Saturday, December 27, 2008
Snow Storms, Shoveling and Snow Bears...
What a change from life in Africa...Snow storms swept across the Western United States leaving everyone housebound. We had to learn how to shovel snow. We also enjoyed learning how to make a snow man...well...let's just say it turned out to be a Snow Bear!
2008 is almost at an end. This year whipped by with a collage of activities. I want to say next year will be slower and there will be less things to do-- but then I say that every year-- in fact, someone pointed out to me I say that every month..."next month will not be as busy" and then next month comes along and it is equally, if not more, busy.
Well- a Happy New Year to One and All- hopefully in the new year I will be more consistent in updating this blog!
Saturday, November 29, 2008
In 1997 and through 1998, Ghana experienced a terrible energy crisis. There was always times without electricity but during this particular period the electricity was more off than on. Sweltering heat with no fans makes for a very unpleasant sleep.
Three months after we arrived in Ghana, we installed a generator- not a very big one- just enough to run a fan or two should the electricity go off. The gentleman who installed the generator and the electrical connections appeared to be a bit on the tipsy side. This should have been a strong indication to us to send him home immediately, but he assured us he knew what he was doing. This decision on our part almost cost us our son, Sean's life.
Sean loved any animal- whether it be a dog, cat, or chicken. He decided he wanted to raise chickens and promptly started a mini farm of his own. Early one morning, twelve year old Sean woke up to check on his chickens. They had hidden in the generator hutch.
The generator was OFF since there was electricity on this particular day. Sean leaned forward to grab his chicks and almost lost his balance so he grabbed the handle of the generator. All of us slept on oblivious to his danger as 240 volts of electricity surged through his body. His pet dogs came running to his rescue only to be thrown back yelping.
The dog's yelps and further insistent barking alerted the gardener who ran to check on what the problem was. He saw Sean's plight and attempted to use a wooden broom handle to pry Sean from the live generator. He only managed to break the broom handle. He reached for a larger wooden board and this time struck Sean hard enough to loosen his grip from the machine. Sean flew away from the machine and fell into an unconscious mound. By this time the gardener managed to alert us from our sound sleep and we rushed out to find Sean laying at the foot of the kitchen stairs with blood coming from his mouth (I think he injured himself when he flew onto the concrete ground).
I thought Sean had fallen down the stairs. Rushing down to pick his lifeless body up, I pulled him to my chest and began praying over him. He jerked in my arms and sputtered and then his mouth opened saying, "Jesus will help me...Jesus will help me..." His voice was high and agitated and his eyes were unfocused. I tried to calm him but could tell he was in shock. Pulling him closer to my chest, I looked up at Joe, the Gardener and asked, "What happened?"
"He was electric shocked, Madam."
After quieting Sean down, the horror story unfolded. Sean's salvation was that only one of his hands held onto the generator. The electricity went in through his small finger and exited via his palm. There were two distinct holes burnt into his hand. I've been told that if both his hands had held onto the generator the electricity would have gone through his body and he would have died.
It is interesting to note Sean is a physicist who is working at the National Renewable Energy Labs. He is fascinated with different ways to produce energy and electricity. I often wonder if his 'shocking' encounter helped start him on the path towards his career. :)
F is for FuFu...
Fufu is a staple food in West Africa. Most of the time it is made by boiling the yam or cassava root and the plantain and then pounding them using a mortar and a pestle. Often one person sits down moving the starchy substance around while someone else stands and pounds. As they do this vigorously, the fufu then forms into a glutinous ball.
