The Sneezing Chicken

I’m writing this from a bungalow on a gorgeous beach in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.  I’m down here for a few days R&R before heading to Thailand next week for 3 weeks of training/conferencing.    The Gulf of Thailand is beautiful this time of year, and it’s a perfect place to do some serious relaxing. These four days here consist of eating fresh baguettes for breakfast (a postivie legacy of the French colonial era), taking walks, reading, eating fresh fruit and fried rice, and taking the occasional nap.

This afternoon, as the sun was setting over the ocean, and I was taking it all in, a chicken wandered by me and suddenly sneezed.  Gave me quite a start.  Probably just the flu or something!

Seriously, Cambodia is a fascinating country, and when I have access to my own computer and some more time, I’ll write more and post some pictures.

A Tribute to My Father

Five years ago today, my father died. Below are the words that I spoke in farewell and tribute to my dad at his memorial service on January 25, 2001, in Roseville, Minnesota.  Speaking them before 600 people was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  The first part of this tribute was written at 30,000 feet above the North Pacific Ocean.

The call you dread and fear and never expect comes.  It’s mom.  “Joann, your father died this morning.  Please come home as soon as you can.  I need you.”  Like an arrow out of no-where, somewhere, it hits first the head, then the heart, and slowly the pain sinks into your bones.  One day you’re relaxing on the beach, washing off the stress of a difficult term, and 24 hours later you’re wandering in a daze around international airports—Phuket, Bangkok, Narita—all jammed with people, and yet feeling so incredibly alone.  The words keep shouting in your soul.  “Joann, your father has died,” slamming against your bones and your organs and your skin like a bullet ricocheting around a steel cavern.  You try to drive them away with polite conversation, with reading, with hymn-singing, hoping against hope that driving the words away will drive the reality away as well.  But then the words and reality force their way back and the pain starts again.  “Joann, your precious father stepped into glory this morning.”  “Joann, your wonderful father went home to be with his Savior.”  With every fiber of my being I believe these words, but don’t want to believe them at the same time.  He was a precious father, but now he is lost in wonder, love and grace in the presence of Jesus.  Yet here at 30,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, I feel just plain lost.  Lost in sadness.  Lost in pain.  I know he’s with his Savior, but I want him here with us.  How will I get through the next ten hours on this plane? How will I bear to see my mom and sister and her family at the end of this long journey?  One hour at a time, one grace at a time.  “He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater; He giveth more strength as the labors increase.  To added affliction, He addeth more more mercy; to multiplied sorrows, He multiplies peace.”  Then it hits me.  Despite the pain, I too am lost in love and grace.  Sustaining grace.  “Not grace to bar what is not bliss, nor flight from all distress, but this—the grace that orders our trouble and pain, and then in the darkness is there to sustain.”(John Piper)  Will the sadness and the tears and the pain ever go away?  Probably not.  But then again, neither will the grace.

So, my beloved dad is gone.  What to say?  The words that scream loudest from my soul are simply, “please com back.”  There are too many words and no words.  But following are a few—just a few of the special things I remember about my dad.

He had a sense of humor.  He loved to laugh and make others laugh, and he was never in danger of taking himself too seriously.

He was a servant.  He would do anything for anybody anytime anyplace, from bringing coffee to my waking mom every morning to fixing church roofs to shoveling neighbor’s driveways. 

He was humble.  In a stuffy academic world, he was just himself.

He was generous.  If there was a financial need, he gave. His giving to us seemed limitless and it gave him great joy.

He was compassionate.  His heart was tender and easily broken by the pain and suffering in the world.  Last month in Beijing, we visited a clothing market that the government was ready to close down.  The peddlers were selling their goods at rock-bottom prices.  In a crowd frenzied over the best bargain, he kept asking, “what will happen to these poor people?”

He loved Jesus.  Quietly and simply, he ordered his life grounded in that love.

He was a wonderful father and I miss him so very much.  Perhaps the greatest tribute I can give will be when I come to the end of my days and people say of me, simply, “she was just like her father.”

Goodbye Dad.  I love you and miss you more than words can express.      


On the Road Again

My annual winter travelling season to Southeast Asia begins tomorrow.  In the month that follows I will go to Hong Kong, Cambodia (Angkor Wat, Pnom Penh, and the beach), and Thailand.  In Hong Kong and Thailand I will be attending conferences, but Cambodia will be vacation.  I’ve never been there, so am obviously looking forward to the visit. 

On an unrelated note, we had snow here in Beijing on Thursday morning.  About 1/4 inch.  I noticed that the China Daily reported it as Beijing’s first "big" snowfall!  Hah!

More Perils of Direct Translation

This was originally posted at my blog-city site, but since I have new readers, I thought I’d re-post it here.  It made me chuckle!

I stumbled across this hilarious photo on the internet recently.  It is a classic photo that illustrates why word-for-word translation can be a very dangerous activity.

It reminds me of my early days of learning Chinese.  There used to be a huge political slogan sign on the campus of the university where I was studying.  The slogan was an 8-character phrase.  As the year progressed, and my Chinese ability progressed (or so I hoped), I used the sign to monitor my ability to recognize characters.  First I could recognize one, then two, until one day I looked at the sign and carefully read out each of the 8 characters.  “Yay,” I thought.  “I can read this!” But then realization of the difficulty of Chinese characters set in, because even though I could recognize and read every single character that was used to make up the slogan, I had absoslutely no idea what the sentence meant.  Not a clue! It made absolutely no sense to me, based on what I knew to be the meanings of each character.

