Archive for March, 2011

Pieces of the Puzzle

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

mindmap

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48)

During my travels, I have seen so much of people’s living conditions in this part of the world — their cultures, their joys, their needs. As a writer, I cannot help but to walk a mile in their shoes with my imagination as they tell me their stories. I now come back in my own quiet moments to put these pieces together. They begin to fit into what I already know, what I’ve read in books and magazines, what the newspapers write about, what scriptures say … and it all forms into this big picture in my mind. I do not have a clear picture yet but I do see myself very much in it. I have come to the conclusion that I have a responsibility to the world, not just to myself. As I take inventory of what I have, what I do, who I am, and who I will be, I realize that I have been given so much more compared to my neighbors. When I spend my money, how much of it is exclusively for myself? When I spend my time, my energy, my resources — my life, how much do I really spend on things that really matter?

It is sobering to think that everyone in this world has 24 hours in a day and, at most, about 75-90 years to live. We all enjoy the same sun and breathe the same air but we have learned to ignore our neighbors who are barely surviving because they are poor, to turn a blind eye to neighbors who are mistreated and trapped in an oppressive system. Instead, some of us who have been given much choose to get lost in our toys and pleasures, becoming foolish in our own understanding of life. For myself, I’ve begun the process of restructuring my own thoughts so that I am living intentionally and meaningfully in the context of truth. And the truth is, I have been entrusted with so many resources while there is a suffering world out there that waits for help — and I only have so much time to do something about it.

Visiting Friends

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

cutie pie

While we were in the area, I was able to visit a friend and his family who lived nearby. I had not seen him since college. He has four children now — and what a beautiful family! I was particularly taken with his little girl who was absolutely adorable. She has blond air, really blue eyes, and the prettiest expressions. She is like a walking, talking doll. We got along really well. She is a talkative one and held my hand a lot.

Before I left, we had this hotpot dinner at their favorite restaurant. It was a cold and drizzly night and the soup warmed us up real good! After dinner, we walked all the way back to their place. It was a great time of catching up and reconnecting!

hotpot dinner

Zhuang Festival

Monday, March 28th, 2011

lively atmosphere

There are 16 million Zhuang in this autonomous region and they are a very diverse group. This festival was a celebration of that diversity. We watched people dress up in their traditional costumes as they prepared songs, dances, and group activities for all the visitors that day. The difference in costume is just the beginning. These groups do not necessarily speak the same local dialect, and about the only language that unified everyone (including myself) is mandarin.

Brown Costume

Actually, the festival was to last two days because of the many villages participating in the grand party. During the performances, we walked around taking pictures of all the different costumes. It was like being in a carnival. I enjoyed the lively atmosphere very much. The women did not mind getting their pictures taken, either!

Black Costume

These three women giggled when I asked them for a photo. They even asked me if I could take their picture using their digital camera. I love the headdress of the one in the middle.

Colorful Costume

The above picture is my favorite costume, I think, just because of the variety of colors. There were many groups in the festival but I could only take a few of them because we were also watching the performances. This one little lady gave us an impromptu singing number when I asked to take a picture of her on the walkway.

little minority girl

We were fortunate enough to be asked by this one singing group if we could help them practice for their number. They took us to a quiet place and sang for us exclusively. Tradition has the women on one side and the men on the other. They take turns singing to each other with love songs. After the whole thing, as it turned out, they wanted us to send them pictures and videos that we took of them. We agreed that it was the least we could do, but when we asked for their address, we discovered that none of them knew how to read or write! They could not tell us how we could send it to them by post. One of the men knew enough to write the name of their village on a piece of paper. We hope it gets to them somehow.

typical singing group

Our gang fit into a van and traveled to this festival. It was a whole two-hour ride up the mountain and it was well worth it!

travel gang

On the Road Again

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

charming little town

I took a trip to visit another small village. This time, it was somewhere nearby — around two hours by bus. My friend was visiting this family and I decided to tag along. The first order of business was to buy gifts because we were visitors and planning to stay overnight. It is customary to bring something for the hosts, and I learned that bringing dinner over was appropriate. I decided to get them roasted duck. We saw this store with hanging ducks right when we got off the bus. It might not look appetizing but it is considered an indulgence to have meat for dinner, actually. And this was only one of two stores that sold them.