This ball of Fufu is placed into some liquid that has been prepared. It is put in 'light soup' or in 'ground nut soup' or in Okra stew or fish soup-- how we love eating our fufu. To eat fufu- you must pinch off a small amount and make sure it is soaked with the 'soup'- 'gravy' - in Ghana you are NOT to chew the fufu but rather swallow it. It was quite an experience the first time I ate Fufu- when I was told I was not to CHEW the food--- I couldn't imagine HOW I would eat it-- for aren't we trained from young to chew food??? Well, with Fufu, that is part of the pleasure of eating it.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Ghana pranced in front of me with her wonderful colors. The bright colors and sounds jump started my senses. I began to wonder which painter went crazy with his greens. Light greens and dark greens splashed wildly wherever I looked. How could I help but to be captivated?
I stepped out of the airport into a swarm of bodies. Sean, Katrina and Cassandra were in tow as we made our way through the human shields to get to the vehicles waiting for us. We were only able to see our new home the next morning. I had grown up with little geckos on the wall, but I was not used to fairly sized lizards prancing merrily along pathways and through patios. The children found these new friends intriguing. It was not long before I hardly noticed them as they zipped past my legs.
The bright colors and sounds of Ghana were not the only thing which would capture me. Each new day would offer new challenges...new adventures...new lessons.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
I never asked, "what did he do?" ...."why is he in prison?"...."How long is he there for?"....I just started writing San Quentin. The first few letters were filled with pleasantries. I wrote things I thought someone in prison would want to know about: simple facts about life outside those four walls. I can't remember exactly when in the correspondence I started wondering, "why exactly is he in prison?"...but the question peaked and I asked it...he responded with a huge packet of magazine articles and papers explaining his plight.
He was a convicted serial killer, but he was innocent. He sent me tapes, court documents, and police interviews showing me facts about the case. He was guilty of other crimes, he said, but not of the serial killings. It was proven he had alibis for a couple of the women killed. He pointed out it was a female friend who had done the crimes with a man who she later murdered- stabbed to death and cut off his head. She tried to pin that murder on him, but he had an airtight alibi. He admitted he was not pure and innocent, but he maintained he had not done the murders and was framed by this female.
I continued writing him and even started a website not saying he was innocent but just showing the factual evidence he had sent me. It was quickly shut down by the authorities. He appeared to have some valid claims and although, as he himself admitted, he had done some horrible things- murder was not one of them. I was amazed by his continued determination to prove his innocence. His upbeat attitude always shone through in the letters and that intrigued me. How does one stay so positive when locked away for years.
I will not divulge his name here. It doesn't seem appropriate. I do still write to him now 12 years later. He has seen my family through years in Africa, he has congratulated each of the children on their respective high school graduations. He continues to believe he will be one day vindicated of the crimes he was accused of. The woman who is said to have framed him, is now dead. She died in prison. Maybe now with her death, he will be able to use some of the testimonies which had been closed before to reopen his case. His appeals are keeping him alive: he is actually on death row and has been there for about 28 years. He remains optimistic.
New beginnings...new experiences...new friends....new places....all the ingredients of great hellos. My children had never lived in the US of A, so this was a great new experience for them. They arrived in Southern California and immediately made it their own. Whether it was being home, going to play with friends or attending school, they made their mark on it.
School became their favorite place to go- which amused their friends and the other neighbors. When Katrina would do something naughty I would say, "Nana (in those days we called her "nana"), if you continue doing that I won't let you go to school tomorrow!!"
"Mom!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Please, I promise to stop!! Please don't keep me home from school."
She was in third grade and absolutely loved her teacher and her fellow classmates. Sean was in fifth grade and Cassandra in first grade. They walked each day to the Glenmeade Elementary school. They walked home with stories to tell of their days at school. We sat down with milk and cookies listening to each tale told. Why have milk and cookies? Every book we read seemed to indicate when an 'american' comes home from school they are greeted with milk and cookies! :) We were 'trying' to be 'Americans'.....we soon found out very few kids came home to milk and cookies- more often than not they came home to empty houses where they had to let themselves in. As a result, many kids found their way to our house after school and on the weekends.
I asked my children, "Why don't you go over to their houses??" My kids turned to ask their friends, "Why don't we go to your house to play?"
