Just putting the final touches on the big "reveal"! Thanks for being patient. I am super super excited about what's ahead, but as with all the work we do over here, I need to be careful to follow the appropriate guidelines for sharing information and especially photos. I don't always get it exactly right, but I really do try and want to especially get off on the right foot with my new organization. So...get ready...lots more to come very shortly!!!
So it's been two weeks since I updated about our trip to the Frozen Tundra and my visit to Shanghai. Immediately after my trips I contacted the two organizations that I felt were good program fits to let them both know I am seriously interested. I can't say nothing has been happening, because it has, just not quite what I thought. That should not be a surprise by now, but still...
I'll confess that when I look at the countdown calendar (37 days) I can feel the tension rise a bit and the questions start to swirl, but when I keep my eyes on Jesus, I am confident in the work he has brought us here to do.
So we wait...and pack...and count the days until we need to move...somewhere.
Ryan and Maggie on Easter: THIS is the happy side of that countdown calendar -- 37 days!!!!
Although I tend to focus on the professional/job aspects of our move, there is also the personal side of where we will live, the foreign community (if there is one; there wasn't at all in Jiaozuo!) and what kind of lifestyle to expect. After seven years in China I know a lot more what makes life easy (and hard) and how much hard we can tolerate without falling apart. I brought Kristen with me on this trip so she could also get an impression of the city/life there and because she already has friends living there.
Where to begin? Overwhelming. Amazing. Dream come true? That is still to be determined, but let me tell you this visit really blew me away. We spent the weekend visiting with some contacts from our Thailand conference and quickly found that we had many overlapping friends. Kristen even saw some teens she had met at a camp two summers ago. To say we both felt right at home would be an understatement. There are multiple fellowships that meet on the weekends, and we visited two of them. This may not sound like a big deal but in this city we would be able to go to church every weekend. That has not been feasible for us in seven years. I hope this doesn't sound wrong, but to be able to take church for granted again would be an incredible blessing.
This city is at a high elevation, so it is pretty cold there (oh, yeah, I love the cold... not!) but I don't see that as a deal breaker thanks to my handy-dandy Land's End parka (lol). Shortly before we landed we flew over the most amazing, and highest, mountains I had ever seen. It was spectacular. I didn't get photos of the tallest peaks, which really looked like they were right outside the window of the plane, but this photo will give you an idea. I was conscious of the high elevation, looking for signs that either of us was not tolerating the thinner air, but we both did fine although I was huffing and puffing a bit more on the stairs.
It is a small city (by China standards -- 2 million people!) but has a higher than average western influence and expat population for its size. That is a great combination for us...not too big, but a foreign community and some comforts. We did our part to improve the sales at Starbucks and some local burger and ice cream places. (Interestingly there is no McDonald's there -- not a big deal to us but a little odd since McDonald's seems to be everywhere in China.) Even though our address is Beijing, we have no access to foreign food day to day so we take advantage when we can. The only drawback I see is that eating at those places may be a little too tempting, but then we would probably take them for granted after awhile as well.
We were also able to visit a couple of apartments to get an idea of what is available and at what cost. Another box with a big checkmark: apartments are slightly more expensive than where we currently live but probably about 50% larger. While we don't really need a lot of space for the two of us, a little more space would be appreciated. We also quickly noted the very comfortable inside temperature despite the date. We found out that the central heating stays on for six months, a definite plus. Interestingly one of the apartments had a cooking porch -- we'd feel right at home there!
Transportation would mostly be by bus though taxis are pretty inexpensive when needed. The city is not very large and getting around is fairly easy, and most places are pretty centrally located. It seemed pretty clean and, as in most Chinese cities, we felt quite safe. During our visit we stayed at a youth hostel that was centrally located and very reasonably priced. It was, however, in the midst of some major remodeling, and I don't think they realized we had a reservation. So it was a bit dusty and we were the only guests, but the staff could not have been nicer or more helpful so it was pleasant if a bit strange. Strange doesn't really phase us anymore anyway.
