Tag Archives: China

Moon cakes, Little Mermaid, It’s a Wonderful Life & Agatha Christie

Tonight I bought a moon cake from a mermaid.

Though I wish I could say I bought this traditional Chinese pastry from Ariel from Disney’s “Little Mermaid,” that isn’t quite true. I bought one with a coffee filling from Starbucks. The Starbucks mermaid was imprinted on top instead of Chinese characters.

Traditional Chinese moon cake

Today is the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, a harvest celebration that commemorates the end of the fall harvest season. The date changes based on the lunar calender. This moon festival is thousands of years old and is celebrated in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. It’s celebrated some in Thailand too.

I’ve been a part of Mid-Autumn Festivals since my family moved overseas when I was two and half years old. My parents have pictures of my grinning cheesy-ly and holding a cute lantern.

Families will traditionally eat moon cakes and admire the harvest moon. They’ll also carry lanterns and light and release other lanterns. It’s similar to Thailand’s Loy Kratong festival that takes place every November. Dragon dances are also involved as is incense-burning and worship.

I didn’t do any dancing or lantern lighting tonight, though that would have been fun. I took my moon cake and went to my apartment’s roof to admire the moon.

For some reason, tonight I kept thinking of the quote from George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary,” George said.

Mary then replies:

“I’ll take it. Then what?”

“Well, then you can swallow it, and it’ll all dissolve, see… and the moonbeams would shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair… am I talking too much?” George asked.

Tonight though, the moon was shrouded by clouds. No super-duper lasso would have roped it.

I did see a few lanterns floating upward though. They reminded me of fireflies who seemed to be following an invisible treasure map to the moon. They weren’t headed toward the moon, but they ascended anyway.

Finally, I happened to catch a quick glimpse of the moon. The clouds removed their veil long enough for me to behold the moon. It’s there, even though I couldn’t see it. It’s like a bride who lifts her veil at just the right moment.

It reminded me of our relationship with God. We’re like the lanterns, we fix our gaze above and move forward in faith. Sometimes in life it feels like we can’t see or hear God. During trials and hard times it seems like He is far away. He’s there, He always is. We ascend and trust with the path that’s been shown to us. This teaches us faith and perseverance.

It’s awesome when you have those mountain-top experiences where you see the moon and life is clear. What’s harder is following the treasure map from the valley. But it’s oh-s0 worth it.

It’s like the ending of a murder mystery TV show or book.

I really like murder mysteries. I grew up reading Agatha Christie and watching Diagnosis Murder with Dick Van Dyke. My family watches Midsomer Murders, a BBC mystery series, and we watch House and Monk. There’s something about the mystery and suspense that’s always fascinated me about this genre. I like trying to figure out “who done it.” You follow the clues and piece them together to see the whole picture. When it’s over, you have the satisfaction of seeing all the pieces fit and you have the answer to why everything happened the way it did.

This life is like a murder mystery, sans the murder. We follow the commands and instructions given in the Bible and the revelations He gives us until we reach heaven. This is the conclusion and resolution. Then, all the pieces, places and people in our life will make sense. We’ll understand our Father completely and worship Him always.

What an awesome day that will be.

It truly is a wonderful life. God’s been so gracious and good to me recently, as He’s always been. It’s been an awesome treasure hunt so far and I’m excited to move forward and learn more about life’s mysteries and the God who created life.

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Soccer strands, and unites Beijing reminiscent, part 2

I managed to get Olympic soccer tickets for a preliminary match in Tianjin. Tianjin is a city an hour away from Beijing.

We took the bullet train from Beijing to Tianjin—it was only 30 minutes. It takes more than an hour to go some places in Beijing!

We cheered on our U.S. men’s soccer team and I felt the bond many feel when watching their country compete in the Olympics, only this time I was experiencing it firsthand.

Tianjin missed the memo about transportation and major worldwide sporting events. Not only were there not enough trains going back to the host city, none were leaving late enough for fans to make it and see the entire event they paid money for. We had to leave the Nigeria v. The Netherlands game we had tickets for early.

Our theory was Tianjin wanted to make money off the tourists by creating a situation where tourists would be obligated to stay in their hotels and not take the 30-minute bullet train back to Beijing.

As my friends and I talked, taxi after taxi passed, already carrying passengers. We enlisted a “bread box van,” as they are called in Chinese, to take us to find a taxi. The driver collects six-inch stools from private drivers who rent them for events like these so they can sit and listen to the event on their radios.

