Ski the Bird’s Nest

A few months ago I wrote about Beijing being one of the finalist cities in the bid to host the Winter Olympics in 2022. Today, during an afternoon walk around the Olympic Park to clear some of the jet-lag induced fog out of my brain, I came upon this make-shift ski hill that has been set up outside the famous Bird’s Nest Stadium. Could this be, I wondered, a future Olympic venue?

Bird's Nest ski hill

Mostly I think it’s proof once again that we have not, in fact, seen everything!

Friday Photo: Abandoned Minivan

Spotted on a street corner in Beijing, this abandoned minivan seems to have become a part of the neighborhood. Since it is full of stuff, someone is obviously using it as a storage space. I also like the bowl of instant noodles that someone obviously carefully set down on the tire. If only the minivan could talk!

abandoned car

Abandoned Minivan

Those Strange Americans!

I might as well join everyone else writing about and linking to this article that appeared in Chinese state media this week. Titled Top 10 Strange American Habits Incomprehensible to Chinese, it’s a quirky glimpse at a few American peculiarities. To be sure, some of them have a feeling of “I saw an American do this once, so this must be a typical habit of Americans,” but never mind; sometimes it’s good to see how others view us.

ice water

#1: Drinking cold water throughout the year

Americans tend to drink only icy cold water all year round. On their water coolers, there are only two options: hot water, which is merely used to make instant coffee or tea, and cold water, which is for direct consumption. Americans do not really understand why people might drink warm water. Likewise, there are no exceptional circumstances where people are advised not to drink cold water. For instance, whereas most Chinese people think that women who are menstruating or who have recently given birth should drink only hot water to stay healthy, American women have no qualms about drinking ice water or eating ice cream at those times.

#2: Eating hamburgers while drinking diet soda

For Americans, eating a hamburger while drinking a soda is as normal as the combination of soy milk and fried dough twists in China. Although tasty and convenient, the combination has a high calorie count. Amid growing obesity problems, many Americans have developed a habit of drinking reduced-sugar beverages referred to as “diet sodas,” which contain 99 percent less of the calories in regular sodas. Hamburgers and french fries already contain a huge amount of calories, so what is the point of only drinking diet soda?

#3: Hitting the hay with shoes on

Americans tend to think of bed sheets and sofas as expendable domestic items meant to be replaced sooner or later. Therefore, a lot of Americans see no reason to inconvenience themselves just for the sake of keeping things clean. Moreover, the United States is a relatively clean country, where there is less dust and dirt on the roads and in public places, meaning that shoe soles tend not to get very dirty.

#4: Wearing Ugg boots in the summer

Many Chinese viewers of “The Big Bang Theory” (which is popular in China) must have noticed that Penny, one of the TV show’s main characters, often wears T-shirts and shorts with a pair of snow boots. In fact, many Americans wear these fluffy boots in summer.What do you think? Personally, I take issue with #3 and #4. Sleeping with shoes on? Really?

#5: Wearing light clothing in winter

Americans tend to dress more casually than Chinese people. Many young people wear short-sleeve T-shirts in the winter, although they might put on an overcoat and long jeans when it becomes extremely cold. This is primarily because there is central heating everywhere — inside buildings and in subway and bus stations. Hence, it is normal to see corporate women dressed in professional shirts and skirts under a thin overcoat in New York streets in early winter.And as for tipping, it’s one of the things that I have had the hardest time adjusting to since moving back to the US 2 years ago.

#6: Tap water is safe, but not the warm water

In the United States., tap water is nominally safe to drinking straight from the faucet. Although some people may not like to drink tap water because of its slightly strange flavor, it is indeed safe for drinking. However, one has to remember that hot tap water from the faucet may not always be safe for drinking, because it comes from a different water source and the quality of hot water is often far lower than that of cold water.

#7: Tipping, even when you are already paying for a service

Tipping is a normal phenomenon in the United States. One gives tips when eating in a restaurant, taking a taxi or having a bellboy carry your luggage to your room. Tipping is usually 15 percent of the amount you spend on your entire bill, but it differs according to the quality of the restaurant or cab ride. Refusing to tip is impolite and will make you an unwelcome guest.

#8: Wearing pants lower than underwear

There is an actual saying used to describe this “baggy pants” style. It started in some African-American communities before a variety of other social groups adopted the trend. It is already part of American street culture throughout the country, and even celebrities like Justin Bieber can be seen sporting such pants.