I don't know whether this city will be our next home. I know we would both be quite content if it were, and even if it isn't we really enjoyed our visit to the Frozen Tundra.
So here is the lowdown on our first trip of last week, right before the trip to Shanghai. Sorry for being out of sequence, but sometimes that's how my mind works.
The quick background story is that this particular city and program were not even on my radar. I knew of the organization very vaguely but had no idea of an older kid program until meeting a nurse in Thailand at our conference who volunteers with this organization. When I talked about my plans to work with older teens, she filled me in on the program at an orphanage in her city. It sounded like an option worth checking out so I contacted them when I got home. So fast forward several weeks and emails and phone calls back and forth, and we arranged for me to come and visit last week.
We spent four days in this city so we could explore a little bit -- see Part 1B for more on that. But, of course, the main focus of the trip was to visit the orphanage program and find out what the local NGO was doing for older teens and young adults. While I met with them for the day, Kristen visited the local (very small) international school. I can honestly say that of all the programs I have explored this one has a vision which most clearly matches the one I have carried with me for several years now: to actively move youth who have spent their lives in an institution toward independence in the local community. It was really quite inspiring to hear my own vision come from the mouth of the local director, including an acute understanding of the barriers, both within the youth themselves and from the community.
In summary, this program is housed within a state-run care facility and the staff are managed by that entity. However, the idea for the program as well as the structure and the components were created by an NGO that works closely with the facility. The purpose is to give young adults, most with physical disabilities and some with emotional or cognitive impairments, a safe and separate living accommodation from the rest of the institutionalized adult population. The goal is to provide PT, life skills training, vocational opportunities and special education that will lead to most of the participants being able to hold down a job and live independently in the community. Those who are not able to function fully independently would be encouraged to do as much self-care as possible and provided some productive work opportunities inside the facility.
We talked for several hours about the program, their goals, the current situation, the young people in the program, their staff needs and what role I might fill. Then I had the opportunity to very briefly tour the facility where the program is housed. For various reasons I was not able to interact with the teens. I think this was unfortunate because it did leave me with a bit of a disconnect with who they are as people, a connection that I have felt at other places that I visited and which I think is very helpful in making such a big decision. However, seeing the facility and asking more questions gave me an even better perspective on the current situation and some of the needs and challenges. I’ll admit that, on the one hand, these are pretty daunting, but, on the other, I felt that my experience and abilities are an even better match than I may have first thought.
So where do we go from here? At this point there are two programs under serious consideration, and it is really up to the organizations to make the next move and ask us to become a part of their team, or not. I am in discussions with both and hope that either one or both will invite us onboard in the next couple of weeks. Kristen and I would really appreciate your prayers as this process hopefully comes to an exciting conclusion very soon.
It has been a really, really busy week: eight days, two trips, 2500 miles.
Sorry, no photos because I am a loser like that.
Starting with the second trip of the week...I'll get back to the previous trip in my next post.
So, on Thursday, after being home about 36 hours, I was off again. In case you are wondering, that is just enough time to do a load of laundry, hang it on our laundry porch, hope the clothes dry and pack them again. (Yes, that's a thing. Yes, we have a cooking porch on one end of the apartment and a laundry porch on the other. Maybe I will take a photo as long as there are no unmentionables hanging up.) The second trip of the week was to Shanghai. It was very short so Kristen stayed home with friends. I was literally traveling more than I was visiting, so this was a good decision on her part.
What is traveling to Shanghai like? If travel is easy for you it is an easy trip. If you don't travel well or if you get motion sick, it is not so fun. I don't get sick (PTL!) for which I am very thankful. It's about a 45 minute drive from our place to the South train station (Beijing Nanzhan) and then if you book early enough and are lucky you get the 5 hour train to Shanghai. I think there are only one or two stops the whole way; if you get the train with more stops, as I did on my return, it takes 6 hours. Top speed is about 305 kph (180mph). The trains are clean, bathrooms have toilets AND toilet paper, no smoking: not a bad ride. I don't like the food offered on the train, and it tends to be more expensive so I always pack my own -- peanut butter muffins, a banana, bottle of water. The bonus is you can buy western fast food in the train station. I opted for a Whopper Jr. with cheese. The double bonus was that a Dunkin Donuts has opened since the last time I was at that station. Woohoo! So I also bought a couple donuts. (Okay, three! But I ate two the next day.)