When we found a taxi and finally got to the stadium, we had missed our train and the last train after it.

We were not alone. Many other foreigners and locals found themselves trapped in Tianjin.

Our numbers grew, and before we knew it, we had a posse. A Chinese friend, American teacher and another student joined us, followed by the teacher’s brother and another English teacher and their new-found Ugandan friend.

The ticket sellers we could wait for the 3 a.m. train and purchase standing room only tickets. We decided against this. Ten minutes after this they sold out.

Two women wearing the official American soccer jersey and a father and son from New York joined the ranks.

I admired their jerseys and remarked how we had tried to find American jerseys in the markets in Beijing and were repeatedly shown David Beckham’s L.A. Galaxy jersey.

One of the ladies is the wife of one of the U.S. coaches and they opted to stay in Beijing instead of Tianjin with the team.

I tried to make small talk with a 10-year-old boy who was there with his father. He had caught a grasshopper in the stadium and was toting him around in a box with holes poked in the top.

What did you feed it? I asked.

Grass, he said.

Also included in our numbers was a middle-aged Indian couple who had tickets to events every day of the Olympics. They, along with the soccer wives, were sold tickets earlier that day for a train that never left, or left early.

While our Chinese friends tried to strike bargains, my friend and I made a deal with a Tianjin taxi driver to take a group to Beijing. We sent the soccer wives and father and son in that taxi.

Our Chinese friends told us that because of the restrictions for the Olympics, they might not make it to Beijing. In an effort to keep crowds down, Beijing set limits on cars coming into the capital that weren’t registered within the city.

“We are calling the government,” someone informed me.

Right.

The police called us an eight-passenger van for the 13 of us who remained.

Our head count now stood with, three American teachers from Ohio, a young, four- months-pregnant couple from Ohio, one Chicago native, one Ugandan soccer player, two Chinese students, an Indian couple, an Oklahoman, a third culture kid and our Chinese driver.

We wedged into the van, some sitting and squatting in the decade-old van. The driver told us to be careful of the middle seat, it is not secured, so the passengers in the backseat supported us.

We began to feel like illegal immigrants. The driver told us that what we were doing wasn’t legal. He wasn’t supposed to drive into Beijing because he has Tianjin license plates. We would have to stop and be searched he said, and may not make it in.

I found out that the three Ohio teachers were believers and have mutual friends in Beijing.

The Chicagoan works for an animation company and frequently travels to North Korea, and may get to attend their “opening ceremony,” that is supposedly going to copy China’s.

In the dark, the Ugandan man smiled and his teeth shone in the dark as he told us his wife is expecting a baby. They now live in Australia. With the windows open in the van, I missed the soccer connection in his life story. Throughout the entire ordeal, his face always wore a smile.

Soccer talk further united us during the van. We talked about that night’s game. We discussed our favorite football clubs and players. We swapped stories about playing soccer and injuries we sustained while playing.

When we stopped at the first checkpoint we decided to take a group picture to commemorate our one and only evening together. After applying for a traffic permit and being waved through a checkpoint, we made it to the outskirts of town.

The first taxi called to say they made it safely. We finally made it safely too.

Not only did we get to see Olympic soccer, we had the kind of adventure movies are made from.

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A step back in time

I thought I’d share a series of journal entries I wrote during my study abroad in China in 2008.

January 9, 2008 — Written from Nanning

So much is uncertain about this semester, and yet, God is giving me a peace. I know it will be good, but I am not sure what the semester will look like. In February, I will be making the move up to chilly Beijing to settle in to a semester of intensive Chinese.

Yesterday we went with the good friends of ours to a small, ancient village in the Chinese countryside.

After a very long and bumpy van ride, we came to the impoverished Song dynasty town. Houses from the Ming and the Qing dynasties were still standing. The houses have plaques with English explanations of their historical value and significance. Sun Yat Sen, known as the modern Father of China, was supposed to have made plans for an invasion in one of the dwellings.

The town had so many elderly people—with wrinkled and weathered faces—not dissimilar to the state of the village. Many of the backs of the elderly were stooped over from carrying the weight of decades.

I marveled about the history they have seen. Some probably were born around 1911 when China became a republic. They all lived through the Cultural Revolution. One woman we talked to was 94 years old. The town had no cars, and the China she lived in was a struggling republic. She may have been in the village when Sun Yat Sen came through.

