Monday, June 18, 2007

Curtain Call

Well, I am back on American soil for the first time in a year. People in Beijing had warned me of reverse culture shock after being gone for this long. First impressions? Well, ordering coffee is easier in English than it was in Chinese, but I paid almost as much for a 16 oz cup ($ 3.69) as I did for my last dress shirt at the cotton market (Y 30.0 = $3.90).

I slept the entire way from Tokyo to Detroit – I finally got lucky this time and had a window seat with an empty seat to my right, so I could stretch out a bit without having a massively overweight man’s gut rubbing up against me (happened twice, see previous blogs.) So now, on the three hour flight from Detroit to Houston, I am awake enough to do a little writing and a lot processing.

“How was Beijing?” How can I answer that question? Maybe I aught to just describe the concrete things. Beijing was great – I learned the value of hard work: 60 – 78 hours worth every week. And in my free time I learned to love Chinese food and chop sticks, to speak a little of the language, and to just smile and nod when communication completely breaks down. I became a skilled bargainer and bike-rider, and I learned to hack and spit like a local (a habit I need to break again very soon.) I hiked along a Great Wall, toured the forbidden city, jumped planes and trains all over China, and loved every moment of it. I made good friends too – and made connections (guanxi) which may last a lifetime.

But inside I know there is more to it that that. I couldn’t have lived apart from everyone and everything familiar for a year and not return a changed man; there was a growing and maturing process which I can’t really describe. This kid left home for a year, got his first full-time job, and lived among a people in a culture which doesn’t speak, eat, or even think like those he grew up with. I learned to adapt quickly and to be flexible and forgiving with people who are so different and a society that was so foreign; to the point that in my mind now Beijing is home, and home is estranged, but that should also change with time.

“What are you going to do when you get back to Texas?” is a much easier question for me to answer. It is raining in Houston right now, a good strong Texas rain – not the Beijing drizzle I grew used to. I know that when my plane touches down and the humidity hits me like a wet blanket, I will take a deep breath of air that feels fresher than any I have tasted in months. My family will be waiting for me after I claim my bags. I’ll give each a big old hug; then we will talk and laugh as we load up the car and drive down familiar highways and neighborhood streets past office buildings, churches, schools, and shipping centers I have seen a thousand times before. We will pull onto the street where my parents live, where I grew up; the maple tree we planted fifteen years ago is now taller than our house, and the leaves will be rustling in the wind and rain. My dog will bark as we pull into the driveway, and then shy away when I first step through the back gate, but she will recognize me and lick my shoes, hands, and chin as I bend down to stroke her. The back door squeaks as it opens, unless dad oiled it, and I’ll throw all of my bags into the middle of the living room. I’ll wash my hands, and then we’ll eat a home-cooked meal – only my third of the year, and for the remainder of the evening I will show off my souvenirs and tell tales of strange faces and faraway places until I collapse on the big leather sofa and fall asleep.


Well, That’s pretty much what happened. Life at home is more predictable – a good transition for now – but it won’t be this way for long. From this pilgrim’s perspective, living is an adventure down a long and winding road, and I haven’t a clue what might be just around the next bend.

This is the End of the Chronicles of Beijing Ag. Blogging was fun; I'll have to keep another travel log next time I leave the country - until next time!

“Home is behind, the world ahead, and there are many paths to tread.” - JRR Tolkien

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Return to the Wall

Great Wall, Take II:
Jinshanling, Hebei Province
Monday, May 28th, 2007

Men In Black

Saturday evening was freakin' sweet! I helped out at the American Chamber of Commerce Beijing Charity Ball. For the price of being a crowd plant in the mini-show (me in costume, see right,) I got to hob-nob with the affluent of Beijing while eating complimentary food and sipping complimentary drinks. For a guy who gets a kick out of meeting new people, networking, and eating, this was the party of parties!

I was not alone, my friend John (cone-head on left) was the star of the mini-show, and three other friends are members of the feature band.

The event was fantastically organized - they really went all-out! Our theme was Men in Black, so everyone showed in black suits and tuxes.

Here's the band. That's Rich on the trumpet and Joe on the mic. Tanya also sang backup female vocalist. These guys are very talented - I was/still am very impressed.

Friday night was the Regen Formal – our closing event of the year for youth group before the kids all leave for vacation this summer. Most will travel back to the states or their respective home countries for a while to visit family and friends. We had a great time!

The youth leaders (that’s me) might have enjoyed the formal even more than the kids. Most of us used this event as an excuse to get new dresses and suits tailored, (fitted dress cloths are the norm for us in China) so everyone was looking beautiful that evening. We had great food, catered by Peter’s Tex-Mex, great fellowship and even a little dancing (at a church formal!) All around, this was a great way to end the youth-group year. This uniqe group of students and leaders has defined my Beijing experience in so many ways. I am blessed to have been a part of their lives for this short season.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Urban Tribe

From Wikipedia

"Urban tribes are groups of people in urban areas who have some kind of close association based upon similar lifestyles or activities. Subcultures, such as urban tribes, are more common in larger cities where the enormous size and complexity of the society create a sense of alienation or isolation on the level of the individual. This, in turn, can lead to the (official or unofficial) formation of urban tribes in which people effectively unite behind a common interest to create a smaller-scale community within a larger, overall society.