The train trip itself was uneventful, as they usually are. We arrived on time in Shanghai and quickly boarded the subway (fabulous subway system in Shanghai and totally cheap, especially compared to taxis which are very expensive) to the center of town. Armed with my handy dandy printouts of directions and maps I quickly discovered that there is a Starbucks at the subway station near where I was staying. Well, my maps didn't tell me that but it was happy information, though I never did go there. It's always good to know where wifi and hot chocolate can be found. I also discovered that it was a rainy night in Shanghai. No umbrella but my handy-dandy Land's End parka kept me warm and dry. Well, the parts it covered. The hem of my pants was soaked half way to my knee by the time I walked 15 minutes to my hotel and then spent another 20 minutes trying to find the DOOR to said hotel which was well concealed without a sign on the opposite side of the building from the street address. On a warm, dry evening this would have been a mildly annoying adventure; in the rain I was less amused. However, the presence of a Starbucks in the same building as the hotel kept my spirits up until I found the hotel itself. (I did visit that Starbucks later on for a venti hot chocolate, but having left my cellphone in the room I couldn't connect to the wifi so only a half successful visit.)
Okay, enough of the travelog. Suffice it to say the room was nice, shower was hot, bed was comfy, TV had three English channels (BBC, HBO and sports) but the wifi never worked so I won't ever be going back there.
The PURPOSE of my trip -- and yes, there was one -- was to visit a program that provides life skills training, vocational training, a job and a home for young adults with no safety net. Most of them have some type of disability, primarily physical but some emotional or intellectual. Most are from their homeless outreach, though they do accept aged out orphans from orphanages. Most of the young people from orphanages are girls; most of the homeless are boys. The program is set up as a three month life skills program and then a two year internship where the young people work for the company run by the program, receive a legal wage and then pay for their room and board as part of learning how to budget and handle money. During that time they continue to receive classes in reading, math and English as well as experience in running a home and social skills. After two years they are expected to find a job and a place to live. This is very much the type of program I hope to provide for young adults in the orphanage system, so I wanted to see first hand what they do and how they do it. In the time tested model of "search and reapply," there is no reason to reinvent the wheel if you can learn from others who have done it already. Fyi, the purpose of my trip was not to interview for a role with this organization, just to learn from it.
So what did I learn? Some things I already knew:
Oooh…and I was doing so well at keeping in touch. So let’s try again.
One of the oddities of living in China is the state controlled heating. Yes, that’s a thing. And if you are a chronically cold person like me, it’s a big thing. When I first heard about it back in 2008, I laughed. I thought it was a joke. Uh…no joke. Central heating is provided via those old fashioned radiant heat radiators like my grandparents had in their house. They do work surprisingly well, although the bigger the room the more difficult it is to get it warm: our bedrooms are usually comfortable, but our living/dining room gets a bit chilly on cold nights.
None of that is too strange, although radiators are a bit old fashioned in much of the US. What is strange is that the government controls when the heat gets turned on -- November 15-- and off – March 15. The end of October and beginning of November can be quite cold in much of China so those last few weeks before the heat comes on are not so comfortable. Then, before spring has really arrived (as those who just got hit by a March blizzard know!) it can be pretty cold as well. So last week I was counting down – and not in a good way – the days until our heat went off. We did notice that the radiators were not very warm during the day for several days before the 15th, but they warmed up nicely in the evening and kept us toasty while we slept – right up until midnight on the 15th. Yup, I woke up around 2:30 or 3 in the morning and ,just out of curiosity, reached my hand out and touched the radiator – the icy cold radiator. When China says March 15th, it means March 15 and not a minute longer! So we have been bundling up in the evenings, adding another blanket to the beds and doubling down on the hot tea. (Sadly both our hot chocolate and hot apple cider stocks are now depleted, so tea is our only option.)
