Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Shocking Lunar Market

The Lunar Market was quite a sight to behold. It was also held the most disturbing things I've ever seen. The vendors sell nuts and spices and vegetables and fruit and meat. Unfortunately, a good deal of the meat was yet to be slaughtered. There were large white bunnies waiting to be hacked in their cages. Their more unfortunate counterparts littered a cloth with bloody entrails and poor little white rabbit feet were scattered on the ground. There were geese awaiting their fate, the typical chicken, horrible looking fish half dead in pans of water. I saw goat heads, pig heads, and slaughtered dogs lying in a heap in a wagon. This wasn't as terrible as seeing a rabbit being skinned. I saw it from a distance. Aaron told me later that it was skinned alive. I can handle all the dead animals and knowing that they are feeding hungry people. But, it makes me very angry that anyone could be cruel enough to skin something alive. Carrie assured me that this isn't a normal practice here, and indeed, I watched them kill a chicken, and it seemed very decent. Needless to say, I'm not very happy right now.

Sunday Funday

Yesterday we went to church. Carrie and Jacob and Ellie (the nurse who works at the orphanage) were craving Western food. So, we went to Annie's, an Italian restaurant. It was between Italian and Tex-Mex, and I was ever so grateful not to eat Tex-Mex in China! The food was quite decent, and Carrie really seemed to enjoy the respite from Chinese food. After lunch we headed for the Merry Mart...a huge Chinese grocery store where I could stock up on food I want to bring home with me. We are all a bit under the weather, except for Carrie, so we came home and took naps and watched a movie. A perfect way to spend a Sunday.

We are finally going to be in Qing Yun Dian for a whole day, so we get to see the lunar market. Yeah!
The picture above is from the Night Market.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Most Wonderful Shop in the World: The Pearl Market

Yesterday I was able to experience Hot Pot for the first time. I knew it was a big soup, but I didn't know that there were two sides: yin and yang, one spicy, one bland. You order ingredients to throw into the pot, meat, veggies, mushrooms, etc. They give you a sauce (I believe it differs from restaurant to restaurant) to dip your meat and veggies in after you take it out of the boiling pot. Ours was a sesame paste that you tailored to your taste with chili oil, tofu, chive paste, or onions. Most of yesterday we spent relaxing, watching movies and hanging out with Carrie and Jacob's Chinese friends.

Today was very exciting. After a lunch which including Peking duck, we headed for the Pearl Market. Caroline, Carrie's friend from Montana who moved here, led me to a pearl store that was crammed with all different kinds of pearl necklaces. It was overwhelming the number of items to choose from. Caroline once bought a strand of pearls here for 200 kuai (about $40 U.S. dollars) that was appraised for over $300 in the States. So, you can understand the thrill I felt knowing Chris owed me a Christmas present. It was also a good place to buy gifts for all the women I owe Christmas presents. I would come back to China just for this place!

After shopping, we visited Tienanmen Square where we walked around in the freezing cold. We waited until 6 to top the evening off at Night Street where a plethora of vendors sold every imaginable thing on a stick. There were fruits, meats, bugs, lizards, star fish, sea horses, squid, snakes, sea urchins, and fried ice cream to choose from. We sampled the scorpion. It was actually quite good. After eating these odd items, we went into a mall to get warm, and then Carrie and Caroline wanted McDonald's french fries. I'm never one to turn down fries, so we all ordered some.

Tomorrow we will be back in Beijing for Church and lunch.

Friday, December 28, 2007

In My Own Words

Here is my attempt to convey the thoughts and feelings that flood my consciousness every moment since I have been here. So if a single picture can tell a thousand words, here is a five thousand word essay. From Left to Right, Jack, Ben, Seth, Julia, and Chris (my namesake). For more pics see the photobucket link to the right.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Tough Day in Beijing

Yesterday was a bit low key. Jacob and Aaron don't feel well, and most of the children are ill with respiratory infections. So, Chris and I were able to hang out with the kids who aren't at the hospital receiving antibiotics. It was a great time. Most of the time, the home feels like a wonderful daycare. There is one nanny (I believe they have three shifts) assigned to three babies so they grow very attached to their "mom." And there is alot of structure with napping and sleeping and playtime and eating all at the same time every day. Unfortunately when the kids are ill, it becomes more obvious that they are orphans. There isn't any way for the Nannys to hold and comfort every child that doesn't feel well. It really is sad to see the babies cope on their own. They don't really know the difference, and they don't fuss and cry like an American baby would. But, I know the difference.