#9: Taking showers in the morning

Americans differ from Chinese people in that many Americans take showers in the morning. Some Americans explain that showering in the evening is unnecessary if one works in an air-conditioned place. Those who have outdoor jobs also need to take evening showers.

#10: Pet culture

Americans are famous worldwide for loving their pets more than they love people. Some have explained that this is because there are more dogs than people in the United States. Although this is an exaggeration, the saying is not completely nonsense. The costs of raising pets like dogs — including providing for their daily well-being and even medical care — may be high, but Americans are just willing to spend that money.

Time for a big glass of ice water — I wouldn’t think of starting my day without one!

Photo Credit: “Ice Water,” by Pink Sherbet Photography (CC License)

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Friday Photo: Reading the Bible

In March of 2012, I travelled with Noel Piper in Sichuan province on a research trip. On the second Sunday of our journey, we found ourselves in the Protestant Church in Huili, Sichuan. Even though the church is in the heart of a city, most of the parishioners were peasants from the countryside, many of them elderly. During the service I spotted this woman intently reading her Bible. I couldn’t pass up the shot.


Reading the Bible

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A Tribute to My Father, 2015

Fourteen 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. Standing before a crowd of 600 people to deliver these remarks 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 as I flew home from a vacation in Thailand.

Posting this on my blog is my annual tribute to him.

dad reading the paper

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.

John Piper describes it like this: “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.”

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 come back.” I know he’s in a better placee, but I still want him back here. 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.


If you knew my dad and have any special memories, please feel free to leave a comment.

Read more posts about my dad:

Pittman Hall

Pinch and a Punch

Happy Birthday, Dad

It was Chicken! It was Chicken! 


Evacuation, Part 2

In Democracy We Trust

A friend recently posted this photo to Twitter and asked me about the translation. Apparently it’s part of a campaign going on in China to promote “socialist core values.”

In Democracy We Trust

Setting aside the mildly disturbing nature of the photo, it is an interesting look at contemporary political discourse in China.

The main question my friend had was in regard to the phrase “democracy is a belief” — was that an accurate translation of 民主是一种信仰 (minzhu shi yi zhong xinyang)? The translation on the poster is certainly the most direct. Minzhu = democracy; shi = is; yizhong = a kind of/type; and xinyang = to believe in something (like a religion).

I immediately remembered seeing that construction somewhere else, on an advertisement for some kind of learning center. In this case, they translated the phrase 学习是一种信仰 (xuexi shi yizhong xinyang) as “In Learning We Trust.”

The grammatical construction is the same, but the translation is less clunky (in my opinion, anyway). So if I had been asked to translate that phrase, I would have used “In Democracy we Trust.”

The real question, however, is what does the word democracy mean when used by a Communist government? This of course brings to mind the famous line from The Princess Bride. (click here to see video clip if you receive this by email)

In other words, they keep using that word, but I do not think that it means what they think it means!

And if you’re wondering what those socialist core values that these rather dour looking students are speaking for, here’s a photo that another friend in China sent me just today:

core socialist values

There you have it!

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I read an interesting article today in the Wall Street Journal about the importance of pork in the Chinese economy. The title of the piece is Why Pigs are Crucial to Understanding China’s Surprisingly Low Inflation.


The gist of the article is that falling pork prices  in China are primarily due to the “anti-extravagance” campaign being waged by the government:

Farmers usually make decisions about production at least six months prior to the high-demand seasons. But demand for pork lately hasn’t shown strong seasonal rebounds, Mr. Zhou said.

The impact of Beijing’s anti-extravagance campaign has been rippling through far corners of the economy, beyond consumption of luxury goods and gift cards and impacting many Chinese households. Apparently, as some make do with less, less pork makes it to their tables.

Pig farmers have been suffering losses. Hog prices need to be six times the price of grain in order for them to break even. The multiple has been below that level since the beginning of last year and is currently at an unprofitable 5.7 times, official data showed.

The government’s efforts to stockpile for its pork reserves have failed to lift prices for the country’s favorite meat.

This article reminded me of a conversation I once had with a friend in Beijing who studies religion and civil society.

“Chinese people will never convert to Islam,” he said with a tone of absolute certainty.

“Do you know why? Because of PORK! Chinese people will never give up eating pork. So obviously Islam has no future in China.”

Nothing like good ol’ Chinese pragmatism!

Image Source: Wall Street Journal

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