Chinese is a contextual language.  There are only about 50,000 (only???) characters in the language, and only about 5000-8000 in everyday use.  That means that all of the range of meaning that needs to be communicated must be done using only 8000 characters. Obviously, then, each character must have more than one meaning.  Many characters, in fact, have as many as 5 different meanings, and those meanings are often totally unrelated.  In order to read and understand meaning, you must know the multiple meanings of the characters to be able to judge what they mean in each particular context. Simply opening a dictionary will rarely do the trick.

Ok, enough of the mini Chinese lesson.  I know you’re dying to know how the Chinese sign should have been translated!

Here’s what each of the characters means individually (reading from left to right):

yi = one

ci = time (as in occurance)

xing = sex, kind, type, nature, gender, form

yong = to use

pin = thing, stuff (yongpin=a thing, a product)

The correct translation for yi ci yong pin is “disposable product,” or something that is by nature only used once.  Think disposable chopsticks, plates, cups, etc!

Anybody out there ready to sign up to learn Chinese?  Go ahead!  Be brave!

Wake Up, The Light is Green!

My niece and 2 of her friends are visiting me this week.  They are on holiday from their teaching jobs in Korea.  This morning, we decided to head across town to the new TGI Friday’s restaurant in the embassy district, and ended up with a scary taxi driver who was having a hard time staying awake.  We were on the Second Ring Road, and would weave, slow down, and speed up randomly.  I kept asking him if he was OK, and he always answered meishi (it doesn’t matter).  Well, since it was my life and the life of my guests, it did matter.  Finally we got off the Second RR, and onto some side streets, where the speeds were lower, and there were stoplights.  When one light we were stopped for turned green, we just sat there.  I looked over and his eyes were closed!!   "Wake up" I told him,"the light is green!!"   He jerked awake and took off.  That was where we decided to get out.  Fortunately we were only a block away from the restaurant. 

Marxist Mama!

This morning after church, my mom and I went with a couple of Chinese friends to a funny little “hole-in-the-wall” restaurant down a lane in the heart of old Beijing.  These little lanes are called hutongs, and are a unique characteristic of Beijing.  As this city undergoes massive upgrading and modernization in preparation for the Olympics in 2008, these old neighborhoods are slowly disappearing.  There are, however, a few left, and they are great places to experience some local color.

One such place is a little mianshi guan (noodle shop) that I discovered several years ago.  My mom had been there with me on previous trips, and so wanted to go back there today.  The proprietor is a colorful character, who, in the style of old Beijing restaurants is given to yelling (in a friendly manner) at his customers when they walk in.  HELLO!  WELCOME TO MY SHOP!  The last time my mom had been there (and everytime I go), he had yelled, HELLO!  WELCOME! OKAY!…in English.  We wanted to see if he’d remember her today.

So in we walked.  I entered first (he recognizes me), and got the HELLO WELCOME OKAY routine first.  I told him that my mom had come back from America, and just as she walked in, he hollared (in Chinese) at the top of his lungs, THE OLD REVOLUTIONARY MAMA HAS RETURNED!!  Everyone in the tiny place (only 4 tables) cracked up, as did I and my Chinese friends.  Of course my mom hadn’t a clue as to what had been said.

I asked my friends why he’d used the term “revolutionary mama” and they reminded me that people my mom’s age in China had taken part in the revolution (1949), and so it was somewhat a term of endearment.  There was also a time here when the state sort of deputized the neighborhood grannies to keep watch over the activities in the hoods.  They’d sit on the street corners, wearing their little red arm bands, watching the comings and goings of the local folk, reporting anything they noticed that might be harmful or even subsersive, like the presence of a big-nosed foreigner.  Who needs secret police when you’ve got revolutionary mamas? These grannies came to be known in English as “Marxist Mamas” Even though it’s not as strict and formal these days there are occasionally still times (like when government meetings are being held in town) when these Marxist Mamas are re-deputized to keep an eye on things.  And believe me, you don’t want to mess with them.  The power of a Marxist Mama to harangue is fearsome!

Well, I’m not of course suggesting that my mom is a Marxist Mama, or that she’s even fearsome, but it certainly was a riot to hear her called a Marxist Mama,

Now, if we could only find her a red armband!

Update: My niece and two of her friends have been visiting me this past week, and I have of course taken them to the noodle shop.  He’s added a few new phrases to his English repertoire, including THANK YOU and SEE YOU TOMORROW.  I have tried with no success to teach him “see you next week.”  He’s completely given up, and will now yell, as we depart each week, SEE YOU TOMORROW TOMORROW TOMORROW TOMORROW TOMORROW TOMORROW TOMORROW!  That just about covers it!   

Sustaining Grace

Blogging has been light this past week.  My niece and a couple of here friends are visiting Beijing, so I spent the weekend running them around town.  Back to work now, so they’re on their own, armed with map and cell phone.

I also moved into crisis management mode this week.  The father of one of my colleagues (in another city) died suddenly while here in China visiting her.  It fell to me to help get her and her mother back to the US, as well as make the arrangements for the repatriation of the body back to the US.  It is without doubt, one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do in my job. 

I know many of you who read this were praying. Thanks.  All of us were the recipients of much sustaining grace.