As sad as it is to have our radiators go cold, we do have some supplemental heat in the form of portable and wall mounted electric heaters. We rarely use the wall ones because they are 1) expensive to run and 2) incredibly inefficient since they are up near the ceiling and as we all learned in 5th grade, hot air rises, so they don’t help very much. (They also accumulate a lot of dust and dirt and smell terrible when turned on if the filters are not cleaned first. That’s a dirty job and getting to the filters isn’t easy so definitely a last resort.) Our portable heater works great and can fairly quickly warm up a small bedroom. It takes two to get our living room comfortable, and since our second heater self-immolated on Christmas morning, well, we are making do with one. (We will likely buy another one sometime after we move.) This week has been particularly cold and damp (sleeting when I left home this morning) so the portable is in my room, and we eat, study, watch TV, etc in that one room. Right now it is warming the kitchen so I can go do the dishes, and a bit later I will move it into the bathroom so I can take a shower without turning into a popsicle.
So some of you are saying, why not move somewhere in southern China where the climate is milder. Well, yes, I would be in favor of that. So far I have not found any programs in the south with a strong focus on independence and enrichment programs for older kids, so I don’t see that happening. But let me also mention that the government mandate on heating is not limited to when it goes on and off. It also restricts where in the country central heating is allowed. Yes, that’s right, where you live determines whether you can have heating at all (other than the electric units, of course). The really “interesting” thing is that the line for heating is drawn at the Yellow River. South of the river heating, at least central heating, is not a thing. In the US that would be basically anyone south of Kansas City. I would not want to be in a Georgia ice storm with no central heat!
As for packing, it is coming along though a bit slower this week due to a heavier teaching schedule and an appalling lack of motivation due to being so cold -indoors- in the evenings. This weekend Kristen and I are heading off to visit another city and explore another program. We appreciate your prayers for our trip and discernment about this opportunity. More soon!
Oh, and 62 days until we leave for the US.
Moving really is the best, isn't it? New places, new people, a fresh start with everything neat and organized in a new home.
Ah, but somehow we seem to forget about what it takes to get out of the old place. And the way that the amount of stuff you have multiplies exponentially as you take it out of closets (as if we have any of those over here -- we don't), wardrobes (those we have) and drawers. But starting early is always a good idea, and to that end...I have begun!
Now, I can already hear you saying...but where??? So here is the next installment in that story (but a bit maddeningly for me even more than for you, not quite the final chapter).
When I last wrote I told you about my visits to "Big NGO" and "The Farm." Both were wonderful options and very different....very, very different. Sadly, and I do mean sadly, by the time I left The Farm, I was pretty sure that that option was not going to be the one. So many great things there and just overflowing with potential, but it was pretty clear that the previous program managers were going to choose to stay heavily involved --from a distance. Under the best of circumstances that is a challenging situation, and as much as I admired and respected all the work they had done, I also felt that our different perspectives on orphan care could make collaborating just too difficult. (Btdt as a good - and honest- friend pointed out.) Instead, they have asked the terrific young couple I met there to manage the program under their direction. I wish them all the best as they forge forward with this great work, as I still think a bit longingly of the beauty and opportunities of that lovely place. Awww...I can hear the sighs as I know several of you were really cheering for this option. Me, too.
So where are we in the decision process? Well, the Big NGO from the previous trip continues to be a strong option, but. During our time in Thailand I met a woman who serves under an NGO program in an orphanage in another province. When I mentioned my desire to work with older orphans she shared what they are doing in that place and the great need for more help to meet the needs of the kids. I have been in touch with that program and hope to be traveling there for a visit/interview in the next few weeks. So stay tuned!
