I had a great flight to Chengdu and conversations with english speakers both in the airport and on the plane. There was a frankness with the people I was talking to about their desire for purpose and answers in the universe about what we are all here for, as well as a desire for continued growth of the political system into a democracy and place of freedom. I was grateful for English speakers, and those willing to have significant conversations… The experience of being in a country with directed
Riding the subway allows me to spend a lot of time people watching, and I think one of the things I have been most surprised by is the is intent adoration of all parents here towards their child. With the one-child policy here, there is such a closeness that familes share to their children. Since 1980, it has been a policy of the Workers Party that no family have more than one child. I notice, as a result, absolutely no children in strollers or carriers of any kind–they are always held or walking…. I thought this was interesting and endearing. Also, the families give all of their attention to the child that they have. I was talking on the plane 1/8 with a local, and he shared that this is a good thing because of the cost of providing for children, but also that he would like to see total freedom of choice in this country before he dies. The converstaion was candid, deep, and revealing about the culture here.
While in America, freedoms and choice are the currency of politics (or managing national debt), in contrast–success, finances, and the national GPD (gross domestic product) are the focus of the politics here. There are 32 provinces and not necessarily a representational government. Elections take place, but my Chinese friend said he remembers getting only one ballot in his life. The result, he reflects, is an emptiness and blankness for many people here. Though I have images of tai chi, dancing, and other ‘recreational’ activities in my head of this ancient land, he reports that is mostly for those enjoying retirement. My Round the World journey seems like such a freedom and opportunity to him, and all I could offer is that I would make the most of the time and experiences. I will do a SCUBA dive at some point just for him and send a picture. I am grateful for the honesty, and also the perfect placement of people at all the right times so far. After landing here, he helped me get into a free shuttle, and when the shuttle brought me to the hotel near my hostel, they called, and then walked me here! What a beautiful provision. Other little joys included when I checked in to Holly’s Hostel in Chengdu, there was a furry feline welcoming me. What a treat. And then a couple of other foreigners to share a room with. The next morning–I had a fabuluos bowl of tomatoe and egg soup for 10RMB (about $1.70). YUM! The food in Sichuan province is second to none! (Tibetan and Chinese)
Tried to sleep in a little bit, which was hard, because the hostel I was staying in has no heat. It is a funny thing when you never take off certain clothes (ie-thermal underwear) especially in a city setting. I am used to that while camping, but for some reason it feels different living in a metropolitan area. Enjoyed some great breakfast, time at a park with some friends, and then a yummy Tibetan dinner (butter bread and yak are wonderful). Today I was able to skype a couple of people, which was a deep joy. I also connected with the girls I shared the room with (English teachers in another province).
THURSDAY 1/10 I visited the Chengdu Panda Center with my two new friends from the hostel. We navigated the city bus system to get ourselves up there for just $1 bus far and $10 admission instead of a private ‘tour’ for $30 each. It was great, when we arrived, I was not expecting it, because I thought the stop was at the end of the line–so the bus driver said something to the full bus like ‘this is the foreigners’ stop’, and someone nudged me and pointed to the building. I am so grateful to ALWAYS have the right people in the right places, it is amazing… Neither of the other girls had noticed it, either ;).
In the evening, we went for dinner with some other friends and, you guessed it, had more phenomenal food and spectacular conversations.
My friends allowed me to stay at their place, which was great because they have heat and a western toilet (its the little things!). I also got to enjoy being with their young kiddos, and hearing about life serving in another country. I attempted to get up to Jouijaigou park, but didn’t get up early enough. The truth is that I really didn’t make it a big enough priority in planning, so the timing did not work. This park is the inspiration for the Avatar animation and it looks phenomenal so I will have to make it back another time to explore and enjoy. I enjoyed some more time with my new friends and chilling in the park. We also did a couple of errands in the city–and that always gives you an inside look to how it feels to live somewhere :).
