roads, dry brush, and medium-height trees were in the reserve. I was there in May, which is the first part of winter in South Africa. Mornings and evenings were quite chilly. 
That's a lion in the upper right quadrant of the photo. He's not in focus (sorry). He ate a warthog for dinner within a minute or two of me taking this photo. He was hungry. Lions like to eat anything with bones and blood. I'm thankful for a safari guide who is attuned to animal behavior and getaway techniques, and of course I'm thankful for the wart hog. RIP. 
The sun sets while on safari.
A wild ostrich. There were several, but the lighting was poor, so the photo isn't great.
Lots and lots of giraffes. 
Zebras and other deer-like animals at the game lodge.
Individual cabins at the lodge. 

Interestingly, the cost of lodging, food and safari was less than the cost of a daily stay at a typical hotel in the U.S. If you can afford an airline ticket to South Africa, then the rest is easy, relatively speaking. The grounds were gorgeous, and I am thankful I got to go. I pinched myself a few times to make sure it was real. I was in jet lag most of the week I was there though. Bummer for that. 

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Trip to Johannesburg, South Africa

At the end of May I had to go on a trip to South Africa. I had never been to Africa before, so I was a bit giddy. I had to take two flights. The first flight was 2.5 hours from Shanghai to Hong Kong. The second flight was 13 hours and was from Hong Kong to Johannesburg. Jo'burg looks very much like America. Above is a residential neighborhood in the big city. 
After arrival, they took us to a mall for lunch. On that day, the mall had a rooftop market going on, and I got a latte there.
Next to the mall was an "African market" that sells local handicrafts. I picked up a few souvenirs.
Later in the day, a bus took me and my group to a conference location a couple of hours away from Johannesburg. We passed by a black township, and I saw these people standing beside the road waiting for rides. A township is similar to a Chinese village (as I view it), although I'm no authority on life in Africa.

During my trip, I was able to go on two jeep safaris in a game reserve. I'll soon post photos from that, so come back soon! 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Garage Band

I went to the underground garage on Monday morning and discovered an underground garage band. The middle-age and elderly ladies were pounding drums and cymbals to the beat. It's not totally unusual to see older people practicing for performance arts like this (although I really don't get it), but in the garage? That's a first.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Flat tire

I had a flat tire on my e-bike the other evening. I had ridden it all the way across town and back and was within five minutes of reaching my place when I heard a flapping sound.

Thank God I knew of a nearby repair place, and they hadn't quite closed down for the evening when I pulled up and asked them if my tire was out of air or not. They saw the nail (a screw really), so I pulled up a lawn chair and waited for them to repair it for me.

The cost was 5 RMB, which is about 73 cents. Not a bad price.

I'm so thankful for the sidewalk repair shops around town. You can get your bike fixed, or your shoes, often by the same repairman. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Friends of mine

I had dinner with a few American friends at their place recently. These people are like my overseas family. I'm so thankful for them!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

English-language Church

The government allows foreigners to meet together for worship at an English-language fellowship. When I first moved to town, we met in an auditorium inside an office building. It was so convenient. We even had air-conditioning and heating in that building.

But then the government decided to build a church building in the new area of town that is far away from where everyone lives. If we want to meet, we have to meet there. The building is used by a local Chinese group in their own language earlier on Sunday mornings, and when they finish the English speakers can use it.

Only foreign passport holders are allowed to attend the English service. No Chinese can attend, by law. We can attend services led by Chinese, but they can't attend services led by foreigners.

It is a gorgeous building. It's just hard to get to. It is not near a bus stop or a subway station. Taxi drivers don't know how to get there, and if you do get there you'll have trouble finding a taxi to get out of there.

The English-language congregation charters buses to pick up people who live in certain neighborhoods. I don't live near those places where the chartered buses go.

One other problem: From where you get off of the taxi or bus, you have to walk for 15 minutes through a public park to get to the church. There are three pathways, and one requires stepping on rocks to cross a small lake. Wearing a nice outfit that requires heels is out of the question. Handicapped people might as well stay home.