In the meantime you can find me sorting, tossing, giving away and packing with a growing sense of anticipation and excitement. Oh, and 76 days until we leave for Chicago, but who's counting?
I know I owe you all a bit more of a post now that my keyboard has arrived,
but you have to admit that these two little pumpkins are pretty hard to beat.
I know that soe of you are waiting for a post about where we are oing and what we are going to be doing Well you are going to hae to wait just a bit longer for that but I do proise that I will get bak to the story soon soonish If you are wondering why y typing is so bad I a haing soe probles with y laptop (For the less adentuous a ersion of this post using the onsreen keyboard is below)
Today I a just going to gie you a little slie of life story so you an feel like you are sitting right here beside e you know liing the life ause its pretty aazing Really It goes like this:
Yesterday whih was Sunday I was aking dinner as I tend to do ost-eery-night (!) and when I went to hek on the potatoes I had boiling I disoered that the gas was out Well that sared the **** out of e for a seond beause a gas burner that is ON without any flae an be a diey situation I uikly realized that we were not in danger of blowing up beause in fat there was no gas going through the line While this was a less atastrophi situation it still wasn’t optial Why you ask Well here in our part of hina all utilities work on a pay-in-adane plan So you load up a sart ard with oney and slide the ard into the eter and then oila – power or water or gas Its not a bad syste eept when you run out at an inopportune tie Like 7p on Sunday night Why is this an inopportune tie you ay ask Well that would be beause the gas ard (for soe opletely unknown reason) an only be refilled on Sunday! So it will be another week before we an fill the gas ard and turn the gas bak on Joy
In the eantie we do hae a irowae and an oen so we are not opletely without ooking options What we are also without at least for the tie being is eat Our eat an has been losed for the last week for no apparent reason unless he took a late New Year holiday I don’t know of another soure for eat in our illage so until he oes bak we are egetarians egetarians without a stoe
Tonights gouret eal was supposed to be aaroni and heese (Don’t roll your eyes at y aroni and heese This is a speial treat oer here at $350 a bo -- haha sounds really epensie with no periods!)There used to be a reioe on the bo for aking it in the irowae but not anyore apparently But google is y bestest friend so off I went to find the diretions (I a also thankful for y pn sine google is banned in hina) I a also thankful that google is so sart and an figure out what I want een with soe pretty ritial letters issing So there I a searhing google through y pn so I an ake $350 aaroni and heese in the irowae beause y gas ard ant be refilled for a week and just giggling at the absurdity of our lies Writing about it on a keyboard that is issing nearly the whole botto row of letters and ost of the punctuation just adds to the fun Soeday if I hae the energy Ill write about the eletriity
A final note: I hae been thinking for seeral days that it would be nie to ake pudding Alas no pudding with no stoe (I a not trying THAT in the irowae!) Then Kristen reinded e that I ery niely bought an instant pudding i sine she doesn’t like to ake it on the stovetop So happily we WILL hae soe pudding for dessert!
Here's the version with the 'c' , 'm' and 'v' and punctuation.
I know that some of you are waiting for a post about where we are going and what we are going to be doing. Well you are going to have to wait just a bit longer for that but I do promise that I will get back to the story soon. Soonish. Today I am just going to give you a little slice of life story so you can feel like you are sitting right here beside me, you know living the life, because it’s pretty amazing. Really. It goes like this:
Yesterday which was Sunday I was making dinner as I tend to do most-every-night (!) and when I went to check on the potatoes I had boiling I discovered that the gas was out. Well that scared the **** out of me for a second because a gas burner that is ON without any flame can be a dicey situation. I quickly realized that we were not in danger of blowing up because in fact there was no gas going through the line. While that was some relief, it still wasn’t optimal. Why you ask? Well here in our part of China all utilities work on a pay-in-advance plan. So you load up a smart card with money and slide the card into the meter and then, voila!, power or water or gas. It’s not a bad system except when you run out at an inopportune time. Like 7pm on Sunday night. Why is this an inopportune time you may ask? Well, that would be because the gas card (for some completely unknown reason) can only be refilled on … Sunday! So it will be another week before we can fill the gas card and turn the gas back on. Joy.
