Sunday, April 27, 2008

Thoughts from Tanggu

We're now in Tanggu, an industrial town about 2 hours drive from Beijing. It seems small compared to Shanghai, but I was told at dinner last night that the population is around 1 million. (not exactly Katy, Texas). Speaking of dinner, we were once again treated to a feast! The different groups that Sam has been meeting with have all been very gracious in sharing their delicious local cuisines...nothing like any "Chinese" food I've enjoyed before, but delicious none the less.

After having breakfast with the MI-SWACO group, checking my email, and surfing for Skype partners, I planned my outings for the day. Since there are no tourist destinations in Tanggu, shopping for a tea set was on my list of things to do. When Sam visited this city last year, he went to a tea shop and has been talking about the tea sets ever since. I had no problem finding my way to the shop and actually, even though language was a barrier to discussing my purchase with the salesperson, it was a pleasant transaction because there was no bargaining involved. Fortunately, the prices in the stores here are set, unlike the bazaars of Shanghai.

Today, in addition to sharing our China travel log, I also want to write a bit about what I've been pondering lately. My thoughts have been about how travelling has made me so much more aware of, and thankful for, how unique America is as a "melting pot" of cultures. Being physically, yellow, black or white... is the norm in America. None of Sam's co-workers from Thailand, Malaysia, or China would stand out at all if they were to travel around the United States. The same is not true here. As I walked down the street today, I felt as though I were a 6 ft. Las Vegas style neon sign flashing the warning-"Foreigner". The response I received as I walked along was certainly not rude, but rather cautiously curious. I'm sure many of the people I passed were just wondering why someone so obviously foreign was strolling along their neighborhood streets.

On a spiritual level, I'm mindful of the fact that as a Christian, no matter where in the world I travel, I'm a foreigner because this world with all its worldliness will never be my home. My prayer then is that God would empower me to choose to live my life each day, wherever I am, in such way that it attracts the same curious attention I created as I walked down the streets of Tanggu so that I might have opportunities to share the hope I have in Christ. I'm so thankful America is truly a melting pot for physical and cultural differences, yet at the same time, I hope and pray that it never becomes one spiritually... I pray that it will always be...One nation under God... The same God who loved the whole world so much ... that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him, would not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16

Friday, April 25, 2008

A "Shoutout" from Shanghai

Sam and I arrived in Shanghai yesterday afternoon. The weather is beautiful...a bit on the smoggy side, but it's what I expected with over 20 million people living here.

Yesterday, after settling in at the hotel, we all ventured out to explore Nanjing Lu, Shanghai's foremost shopping street. The group (Sam's co-workers and me) did a bit of shopping... mainly "window" shopping and enjoyed strolling along the street with throngs of others. The street ended at area called "The Bund". The Bund is at the heart of what used to be colonial Shanghai. Today it's a nice place to take in views of the Huangpu River...old colonial buildings on one bank and some of the world's tallest buildings on the other. Since there's a tunnel that transports you under the river, we were able to enjoy both views.

Today, I ventured out on my own once again and am happy to say that I actually got to enjoy the sight I set out to see. I took a taxi to the Yu Gardens and Bazaar. The gardens were amazing...quite magical to have such a peaceful place in the middle of the chaos of a bazaar and looming skyscrapers. I hope my pictures capture the calm, beauty, and art of a perfectly balanced landscape. After savoring the calm, I bravely entered the bazaar armed with my calculator. I have to admit that though bargaining is a real stretch for me, I quite enjoyed the experience. I'm sure I still paid way too much for my treasures, but at least I participated in the cultural ritual that was expected of me.

Getting home was not near the adventure I'd had in Shenzen, yet it was not without a challenge. Taking a taxi from the hotel in the morning had been a piece of cake with the help of the hotel staff. Flagging one down for the return trip...NOT so easy! First, I had to figure out where they would stop, because as a foreigner I didn't seem to be able to get the same response from the side of the street as the locals did. Once I found an actual taxi stop, my intuition told me not to go with the drivers that were wanting to bargain for the price. Thankfully, an English speaking tourist filled me in on the different taxi colors and which could be trusted to be fair. It wasn't long after that lesson, that I hopped in a blue taxi (as opposed to red) and was safely on my way home with plenty of time to blog and check email! It's a wonderful life to be on such a foreign adventure, yet to also be able to come home to family and friends each evening via the internet.
My love you! Thanks for checking in with me and for reading these ramblings :)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Planes, Trains and.....

