Seven Quick Takes

  1. We finally got wifi this month, after a month of frustrating bureaucracy, and it’s been really nice to feel somewhat connected again and be able to work. I’ve got to admit it’s also nice to be able to watch a movie without finding it in advance and downloading it too (I know, spoiled millennial here!). Netflix here has most cartoons dubbed in Chinese too so occasionally we let JQ watch one for 5-10 minutes in the hopes that he’ll pick up on some Chinese. Easy bilingualism, right? wouldn’t necessarily learn Chinese in five minutes three times a week, but kids’ brains are supposed to be porous so I’m sure he’ll get it in no time.

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    He thinks so too, and is wearing Chinese
  2. Of course, it should help that JQ has started getting babysat for three hours a day, five days a week, while I teach. We’ve asked his babysitter to speak Chinese around him so he’ll pick up on it–but it’s still a little early to tell whether it’s working yet as his go-to word is still “Maamaa” in various forms. He seems to be enjoying it (as in, not screaming the entire time), though he has been a little more clingy when he’s at home. Hopefully it won’t take him too long to adjust.
  3. It’s been interesting living in a basically bilingual country. Kids on the playground switch between English and Chinese without thinking; they study both in school and probably hear both at home. It does lead to some rather thick accents (it’s really hard to figure out what people are saying!), and their English is definitely colored by Chinese-isms (like using “lah” at the end of every sentence). It also makes for some humorous moments, like when the Singaporean man at Bible study gravely started explaining the spirit of peas (he meant peace) and how it could only be explained by the love of the cross.
  4. I haven’t taken any pictures recently because we haven’t really gone anywhere in the last few weeks, but I still have some neat pictures of downtown Singapore that I haven’t shared here.
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    This is the piano that Lang Lang played on….maybe on a visit to Singapore? I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, but it got its own exhibit. Shiny, huh?
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  5. I’m finally figuring out grocery shopping/cooking here and remembering how to cook without an oven. We got spoiled by having an oven in England! Now it’s back to stovetop and toaster oven cooking, although the previous residents of our flat left us their rice cooker, so I’ve been experimenting with one-pot meals to the tune of–chopping up ginger, garlic, and yellow ginger (turmeric), throwing in rice cooker with rice and water and any other vegetables I feel like, putting a fish on top, and cooking away. Jared loves it and it’s awfully easy, though rather uninspired. It also stains my fingers and cutting board a bright yellow so I look somewhat jaundiced on my left hand.
  6. We got our boxes yesterday! So nice to unpack all the things we packed up in England–just like sending a present to ourselves to open in six months. Untitled Now we have a couple pictures to put on our walls and more stuff to clutter up the house with, like books..and…well…more books. UntitledAnd we still have most of our books packed in boxes in the U.S. When we finally move back, I’m not sure I’ll even know how to deal with multiple (as in, ten or so) shelves full of books any more–I’m already envying my future self.
  7. Around where we live, there’s very few white people, so JQ’s hair and skin draw lots of looks and admiring comments. They’ve also prompted several old men to start conversations: “Where you from? You American?”

“Yes, we’re American,” I reply.

“What you think ’bout Trump?  How could so many Americans vote for him?”

“Well, it was a hard election,” I say, evading the question. “Neither candidate was exactly great.”

“Well, I think Bill Clinton’s wife should have won. She’s much more experienced!”

And delivering this zinger, he walked away. Many Singaporeans feel compelled to state their opinions on American politics, and they all think I should have something to do with changing them. Sorry, but democracy doesn’t actually work that way.

Linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum!

Will There Be Stories in Heaven?

Humans love stories. And all the best stories have something in common: a conflict that’s central to the story, ending with a resolution. Whether it’s the common trope of a secret agent saving the world from the machinations of a criminal mastermind, or a person coming to terms with who they are, or a detective finding out who committed a crime, all of the best stories involve some kind of conflict that is resolved. Story is even central to Christianity—a story of sin, loss, and death culminating in the final solution: redemption and heaven.  Stories like this resonate with us, make us long for our own resolution and redemption, remind us that not all of life is in the conflict.

