Monday, May 31, 2010

Adventures in teeth

You would think that a family trip to the dentist would not be categorized under "adventure." But when a simple teeth cleaning must be navigated in a second language, let the adventures begin.

We wandered around our neighborhood, looking for a dentist some friends had visited. I don't think we found that one, but we did find A dentist. I was really hoping that there would be nothing wrong with any of our teeth beyond cleaning, because that's all I know how to say, "Please clean our teeth." Also, I understand the word "problem." (as you can imagine, that word will become quite relevant later in my story).

First, we experienced the new and exciting opportunity to view our teeth on a computer screen in front of us. Wow - my teeth look really nice from the front thanks to years of braces and a commitment to personal hygiene, but my top back teeth have been running feral back there, like it's some 1980's back alley. I say 1980's because there are still a few teeth with lingering silver fillings. She pointed out that these must be more than 20 years old. Yes, thank you.

And then she said, "Let me show you a few problems with your teeth" after which the conversation took a tricky turn. She kept using a few phrases like "bu ya" (which I believe must mean "filling") and "qian ti" which I'm a little afraid means, "root canal" but more likely means "cap." Often she'd say a word several times and then tell me, "You can check what that means later."

The gist of what she told me was, "You've got some nasty old fillings back here that are making your teeth gray. I suspect that means inside there's all kinds of wrong stuff going on. I'm going to have to go in and see what it is. Also, that tooth you had redone in Singapore is pure crap. I'm going to have to redo that too. Then I'll recover them with white, you will praise me as an amazing dentist, and you will hand over large stacks of renminbi to our office."

Erik's got one of those ancient fillings too. Is it normal to want to eradicate these? Are they really so toxic? This is the problem with dentistry in another language - I'm trying so hard to understand, I can't begin to question whether or not it's legit.

Next Monday I go in for phase 1 of "bring Gina's back teeth into the 21st century." Should be another great adventure.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Perspectives in driving

The level of lawlessness which prevails on the streets here is really mind-boggling, not to mention life-threatening at times. I've mentioned in a previous post my gradual, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" stance which I've adopted in response to some of this lawlessness. This certainly helps me extend grace to those who drive like there are no rules, although it's probably developing habits in me which I should not replicate when I return to the States. (let me extend a preemptive apology if I pull bonehead moves on my next visit and you happen to be driving with me - just kick me and remind me where I am).

There are a few things which I will not do, however, and for these circumstances I have decided that instead of imitation, my coping strategy will be imagination. For example, when a car goes weaving in and out on the highway at breakneck speeds (this rarely happens, by the way. Most people never hit the speed limit) I pretend that it is someone rushing to the hospital. This makes perfect sense, as every ambulance I have ever seen here has been stuck in traffic. Odds seem better if you do it yourself.

Another example, much more common - someone is driving 40km/hr on the highway, with no apparent obstruction. Furthermore, they are doing this is in the fast lane. When this happens, I have started asking myself, "What if that were my daughter at age 16, learning to drive, nervous, still figuring things out?" I would want someone to give her grace, so I simply pass them in another lane. Granted, most 16 years old probably need to be told to slow down rather than speed up, but again I think this makes sense. I don't know the stats, but I would guess that the majority of people on the roads here have been driving for fewer than 5 years. It's like a whole country of teenage drivers who are not quite sure what they're doing.

I have yet to imagine a plausible excuse for the person who misses his exit and drives backward down the highway to catch it, or the guy who turns left from the right turn lane, but I'm working on it. As always, life here is about perspective.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bold Love

Here are a few paragraphs I read this morning from Bold Love which continue in the same vein as my previous post:

"If our sin is a mere failure to conform - simply a mistake to do what is right - forgiveness is really the granting of an opportunity to try again. In that light, it is like forgetting to finish one's homework. We deserve a low grade, and grace becomes merely the privilege of doing it over to get a higher mark. Such a view of grace might generate appreciation, but it would never drive us to worship."

"A sight of God's holiness without a hint of His mercy will lead to either hopeless despair or to something even more awful, pharisaical presumption of ability to "do His will." On the other hand, a mouthful of mercy without a somber taste of holiness seems to move us to a brazen familiarity with deity that twists Him into everyone's favorite uncle."

"Mercy is persistently meaningful only to the degree I am silenced by the enormity of my refusal to love God and others with my whole heart, soul, strength and mind. To the degree to which I comprehend what I deserve, I will be wholly overwhelmed by the direction God's wrath proceeds (toward His Son on the cross on my behalf)."