Today was somewhat difficult for me. I felt very powerless in the face of all the suffering around me. After lunch, we were walking back to the apartment when I spotted a very small puppy roaming right by the highway. Dogs mostly roam free here and a good deal of them don't appear to have an owner. This little thing broke my heart. He was searching through the trash piles near the road (of which there are many) for scraps. He was really cute, if I were at home, he'd be my new pet. I would never leave a puppy by a highway, but here I am unable to do anything other than feed the ones I see when I have food.

On a lighter note, for dinner, Carrie, Chris and I ventured to the village for street food. We bought sweet bread and salty bread, pears, oranges, and chicken on a stick. The chicken is pounded flat, fried, and then sprinkled with seasonings. I detected cumin and star anise. Yummy!

Today we are going to hang out with the kids some more and hopefully eat hotpot tonight for dinner. It snowed last night so we'll be walking in a couple inches to the home. Maybe it will have cleared up some of the pollution in the air.


This is little Seth. He has a serious heart problem. His lips are blue, and he doesn't have as much energy as the other little boys, but he is almost always happy. When he sees you, his eyes light up, and he holds his arms out for you to hold him. He's had one heart surgery so far and is scheduled for his second in July. One little boy, last year, had the same surgery and didn't make it through. We are praying that Seth's surgery will be a success, and he will be adopted. Please pray for this precious little boy, as he is such a blessing to be around.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Great Wall, Great Shopping, Great Food, Lousy Traffic

Today was a myriad of different activities. It began with the 2 1/2 hour drive through Beijing to the Great Wall. The Wall is indeed great. Unfortunately, I have to admit that my favorite part of the experience was the toboggan run you can take on the way down. So much for my cultural side! After that, we were driven into town to a 4 story building full of shopping. The first two floors were stuffed with "name-brand" clothing. Perhaps if I lived in a different city other than tiny Sandia Park, I would envy a Yves Saint Laurent bag, but I don' I haggled for touristy stuff. As it turns out I am a poor haggler, but at least I have fun.

The absolute best part of the day was the massage. For a mere $9, I purchased a 30 minute upper body and 30 minute foot massage. Can't beat that. The girl told me I had good skin like the Chinese (all of this by my massaging my foot).

There are so many things here that are different that I forget to mention them, but as the girl is massaging, she sits in this tiny chair (similar to ones we would buy for small children), I've also seen people in restaurants cut vegetables this way. Instead of standing up, they sit down in a very small chair and bend over with their head over their knees and peel and chop. Not very ergonomic.

In case you think we are living it up over here, getting massaged and shopping, you should know that we walk everywhere, and the van that transports us to and fro to Beijing has broken seats that make you feel like you are being folded over. We constantly smell like campers as they burn their trash here, and the smell clings to your clothes and hair. It is difficult to feel really clean. The beds have two inch thick mattresses, so my back hurts all the time. Of course the natives would probably consider us quite lucky. They burn coal to heat their homes and some live in tents.

Back to the day: we were hungry after all that work, and went to Asian Star, a restaurant that is not nearly so Asian as it is Indian. It was delicious. We sampled a green papaya salad that was so spicy my lips stung. We had milk tea. Then curried shrimp, curried spinach, tandoori chicken (the best I've ever had), and naan bread and potato bread. I'm not sure why the Chinese don't have a reputation like the Europeans for bread...theirs is amazing! I also don't understand why Chinese food in the states tastes nothing like it does here.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the night involved our drive home. Jacob and Carrie and Caroline, the three people who speak the most Chinese, do not know enough quite yet to converse fully with the driver of the van. So, we essentially put all our trust into this stranger. This is OK, until you take into account the horrible traffic conditions here. We are literally putting our lives into his hands! On our way back home, traffic was backed up on the freeway, so the driver makes a U-turn in the middle of the freeway and heads the wrong way down the on ramp. If my dad could only see what kind of mess we are traveling in without seat belts on! This isn't just his bad driving, everyone else was doing the same. Which makes it all the more fun! Sometimes I just close my eyes waiting for the big crash. Other times I just have to laugh. And pray. Really hard. Which was what we did tonight as there was a fog so thick I couldn't see the road. I guess our driver could, because we made it home. It really is indescribable the risks bikers and walkers take on these roads...even without the fog.