"Oh my mom would never let me mess up her house like your mom does!"
Hmmmm...so no milk and cookies and no getting to mess up houses. All in all,it was a great time!! Lots of wonderful memories, friends made for a life time, and energy stored up for the future we would have in Africa.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Boxes full of memories
Brimming with joy and laughter
Bursting with dreams
Broad boxes, small boxes, tall boxes
Built to hold the seasons of my life
Brown boxes, red boxes, green boxes
Buried with treasures from yesteryear
Bottomless boxes holding my tomorrows
Sunday, October 26, 2008
No matter what language you say it in, it feels sad to say the words 'good bye.' Leaving Japan in May 1996 was not easy. I was saying goodbye to precious friends. Familiar places were no longer going to be part of my daily routine. As the 'good bye' day drew closer I would think, "This is the last time..."
I embraced "Goodbyes" all my life,but each time I had to embrace another one I found myself backing away. How can I leave the sights, the sounds, the people, the places and the experiences which make up the place I've been? How do I walk away? Slowly but surely I reach for the "Good bye" hugging it close to my chest. Maybe it will shield me from the pain of leaving. Of course, it never does.
Japan was one of the hardest good byes. Maybe it was difficult to leave because I lived there for seven years. Little by little, I pulled the farewell cloak around me. One last look at the tozai sen, one last taste of the tonkatsu down at the little shop near my house, one last chat with my wonderful friends and one last glance around the wee apartment which housed my family for seven years.
The thing about "good byes", they are always followed by "hellos". I do so love saying hello.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Weddings in Singapore were quite the occasion. It didn't matter which cultural group was celebrating their wedding, there was always lots of color, music, and people. I grew up with weddings being wonderful, fun occasions.
Going to Japan, I was curious as to how their weddings were going to be. I found some to be quiet, serious occasions but also there were lively weddings. Since our church was a multicultural church we enjoyed all sorts of weddings. Filipino weddings- boy was the food good! Ghanaian weddings- can we say PARTY! Japanese weddings- a touch of class. Chinese weddings- traditional tea ceremony included.
I think my favorite memory about the weddings- no matter who was involved- was the way everyone joined together to make it the best day of the bride and groom's life! Everyone came out to decorate the hall. There were those who volunteered to cook the food. Others were ready to be an usher or to serve the food. Everyone did the part creating a wonderful day for all.
With all the countries I've traveled to, Japan included, I realize 'love' is a universal language spoken by everyone. Seeing love showcased in a wedding can be a very beautiful thing. Whether it is demonstrated in a quiet manner or in a loud manner, love shines magnificently for all to see.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Lifelong friendships were forged in the land of the rising sun. I believe my life was impacted by individuals who touched me in ways I had never been touched before. Of those who left a mark on my life I say Asako was definitely someone who stands out above the rest. How did I come to know this remarkable young woman?
It was via a meandering of paths we finally met. I started a class/center for children with Down’s Syndrome. In those days I was cutting through new territory and daring to come against the system there. I wanted the parents to know they didn’t have to hide their child away because each child had special gifting. As the moms and children ventured out each week they became pleasantly surprised at the things they discovered. The mom who found out her child could actually read! The mother’s who watched with tears in their eyes as their children created masterpieces.
One parent approached me to tell me of someone they wanted me to meet. She was in her late teens almost 20 and she was completely paralyzed. The only way she could communicate was via a paper marked with Hiragana. As she pointed to the various sounds, she created language….’wa’…’ta’…’shi’…’wa’ and she said “I” – well this was all very amazing, but my question was, “why do you want me to meet her?”
“Can you teach her English?”
“Wow- she wants to learn English?”
I didn’t promise anything, but I went to meet Asako. Of course I didn’t have a chance once I met her, she just is someone you want to be with. She was hit by a drunk truck driver when she was 11 and her two friends who were crossing the road with her died. She survived but she went beyond survival to living as no one I ever met before.