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And in a way, it seems that’s what life on earth is all about. Falling, fighting, failing, learning, and going on again as each new challenge is passed and redeemed. Life is not a static progression of good things continuing to happen to good people. Whether it’s a tough job, a bad marriage, a broken family, or all the other things that happen in life, we each have our own struggles.  And life is marked by these struggles. We feel stronger when we’ve resolved an issue, fought through the bad times, kept going.

Of course, things don’t always turn out well in our stories. Sometimes we keep fighting, only to see no change. Sometimes people give up and commit suicide. Sometimes our problems are irreversible, like infertility or health problems or the pain of a severed relationship. But always, always, there’s a conflict. There’s never been a person yet who’s lived a conflict-free life.

But it makes me wonder—will our stories matter in heaven? In heaven, we’re told that all our tears will be wiped away. There will be no more sorrow, no more pain. There will be only joy. Our stories will be neatly divided into a dichotomy—on one side, heaven, is the resolution and the peace and the joy, and on the other side, hell, is the conflict and the pain and the brokenness.

Will a story made up only of the good things mean anything? From my limited perspective, humanity longs to hear stories about terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, not wonderful, amazing, fantastic, perfect days. There’s a reason fairy tales end with living happily ever after—no one wants to read about what happens when the dragons are killed and the prince and princess are married. It’s enough to know they’re happy.

In the story of Christianity, heaven is the resolution, the happily ever after. This life is short, fleeting, ephemeral. Yes, there’s conflict and pain and sorrow, but that’s not the final answer. The sun shines after the rain; joy comes in the morning. But once we have our final answer—will we remember the conflict leading up to the joy? Will our pain and struggle count for something? Will there be stories in heaven?

Customs of the Chinese Post

By far, one of the more laughable things about living in China is the postal system. People tootle around in little bicycle trucks with China Post or EMS or Amazon on the sides, delivering packages and letters to their destinations. Once they get there, they call your phone and you go collect your package. It’s really rather a smart system, for things within China. For things coming outside of China, though, they don’t do so well. The number of packages and letters that they’ve lost for us amounts to nearly half of the packages and letters that have been sent here. Maybe they like the poor Americans to feel even lonelier amid their thousands of people. Or maybe we just don’t know enough Chinese to get our address right.

The latest edition in the silliness of Chinese Customs, however, was just recently. My parents sent a small box a couple days ago (full of stuff that I’m too much of a cheapskate to buy, like clothes–seriously, everything nice here I’ve seen has cost around 600-800 RMB. No thanks!), and FedEx customs wanted to know every detail. Could I send them my passport? Done. Could I fill out a form with my name and address and passport number, signing away my rights to inspect the package? Done. Could I tell them, in minute detail, what the contents of the package were? Not really. But I tried, using my stereoscopic X-ray vision that can zoom in on a package I’ve never seen that’s somewhere in the middle of Beijing and determine what EXACTLY was put into it back in America. I’m cool like that.

Actually, I just made it up, based on my rudimentary knowledge of what I was expecting to see in the package. So Mom, you better not have stashed anything illegal in it. May I suggest, oh dearest of dear Customs people, that you think up a slightly smarter system for finding out what’s in people’s packages? Like, I don’t know, maybe asking the person who PACKED the package, instead of the recipient? Except they do that too. Maybe they like playing mind games with people.

Other than spending time obsessing over when (or if) I will get a letter or a package or some reminder that I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth and become one of your dear departed, I’ve just been up to the usual craziness. Eight classes. Midterms. Biking. And taking pictures of spring flowers, with which I will leave you:

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The Deadliest Sourdough of Them All

We called it The Smell. A creeping odor, invading corners, pipes, cupboards. Nowhere was safe from it—and where it crept, it stayed. We attempted to banish it, fumigating every hidy-hole we could find. It disappeared long enough for us to let out a sigh of relief—and then returned in force, until finally the odor was almost tangible.