We also saw new life. Puppies scampered in the streets like it was their domain. Many toddlers waddled around in layers of sweaters that would rival Randy’s layers in the movie “A Christmas Story.” It really wasn’t that cold, but the Chinese believe children must be dressed to the hilt in January– regardless of the outside temperature.

We ate delectable local seafood on a boat. Next to the boat, women spent their afternoon washing their clothes in the muddy banks of the river in metal washbasins.

The trip was an interesting peek into an old town trying to attract tourists.

Stay tuned for more installments from 2008…

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A Painting of Life


A child stomps down the sidewalk head down, chin tucked, hands in his pockets and dragging his feet along. This child is angrily headed to a piano lesson his mother is insisting he attend and enjoy.

Growing up there are many activities parents insist upon kids trying. Parents maintain that their children will thank them later. For many it is piano lessons, for some it ballet, others choir. Children participate in these events begrudgingly–going to the piano lesson because they have no choice–all the time knowing their parent is wrong and they will never thank their parent later. For me this dreaded activity was Chinese painting lessons.

Born in Dallas, Texas, in Baylor hospital at seven pounds, two ounces, I was feisty from the get-go. I threw tantrums with the best of them. I wanted to do things my way in my time for my reasons. I was very strong-willed and I still am.

At the not-so-tender age of two I moved with my parents to Taipei, Taiwan. After completing language school in Taiwan we moved to Hong Kong, not long after moving into Sichuan province in China. One of the first Chinese friends my mom made was a fairly well-known Chinese painter. This painter sold her artwork to traveling prominent businessmen from Taiwan. My mom continued to develop a friendship with this painter, Long Ju.

My mother arranged for me to take Chinese painting lessons from Long Ju in exchange for me teaching her daughter English. This, taking lessons and giving them, in no way sounded appealing to me. Every time it was time for a lesson I would argue and throw a fit. I was the spitting image of the child described in the first sentence. I went in to the lesson sulky and sour. I could think of a million things I would rather be doing, such as playing with my American Girl doll Addy.

Long Ju’s hand would guide mine as I clumsily clenched the bamboo paintbrush. I imagine many of the valuable and expensive horse hairs fell out of the brush because of my lack of dexterity. I watched Long Ju paint many a beautiful painting, only realizing and recognizing its value later.


Long Ju came to know the Father, but not through me and my resentful attitude, but through my mother who loved her unconditionally. My mother knew I would one day appreciate those lessons. She was right.

Chinese painting lessons did not fit into my world of Pet Shop and Polly Pockets. However, my mom knew as I matured I would realize what an opportunity that was.

After living for two years in Chengdu, my dad accepted a different job in Thailand. This change did not strike any chords with me. I was adamant. I loved China and wanted to stay. Thailand was a nice place to visit for meetings and such, but was definitely not somewhere I was interested in living long term. I would not believe that this move would be for the better later. Once again I was proved wrong. The seven years my family lived in Thailand were amazing, and I would never have traded moving there from China. I grew to love the food, people, shopping, the culture and the scenery. It became home.

Isn’t it annoying how parents tend to always be right?

The summer after my freshman year of college I went to Virginia to work and hang with my family. Many years have passed since I was the rebellious 9 year-old girl who refused to enjoy and appreciate the painting lessons. Later, in middle and high school, I wished I had tried harder. I was determined to look for another chance.

An opportunity arose for me to take lessons from a seasoned Chinese painter living in Richmond. This painter was well-known and her grandfather is a famous painter. I jumped at the opportunity to make up for my previous obstinacy. I learned how to paint bamboo, cherry blossoms, peony flowers, orchids, chrysanthemums and butterflies. It was a great experience. I feel privileged to have had another chance. I valued it a lot more this time ’round.

It occurred to me that this is a painting of life. We now know what we should have known earlier. Hindsight truly is 20/20. If I counted how many opportunities I’ve missed–well, let’s not think about that. God knows things we’ll only know and appreciate later.

Whether it’s painting or piano, the joy is knowing we haven’t finished the painting. We don’t know the value of what we’ve been asked to do until later. That’s where faith and obedience come in. What is faith if there’s no mystery, no risk or reward?

The joy’s in the journey, in knowing that we’ll see the fruits of our painting, or labor, later.

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known,” 1 Cor. 13:12

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