Well actually, there were no planes today, but there were ferry boats, underground metro trains, buses, and taxis. Today was my first day to navigate China on my own and let me assure you, it was quite an adventure! First off, let me begin by sharing that we are in Shekou...a suburb of hour ferry ride from Hong Kong. Since Sam was working all day, I decided that I'd jump on the ferry and explore Hong Kong. After all, since Hong Kong had had a long history with Great Britain, language wasn't going to be a problem...Right? Wrong!

I won't say that it was a major problem, but it certainly was a challenge. However, the real problem in my plans occurred shortly after arriving at the tourist information office and learning that the ferry I'd traveled on to get to Kowloon (the island across from Hong Kong) didn't have a return schedule that would meet my needs. I'd prearranged with Sam to meet up with him no later than 6:00 and since I didn't have an international cell phone (something I'll for sure have on our next trip), I had no way of contacting him to let him know that I'd be an hour late. Soooo... the rest of my time was spent trying to return to Shekou.

First, I had to learn how to navigate the MTR in order to get to the travel agency that would sell me a bus ticket. With the help of many kind citizens from all over the world, I finally made it to their office. The plan was to buy my ticket, learn the departure location, and then resume my sightseeing excursion, taking in all the sights possible before I had to leave. The tourist information office had provided me with an itinerary that included historic markets, a beautiful garden, and a temple.

Again, best laid plans! The travel agency I'd been sent to wasn't able to sell me the bus ticket I needed. I wasn't quite sure what to do at this point. I considered crying, but that really wouldn't have accomplished much, so I decided to head back to the tourist office. This time, I'm pleased to report that I navigated the MTR almost like a local (Not! but better than before...I think I made it back to the office without any help)

I explained my predicament to a different tourist authority this time, and after bouncing around a few ideas, was sent to another travel agency to purchase a ticket for a different bus. Let me tell you, it was a real step in faith to head out to that office. At this point I'd scratched all sightseeing and decided that I just wanted to get back to the hotel... the sooner, the better!

Fortunately, buying the ticket was not a problem at all this time. In fact, I got lucky and was able to board the bus right away. It was a pleasant 1 hour ride back to mainland China, and the best part was I was able to see some sights I wouldn't have seen if I'd returned on the ferry. Once I got back to Shenzen, I had no problem catching a taxi back to the hotel.

All in all, it was a good day...Not the day I'd planned, but good nevertheless. With out a doubt, the best part was all the conversations I'd had with all the good Samaritans who took time out of their busy day to help me find my way.

P.S. We just returned from a lovely Chinese dinner hosted by the staff at the Shenzen office. The hospitality extended to us made us feel so welcome and the food was delicious! We leave for Shanghai tomorrow morning.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Notice something new?

You may have noticed a few changes like the removal of my favorite Thailand picture. That was a mistake! I've tried my best to correct it, but these programs definitely have a mind of their own. After literally hours of messing with it, I'm ready to put up the white flag and go with the old saying, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em ! In its place is a slide show from Photo Bucket and I'm trying out a whole new template. I figured if I'm being forced to change, why not go all the way. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Not What I Expected

Recently, Sam and I visited about how easy it's been for us to slip into a non tourist role as we live life here in Bangkok. That's not necessarily bad, but there's so much to see and our days or years are numbered. So we pulled out the tour books once again and renewed our resolve to continue seeing and sharing the sights that surround us.

One local sight that's been on our list to see is the Royal Barge Museum. We had had a glimpse of these magnificent barges this past fall as we watched a televised annual procession of them float down the Chao Phraya River to Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn, in order to offer royal kathin robes to the monks in the temple. Believe me, after viewing this royal procession with all its pomp and circumstance, I could tell that these "boats" were truly a treasured part of Thailand's cultural heritage and could only imagine viewing them up close.

If you'd like to see them up close, take a look at the Royal Barge Museum album on our Shutterfly account -
They were as beautiful as I'd expected, but what I want to write about is what I'd not expected.

What I'd not expected is to be guided through winding narrow alleys of a slum in order to get to the museum. I couldn't believe that we were actually following this sleepy local resident (bum) who had been resting on a table near the fading museum sign where our driver had dropped us off. In fact, the whole time we were trekking behind him, I kept thinking there has got to be some mistake.... Surely, Thailand's royal treasures can't be located here! I was even wondering if this was some sort of scam... To be really honest, I was sort of scared. This just wasn't what I'd expected.

