I stopped dead in my tracks when I spotted this sign at a Beijing bus stop. Wait a minute, I thought…that can’t mean what I think it means.
I read the Chinese and sure enough, it was a poor translation. The wording made it clear that the hospital specializes in treating those who are having trouble becoming pregnant. It’s just the English that makes it seem like it specializes in the opposite! Me thinks they meant to say fertility hospital!
Fifteen 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 back to the States from Thailand.
Posting this on my blog is my annual tribute to him.
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.
Once I began studying Chinese, I fairly quickly became fluent at answering the following questions:
Where are you from?
Why are you here?
Are you married?
I can’t say that I dreaded the questions (OK, maybe I dreaded #3 and #4 a little), but I certainly knew that they were going to be asked of me over and over and since practice makes perfect, I mastered the answers.
As people in China prepare to head home for the annual Chinese New Year celebrations, many are dreading the questions that their relatives will pepper them with.
In fact, question #3 is such a daunting one that there is a cottage industry of people renting themselves out as boyfriends or girlfriends for the holidays. The Globe and Mail has an in interesting story about this:
For many young women, showing up at home with a pleasant-looking, well-behaved boyfriend – even if your family never sees him again – is better than enduring two weeks of questions about why there’s no marriage or kids on the horizon. (China can be a deeply sexist society – women who are unmarried past the age of 30 are often referred to as “leftover women,” even in official media.)
“There are all kinds of reasons” that women contact a rental boyfriend, Mr. Zhou explains in an interview via instant messenger. “Some are divorced, some want help getting rid of another boyfriend, some don’t want to go to a wedding by themselves.”
But most, he adds, “just want someone to go with them to their hometown for three days, just to meet their parents and let them know they have a boyfriend.”
On a morning when the (real) temperature is Minus 11 (or 11 below, or negative 11, or however you want to say it), this poem pretty much sums up life in Minnesota in January.
(I do not know the origin of the poem. It seems to have been published in a local city newspaper, then posted to a Park District Facebook page, then picked up by a Facebook friend of mine. That’s how the Internet works, I guess!)
In 2005, on my second trip to the far western city of Kashgar, I spotted this odd sight in my hotel lobby. There he was, the Great Helmsman himself, sitting behind a counter of trinkets. I’m still not sure if he was for sale, or if the proprietor of the little hotel shop thought his placement there would attract customers. Either way, I had a good chuckle.
More recently, he popped up in a field in Henan Province, where some local villagers decided to build a giant statue in the middle of a field.
image from NPR
Is it just me, or does that statue look like it’s made out of butter? Perhaps it’s really being built for the Minnesota State Fair!
In the end, however, the statue got too much press worldwide and embarrassed the local officials, so they ordered it taken down.
In the late 1990’s, I had the chance to study Chinese one-on-one with a professor in Beijing. At the beginning of my very first lesson, in a small classroom at the college where he taught, Professor Y’s first words to me were, “I’m not a member of the Party, and so we can discuss any topic you want.” He wasn’t kidding.
What started out as a language class turned into a crash course in Chinese history, politics, culture, and contemporary society from the point of view of an educated Chinese man with no political agenda to push. Nobody helped me understand the interconnectedness of the past and present in China more than he did.
During one of our sessions, Professor Y taught me two terms: liu su and liu mei (留苏， 留美 ). Liu is the first character of the word liuxuesheng, which means foreign student, or a student who goes abroad to study. An American studying in China is a liuxuesheng. A Chinese student who studies outside of China is a liuxuesheng. Su is short for Sulian, Soviet Union, and mei is short for Meiguo, the United States.
He explained to me that in the early years of the People’s Republic, most Chinese liuxuesheng went to the Soviet Union to study. They were liusu. They immersed themselves in Marxism and Leninism, and returned to take up leadership positions in the Party and government.
In the 1980’s, following the launch of the Reform and Opening Policy by Deng Xiaoping, the government began sending liuxuesheng to America to study. They are liumei. They are immersing themselves in science, technology, and, and in many cases, western notions of policy and governance. Many are encountering the Gospel and becoming Christ-followers.
What would it mean for China, Professor Y and I wondered, when the returning liumei rose to positions of power in the Party and Government.