It was all the sourdough’s fault, really. You’ve all heard of Paul Bunyan and his famous sourdough that made the Rocky Mountains. Well, his sourdough had nothin’ on ours—ours was that strong, but with a malignant twist to it. It was bent on taking over the world by every weapon at its disposal. The Smell was just one of them.

Healthy and happy, when my older sister remembered to feed it, the sourdough had been a noble organism. Many were the pancakes, coffee cakes, loaves of bread, and muffins that had been made with its beneficent yeasties and devoured by all of us. Then, it had seemed a helpful creature, willing to please, offering up of itself for the good of mankind.

But the day my 10-year-old brother, Slen, came running in, a shocked look on his face and arms flailing (after we had regretfully lain the sourdough to rest), I began to doubt its kind heart. “Brotherkins,” he said (that was how we always talked to each other), “Brotherkins, there’s a strange smelling mass in the backyard. . .and it’s eating up the flower bed!”

Needless to say, we all went without delay to see—my brothers coming out of the woodwork like names in a Russian novel. There it was, larger than life, causing each flower one by one to sway, creak, and slowly topple into the bubbling mass as its stem was eaten away. It was truly a horrific sight. I figure it must have eaten its way out of the two plastic sacks in which we had encased it and then eaten its way out of the trashcan.

My oldest brother, Theodore, twenty-three, spoke up first. “Friends, nobles, countrymen: lend me your ears!” Theodore is the literary one of the family—he always has his long thin nose in a book.

“Aw, cut out the Shakespeare,” I groaned. “This is a time of crisis here, and we need to act faster than a coon headin’ towards a field of just-ripened sweet corn.”

“Well, I have a plan,” he said.  “There’s a can of gas in the shed, and some matches in the house. If we pour the gas over it and then throw a lit match into the mix, there’s no way that sourdough could survive.”

Yeah, I thought, but can WE survive?  Theodore has a good head on his shoulders, but sometimes he’s a mite impractical. He needs someone close to him with good ol’ fashioned common sense—like yours truly.

So I gave him my (better) plan. “Instead of burning the house down, why don’t we just spray it with some bleach? That’ll disinfect it, get rid of The Smell, and kill whatever rogue organism is in that stuff.”

Everyone liked my plan better, so away we went—me to get the bleach, Theodore to get a shovel to clean up the remains. When we reconvened, the sourdough had eaten up at least half of the flower bed. It was time to act!

My younger brother Snah made his ponderous way to the laundry room. At fifteen, Snah was built like a prize-fighter and had the attitude of a gentle elephant. Right at the moment, however, I wished he’d hurry up. He was movin’ like a river runnin’ up a slope.

He eventually emerged, bleach in hand, and I got busy dousing the rapacious odoriferous insatiable sourdough. (Sorry ‘bout that there, folks—sometimes I get a mite carried away with my words—where was I?) We only had one bottle of bleach, so I had to use it sparingly on the ever-widening growth that had once been our flower bed, but as I poured, The Smell turned from its hideous shade of deathly brown to a light tan color. We all covered our ears and ran, since that there organism was emitting a deathly shriek—and growing even bigger!

“Well, pickle me tink!” I said.

“Would you like some milk to go with it?” asked my little brother Thor helpfully. Thor was only five, but he was nearly the greatest talker of the bunch.

“This is no time for foolery!” I told him fiercely—“If anyone’s going to be making jokes around here, it will be I—The BOSS!”

And while we sat shootin’ the breeze, The Smell had finished off the flowers and was beginning to eat the lawn.

Enter little brother Nat, thirteen years old and nearly as annoying as his namesake the gnat, careening around the lawn with an armful of something and shouting “Alert, alert—full alert!”

But just at that moment he tripped over a protruding paw of the sourdough—and his bagful of whatever it was spilled all over that creeping corpus. And without a further murmur, squeal, or scream, it gave up the ghost.

“Nat,” I said, “You’ve done it this time. You’ve saved us all from The Smell, and you didn’t even mean to.”

“Aw, shucks,” he said. “It was easy. Just put a little salt on something like that and it quietens right down. Learned it in biology the other day about slugs.”