My Japanese improved as I would sound out what she was pointing to. Her English improved and pretty soon she was pointing to a English chart of letters. It took a lot longer to spell out the words- but I became adept at ‘guessing’ what word she was about to spell and as I said the word she would nod ferociously and skip to the next word. She was so eager to communicate.
Japan, the land of the rising sun, brought gems into my life. They enriched me.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Saturday, September 13, 2008
The scar has been a point of interest. When Daniel takes off his shirt for a swim; someone will be drawn to the massive scar. They approach Daniel with eyes as big as saucers, "What happened to your stomach??".....he always replies, "Oh, someone slashed me with a knife and then shot me twice." (there are the scars of two small holes nearby the bigger gash)--- they gasp-- at which point I laugh and say,"Don't lie Daniel, tell them the truth!!!" He, of course, laughs loudly and then tells them that it is simply the remains of an old operation.
There are times I run my fingers lightly up and down the ridges of that ugly gash....and I remember the day he got that scar.
We had been married for less than ten years and we had three little children. We were living in Japan. Daniel came home one day complaining of a stomach ache. His remedy for any ailment was to crawl into bed and sleep it off. Normally this worked just fine. On this occasion he woke up a few hours later to severe abdominal pain. We decided he needed an expert opinion. The doctor told him it was severe indigestion. She gave him anti acid type pills and sent him home. That was around 5 pm.
As the evening progressed, the pain increased, towards midnigh I called the doctor. She told me I was being silly and there was nothing to worry about. Looking over at Daniel grimacing with pain, I thought she might be wrong but she was the doctor and I was young then.. I've learned to trust my own judgment.
What a horrible night that was! At 4 am, I woke the doctor up again and this time I didn't ask her if I could bring Daniel in, I told her I was bringing him in. By the time we reached her clinic, he was falling in and out of consciousness. Her command of English was okay but sometimes her vocabulary choices weren't the best. She said "Your husband is being lazy." (I think she meant to say- "Your husband is going unconscious.") Anyhow, she was alarmed and realized her original diagnosis of indigestion was wrong- she recommended he be taken to the emergency ward of the nearby hospital.
Long story short- he was wheeled around the hospital for hours with various doctors pushing on his stomach. It was determined the problem was his appendix. What a relief to know what the problem was. Everyone assured us this was easily taken care of. Daniel was wheeled into surgery at 4 pm (that's right- they had him at the hospital for almost 12 hours before they took him into the operating theater). I was told he would be out within 40 minutes.....2 hours later, I was still waiting.....
A nurse walked up to me with a small Japanese/English dictionary and she kept shaking her head and she pointed to something in the dictionary--- peritonitis--she also pointed to some other words. I understood things were not going as planned. The doctor needed to speak to me. The doctor explained things were not looking good for Daniel because his stomach was full of infection. They needed more time to work on him as they were siphoning out all the pus from inside his abdomen. If you think doctors are supposed to give you words of hope, I think this chap wasn't at doctor's school the day they taught the lesson on giving hope. He basically told me Daniel had a 5 percent chance of survival and I should prepare myself for the other 95 percent. They waited too long- damage had already been done.
At the time the hospital drama was going on, the members of our church were praying for their pastor. They didn't know the latest development, so I jumped into my car and rushed to where they were praying. As I sped down the narrow street, the light turned red. I sat staring at the red light then I half yelled, half cried, "God this is not how it is supposed to be!!! I have three little kids. You can't take him. You have to heal him."
"Will you trust Me?"
"Of course I trust you God- so please heal him."
"Will you trust Me?"
"I said I trust you to heal him!!"
"Will you trust Me no matter what happens."
Words dried up in my mouth. I took a deep breath. No ....this isn't the way it is supposed to be....see, it is supposed to be- I say I trust Him then He does what is best for me (or at least what I think is best for me)....trusting Him can't mean....or, can it....I mean....can it mean that I have to trust Him no matter what the outcome??? Even if my husband dies, I still have to trust Him???
