Priceless memories are where it’s at.
- A mass invasion of bicycles and mopeds. Used for every purpose imaginable and unimaginable, including cargo carrier, trailer puller, and family vehicle The most riders I’ve seen one fit so far is 4.
- The treacherously slippery bathtub here has no flat surface; even the bottom is rounded. It deserves a caution sign. Someone thoughtfully installed a handrail though… nestled comfortably in between cold and hot water pipes of about the same size, and questionable durability.
- The lovely, generous, motherly woman who cooks all the meals here found out I’m a Christian. She is too, but she doesn’t speak any English. We found a word we both know though, and she uses it often. Today at lunch, she timed it as an exclamation to go with the act of plopping some vegetables into my bowl: HAAALLLELUJAH!!
- A sound like a small explosion blasts out periodically, night and day. Today I finally found out it’s actually the popcorn vendor down the street, opening the door of the pressurized popcorn maker he constantly turns by hand over an open fire on the sidewalk.
- Farmers are allowed to have two children if their firstborn is a girl. If it’s a boy, they’re allowed only one. If the parents live in the city, they’re allowed one child regardless of the gender, unless both parents are only children, and then they can have two. Heavy fines are the penalty for too many children, or if the fines can’t be paid, mandatory abortion.
- Most of the English translations on signs and billboards don’t make any sense. One of my favorites so far was a plaque in a hotel room that started with, “Honorific Sirs,…”
- Tenses, genders, and plurals are a difficult translation from Chinese to English. So it usually takes a while for me to figure out whether we’re talking about a ‘he’ or a ‘she‘, whether it is in fact only one ‘child’ or multiple ‘children‘, and whether they ‘didn’t’ go somewhere for treatment, or they ‘don’t’ go somewhere for treatment… since all of those terms are used pretty interchangeably most of the time.
- You’re a bad host if there isn’t way too much to eat on the table, and apparently you’re a rude guest if you don’t eat way more than you can comfortably hold, in honor of your host’s generosity in overstocking the table.
- After earning a college degree, the average acceptable income in Zhengzhou is about $300 USD per month.
- The repertoire of foods I’ve eaten here so far includes: Chicken feet, Pork stomach, Duck head, Sparrow eggs, large chunks of pure raw fish meat, and several tons of rice and noodles.
- People here are generally very generous, no matter their personal wealth. Most people in the villages I’ve visited stare at a white girl unashamedly, with obvious emotions ranging from simple interest, to utter shock, to obvious suspicion… the men sometimes try to be intimidating and stare me down as they shoulder their way past me. Sadly for them, the intimidation factor takes a crippling blow from the fact that they’re almost all shorter than me.
- Waiters and waitresses talk back and roll their eyes at their diners on a regular basis. The customer is NOT always right here.
- People spit a lot, burp unapologetically, and blow boogers out of their noses with startling force.
- Parking attendants tell you where to park, how to park, and how to get out… often while making fun of your driving.
- Water is always served scalding hot during meals, unless you specifically ask for ice, which may or may not be available.
- Meals are often amazingly spicy, and only liquid the burning sufferer can turn to is usually hot water or Coke. Either of those options produces a quick shock of pain that can easily bring tears to the eyes of an unsuspecting victim. (aka, me.)
- Beds don’t have mattresses. If you’re lucky, you get a pad almost an inch thick to make you comfy for the long night ahead of you. But actually, after the initial bruises wear off, it’s not all that uncomfortable.
- Squat toilets, affectionately referred to as squatties, are generally the only public facilities available. They’re basically just holes in the ground with varying levels of luxury… from a basic shallow trench with no ‘artificial irrigation’, to fully flushing toilets, complete with ridges along each side to serve as foot grips. There’s also never any promise of a full-fledged stall and door. Sometimes you’re just housed in a narrow, three sided cubicle that’s about two feet high. The whole set up can help anyone get over self-consciousness pretty fast.
- Oreos are still expensive, even in central China. 😦
That’s all I can think of in one go. I’ll post more thoughts as they come to me.
3-21-2011 – Zhengzhou
A day of many emotions from beginning to end.
I walked into the children’s section of the Zhengzhou shelter at about 10am to see all of the staff and nannies in a virtual whirlwind of activity, fussing like so many mother hens over a little girl of about 5 yrs, fondly called something like “Rae-Rae“. Talking, smiling, and crying all at the same time, they were putting the last few odds and ends into her small pink backpack, smoothing wrinkles from her new clothes, straightening her hair one last time. This was her adoption day.