Well, obviously it wasn't a scam, and we were led right to the door of the museum. After viewing the barges, we headed back through the slum to meet our driver....this time without the benefit of a guide. As we were walking, I couldn't help but think how appropriate that the poorest of the poor should be the keepers of these royal riches. After all, isn't that what heaven will be like?...the last will be first and the first will be last...Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

...Just wanted to share how thankful I am for the opportunity to have been reminded once again that life's treasures have nothing to do with barges or any other "thing", royal or otherwise, but instead life's real treasures are people...even people disguised as bums!

The Icing on the Cake!

Three weeks ago yesterday, I began what has continued to be an amazing experience with the Thai health care system. I've been completely checked from head to toe and am thankful to report that I have a clean bill of health. However, I just have to share the icing on the cake from this whole experience. It was when the endocrinologist called me on a national holiday to report that the biopsy of my thyroid nodule turned out just fine. I couldn't believe it! First of all, I expected a call from his office staff rather than a personal call from him, and secondly, since there was no urgency in the report, I would have totally understood waiting until after the holiday to call. Anyway, enough about that...just glad it's behind me and that it was so painlessly easy for a medical procrastinator like me to catch up on all those important screenings!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Never in my wildest dreams...

Recently, I've been blown away by just what's possible these days. For example, a few days ago I had my first "virtual" babysitting job. Let me explain...Vanessa had come home with Riley and to her dismay, there were no convenient parking spaces near her apartment. She not only had to unload Riley and all the baby "stuff", but also an ice cream birthday cake for Trey...too much to carry in one load. She was nervous about leaving Riley in the apartment alone in order to go back to the car for the cake, so being the creative girlie that she is, this is what she did-- She called me using her cell phone as she has an international phone plan. Next, she turned on the computer and Skyped me. After, being sure that Riley (secured in her car seat) was visible to me, she left the apartment locking the door behind her and taking her cell phone with her as we were still connected. Sooo...The end result was she was able to hear me talking and singing to Riley...Riley was never out of my sight and could hear her Grandma singing her favorite songs (Vanessa was coaching me on what to sing), and Vanessa was assured that she was O.K. for the few minutes it took her to return to the car. Amazing!

The next experience that really got my attention was my trip to the doctor's yesterday. You are not going to believe this but I promise you every detail of it is true! After being here since July, I decided that it was time to establish a relationship with a family doctor. Those of you who know me well, know this is not my favorite thing to do. In fact, I can be creatively negligent when it comes to having routine well woman check ups. Anyway, my friend, Gini, made an appointment for me to meet her doctor. The appointment was at 9:00, and I figured after a brief consult, I'd be directed to an appointment desk in order to schedule a time for an initial check up. Wrong!

The short version is I left the doctor's office, which is in a local hospital, at 4:00 PM.

The long version is nothing short of miraculous! First of all, I began my appointment at 8:45 by completing a minimal amount of paperwork and having my blood pressure, height and weight checked. Next, I met with the doctor at her desk while she completed a family history and discussed my health needs. After that, I was sent to the lab for routine blood, urine... tests. I then returned to the doctor's office, and she performed the most complete physical I've ever had. Following this exam, I was personally escorted to various offices within the hospital for a mammogram, chest x-ray, bone density measurement, ultrasound (breasts, thyroid, upper abdomen), and an EKG. After a brief break for lunch at one of the many restaurants within the hospital (I chose Starbucks), I met with the doctor again. This time, she shared the results of all the tests that had been run earlier. The good news is I'm healthy, though she wanted me to see an endocrinologist because I have a nodule on my thyroid that she'd like checked out. So off I go to visit with the endocrinologist! He takes a look at the ultrasound pictures, lab reports, and examines me. He assures me that because my thyroid is functioning properly, there's probably no problem, but just to be on the safe side he schedules a biopsy for next week. Well, I finished my "initial" visit with 2 more exams to be completed that afternoon and 2 more to be completed next week...all of them arranged by my doctor. A gynecologist completed a well woman check up for me and I ended my day with a trip to the eye doctor's office. Can you believe all that with one simple 9:00 AM appointment? One more "blow me away" detail of the day was upon checking out, I was given completed insurance forms and a detailed print out of all the procedures and exams that had been performed. You might be wondering about the cost. I know I was! Well, the total for all the physician visits and lab tests was $747.00. No wonder Thailand is becoming a medical tourism hot spot!