In the meantime we do have a microwave and an oven so we are not completely without cooking options. What we are also without at least for the time being is meat. Our meat man has been closed for the last week for no apparent reason. Maybe he took a late New Year holiday? I don’t know of another source for meat in our village so until he comes back we are vegetarians. Vegetarians without a stove.
Tonight’s gourmet meal was supposed to be macaroni and cheese. (Don’t roll your eyes at my macaroni and cheese! This is a special treat over here, primarily for emergencies at $3.50 a box -- still sounds expensive even with the periods!)There used to be a recipe on the box for making it in the microwave but not anymore apparently. But google is my bestest friend so off I went to find the directions. (I am also thankful for my vpn since google is banned in China.) I am also thankful that google is so smart and can figure out what I want even with some pretty critical letters missing. So there I am searching google through my vpn so I can make $3.50 macaroni and cheese in the microwave because my gas card can’t be refilled for a week and just giggling at the absurdity of our lives. Writing about it on a keyboard that is missing nearly the whole bottom row of letters and most of the punctuation just adds to the fun. Someday if I have the energy I’ll write about the electricity.
A final note: I have been thinking for several days that it would be nice to make pudding. Alas no pudding with no stove (I am not trying THAT in the microwave!) Then Kristen reminded me that I very nicely bought an instant pudding mix since she doesn’t like to make it on the stovetop. So happily we WILL have some pudding for dessert!
Whether coincidence of God-incidence, even before the plans for my program "tour" came together, I had registered for a conference/retreat at the end of January. So just five days after I returned from Henan/Hunan/Yunnan, Kristen and I were off to Bangkok. Previously Lindsay was the only one of our family who had had the privilege of visiting Thailand, during a missions trip in 2015. She loved it, and now Kristen and I know why. (Marissa is not amused!)
Our first week in Thailand was simply vacation, well at least for me, Kristen still had to keep up with her online classes, which she did reasonably well given the many lovely distractions. While we have enjoyed our few trips to the US to visit family and friends and have made the most of our many visa runs in our early years in China, we have not had a week just for the purpose of relaxation in ten years. It was HEAVEN! I am so very thankful for the lovely retreat facility our friends recommended. It is just for ministry workers in Asia; the accommodations and services are basic, but clean and friendly and very, very low cost. And perfection. I can’t remember the last time I was so relaxed and felt so free of responsibility. All meals were prepared onsite, so I never even had to think about where we would eat. (Did I mention perfection?) Walks on the beach, great food, mealtime conversations with fellow mission workers from Thailand, China, Cambodia, Bhutan, and lots of kids for fun times in the pool and evenings playing “capture the flag” for Kristen. I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story.
Our second week in Thailand was the working part of the trip, although the best possible kind of work. We were able to attend a conference for an organization of independent Christian workers who are serving in a large number of ministry areas. The reason for going was to get to know the people and the organization to see whether this is something I would be interested in joining in the future. But my real objective for the week was to take some time to think and pray and maybe discuss the options before me with others who are doing similar work and have wrestled with similar decisions. It delivered far more than that. The energy generated when 100 people are gathered together who are passionate about the work they do, who care deeply about the people they serve, and who are committed to being agents of positive change in the world is electrifying. It was exactly what I needed to relight my spark, restart my engine and refuel my tank. Can you tell?! I am so very, very thankful for this opportunity. It was exactly what I needed to help me take the next step.
So what is that next step? Stay tuned.
About This Blog
Welcome to my very full life! I can't really predict what will show up here on a daily basis, but I can tell you it will be part documentary, part family chronicle and part personal reflection as I try to sort through the ups and downs, the joys, heartaches and surprises of our very interesting life as we follow the path that God has set for us here in China!
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