We drove about 45 minutes to a part of the city I’d never seen; a part that is probably generally the ONLY part foreigners see. New, bright, clean, wealthy. It could almost have been any city in the states aside from the usual traffic chaos (Road laws here are mostly treated with vague indifference. Dotted lines, solid lines, appropriate sides of the road, colors of lights… how important can they REALLY be, anyway?) and the army of bicycles and mopeds crowding the streets and sidewalks.We drove up to a big government building and walked into the room where adoption families meet their children, and sign the last few necessary papers.
Rae-Rae’s parents and older sister were waiting at the door, smiling and waving as we walked up the steps. They had another backpack all ready for her, full of toys, treats and clothes. The parents have 4 grown children, and have recently adopted 6 or 7 more kids from China. The father is involved in the pharmaceutical industry, and the mother is a nurse. They are well equipped for their choice to only adopt children with serious medical conditions. Rae-Rae has HIV, and they were also adopting another little boy that day with some internal digestive problems that will be solved by surgery soon after his arrival in the states. By the time we left Rae-Rae with her new parents, both Nicole and I were satisfied that she had been given a loving, capable family. It really wasn’t until I already had tears in my eyes that I realized how weary my heart was of so many sad stories. But unlike most, these tears came from the joy of the scene in front of me, one I’ve been wishing for almost every child I’ve met so far. I thank God for this bright ray of sunshine in my time here.
After a couple hours of free time that afternoon we made another trip, this time to the bus station. This story was something like the reverse of the events of the morning. We picked up a woman and child. The little girl’s birth parents died when she was a baby, about 4 years ago. A family friend adopted the little girl and raised her until now. But last fall the girl started getting sicker and sicker. Finally, after a few tests, they found out she has HIV. The adoptive mother is terrified, both of the seriousness of the girls condition, and of the serious cultural prejudice they face if anyone finds out. If people in their village learn about the girl‘s sickness, their whole family will be shunned. Her older, grown-up sons might never find girls willing to marry them. The little girl will have next to no future. So… the mother chose Harmony Home. The little girl has a beautiful, soft, plump little face. She doesn’t seem to understand what’s happening to her. I could barely hold back my tears as I watched her on the way back from the bus station.
Part of me wonders how in the world this woman could just give the baby up like this. But part of me knows I have no real understanding of the cultural problems she’s facing. I might be right in my shock at how this little girl is becoming an orphan once again. But I certainly do not understand, and dare not judge this woman. I’ve barely even seen her shoes, let alone been in them. And on this trip, in this time, I don’t have the right to a judgment. That‘s not my purpose. These people’s stories are told through my camera. My opinion stays silent. I am merely a bystander, barely able to soak up the intensity of these new experiences. For myself, my world can never be the same again. I will never feel at peace in selfish comfort. I will never be the same. I can barely even find words to pray, through the storm of emotions churning inside me. I can only call God’s name, like a child who feels the comfort of their parent’s presence in the answer to their simple call of “Daddy?”.
And my King Daddy is near. I can feel Him every moment. He is all the love I have to give; He is the compassion in my stony heart, the tears in my cold eyes, the smile on my tired face, the burning in my broken spirit. He is everything. He is here.
“By His faithfulness He is speaking to us still.”
3-18-2011. Xichuan city
Three people. Mother, Father, Son (age 12).
- Mother – HIV
- Father – Cancer
- Son – HIV, HCV (Hepatitis C), MAC (Mycobacterium avium complex)
The son, Song Zhengxi, has bandages and tape on his arms from the shots and IV’s he
recieves every day to keep him alive. His cheeks are slightly hollow. They tell me he’s getting thinner and thinner with no improvement.
The father is driven, refusing to give up the hope of saving his son. He tried to get money from the local government, which is supposed to be giving support. Instead he got a bloody face. He still won’t stop trying though, even though all of us know, nothing short of a miracle will save his son.
The Mother is tired and broken beyond hope. It’s all she can do to hold back tears as her husband brings out stacks of tax and medical reports he’s carefully gathered, along with the boxes of his son’s medicine and pictures of himself after the local authorities worked him over.
The boy is smart and funny. He catches onto jokes quickly, and often flashes a quick smile. But he’s tired, eventually falling asleep leaned against his mother’s knee, and he refuses to eat any of the gifts of food we brought.
They can barely survive on the money they have now. There is nothing left over for the extensive medical treatment the boy needs.
What else can I say? Nothing I write will change the pain; the heartwrenching unfairness of what I’ve seen.