"Will you trust Me?"
I heard the words as the light turned green. I was bawling my eyes out....slobbering all over the steering wheel...."I'll trust you- even if it means I lose Daniel- I will trust You."
That day I learned the definition of true faith....
The week which followed was anything but easy. Daniel had to be packed in ice cubes because his fever kept going sky high. He was oblivious to it all. Every time one of the doctors talked to me over his unconscious body....I whispered to God, "I will trust you...no matter what..." The doctors never could give me more than a 20 percent chance he would regain consciousness.
One month later, they released Daniel from the hospital. The doctors said he was a walking miracle.
So when my fingers run gently over his scar, I do remember the day I almost lost my husband....but I also remember the day God taught me the most important lesson of my life!
Monday, September 8, 2008
1. The Queen of the Mountain Tortoises
Karen is someone who blogs with a variety of different techniques. She is a straight shooter. (means she says what she means and means what she says). I have enjoyed getting to know her in her blog as well as in 'real time'-- I look forward of a lot more of both.
2. The Magic Carpet Ride
Sarah, originally from Zimbabwe, lives in Ismir, Turkey with her husband and a myriad of dogs. Her blog captures life in Turkey as well as highlighting life back in her homeland. I've enjoyed getting to know Sarah not only through her blog but through skype conversations. She is definitely someone I want to know forever!
3. Nada's Continuing Blog
When they say life is stranger than fiction, then 'they' were certainly referring to Sheila's life. She has lived and done it all. She has overcome great adversities. She has championed causes. She loves life and she lives it to the fullest. Her Saturday memoirs are both interesting and intriguing. A definite keeper for a blog friend.
4. Second Helpings
Linda comes from England- she and Sheila both do the Saturday memoir. Each showing what life was like '...way back when.' I've always admired Linda for her ability to juggle family, friends and work.
5. In His Name
This is one of my favorite blogs...as it inspires me and causes me to meditate on the scripture of the day. I love the insights received and shared. I feel privileged to be allowed to share this journey through the blog.
Here are the rules for those who were nominated:
1. Put the BFF logo in their blog
2. Put a link to the person you received the award from
3. Nominate 5 other blogs
4. Put links to the blogs
5. Leave a message for your nominee
Thursday, September 4, 2008
This picture is old and worn. It has traveled with me for 16 years. In suitcases, on my desk, slipped in a book and now it has found its place on my knickknack shelf. I see the photo displayed prominently in a heart shaped glass frame. It greets me when I enter the house and it bids me farewell when I leave. What is the significance of this picture?
Everytime I see this photo, I'm reminded of what is important in life. It is the simple things. We tend to want to complicate life. We dress it up and parade it around. We add frills and sashes. Life, in and of itself, is simple. You are born- you live and then you die. It can't get anymore simple than that. Whether you are born rich or born poor- you live- and you die.
Why does this photo remind me of this? There are my three children in the midst of the affluence in Japan. Technology abounding all around them: The latest toys, the most sophisticated gadgets and complicated electronics. Their happiest moments were spent in a cardboard box pretending they were voyagers out at sea. The wind in their faces and imaginary waves bashing against their vessel.
The picture is faded from years of handling. Despite the worn surface, the look of glee cannot be mistaken on all three of their faces. They found the joy in the simple act of imagination. Their discovery was priceless.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
The Rules are as follows:
1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you really love (and strikethrough the ones you hate!).
4) Reprint this list in your own blog.
1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings- JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4. To Kill a Mockingbird- Harper Lee
6. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
7. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
8. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
9. Harry Potter series- JK Rowling
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18. Catcher in the Rye- JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code- Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita- Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnights Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web- EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100. Les Miserables- Victor Hugo
I wish M M Kaye's books had been listed- or James A. Michener-- I love both of those authors and have read almost all their books!