SATURDAY 1/12 I visited Poetry park, which is a beautiful setting for family gatherings and resting (a good thing for Shabbat). An interesting thing to me is that it is also a location for emergency evacuation. Since the earthquake, public parks have been named as places of shelter, so there are signs for power, water, temporary tents, medical care, and incident command, permanently in the park. This was impressive and again seemed to be a proactive approach to potentially terrible circumstances. When the earthquake occured, many schools collapsed, killing an entire generation of children (due to teh one child policy, parents could not conceive again…) Hospitals were unable to withstand the shake either, and many buildings and lives were devastated. At the same time, government buildings did not fall to the ground. There is also a thatched hut in the park, but I did not want to pay the admission fee, so I just glanced! Had some great street food, and enjoyed the water features, watching families and kids, and the chance to just absorb my surroundings.
In the afternoon and evening, I rested some more and had a personal time of devotions, singing, and reflection. It was a sweet thing…
SUNDAY 1/13 is a time of rest, massaging some ladies in need, and picking up a few final Chinese souvenirs from Jinli street before I leave Then off to Shanghai for the day! I was fortunate to be able to massage a couple of the outreach workersin Chengdu, and that was a blessing. Just before I headed to Jinli street, I checked my email (because I was meeting someone on Monday for lunch). Thank goodness that I did–my flight had been moved 2 hours earlier! I have never had that happen before. So, I made it in time (after jockeying into a taxi at a very popular hailing area, and pulling my bag around the city for a little while). Another touch of mercy and grace…
MONDAY 1/14 was a full day! I arrived late Sunday night, and found a hostel. This was a funny story–I landed expecting the usual ‘visitors info’ kiosk at the airport, and there isn’t one at Shanghai! So, I went over to the airline ticket counter to ask about using a phone, and the attendant instead helped me by making all of the calls (yay). We found an open hostel room, and she wrote the address down for me. Then I went down to catch a taxi, and there were 60 people in line. I knew the taxi would cost about 180rmb ($60), so I decided to see if I could find someone to share with… I just walked up and down the line saying ‘anyone want to share a ride’ in English, and a gal said she would. She works for an English magazine, and knew where I was headed, so we shared and I paid 50% of the fare–love it! Got to the hostel, and it was the first bed I’ve been in where I didn’t use my sleeping mat (ie–it was comfy). Heat worked great, and I was able to again skype some folks –how I love technology.
When I woke up on Monday, I was right across from the metro line, so I went over and got on–following the directions Stephen had given me to meet him at the large mall. I started to see many of the architectural giants on my way, and we saw even more after crossing the river and walking to the Cool
Docks. We had an amazing dim sun lunch (ostrich eggs, taro, sweet potatoes, kung pao chicken, lotus fruit snacks, lamb, so many flavors!), and then I headed to the Bund, Nanjing st, Tianfundi, and peoples park, and then back to the airport on the maglev train (love that thing!! it goes 300km/hr).
Flew from Shanghai to Phnom Penh next to another amazing man who has been working over here for a few years. Coming through customs, realized that I hadn’t taken out my passport photos and put into my carry-on, but that was just a $2 mistake.. Got through there no problem, and picked up by one of the staff of Hard Places Community in a tuk-tuk (what a welcome thing to have someone right there after 4 times figuring out where to go next, it was a little sweetness!). Drove through town learning about Borey’s life and a little about the plans for the next few days, and I could hear and sense the hope and joy in this place.
Began with a comical experience… My friend Alli told me that she would arrive about 7:45am, so I was out there early and ready to hug her, hehe… After a little while, I thought mabye she had to send someone, so I asked the tuktuk driver just outside my guesthouse if he had been sent. He said, yes, yes. And I asked if by Alli, again ‘yes, yes’. So out of faith, just got in the back. Well, a kilometer or so down the road is a round-about (rotary), and when we got there, he looked back and asked ‘where’?? HAHA. I said, you are supposed to know. Oops… he promptly brought me back and then Alli was there shortly with her beautiful daughters. The experience was funny, because it made me realize when we trust someone (as I do Alli), you may not question circumstaces, but you still need to make sure they are coming from the right source (as in hearing from the Father).
We had a sweet breakfast together after dropping her girls off at school, and I was then immersed right into the community of Punluk Thmey (New Growth) outreaches. The organization is working with kids on the street, families, and men and women in the midst of human trafficking. When Alli was reminded that I was a social worker, there was a perfect of ways for me to encourage and serve her staff and team in case consultations and standardizing some practices. I love that of 25 staff, most are Khmer, and only 4 are foreigners. They are doing great work, and over the course of the next three days I got to spend a great deal of time with their leadership and case management/counseling staff. I spent an afternoon out at the park for kids’ club, an afternoon out on the riverside, and a couple of mornings with the team.