It's a great fellowship, it is just really complicated to get to and from the meeting! By taxi, if I go each Sunday, in one month it will cost $100 roundtrip, because it is so far away.

That's the way it is. I'll show more photos another time. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Grocery shopping

I shop for American style groceries at this Euro-Mart.
Euro-Mart is inside the block, away from the street. Cars can't drive up to it, but most people don't have cars anyway, so it doesn't matter. I can park my e-bike next to the building. 
Grocery shopping in the Middle Kingdom is not easy, but it easier than it used to be.

I remember when I first moved to this country, I made a wild guess that grocery stores would arrive in this country by 2050. Fortunately for me, I was 50 years off. They arrived in the year 2000. Before that, you had to buy your groceries at the open market, stand in line as butcher carved pieces off a dead pig, or did bad things to a chicken.

Large grocery stores on the scale of Super Wal-Mart exist now. You can't get canned goods, and you can't get most packaged goods that you can get in the U.S. (no cake mixes, for example).

These large stores, RT-Mart, Carrefour, Tesco, etc. sell fresh fruits and veggies, packaged meat, ramen noodles, soy sauce, vinegar, mayonnaise, rice, frozen dumplings, milk, eggs, row after row of sugary drinks, cleaning supplies and cheap household goods (the quality is very low; makes Super Wal-Mart look like Neiman Marcus in comparison).

In my city, we used to have quite a selection of import grocery stores. Some have closed down and we have very few now.

We can get American goods but can't afford them in large quantities due to prices that are up to 4-5 times the price you pay in America. Who really wants a small can of Campbell tomato soup that costs over $5?

But sometimes a can of green beans, a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese, and a bag of tortilla chips makes you feel like a human being. I can buy paper towels, Betty Crocker cake mix, salsa, refried beans, and lettuce.

Euro-Mart, an import grocery store, is 30 minutes away from where I live, by e-bike, through the worst traffic in town. I can't go unless I am calm and alert enough to handle the traffic. I can make there about once every two weeks.

Euro-Mart has a bakery, but I don't eat bread. It has a dining area both indoors and outdoors. It is two-stories high, so I start upstairs with an empty basket and carry it downstairs to finish shopping before checking out. They take my American credit card so I don't have to carry cash there.

Euro-Mart has another location in town that is further away from me, and it is larger and only has one floor.

At Euro-Mart, I buy enough to fill four re-usable shopping bags and carry them back on my bike. Two stack on top of each other on my floorboard, then one each hangs over the sides of the two handlebars.

When I get home, I drop the bags by my front door, temporarily park my e-bike near the door, then scoot them over to the elevator so I can get them up to the 8th floor where I live. I'm so very thankful for my elevator.

I'm also very grateful that I didn't have to wait until 2050 to see the arrival of grocery stores here.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

I can't watch

These men, hanging from the rooftop by a thick cable, are laying bricks on the side of a building where it seems the previous ones have fallen. This took place inside my apartment complex. Mimi and I decided to take a different route for a few days. If something bad happens, I don't it seared in my memory for the rest of my life. I can't change it, so I just don't watch. I've talked to guys with these dangerous jobs before, and they don't like them. They just have to make a living and put food on the table. Lord, please bless them and keep them safe!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Pixie does Sudoku

My parents got two new dogs in 2017. The got Bella in January and Pixie in March. I was home mid-February through mid-April, so I got to know the little doggies pretty well. I even taught them both to use the doggy door, and helped house-train Pixie (she was still in the learning curve when I left). I took this photo of Pixie sitting in my dad's lap while he works on a Sudoku puzzle. Some say Pixie's so ugly she's cute. I just think she is cute. She has a perfectly charming personality, bounds with energy, and loves to be held. Pixie is only 7 months old in this pic, and four-year-old Bella enjoys her company some of the time. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

It's been awhile

I'm sitting on my balcony with Mimi, watching the rush hour traffic below on this cool, overcast spring day in the Middle Kingdom. I know it's been way too long since I updated this blog. I don't even know if anyone bothers to check it for updates anymore. 