hanging ducks

Around here, the men do most of the cooking. They are great cooks! The husband prepared the duck in special sauce, among other dishes. We sat around this table on low chairs. This is a typical dining set-up for the locals in this place. The old woman sitting on the left is the husband’s mother. She is 96 years old and still climbs up and down their four-story house. I was touched by the attention and devotion of the son towards her. While he served her, he made sure her rice was soft enough. That evening, I saw him making sure she was comfortable in bed. It’s a demonstration of filial piety, if I ever saw one. Before I left, the couple asked me to take a solo picture of Grandmother because she doesn’t have a recent one. She had a hard time seeing her own picture on the lens of my digital camera. And so, we went to a picture-developing store to have her photo magnified to 8×11 so she could see herself more clearly. I have a feeling they also want one to keep for the future.

family dinner

Chocolate Banana Walnut Cake

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

dessert with friends

The night before leaving for another road trip, I decided to bake a cake and invited some friends over for dessert. Someone had graciously given me some cocoa powder that I wanted to use up before I left. Also, I had walnuts (freshly cracked from the shell) that villagers had given me a week before. It was a sweet time, literally and figuratively. Since this was my first time doing it, I had to adjust the recipe a bit. It still turned out well, though I think I may tweak it some more the next time I make it again.

Sweet Reunion

Friday, March 25th, 2011

the v sign

I took a break to meet up with the girls today for lunch. Even though school starts early and ends late for students here, they have a two-hour lunch break! So, from noon until 2 pm, we hung out at a fast-food place called MFC (yes, a knock-off of KFC). Actually, this restaurant used to be called Texas Burger (a complete knock-off of Burger King, but I digress). I thought it would be fun to take them to a western meal — fried chicken, burgers, and coke. It was fun catching up with them and getting the latest on who is fighting with whom and who is now friends with whom (ah, little girl politics). We reminisced about our Christmas party and all the things they got to do that time. They also wondered if I would still remember them when I come back to China in the future since they will most likely be teenagers by then. I told them I certainly wouldn’t grow taller anymore and that they might have to initiate.

There was this play place inside the restaurant. I’d forgotten that 10 and 11-year-olds still like to play in these things. We hung out here while they told me about their favorite vacation places, laughed about a funny incident in school last week, talked about grave-sweeping festival in their hometowns, dared each other to crawl through the small spaces, asked how much time they had left for lunch every fifteen minutes, giggled about boys, and badgered me about telling them my age.

I decided this was a cute picture of them with their soft-serve ice cream.

sweets all-around

Back to Writing

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com

Now that this last bout of traveling is done, I am back on my laptop to work on revisions. I really like this little comic because it does reflect how I feel about each sentence, each paragraph of my book. The comic was taken down the first time I posted it because of copyright issues. I just hope the “used with permission” line helps it stay there because I really like it! If it disappears again, I’ll just have to use another illustration.

I am now finding there are improvements that I can make by changing, moving, modifying, and (gasp) deleting certain lines and sections. I had a two-hour discussion this afternoon about these changes. A partner helped by giving me all kinds of valuable suggestions. This time around, though, having a manuscript to work on is a lot easier than making invisible ideas appear onto the written page. It will still take the same rigor and amount of work. Here we go …

China Villages

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

I’ve just come back from the rigors of traveling to least four different villages in the last six days. It took me a few days to recover from the exhaustion. Because getting online was a problem (and also the sensitive nature of my visits), I could not blog. Needless to say, I once again spent countless hours on the bus and the train. Normally, I enjoy these long rides but the tiredness had rendered me numb to the country scenery I love so much. I concentrated mostly on getting into a comfortable position in my seat. Every now and then, though, I would look out the window and feel that flash of contentment every time I remember all the things I’d seen and experienced during this trip.

There are many things to report and among the things I could write about (and not get in trouble) is the food! I have never tasted as much freshness as I had when I went to the countryside! The rice was so fragrant that the aromatic flavor deliciously filled the cavern of my mouth as I ate. The vegetables were so fresh that the green stalks snapped soundly as my teeth sank into them to taste its juicy center. I have never known meat to be sweet but what we had in the hotpot was so flavorful that even the innards were amazingly appetizing! There is something to be said about eating fresh food right from the farm and not just processed, store-bought food.