Anyone who reads this entry!!
Monday, August 18, 2008
Monday, August 11, 2008
A trip with children can be interesting. In a hotel in Jerusalem, my children went out on the balcony and started yelling ,"mom, Michael is climbing over to our side!" I rushed out to see my 7 year old nephew teetering on the outside of his balcony. He inched his way along with the intent of climbing over to ours. I looked straight down at the street far below. What was I to do? He was too far to tell him to go back and yet he wasn't far enough for me to reach him! I held my breath. If I startled him with any noise he might fall! So all I could do was speak calmly and reach out to grab his hand. It was an eternity before I grabbed his arm and pulled him over. How can a person be filled with so much relief and anger at the same time?
"What were you thinking????!!!!" Tears and hugs abounded.
The entire trip was not filled with crisis moments. The sea of Galilee proved to be a restful place. Petra was spectacular. A horse ride through the pass brought us into a marvelous place with structures carved into the rocks. If not for the heat, I would have liked to stay there all day long. There are only a handful of places which I consider phenomenal and Petra is definitely one of them.
Our final boat ride on the Red Sea in Jordan was another memorable experience. The tour guide told us we would go out on a glass boat. Well, the boat was not glass but there was a glass panel in the bottom of the boat. As the boat glided along you could look down through the panel and see the fishes below. The weather was kind to us and the company was lovely. Afterall, what better way is there to spend a day in Jordan on the Red Sea than with your family?
Saturday, August 2, 2008
A Train Journey in China, 2007
Getting around China is very easy these days. The Chinese have always had an excellent railway service and Western countries could improve their services by taking a look at how the Chinese run their national railway system. Buses, taxis and now new, modern aeroplanes are all readily available and relatively cheap.
But my tale is about my first rail trip from Jinhua to Yantai, - a journey time-tabled to take a mere 26 hours. I asked my Chinese companion what types of tickets were available and the corresponding prices.
“Standing, a seat or a bed”.
In an instant and without hesitation I said, “a bed, please!” But being a 52 year old, overweight traveller I was curious to know a little about the other types. Apparently, one can ‘stand’ in the seated carriages for the entire journey if one chooses to do so. Who would be crazy enough to stand for 26 hours? Is it possible? Well, no it isn’t. The standing passengers usually sit, or lay, anywhere they can on the floor where there is a space.
The ‘seats’ were not able to be reserved so they would be allocated on a first-come first-served basis. That means there would be a stampede to get on the train…hmm…I didn’t really fancy being part of that especially as I was towing all my worldly possessions in my suitcase and backpack. I inquired about the bed option next.
“You want bottom, middle or top bed?”, came the reply.
“Are the prices all the same?”, I inquired.
“No. Top ones cheap - bottom ones more money”, my Chinese friend uttered.
There was no way this lad was scaling the inside of any railway carriage! So, we bought two bottom bed tickets.
Trains depart at any hour of day. Ours left at 4pm – a civilised hour and would arrive at 6pm the next day – if they ran on time. Inside our compartment were: six beds, a small (dirty) table, a very large thermos flask containing hot water, and attached to the ceiling, a small fan. We hadn’t rushed to board so when we found our beds the compartment already had four occupants, two of which had made themselves at home on our beds! I was not impressed. I checked our tickets then looked at my companion.
“Ask them to move, please,” I said somewhat tersely.
The look on my face made them move a little quicker than I think than they would have for my companion. The floors were unclean, but after rearranging the other passengers’ items already under our beds, I reluctantly slid our luggage underneath with some difficulty.
The train left on time (not a common occurrence) and we settled down on a rather narrow, uncomfortable bed about 6 feet long by 2 feet wide. I am 6 foot tall and big but I coped.