Tomorrow we go back to the home where I am supposed to be helping Carrie with some reports. I didn't get a chance to see my little Megan today, though, so I'm pretty sure I will be making a stop by the nursery.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Day in China

This morning we watched the kiddos open a plethora of Christmas gifts that were donated to the orphanage. Santa Claus was even able to make an appearance. I'm not sure the children knew who or what to think about him, though. They were all dressed to the nines for the party. Afterwards, we made our way into the village to sample more street food. Aaron purchased Jian Bing, a huge sort of omelet with green onions, red pepper paste, and a square crunchy fried piece placed in the center. Next we bought bread and then sticky rice boiled in a banana leaf and placed in a bamboo stick.

I had to go back and see little Megan before we headed home. Ellie, the nurse who works here, informed us that there is a family lined up to adopt her. I can't help but feel a little jealous. If I could, I would take her home in a heartbeat.

Carrie asked us to go back to the village to purchase some ginger root. Aaron (Chris's youngest brother), Chris and I headed into town with the Mandarin phrase book. Our first adventure on our own. We know how to say "hello," "how much?" "that's too expensive!", and "thank you," not exactly armed with knowledge. We did manage to buy one piece of ginger for 50 cents, after unsuccessfully telling the poor vendor that it was too expensive! We thought she wanted 4 kuai (a dollar here). Oh well. Stupid foreigners.

I had to buy the green tea I'm now addicted to at the store, and so we went in. I was in the aisle checking out some shoes when two Chinese ladies who work there came to watch me. They were animatedly talking about me, pointing, smiling, laughing. It was obvious that I was the source of their interest. It was a little uncomfortable, but here it isn't rude to stare. I finally said hello to them in Chinese. They said hi back, but kept on talking. They were probably pointing out to each other how my huge foreign feet were no way going to fit in those tiny shoes.
The pictures are, from left to right: the vendor with the sticky rice in banana leaf, my sweet girl Megan, and Seth, Olivia, and Megan.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Meeting the Kids

This morning we got to meet the babies and toddlers that comprise the orphanage. At first it was a little overwhelming with kids running and screaming, but after you pick one or two up you learn to just focus on them. I bonded immediately with Megan (she's in the picture on the left)who has a heart issue--as most of the kids here do). She's over a year old but weighs practically nothing. All she wanted to do was be held.
Upstairs in the baby section, I met Little Annie. She has a cleft palette and two under formed hands. She was precious. These little babies barely make a sound. They love being held and aren't fussy. At least not while we held them. Chris was able to meet the little boy Carrie named after him...he's the one in the picture on the right.
Olivia was the most heartbreaking case I've ever seen. She has a serious heart condition and was abandoned when she was 3 years old because her parents could not afford to care for her. She is only 4 now, so she can remember her past and her parents. Although she does not speak English, you can see the anguish in her eyes. She will cry when you hold her and cry when you put her down. It is obvious that she wants to be cuddled, but you are not the one she wants. I can't imagine anything worse than loving a child, but not having the means to care for her and having to choose an orphanage as the best chance she will get. She is a delicate looking child with the most winning smile. Pray for these children, that the right people will come along and adopt them. To meet them is to fall in love.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Inside Beijing

Our second day, we spent going to church and then eating and shopping in downtown Beijing. Inner Beijing is a completely different experience than here in the village. The stores here in the village have furniture for sale that looks like they were salvaged from the dump. As you walk along the muck in the street (we immediately remove our shoes when we get back to the apartment), you see chickens being slaughtered, bicycles loaded down with food on a stick, you get the idea. Downtown Beijing is nothing like this (at least the part we saw). After church, we ate at a Xinjiang (Western Chinese) restaurant. It was completely different than any Chinese food I'd ever had...and probably the best. I've chucked over my non-meat diet for this trip, so I feasted on lamb on a stick, nan bread, fungus in flavorful sauce (the name on the menu), homemade yogurt, spicy noodles and pumpkin. The lamb didn't taste strong at all, very mild. But, I still preferred the non-meat dishes. The fungus (like a mushroom) was delicious in a sesame sauce, and the yogurt was so good. It was more the consistency of sour-cream and tingled on your tongue like it was carbonated. The noodles were the absolute best. I've never had any so good.
After lunch we had to walk off all the delicious food. So, we headed for the flower market where it smells like heaven. The orchids were amazing. Huge and colorful. If I lived here, my apartment would be full of greenery and bowls of goldfish.
Chris and I learned the basics of Chinese enough to ask how much something was and the standard reply: that's too much! Westerners are an easy target for price inflation. They know we can spare the money. So, you have to negotiate. And that usually takes some time.
At the American food store a mother sent her little boy up to us to beg. Apparently I am the weakest link because he followed me around, stepping on my shoes, bumping against me, and generally just following me like those little fish you see stuck on a bigger fish. One of the girls that speaks great Chinese found out that this mother makes so much money begging that she sent her oldest kid off to college. They told me to ignore him. But, he followed me so closely that I'd have to walk around tables and separate from the group in order just to walk. I finally begged Chris to help me. He was the dirtiest child I'd ever seen. I really felt sorry for him, but also had to breath a sigh of relief when we crossed the street so he couldn't follow.
It was a great touristy day. Tomorrow we will be going to the foster home.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Our First Day in China