Since I finished cancer treatment in January 2016 and had surgery later that same month, I've been on the mend. But just when I thought I should be feeling better, I felt worse. I returned overseas according to schedule, but endurance to make it through the day without napping eluded me. I would do my work during the day, then crash before I could make it through the evening hours (when I would normally update this blog). Furthermore, I couldn't catch my breath, huffing and puffing when it didn't seem reasonable that I should be doing so. Doctors checked me out, and even tested me for heart failure due to the gasping for breath. No one could find anything wrong.

But when I went to MD Anderson for my annual check up in February 2017, they did a chest x-ray. They checked my previous x-rays against the new one and realized that the phrenic nerve in my neck had been severed in one of my neck surgeries, and it had paralyzed my right diaphragm. 

(Radiation can also sever phrenic nerves, but two doctors told me they believed it to be a result of surgery.)

A paralyzed right diaphragm buckles, pushing up against the right lung so that it can't fill up with air. There is no medical solution for a paralyzed diaphragm. One just learns to live with it, making sure not to do things that cause shortness of breath, like climbing stairs, jogging to the mail box, or visiting Lhasa. The pulmonologist said I can't run (because I can't breathe), and I can't lift weights (because my right arm can't be raised more than 45 degrees). He suggested walking for exercise and keeping to light housework and office work. Another doctor suggested I take up yoga, but what yoga pose doesn't require the use of your arms to hold you up off the floor? I tried yoga before cancer came my way, and it was painful even then.

So my new normal is to take it easy. I've had a spurt of energy the past week that has kept me awake in the evenings, like normal people, and I hope it stays around for a long time. I'll make every effort to post more bloggy stuff soon, so I hope you'll check back from time to time.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Never give up

The following is excerpted from a Gospel Coalition internet article by Sarah Eekholf Zylstra.
Pastor John Piper gave a sermon on May 20, 2000. Five minutes in, he laid out a comparison nobody forgot:
Three weeks ago, we got news at our church that Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards were killed in Cameroon. Ruby Eliason—over 80, single all her life, a nurse. Poured her life out for one thing: to make Jesus Christ known among the sick and the poor in the hardest and most unreached places.
Laura Edwards, a medical doctor in the Twin Cities, and in her retirement, partnering up with Ruby. [She was] also pushing 80, and going from village to village in Cameroon. The brakes give way, over a cliff they go, and they’re dead instantly. And I asked my people, “Is this a tragedy?”
Two women, in their 80s almost, a whole life devoted to one idea—Jesus Christ magnified among the poor and the sick in the hardest places. And 20 years after most of their American counterparts had begun to throw their lives away on trivialities in Florida and New Mexico, [they] fly into eternity with a death in moment. “Is this a tragedy?” I asked.
The crowd knew the answer, calling out, “No!”
“It is not a tragedy,” Piper affirmed. “I’ll read you what a tragedy is.”
He pulled out a page from Reader’s Digest.
(“I don’t know where I got it, because I didn’t subscribe,” Piper remembers now. “I must have found it in a doctor’s office somewhere.”)
He read it to them:
‘Bob and Penny . . . took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball, and collect shells.’
“That’s a tragedy,” he told the crowd.
And there are people in this country that are spending billions of dollars to get you to buy it. And I get 40 minutes to plead with you—don’t buy it. With all my heart I plead with you—don’t buy that dream. . . . As the last chapter before you stand before the Creator of the universe to give an account with what you did: “Here it is, Lord—my shell collection. And I’ve got a good swing. And look at my boat.”
“Don’t waste your life,” he said, the words quietly tucked in before he barreled into another memorable anecdote, this one about a plaque in his home featuring C. T. Studd’s poem, “Only one life, twill soon be past / Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Note: Piper later goes on to say that he is not talking about those who are not physically able, he's talking about those who are able-bodied.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Surgery in Texas

I flew to Texas on Friday, February 10th. It's a strange thing to leave China at 5:30 p.m. and arrive in Texas around 3 p.m. the same day. I arrived before I left. Or something like that.

The following Tuesday, in Houston, I had cancer screenings, checking the places where cancer reared its ugly head in 2014. It's still all gone!