Whenever I read an article about Chinese students in the US, I think about Professor Y and that fantastic discussion we had. L
In the 1970s, they came from Iran, riding the wave of the oil boom. Then in the first decade of the second millennium, they came from India, filling up graduate programs in business and science. Now, it’s Chinese students who comprise the largest group of international pupils in the United States, buoyed by a growing Chinese middle class that’s willing to pay top dollar for their children’s educations. According to an annual report by the Institute of International Education (IIE), in the 2014-2015 academic year more than 304,000 Chinese students were enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities, an almost five-fold increase from just a decade earlier.
Using the annual report issued by The Institute of International Education as a starting point, Foreign Policy researchers examined Department of Homeland Security (DHS) statistics on F-1 visas to try to determine exactly where the Chinese students (liumei) are.
Here is the top ten (ranked by # of visas):
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
University of Southern California
Michigan State University
Ohio State University
University of California, Los Angeles
University of California at Berkeley
I note with interest that the University of Minnesota is not among the top ten.
I am often asked how, given the fact that the Chinese language has no alphabet, one types in Chinese using a standard English qwerty keyboard. The answer, of course is that modern Chinese also uses a romanization system called Pinyin, which uses English letters to represent Chinese sounds. If you type a Pinyin word, a list of Chinese characters associated with that word appears. Select the correct one, and — viola! — you have typed a Chinese character.
It wasn’t always like that, of course. When I first went to China, computers and keyboards were not yet a part of everyday life (not even for Americans, if you can believe it), and Chinese typing was still done on machines pictured above. The typist would hunt for the desired character, use the contraption to grab it, move it to the paper, press it on the paper, then put it back in its proper place. As you can imagine, typing a document was a mind-numbingly laborious task.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, groundbreaking information technologies like the telegraph, the typewriter, and the computer changed the world. All of these technologies were designed with the alphabet in mind, however, leaving open the question: what about China, Japan, and Korea? In this exhibition, the history of modern East Asian information technology is explored through artifacts from the personal collection of Professor Thomas S. Mullaney (History) and the Stanford East Asia Library. Opening Reception and Guest Lectures by Jidong Yang (EAL) and Thomas S. Mullaney (History) on Wednesday, January 20 at 5pm.
If you’re in the Bay Area, you might want to check it out. I’m almost tempted to fly out there to see it myself.
I used to be a Minnesota Vikings fan, which is to say that I used to actually care whether or not they won games. That changed in 2001 when, after being undefeated for the entire season, they were beaten by the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game, 41, to 0!
I was living in China at the time, so wasn’t able to actually watch the game; but when I heard what the score was I made a vow that henceforth I would never again care whether the Vikings won or lost. There is just no point.
A friend on Facebook tipped me off to a great post written by blogger Chris Gehry about the heartache of being a Vikings fan, titled How to Survive Being a Vikings Fan. He writes about the despondancy of his young son at Minnesota’s loss to Seattle on Sunday:
I don’t think I’ve ever seen another human being so disconsolate.
After about ten minutes of sobbing, I gathered Isaiah into my biggest, most fatherly bear hug. After his chest stopped heaving quite so violently, I held him by the shoulders, looked him level in the eyes, and said, “Son, now you are a Vikings fan.”
Those are almost the exact words I said to a Chinese college student who was watching the game with me on Sunday. He’s been in the US for almost 3 years and has become quite the football fan. His loyalties are a bit divided, though, since his host family last year were hardcore Packers fans.
In this game, however, his heart was decidedly with Minnesota. As the game progressed and it looked like things were going Minnesota’s way, I put on my Debby Downer hat and tried to prepare him for what I believed would be an inevitable loss, most likely in the waning moments of the game. He would have none of it, especially when Minnesota was up 9-0.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” I said. “The Vikings will most likely blow it. This is who they are. This is what they do. Trust me. I have been watching them for 40 years.” He would have none of it.
And when the kicker missed a 27-yard field goal with just 22 seconds left to lose the game, I turned to him and said, “Now you know what its like to be a Vikings fan.”
After a few minutes of sadness and disbelief, he pulled himself together, changed the channel, and began cheering for the Packers!