Without a miracle, this entire family will be gone soon… they won’t go without a fight… but they will go nonetheless. They’re fading away almost before my eyes.
I can’t pronounce her Chinese name very well.
She is a teacher here at HH Zhengzhou. She helps keep the kids busy with homework and art projects after school. She speaks barely enough English to have told me a little bit about her life and herself. Her grandmother is her only family, and doesn’t know she works here. She’s afraid to tell anyone because of most Chinese people’s extreme prejudice against anyone who has, or has any contact with someone who has HIV. Any friends who found out stopped talking to her. The rest don’t know her well enough to find out. She came here for a boy who also works here. Dropped everything and everyone, and poured her life into one person for 2 years. But as she grew more dependent, he simply grew bored. Finally, a couple of weeks ago he got someone new, and she got a broken heart and an empty life. Somehow, in her pain and loneliness, she started reading a Bible every night, and praying to the God she was reading about. She says she felt peace and comfort when she prayed, like He was with her. By the time I came here, she was ready. Heartbroken and alone, but somehow, in her emptiness, keenly aware of Someone else silently asking to fill her life. She brought up the subject out of nowhere. She wanted to be Christian, and was waiting for someone to tell her how. After a long, somewhat redundant conversation through my translator friend Jessie, I felt pretty sure she understood my clumsy explanation of what she was asking to know. She stood beside my bed with her head bowed and hands folded like a child’s, and angels danced in heaven as I welcomed my new sister into our Father’s family. Glory.
I spent the next couple of days with her, telling her things about our Daddy – the first real father she’s ever had – and getting to know her better. Many Asians take English names for the benefit of people like me whose pronunciation is hopeless at times. She didn’t have one yet, so I suggested she pick one, and she asked me to choose a name for her. I’m still pretty psyched at being given such an honor. I gave her a name based on her favorite Bible story so far. She told me about it the day I met her, before she prayed with me. It’s the one about Jacob working 14 years for the right to marry Rachel. She loves reading about Rachel. I think Jacob’s devotion touches her hurting heart very deeply. Oh boy, does she have a lot to discover about the Love she’s gotten herself into now. And I have a lot to learn about her. She’s quiet and kind. Children love her and she loves them. She serves others first, whether it’s pouring her own tea last, or carrying someone else’s bag when their hands are full. Today, at an overcrowded orphanage of joyful, energetic kids, I found her in the middle of a crowd of girls next to the faucet. There is no heat and no hot water at this orphanage, and I could see my breath clearly as my fingers just about froze themselves to the camera. The kids don’t like to take showers or wash their hands because it’s so cold. Their hands become chapped, and maybe even a little frostbitten in the unceasing cold, but they don’t wash the wounds… so many of them have open sores on their hands now, or at the least, rough, painfully chapped skin. Rachel was bent over a bowl of water, washing, massaging, rinsing, and moisturizing each of the girl’s hands with her own fingers. This act of love humbled me… and to realize that most people from this area would not even speak to these HIV positive children made it all the more amazing. It reminded me of Jesus washing the Disciple’s feet. Rachel told me a couple days ago that she wants to be God-like. Well, so far, I’ve got a head start of about 20 years when it comes to knowing about God, but she’s miles ahead of me in many of her simple habits of selflessness.
She’s still heartbroken and lonely. She dreads the day when we have to say goodbye… so do I. I’ve never wanted to take someone home with me in my luggage so badly before. I ache to give her a real home, with a whole family, and friends who truly love her. Her heart is so hungry for it. She’s been offered a place in HH Taiwan, because she’s such a talented teacher. She’s afraid of going, afraid of leaving her country and life here – her life being an unfaithful boy who still has a strong hold on her timid heart. I’m praying, praying, praying that she will have the courage to take this opportunity to find a new life with new friends and a new Savior. If she could only have a true family in Christ, who would love and watch out for her!
If you have a moment and the desire, say a prayer for my sister, Rachel. God holds her heart now… may He also hold her life.
3-15/16-2011 – Henan Province AIDS villages
Rural, traditional, yet heavily populated. Less wealthy and advanced than the city, but with nearly the same population. If Henan Province were a country by itself, it would be the 12th most populated in the world. It’s also the heart of an AIDS epidemic in China. It’s estimated that at least 30% of the population in some of these villages is infected with HIV, and thousands have already died. Most of this started in the early 90’s, when the government sponsored a blood drive in which local peasants sold their blood for about $5 per round. The equipment used to take the blood wasn’t properly sanitized; eventually the majority of the farmers who sold their blood were infected with HIV. Some committed suicide immediately. Some were kicked out of their family’s home. Those that survived the shock of discovery still sickened and died by the thousands over the next couple of decades. This was my experience there over the last couple of days:
- Mounds of dirt, several in every one of the thousands of rice fields in the area. I ask what they are. They’re graves. The remains of entire generations lay out there in the fields. It’s sickening to see.