On Tuesday night, I had a sweet dinner at Jars of Clay with a friend of Alli’s (Judy–so great to meet you!). oh my gosh am I a fan of Luk Lok (the food), and I do love hearing about the stories of the saints. The sister I was with had grown up in Cambodia, moved back to the states with her family, and after her husband passed, she got a vision of her calling back to this country. Wow, what a beautiful illustration of the Father’s love for and direction for our lives… After dinner, I stopped over at the home of some of the staff and enjoyed a TV show, and massaged a few of them ;).
One of the humbling things about coming to encourage my friend is that I probably was more encouraged than she was. As it turns out, Alli became quite ill on Tuesday evening :(, so our time together was not as much as we had hoped, but her team was immensely generous and hospitable. I was not allowed to pay for anything, and this vividly reminded me of the trips that Paul, Timothy, and other early messengers of the Way experienced. They would bring nothing but their sandals and a staff, and the communities would provide anything else needed. Every meal was a blessing as we went to establishments empowering and training up the next generation, and I was hearing about the ways these beautiful brothers and sisters are serving in this community. Today, I met with two of the staff in the morning, and was blessed to give some input and ideas about how to proceed with different kinds of cases. I also was able to book my flight from Phnom Penh to Chaing Mai for Sunday and a place to stay on Friday/Saturday in Siem Reap. In the afternoon, I went out with two others to just build relationships along the riverfront and pray for this area to be transformed.
In the evening, another great meal and then we were able to go love on and pray for Alli at her house. Being in Cambodia, the doctors don’t know if this is just an infection/flu, or Malaria or Dengue. On the third day of symptoms (tomorrow) they can test for this.
I can’t believe I’ve only been here two days, as this place and people already feel like family. I enjoy being attacked with hugs from children when we arrive at the center, and appreciate that there are folks here that love hugs (not many in China wanted a hug, and you all know this is one my love languages). In the morning, some of the guys brought me out on a practice tour (the community bought a tuktuk and is working to provide training for them to have an industry) where we went to the market, S41, and the riverfront. The market was massive, and although I have been to markets in many countries before, the diversity here was impressive. There were food, clothing, goods, and electronic sections. The usual hanging bloody animals and flopping fish always impress me, but the 50kg bags of beans and rice were a sight. I was glad we came on a cool morning, I can imagine how blistering hot it would get in a crowded hot afternoon–we actually had a breeze.
After the market, we went to the genocide memorial, which was a sobering experience. In America, I remember hearing very little about the Khmer Rouge and the atrocities perpetrated in this land. The experience was even more sobering because I was able to experience if with my Khmer guides, and one shared some of what his mother has told him, as he was born in 1979. As I viewed the tiny holding cells used to chain prisoners and isolate them, and the instruments used to torture them, the tears flooded my eyes. My guides don’t cry from their eyes, as that is culturally not acceptable, but I can see the heartbreak, and when we talk, it is somber and intense. I am grateful to be sharing this time with them.
After lunch and another meeting with staff, we went to another restaurant that is training women in vocational skills, and they had fantastic cupcakes!! YUM.
In the evening I visit my friend, and pray for healing for her… I can’t believe I leave tomorrow to the north of the country. It has been an amazing short trip, and I am grateful for how I could be used here.
1/18 I spend the morning at the killing fields, which is another heart wrenching experience… To see where so many were murdered just decades ago, and realize how slow the process of justice was for those responsible… Then I join the team for a final meal at daughters, and get to see the house of prayer. Sweet time!! Long van ride (with a constant game of chicken) up to Siem Reap, and the I crash for the night.
1/19 viewing Ankor Wat. Starting at sunrise.. Amazing and extensive temples… A hot day, and lots of stairs and walking :). Fun new people, and a dinner at Sugar Palm with new friends from Melbourne.
My apologies for the delay in getting these posts up, still catching up with journaling my thoughts!! The trip is going grand, and I feel I can only capture/ convey a small portion of what I am experiencing, but I try… :). Thanks for being with me on the journey!!