Then on Wednesday, I had surgery to correct some things from the last surgery. Now I'm back at my parents' house recuperating from that surgery. I have pain. But the surgery went well. I may have to have another surgery another time (another year) to finish up the necessary corrections.

I'll return overseas in early April.

Mimi's in good hands back in the Middle Kingdom, and my parents' new dog is trying to keep me company in the meantime.

My parents are both ill right now with bronchitis. Here's a sample conversation from this morning:

      Mom: Are you feeling better?
      Me: Better than who?

Hopefully we'll all be on the road to health very soon. 

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Quiet holiday

I look forward to Chinese New Year. I have my own traditions, many of which involve photography, eating out, soaking in the culture, and chatting with minority groups (for instance, Tibetans or Muslims) that mill around town because they don't celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday.

But this year, I missed the holiday. The flu bug bit hard. Instead of running around town, I stayed indoors with the heaters running full blast and a fuzzy doggy warming my feet while I laid on the sofa. I finally had to go out a few times: to get medicine, to buy some veggies when I could find a market that finally re-opened, and to pay my phone bill. The roads seemed deserted. I'd never seen the city like this before. With the ban on fireworks in the city limits, it was eerily quiet. No one is scaring off evil spirits as they re-open their shops after the holidays. No one is inviting the "money god" to bring him riches by setting off the loudest pyrotechnics. I really don't know what everyone did this year. I missed it completely.

Hopefully I'll get another chance to celebrate next year.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Year of the Rooster

Today is Chinese New Year. I have my usual rituals for celebrating the day, but this year I've set them aside so I can recover from the flu. Yesterday I rode my e-bike on the deserted streets a few minutes, just to soak in the peace and quiet that only comes once a year, and only for a few hours.

I have a cough that is aggravated by cold air and talking. So I'm camping out in my cozy abode this holiday. I hope everyone out there is having fun as they usher in the year of the rooster.

Monday, January 23, 2017

I've got the flu (and a Facebook rant)

Burning fever, chills, aches and congestion started Friday night. These led me to believe I had the flu. But because I'd had a flu shot on December 22nd, the doctor thought perhaps this was some other type of virus instead. The nurse did a blood test and a nose swab this morning, and it has now been confirmed. I have the flu.

Do they give refunds for defective flu shots?

The flu is rough on anyone, but they are especially concerned for me because my immune system has been through the wringer in the past couple of years.

I saw the doctor in time to benefit from taking Tamiflu pills. Have you ever had those? Rather quickly after taking my first pill, I developed nausea and then uncharacteristic incessant belching. Nice, huh? I hope this five-day round of medication does the trick. I have a trip to the U.S. coming up in less than three weeks. I need to get well fast.

While waiting for my lab work to come back at the doctor's office, I scrolled through my Facebook account and unfollowed anyone who had a political post. I didn't unfriend anyone, I just stopped following them, which means we're still friends, but my newsfeed won't show anything they post. I can change this at any time, and I can also still look on their Facebook home page to see what they've been up to.

Overall, this makes me sad, but I couldn't take the tension and negativity anymore. I'm halfway around the world and still it eats at me to read all of these online shouting matches that have escalated over the weekend. I do hope this is just a temporary thing and I can add people back little by little. I'm not opposed to people having or expressing opinions, I am just opposed to having unnecessary stress in my life and this is one small thing I can do to alleviate it without cutting myself off from the world completely.

I did not unfriend my mother though, of course.💗 She didn't have any political posts today, but even if she had, I wouldn't have unfriended her! Never. But everyone else was fair game.

Now all that's left on my Facebook feed are cat photos, how to make an old guitar into an overhead light fixture, recipes, quilts, baby announcements, and who has been Facebook friends with whom for the last 4 or 8 or 11 years (why does Facebook even do that...who cares)? I just want to see when people have babies, get married, pass through the pearly gates, have anniversaries, need prayer, and/or have something personal, interesting, fun or positive to talk about.

I'm in search of a better way to live, and although I'm not sure what I've done will help, it was worth a try.

And, now that I have better internet, I hope to spend more time on this blog anyway.