- As we keep driving I get tired of watching and taking videos of field after field of graves. I close my eyes for a nap, only to open them to the exact same scene 45 minutes later. The grief of this place is deeper than any person can tell.
- This part of the country is flat and heavily wooded. People here work their livings out of the fields and forests. It’s cold here. Spring seems to come late to this area.
- We drive through market streets, rice fields and improvised saw mills. Most of the laborers and vendors we pass have seen more than their fair share of winters. One need look no further than the fields to find most of the younger, middle-aged generation.
- An orphanage, small in size but housing about 30 children. No heat and no hot water. I’m shivering just standing taking video of them laugh and play in the courtyard. As much as I want to understand the way they live, I definitely flinch at the thought of spending the night there.
- My worry about sleeping at the orphanage is first turned to relief to learn that we’ll stay in a nearby motel… and then replaced with a more pressing concern. We’re not staying there because the local police have already learned I’m there, and want to know who I am, where I’m from, and why I’m visiting. They call the orphanage’s director every couple of hours to ask more questions. I’m told I should be prepared to be searched. My guides laugh and joke when they’re talking to me, but they’re not very subtle about the worry and intensity on their faces when they’re talking amongst themselves about the police.
- I’m inches away from punching myself in the face… I left my computer and video cables back in Zhengzhou to keep my luggage lighter. I can’t take the videos from the last couple days off of my camera without losing them permanently, and this area is one of the most crucial to have on film. If the local authorities find it, I’m in trouble. I’m so entirely in God’s hands. All I can do is pray and trust. Somehow, I’m neither worried nor afraid. I feel Him near me, almost as if I could reach out my hand and take hold of His.
- We drive another hour or so that afternoon to visit a child Harmony Home tries to help out. We arrive to find out the grandparents, in their 80’s, couldn’t take care of her any longer and sent her to a government run orphanage. Not good. It’s a long disappointed drive back to the orphanage.
- After a night’s rest at a nearby motel which has heat and hot water that I inevitably feel guilty to have enjoyed, we have to decide whether or not to go back for an interview with the director there or not. We didn’t have time the day before. If we go back, we risk trouble with the police, but the interview could be important. They ask me to decide.
- I pray good and hard for a whole 25 seconds or so. I feel apprehensive and cautious, but fairly sure God has given me a go-ahead. 5 minutes later we run into a temporary police checkpoint. They’re stopping every vehicle going in direction we’re headed. A police officer comes to the car and asks our driver for his papers. He checks them over and waves us on, without ever looking into the backseat where I’m sitting. Glory to GOD.
- We do the interview, and start back to Zhengzhou by way of another village with a couple more sponsored children. Both of these two kids have parents that are either dead of AIDS or HIV positive. I see pictures of Jesus in both of the two houses. When we ask about it, they tell us that the entire village of 200 people is Christian. What I wouldn’t give to know the language well enough to learn that story. Instead, we left them with a blessing and a few more minutes of video. I’ll just have to ask Jesus that story in person some day.
- The untold stories of China are beyond count. There’s a world here I never knew existed, and it is entirely unlike my own. One of the things that makes my heart ache most, is how invisible the pain and sadness of these people is. And they know it. In my world, if anything of even vague interest or misfortune happens, everyone is instantly aware… sometimes the whole world is instantly aware. The public gathers together and supports or celebrates or mourns the event; whatever the appropriate response is. But here… To the world, and to themselves, no matter the depth of the tragedy or the intensity of the story, they are invisible.
- This is not the heart of my Jesus.
Something I’ve noticed though… people are generally the same. The love on a mother’s face as she clears the hair from her baby’s eyes; the unrestrained, unashamed laugh of an innocent child; the pride that can’t be taken from a pair of old, work-roughened hands.
People are beautiful
“For God so loved the world…”
3-14-2011 – ZHENGZHOU
- First impressions on the drive from the airport: Cold, brown, bare, dirty, unhappy.
- The orphanage, shelter, and office are in a dirty apartment that seems to be surrounded by perpetually angry and amazingly vocal neighbors who neither sleep nor eat to rest from their irritation. There’s no heating. In fact, the windows are open… no idea why. My fingers aren’t actually very happy about being made to type this. They’d rather be under a blanket or in my pockets keeping warm.