Although the phrase urban tribe implies nothing about age or marriage, Ethan Watters defines urban tribes as groups of never-married's between the ages of 25 and 45 who gather in common-interest groups and enjoy the urban lifestyle."

So I've gone tribal. Cool, huh?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Saying Goodbye

Two of my friends left for the USA this weekend, and there will be more and more following. I know of several guys leaving next week, even more the week after that, and then it is my turn to return to the USA! My time in Beijing is running out.

Saying goodbye to Rahman at "The Tree"Resteraunt

Billy's farewell dinner at T.G.I.Fridays

Let's go Fly a Kite

Baseball is to the USA, as kite-flying in Tienanmen is to Beijing. It’s pretty much a national pastime. If you live in Beijing for a year without flying a kite is Tienanmen Square, well, you aren’t getting the full China experience. Seriously.

The weather was PERFECT. This whole week has been unusually nice, but Wednesday evening is one of the prettiest I have seen this year. Sunset over the Chinese capitol building was just right.

I will miss this city. I never thought that Beijing would become home; I have been content living here. But I know that this season of life is coming to an end and I'll be back in school soon. One day, I think I will return to Beijing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

More things I never thought I'd pick up in China...

1. Snowboarding
2. Salsa
3. Guitar
4. Chinese Folk Dance
5. Chinese Cooking

Things I Never thought I'd do in China...

Something I never expected to pick up in China:

Skateboarding - aren't those kneepads awesome???

But I guess that's what happens when I befriend the owner of a snow and skateboard shop. Tuan is a really cool guy - he's an avid boarder on all turfs - snow, surf, and pavement.

So on Monday I learned how to stand on a skateboard, then how to go straight, then how to turn. I picked up a couple of simple tricks as well - maybe next time I'll learn to grind...

We went out for Korean afterward - not a bad way to spend an evening, huh?

Friday, May 04, 2007

It is Well

Have you ever been completely at peace? I'm not just talking about the kind of contentment that comes after eating a good meal, or relieving yourself after a long car trip, or from napping in the grass on a sunny day after finishing a stressful exam. To be completely emotionally and spiritually at peace; no anxiety, no nagging ambition, no worries. A moment of this kind of peace – to be really satisfied with what is – is a gift from above.

My time in Beijing is nearly finished - I expect to return to Texas June 16th, and I am content with the way my time has been spent. My expectations for this year were not met - they have been exceeded a thousand-fold! This has been an incredibly full year, I could never have guessed that I would do the things I have done, see the places I have seen, and met some of the most incredible people there could possibly be. Life is full of surprises - you just have to be open to guidance from the one who directs our paths, and be ready for an adventure!

Day 3: Rainy Li River Cruise

And still it rains...Not at all discouraged, Rahman and I signed up for an early morning river cruise. Adrianna opted to continue sleeping until 10:00 again! The scenery is ridiculously cool, the mountains look especially magical in a misty rain, but I do wish we could have seen the countryside in full sun at least once. I’ll just have to go back sometime!

There is one thing you should know about traveling in China. Most of the Chinese tourists have never left their own country, and many have never even seen anyone who is not Chinese - so they wanted pictures with us. The blond-headed Polish and German girls we met were also very popular with Chinese tourists.

These are the two best pictures I captured from the river cruise. (Above and Below)

This village’s architecture is much different from Beijing. Many of the buildings on this street are made of wood – while in Beijing all of the older buildings are of mud bricks or concrete. Makes for great pictures!
Life in busy, glitzy, polluted Beijing can be a love-hate relationship, but I really fell for sleepy rural China.


Yangshuo is one of the most beautiful places on earth. This is the only place I have come while in China which I really want to go back to. I love these mountains.

This place is even on their money!


Cooking kept me occupied all morning, but the rain still wouldn’t stop! So Rahman, Adrianna, and I went cave-diving – good in all weather, yea?

Chinese Cooking Class

So the three of us are in a Chinese wonderland and the weather will not cooperate. I love rain; it has a very soothing effect on me – especially in the morning when rain drops are falling against the window and among the leaved in the trees. However, we were all really hoping to some hard-core biking and hiking on day two, so what do three travelers do on a rainy day in Yangshuo? Well, Adrianna and Rahman slept in until ten-o-clock and I spent all morning learning to cook Chinese food from the chef across the street.

Cooking class was loads of fun! First, we took a trip to the local outdoor market to stock up on ingredients. Chinese markets are not for the faint of heart! In addition to fruits, veggies, and spices, they merchants sell live animals and fish, which they slaughter for their buyers on the spot. I saw a dog die, I didn’t take pictures because it turned my stomach and somehow, snapping photos of the dying animal seemed immoral at the time.

Rats on a String!

All in all – the market was fascinating. I hope I don’t gross you out too much!

Back at the hotel, I and a few other eager tourists learned to make fried dumplings, a Chinese salad, a pork stir-fry dish, and a duck dish. The food was excellent, and the company was good as well.

If we are lucky – I might have a chance to cook Chinese food for you sometime!