We've arrived in Beijing! After 12 hours on a plane I've never been so glad to touch ground. My first observation was the smog that immediately burned my lungs when we stepped off the plane. The traffic was also something of a shock. I've never seen cars get so close and not touch. It is difficult to explain the amount of cars, the honking, and the lack of order involved in driving. Carrie and Jacob live about an hour from the airport. It took us quite sometime to get to their apartment because of the traffic. It was dark, so we weren't able to get a clear impression of the city...other than the fact that it was difficult to breath. We stayed up until 9:30 so we could adjust more easily to the time change and then finally fell asleep exhausted.

This morning, after showering (the bathroom doesn't have a shower, it's a shower head near the toilet with a drain), we set out for the village. It certainly is a different world out here. We did the very thing we were warned against and sampled lots of street food: sweet bread, salty bread, fried bread, and roasted chestnuts. All yummy. There are tables set up along the streets where fruits and vegetables, raw meat, chickens, etc. are for sale. Cute little dogs roam the streets, mostly hanging out under the tables where the meat are. The dogs are filthy, eating out of the piles of trash that grace the streets. I really want to give them my food, but Chris isn't quite so ready to share. It is difficult to explain how odd this world is to me. On the street this morning, I saw a chicken being slaughtered for someone's dinner. It was actually quite humane, I suppose. I made myself watch the man weigh the bird, then hold back the wings and slice it's neck with a knife. For an animal lover, China is a bit hard to take.

For lunch, we ate at a restaurant with some of Carrie and Jacob's friends. Carrie managed to order for all of us (every Chinese in the place was watching and listening to her pronunciation--they seem to enjoy listening to foreigners attempt their language). The food was delicious--dumplings, fried bread (it didn't resemble bread at all), and fried noodle. I wanted tea until I saw the teapot which was crusted brown on the inside. I guess it was just brown from tea leaves. It didn't stop us...we still drank it. It cost 50 cents for one bowl of soup.

Tomorrow we venture back into the city. For lunch and then the market. I can't wait!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

"Loving Thy Neighbor Inherently Means Not Killing Them"

I saw this on a bumper sticker in Santa Fe a couple of weeks ago. Chris accused me of never writing about anything personal on our blog, so I thought I’d stick my neck out there and attempt to relay what has been on our hearts for about five months now.

It all started with this sort of re-evaluation phase I was going through with my faith. All of us as adults come to a point where we start to evaluate what we were taught as children about God, how do we see Jesus? I was in the midst of this struggle when we began going to Edgewood Believer’s and heard the awesome message Bryan preached after he returned from Seattle. I’ll have to sum up his message so that my post isn’t pages long: the way to reach unbelievers is through God’s love, not through condemnation. Telling people they are going to hell if they don’t believe in the Lord is NOT the right idea. God is love.

Well, that started to simmer in my mind…this radical notion of loving our neighbor because Christ loves them. After a few Sundays of sitting under this teaching of goodwill towards ALL men, something clicked. God really does love Osama Bin Laden, that crazy man in Iran whose name I can’t spell, terrorists, rapists, murderers, child killers. He loves them all. He died for them all.

Then I read a book called The Secret Message of Jesus by Brian McLaren. In it he points out how political Jesus’ message really is: His Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven. What does this mean? In heaven there will be peace, there will be no war, no killing, no terrorism, etc. If we, as believers of Christ, are meant to be His example down here, to help make this Earth a better place, what does it require of us? Is violence to end violence an acceptable way to conduct ourselves as Christians? What if all the Christians of the world chose to be pacifist when it came to aggression from our enemies? Would this be bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth in a way? I am the last person who ever thinks idealistically. I consider myself a realist and sometimes can be very cynical, unfortunately. Do I think a country could survive without a military? Probably not. Should we let a murderer walk free? Absolutely not. So, how do we reconcile our personal walk with Jesus and these huge political issues? What would Jesus have said? Jesus said if someone strikes you on one cheek, you are to turn your other to let him have another shot. If someone asks you to walk a mile with him, walk two. He says to love your enemy, to pray for him.