I hope this finds all of you doing well, and if you haven't gotten your flu shot yet, please consider doing so sooner rather than later!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Happy Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year falls on January 28, 2017.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Holiday buzz

There's a buzz in the air as people travel to their hometowns for Chinese New Year, which falls on Saturday, January 28th this year. School is out for a month. The train and bus stations are packed above and beyond normal capacity.
All through town, you see people rolling their luggage. Everyone is on the move!

People are also stocking up on food and supplies, because even though most stores are only closed for three days, many businesses will be closed for two full weeks during the holidays. Even the ones that are open will be short of supplies like meat and produce, because their suppliers are on vacation. I'm stocking up on bottled water, toilet paper, light bulbs, and groceries. No need to stock up on coffee. Starbucks here is open 365 days a year.

People are also buying gifts, in the form of food items in gift boxes. The food may be cookies, cakes, fruit, nuts, wine, etc. Chinese people give the gifts to family members and to people that they visit during the holidays. The beautiful boxes of gift food are often re-gifted. These gift boxes are not cheap, and people need to buy quite a few. Homemade gifts are not considered appropriate. 

This year, fireworks have been banned in the city limits. No fireworks' stands line the roads as usual. I'm pretty excited that I won't have to bring in everything off of my balconies this year. (I have had flaming bits of paper land on my balcony before, so the risk of fire was real.) But I cannot imagine Chinese New Year without massive pyrotechnics. It seems like the mature thing to do, to ban fireworks. But I'm afraid it won't be quite the same.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The birthday girls

Mimi and I share a birthday! 

I've been homeschooling her lately. Most of the time she sleeps during class -- but when class is over she eats her homework. Mimi is 12 years old now, equivalent to age 74 according to the veterinary charts for small dogs. 

I chose her tiny furry body out of a cardboard box on the sidewalk on a Sunday afternoon in early 2005, and it has proven to be one of the best things I ever did. I thank God for this warm fuzzy blessing in my life. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

On the streets

You may have heard that the air quality in China has been very poor this year, more so than usual. When I lived in Bedrock, it was extremely bad all the time, but since I've been in Bamboo Forest, I've found it much more bearable. But when fog rolls in and stays for weeks, it traps the pollution and creates smog; most of China got hit hard this year. After all these years, I just last week got an indoor air purifier. In less than a week, the filter, which should last four months, is already black. It is an uphill battle to try to stay healthy and breathe clean air.
I like all the sidewalk shops in the city. This one sells dolls. As you can see, backpacks are very popular and practical for city living.        
On a cold rainy day, there aren't many customers, but the owners stand guard out front anyway, full of hope! 

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Subway dreams

Commuters endure a long ride on a Sunday morning subway. Everyone's in their own little world.

Friday, January 06, 2017

In my neighborhood

You don't see this kind of thing in Texas.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

The first day of 2017

I took Mimi on a walk through the neighborhood today. I captured the blue sky with wispy clouds visible behind the stark bare branches of a winter tree.
I used to have a young American friend, Katherine P, who lived in one of those twin towers just outside my apartment complex. She's been gone for 7.5 years, but every time I go on a walk, I see her towers and think of her. 
Mimi was walking on the boardwalk when I started taking photos. She turned her back to me so her face wouldn't be in the photo. I whistled shrilly to try to get her to turn her head, but she knows that trick too. Finally, she couldn't take it anymore and did a fast two-step u-turn to put an end to the nonsense. I caught her in motion. She looks a little uncomfortable, but she's just twisting her body and getting ready to run.
A canal runs through the middle of my very large apartment complex. There are two bridges over it, a walking bridge and a drive-over bridge. Mimi's goal in life is to cross to the other side of the walking bridge as often as humanly (caninely) possible. She enjoys the smells on that side, and she gets more exercise. No one else knows this little secret, but as far as we're concerned, the name of the bridge is "The Mimi Bridge." Shocker, huh?

That's the first day of 2017 here in Bamboo Forest. Have a year full of God's blessings!

So far, so good

It's 2017 and all is well in the Middle Kingdom. I think 2017 is going to be a better year for this blog. (I found a better internet solution, and I'm not as exhausted as I was during most of 2016.) Keep checking back.