A notable place was the one up the mountains where it snowed when I visited. I hadn’t been prepared for the weather. Even though I was super-excited, I was also super-cold.

Samuel Pollard Institute

Before it melted, I was able to capture the snow covering the mountains.

white mountains

The next day, I spent some time with the students and their teacher in one of the classrooms. They were excited to get their picture taken and surrounded me afterward to see what they looked like on the digital camera.

Yi Children

It was a delight for me to find this little church built right beside the school. Many miracles have happened here. It was truly like a “city upon a hill” whose light could not be hidden. Oh, the stories I could tell about this little town!

little country church

Before I left, I talked with the teachers and took a picture with them. They are kindhearted individuals who chose to leave the comforts of the city to teach and live with the poor in this village. They committed at least two years of their life for this service. This picture was literally taken minutes before I got on the motorcycle which was my ride out of the village. I would have had to walk an hour and a half if it wasn’t for it!

village teachers

On the way down the mountain, we saw these villagers with their animal-drawn carts (their usual mode of transportation). We got off the motorcycle and took a picture to remember one of the common sights in that area. The villagers use either a donkey or a horse to go up on the mountains to farm and to buy/sell their crops in the marketplace. And yes, that man was wearing a sack to keep away the cold!

horse cart

Misty Mountains

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Du An

I took an overnight train back to Guangxi to meet up with some friends. We then drove for a couple of hours to visit some people in the villages of Du An. I have never been to Guilin but this is what I imagine it would look like minus the tourists. Because it was a rainy day, the sloping mountains were covered with mist and fog. There were small waterfalls and flowing rivers on the byways surrounding the villages. We had a chance to walk through the town and on the side roads. I think this small town of Du An is one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been in China.

Our group headed to the marketplace which was in the town center. Since the cows here only graze on the green mountains where they eat nothing but grass, this place claims to have the best meat. It certainly looked red and healthy. My friend bought a few kilos of it. We also bought an organically grown chicken (free-range) for dinner. One of our friends owns a restaurant and we took the chicken there where they killed it, de-feathered it, chopped it, cooked it, and served it all within an hour. It was fresh chicken if I’ve ever tasted one … eating well is one of the perks of living in China, for sure! I watched the whole chicken-killing process with fascination. The butcher was fast and efficient — the chicken didn’t even scream when its throat was slit. I haven’t seen one since my childhood days, and it was sobering to see the life that was taken just so we could enjoy meat. And that’s only the chicken. I can’t imagine watching them slaughter a cow.

Yi Village

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

I spent the last two days touring and spending time with the Yi tribe in the mountains of Yunnan province. It took a whole afternoon to get there — two one-and-a-half hour bus ride plus an hour walk up the mountain. There are no telephone lines, much less internet connection, so I decided not to bring my laptop. I only brought a backpack with me. For most of my time there, I interviewed the headmaster and teachers regarding the school’s literacy practices. They welcomed me to watch the Yi children in action to get a sense of what happens in the classroom. The local school is the only one in the village and is named after Samuel Pollard, missionary to tribal children about 100 years ago. Every child in the small village comes everyday; there are about 80 of them from 1st grade to middle school.

classroom setting

In addition to the the school survey, I also got to see the village. The view is spectacular. When we arrived late afternoon and early evening, it actually started snowing!! It was a thrill to see snowfall and to see it cover the mountains! I wasn’t prepared for the cold but, thankfully, they provided me with a fleece jacket, plenty of blankets, and hot water for the evening. By morning, the snow had melted and the view of the mountains was breathtaking from all the way up where we were.

Yunnan Mountains

One of the most memorable moments was visiting the local villagers. Everywhere we went, they asked us to come into their homes. They were hospitable and very generous, considering they did not have much. One couple gave us a bag of walnuts that they had just picked from the tree that morning. We tried declining it, but they insisted, saying that they would pick some more later that day. I wish I had more space to write the stories I heard about this quaint little village. When I have more time, I’ll have to write them all down.

bag of walnuts