In other words, God's love is all the more amazing when I fully own how much it cost to rescue me, a sinner who falls helplessly short of His holiness. Good reading!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Thoughts on redemption

Last Saturday Erik and I had the privilege of hearing thoughts on growth and transformation from a man we both highly esteem and love. Here's my favorite thing he said,

"I am sobered by the depth of my depravity, and I am encouraged by the depth of my redemption."

I love this, because it reminds me something that God has shown me in the last few years - we have to look hard and honestly at our sin and lostness, but we have to look just as hard at and acknowledge God's love, grace and forgiveness that measures and surpasses the depth of our fallenness. Only them do we really see who we are and how much it really cost God to save us. And at the same time, we see how unspeakably amazing and vast is His love for us. Our friend took it a step further for me and reminded me that God doesn't just save us, He sanctifies. There is growth that happens, and instead of only looking at how we fall short, we need to look at and rejoice in how far He has brought us.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lost in translation

Just as it's good to test drive cars other than the one you think you want, it's good to look at apartments besides the one you think you're going to take, just to make sure it's the one. Or, as is the case here in China, to prove that it's the only one out there that isn't going to make you raise your eyebrows and say, "What were they thinking with this decor?" It's not wrong, it's just very, very different.

So while we wait for the negotiations to settle with our potential landlord, I thought it would benefit me to look at a few others. I called a real estate agent on Sunday and told him that I could see apartments on Monday from 3-5 pm or Wednesday from 1-3. I explained that I live in a different district of the city than the district to which we're moving, so it's not convenient for me to come at random times. I also told him my husband was out of town so I had to watch my kids more often. I thought I made this all perfectly clear.

It seems something got lost in translation.

Here's the conversation I had with him on Monday night at 7 pm:
"Hello, Hong Jia Hui (my Chinese name). Are you busy?"
"Yes. I'm at home with my kids, by myself."
"So you can't come see anything right now?"
"When can you come?"
"Wednesday, between 1 and 3 pm."

I had the next conversation with him on Wednesday morning:
"Hello, Hong Jia Hui. Can you come see an apartment today at 3 pm?"
"No, I have something from 3-5."
"When can you come?"
"I could come at 2, or I could come at 5."
So we arranged to meet at 5.

At five minutes to 2, I got this call:
"Hello, Hong Jia Hui. The landlord can't meet at 5. Can you meet earlier, at 3 pm?"
"No, I have something from 3-5."
"Can you meet at 2 pm?"
"I'm in Hai Dian. If I get in my car now, I will not be there until 2:45."
"Can you meet at 2:50?"
"I have something at 3."

By the end of this third conversation I thought, "There's got to be something I'm missing about how Chinese people look at viewing apartments, and about how they view time commitments." For the life of me though, I'm not sure how to interpret this situation.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Great Tragedy

If you haven't eaten Chinese food in China, you haven't eaten Chinese food. And if you haven't eaten Chinese food cooked by our helper, you're missing out on some of the finest. That's why it's with great sadness that I have gone without it for the last four months.

Why, you ask? Why would I deny myself some of the best Chinese food in the world? Simple deductive reason. Beginning last summer when we moved here, I began developing certain symptoms which, let's just say, are of a feminine nature. They grew progressively worse each month until we went back to Minnesota in December. Over the course of the two months we were there, they gradually faded. The first month back in China, boom - symptoms resurface. Thinking back on the increasing amount of Chinese food I was eating in the fall, the absence of it in MN, the 9 times we ate Chinese food the first week back in China - well, it certainly seemed like a factor.

So my great and sacrificial experiment began - deny myself Chinese food for several months to see what happens. This was difficult to explain to my helper, as I don't have the vocabulary to describe my symptoms. I could only say, "I think I'm allergic to Chinese food" which she thought was insane.

I suspected one of two culprits - the soy or the MSG. Little known wacky fact - soy can mimic hormones in a woman's body. Fairly well known fact here - MSG is nasty stuff you should probably avoid (my helper never adds this, but it is an ingredient in the chicken stock she uses in everything).

Four months later, my symptoms are gone. Now I realize I could ask my helper to make us food without soy or chicken stock, but what's the point of that? I don't want my family to miss out on all that goodness (and really, I don't think the MSG is the problem - it's in everything from granola bars to cereal, just under another name). Easier solution - just cut back on the Chinese food. Sigh.

It is a great tragedy.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Megan, "Ethan, do you say dude, yo, or bro?"

Ethan, "No."

Megan, "Mom does. I hear her. When she drives she says, 'DUDE!'"

Ethan, "I haven't heard her say that."

Megan, "I hear her say it EVERY DAY."