- But the children………. The children have already stolen my heart. Looking at them laughing and screaming and playing makes me ache inside. The older ones look more solemn. I suspect they understand their situation and status in the world better than the younger ones.
- There are 13 in all. 12 have HIV, and the other, a little boy, has a crooked back that forces a slight limp. But oh my goodness, my heart is just about his to keep. He’s a character. Continuously making the other kids laugh, with a flare for sarcastic melodrama and not an ounce of shyness or reserve. I made a little face at him when I first met him, and instead of shyly giggling or smiling back like most of them do, he boldly made a more dramatic imitation of my face.
- Another little boy sticks pretty close to the first, and laughed, bounced, screamed, ran, i.e. pretty much didn’t slow down the whole time I was there. I found out his mother died last summer, his dad left him alone in their apartment and didn’t come back, and an uncle just sent over bits of food twice a day…. For FOUR months. Four months alone without a shower or another human being. His little baby teeth are brown and rotten now. Memories of that time. But he’s been here for 6 months, and I suspect he’s a different boy than the one they found in September.
- I watched them all take their medicine, one of the older girls helped the youngest take hers. Her little face is covered in scabs, an effect of the HIV I think. One by one, she slowly gulped down about 8 different pills with a cup of water. She and the other children do this twice a day every day.
- They gave me a picture made from cloth and ribbons, and sang several lovely songs with actions to accompany, led by their teacher, a pretty, kind young woman.
- They loved the camera, and went into fits of giggles whenever I showed them pictures or videos of themselves.
- This is my least favorite city so far I think. But somehow, I’m pretty sure it will be the hardest to leave. I so wish I could speak the same language as these kids. Get to know them each by name, laugh with the little ones, help share the burdens and encourage the dreams of the older ones. But… I suppose if I could, I might really never go.
3-13-2011 – 3 hours drive outside of NANNING
A journey that started with a broken down van. Good thing there are sidewalk mechanics about as handy as sidewalk cafés. A 45 minute quick fix which I vigorously prayed would stick at least until the end of the day. Praise God for answered prayers!
- A quick glimpse of a face while driving through a city. An old man sitting by the side of the road watching the city rush back and forth in front of him. There was a stillness about him… I would call it peace but for the sadness there as well. Maybe more of a weary defeat; an acceptance of a tired life waiting to be spent to completion.
- A three hour drive through countryside and city, finally across a river that requires a ticket to cross. Deep into farm country. A quiet, simple life that my loud and racing world has barely touched aside from the occasional motorcycle or farm truck.
- Oxen pulling plows, farmers pulling carts, women pulling weeds. Like a picture painted hundreds of years ago. A story that has been lived endless times in this place, nearly unchanging over the years.
- We visited a family like many others; farmers like their fathers before them. Living together on their family’s plot, yet carrying well kept secrets of sickness and shame. The grandparents whose home their two children and four grandchildren co-inhabit may never know that one of their children, along with his wife and child, has HIV. They only know enough to worry about the child’s health, and be concerned at the amount of medicine her parents must give her.
- Lunch, eaten while sitting on typical miniature stools and a short legged round table in a small dark room of mostly concrete and aged wood surfaces. Black chicken, complete with bones and other goodies. Fish, complete with everything, including the eyes. Soup, complete with… I have no idea. As grateful as I was for what was clearly a feast they had prepared for us, I mostly stuck with the rice. The uneaten bones and scraps were definitely not wasted. Puppies, cats, and chickens wandered around and under the table the whole time, waiting for their share.
- The grandfather, our self-appointed host . Small, wiry, chain-smoking, generous, proud, tough, tired, full of tradition
- The parents, quiet, nervous, kind… love clearly written across their concerned faces when they look at their daughter.
- The girl has short curly black hair, plump cheeks, and large, soft black eyes. She has a deep cough that doesn’t seem to leave her alone for long.
- Took lots of video but very little interview, since we couldn’t discuss the name of the disease that brought us for a visit while the grandfather was hovering near to make sure his guests were looked after.
- These people… they work to eat, eat to live, live to die. Over and over and over. It’s a beautiful place to live a life, but what’s the point? They take joy in their family, and pride in their work. It’s all they know. But there’s something very sad and incomplete about them. Is this all there is for them? And yet, that’s all and maybe more than many wealthier people have. It’s all any of us has without a higher purpose, a better Friend, and a life beyond this to look forward to.
Romans 7:24-25a – “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”