It was the bumper sticker that summed up all these conflicting ideas: how can we love our neighbor and still inflict violence upon them? What if I decided to be pacifist? Can I as one person change a whole violent world? Is there another way to handle this dilemma? I don’t know. Maybe after all this studying and reflecting and absorbing of sermons, I will continue to be the gun owning, capital punishment advocating, war supporting Christian I’ve always been. Maybe I’m just testing my faith and values but will end up coming back towards the middle. Maybe all of this is off base and too extreme and nothing will change. But maybe everything will.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Few of My Favorite Things:

This long weekend, we spent most of it eating and mountain biking. For those of you who know me well, this is like heaven to me. My two favorite past times. On Friday, Chris and I ventured to White Mesa, a biking trail on the way to Jemez, NM. It was completely different from any other trail we have attempted and helped to conquer my number one mountain biking fear: riding on the edge of steep precipices. Practically the whole first 4 miles of the trail were on the edge of what I would call a cliff; those unencumbered with a fear of falling off a bike to meet their death would call it a drop-off. Either way, it inhibited my style of sailing full speed on the downhills. Most of the ride was uphill, which I can endure provided I get to go really fast on the way down. This did not happen. I didn't even get to experience my typical fall...but I took a nice spill on the Wednesday before by our house...somehow I managed to fall on another cactus, which did not hurt, but the rock on my shin and the twig in my cheek didn't feel all that great. But, I digress. After our ride, we ate at the Range Cafe in Bernalillo. They have the absolute best Vegetarian Omelet.

It was rainy all day Saturday, so we hung out with my parents, ate Pho, and then my mom suggested we bake. She wanted to make Bourbon Balls. I'd never tasted them, but they sounded interesting. They are very potent, in case you haven't tried them. You don't cook them, so the alcohol is still very much present. My first taste, I wasn't sure of, but after the 5th one, I decided I liked them.

Church on Sunday was really good, as usual, and afterward we had to go biking. I'd been wanting to do the trail by the foothills again...the downhills on this trail are so amazing. I find myself smiling like a dork the whole time. Afterward, we hit up Trader Joes. This was not such a good idea as I was hungry and in a moment of weakness thought that 5 pounds of honey roasted peanuts wasn't really excessive.

We will be in China soon, so if you are sick of hearing about mountain biking, I'm pretty sure I'll have new and different stories regarding our trip.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Mating Rituals of African Fruit Flies

So, Chris and I have taken up Scrabble to pass the seemingly interminable dark nights. The sun goes down on this side of the mountain really early, so by the time Chris gets home, there isn't time to do much of anything. To avoid watching endless hours of t.v., we decided on board games. Since my husband wanted it to be somewhat educational, we ended up with Scrabble. I know this may seem like a very elderly way to spend your nights, and indeed, it probably is; but Chris cheats, so it does make the time more interesting. Oddly enough, Chris thought the legitimate way to win the game was to make up words and hope that the other player (me) would not challenge him on it's actual existence in the English language (oh, sometimes he spells words in a different language even though I'm pretty sure that I've never heard him fluently speak in another language). He's now been properly reigned in. Since he's going to kill me for what I just wrote, and insist that he really thought that's how the game was played, I should make up for it by saying that he really is a good Scrabbler...not as good as myself, of course, but a decent player.

Besides our riveting nights over Scrabble, this weekend, we spent Saturday with my parents in Santa Fe. Eating at Pasquel's (YUMMY) in the Plaza, attempting to walk off some of the damage of the enchiladas afterwards, and then driving home afterwards because we were all too full to do anything else.

Sunday, we attended church again at Edgewood Believer's Fellowship. Chris and I really love this church. The pastor really has a heart for people (not just church people), and really challenges us on how we approach non-believers. I always feel like I've learned something when I leave. Something that I can take away and chew on for the rest of the week. Seemingly simple things like loving your enemy that we've read a million times, but do we? Do we love people that we think are living sinful lives? People that are unlovely, that smell bad, that worship a different god from ours? I don't think most Christians do this (myself included).

Back to Sunday: after church, we loaded up our bikes and went mountain biking with our friends Heidi and Jeff. It was so awesome...I just love this sport. I felt certain that all the cactus were calling out to me, but I didn't answer their call. I wasn't sure how this was going to work out biking with Jeff (who apparently has been doing it for years and is quite good) and Heidi (who runs marathons for fun), but other than the fact that they all had to wait on me while we went uphill, it worked out OK. I'm OK on the downhill, and I love going fast. Afterward we had supper at their house which worked out really well...we brought pasta noodles, and they cooked the rest. I can give you their number if you need some friends like this.