I could be saying worse things.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Signs of summer

using deodorant again (seriously, don't need it in my house in the winter!)
kids who are dirty enough to need daily showers, sometimes twice daily
going through Spray 'n Wash like water
new attempts at a flower garden
an outbreak of English t-shirts on local people that say funny things like, "let's hug no conflict" or "reflection do your best" or "eating food in a cafeteria" (I really want that one)
brightly colored toenails
skinned knees
grilling out
daily lotion usage diminishes
outdoor runs increase
sunrise at 5 am

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

I Haven't Forgotten to Be Thankful!

I can't believe it's been this long since I posted about thankfulness! In my defense, I have been side tracked by some form of illness for the past four weeks. I guess I know what my first item is:

201. I'm healthy!
202. The weather is AMAZING
203. There was a thunderstorm last night complete with lightning. Forgot how much I miss that!
204. I'm running outside again - very slowly after not being able to run for 4 weeks!
205. Summer clothes
206. Leaving windows open
207. We think we found an apartment
208. My family comes to visit this summer!
209. Only 5 weeks left of homeschool including this one
210. I figured out a back way to 5th Ring Rd. so I can still drive on my "no drive" Wednesday (once you're on 5th Ring it's ok)
211. My family forgives me when I'm not a great cook - that happened last night!
212. The sun is up at 5 so it's easy to get up in the morning
213. It's not cold anymore, so it's easy to get up in the morning
214. I get to coach LEAF again in two weeks with some amazing people
215. As always, Book Depository
216. Opportunities to wrestle with God in prayer
217. Essential oils - really! Been using them for a variety of things
218. Friends who text just to say "I miss you" - you know who you are!
219. My gracious husband
220. Fun times with the family lately playing Mario Kart on Wii
221. Rediscovering the joy of zucchini bread
222. The treadmill for mornings when my husband leaves early
223. Online shopping
224. Hearing stories about China from years ago
225. Giving my kids pancakes for breakfast that remind me of my grandpa

Monday, May 03, 2010

Chicken Little

This afternoon I had the pleasure of guarding my favorite little person, and by little, I mean my favorite 2 year old. Our neighbor's daughter has taken a strong liking to me. I love hearing her sweet little voice say, "I want Gina Ayi!" Her parents are leaving on a trip tomorrow so I took my little friend out for some fun while they got ready.

We were headed home the back route, going up to the stairs to their deck, when she said, "Chicken!" We looked down, and there in their bushes was a little chick. I couldn't imagine how a chick might have lost itself in this backyard. Was there a wild chicken gang around I didn't know about? Soon we had all the kids looking at and cooing over it. It was pecking around, eating ants. When my friend turned on their hose to clean some dirty feet, it dove into it, obviously thirsty.

We weren't sure what to do with this little guy. I went out to the back fence to see if maybe there was a frantic chicken parent looking for its baby. Instead, there was a woman on a cell phone who asked me anxiously, "Do you speak Chinese?" (that's such a relative question). Then she asked if I had seen a baby chick that had fallen from the third floor balcony. She was afraid it had died. I think the plethora of bushes broke its fall. She was thrilled to get it back. The little boy hanging over the edge of the 3rd floor balcony just looked distressed.

So that was our little chicken falling from the sky adventure for the day.

Crazy half-naked foreigner

Since moving back to China last summer, I have been pleasantly surprised at how much I do not garner the attention I once did when I am outside, at least in this part of town. Therefore, it was a strange feeling this morning to have all eyes on me while I ran up to the Summer Palace and back. After awhile I started thinking, "Did I forget to wear something? Is some part of me showing that shouldn't be?"

In a way, yes. It was . . . my arms! That's right, I was wearing a sleeveless shirt. This was cause for staring because it's only May 3rd. It doesn't matter that it was 65 degrees at 6:30 in the morning. It's only May 3rd! It's irrelevant that it's been 85 degrees the last two days. It's only May 3rd! Crazy foreigner looking to die young, that's what they saw.

There's a saying here, "Chun wu qiu dong" which roughly means, "Overheat in the spring and freeze in the fall." I don't think they really abide by the second half of that, but the Chinese are sticklers about the former. They'll wear as much as possible, as late as possible, into the spring. We have a neighbor girl whose mom has hidden her summer clothes from her. On Saturday this poor girl was wearing lined pants, a long sleeved shirt and a sweatshirt. 85 degrees! That seems like child abuse. I kept pumping her full of water so she didn't pass out. I'm sure people are still wearing long underwear and I have yet to see bare arms or legs. Is it any wonder that I looked like an idiot to them?