The lights were due to go out at 10pm so I considered it to be prudent to pay a visit to the facilities. I wish I hadn’t but I knew I needed to. Smelly, unclean, cramped and no toilet paper. Lovely - not! Enough said. When the lights went out the compartment was very dark. The only lighting came from a few small lights on the floor running the length of the corridor.
I was awake before 6am after a restless sleep, but at the hour the train burst into life with several purveyors of food pushing noisy metal trolleys down the corridor. The trolley paused near me. I scanned the items on plastic trays and knew there was nothing there that I could stomach. I shook my head somewhat disappointed.
All was going well until we passed the half-way point then the train stopped in the middle of the countryside. After 15 minutes it recommenced the journey but for the next few hours it repeated this delay several times.
During the day I was entertained by a steady stream of peddlers visiting me. Their wares included: children’s novelties, torches (a little late I thought), socks and books. I flicked through the books, all written in Mandarin, and handed them back. But the seller was most persistent so I bought an A5 sized atlas of China for a modest amount. My purchases also included torches and rather small socks!
Eventually we arrived in Yantai, tired and sticky, at 10pm; some four hours late and thirty hours after we had left Jinhua.
*If you want to read any more of JoeFunza's writings please go to this link:
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
The pictures in the glossy pamphlet of the Batam Island Holiday Resort looked inviting; beachfront position, swimming pool, tennis court, luxury air-conditioned twin share rooms, but we should have read between the words of the agent in the Singapore travel agency.
It was a short trip to Batam by ferry from Singapore, a tiny island of Indonesia just off the tip of Singapore and Malay Peninsula. The medium age of Batamese is 20 years old and the town of Batam is famed for its night-life of pubs, clubs and casinos. It was the latter where Shayne, a mate of mine, and I, were hoping to try our luck.
However, our resort wasn't in the town near the other hotels, it was right across the other side of the island through bush and off the sealed road and then off any road; through volcanic craters and boiling mud plains and the ruins of an ancient civilization; past several primitive tribes that had never seen white people before to a tiny clearing that had been hacked out of the bush where a hotel and a few bungalows sat - The Batam Island Holiday Resort. From the front, it looked just like it did in the glossy brochure.
A few local monkeys then came out to welcome us and look at the strange humans. They were cute and furry with white on the stomachs and light brown fur, but kept their distance from us. It was like being in some unexplored region of the Amazon. We checked in under the thatched roof. Whew! 40 something degrees Celsius. Every one of the staff had hand fans. That wasn't a good sign! Neither was the sign they brought out while we were still waiting to register.
"No Electric till 4 pm."
I looked at my Rolex copy-watch. It was 5:05 pm.
The bus that had deposited us there had already left again, so we had no choice. We had to register.
As we were taken through the resort we passed the pool, which had ropes across it, tied to chairs on either side. A sign hanging on the ropes said "Pool Closed - No Swimming", but I could see goldfish capering about quite audaciously in the invitingly cool clear waters.
The hotel porter finally wedged our door open to gain entry to our spacious twin share room. There was just enough room for two single beds squashed together in one room. The bigger room was the bathroom, which is where we had to put our luggage. Unless one of us wanted a shower when some of it had to go on the beds. The other room did have a wall air-conditioner too; accept, there was no electric yet.
Having "settled in", we went to look at the beach.
The beach! How I remember the first sight of those fabled shining oily shores. Directly opposite was Singapore. In between were about 60 huge oil tankers or cargo ships lined up and waiting to dock. Some of the crew on a big red rusting tanker waved cheerily to us. I started to wander down the beach towards the jungle but one of the hotel staff came over and grabbed me by the arm.
"Nono.Nononono!" he said, gesturing animatedly.
"Really?” I asked, letting him lead me back to the resort. "What's there?"
He looked around and then whispered to me.
"The monkeys!" he said, wide-eyed, and that was about the extent of his English. I couldn't get anything else out of him. I didn't know if they were aggressive or amorous, whether they might just take a little rabid chomp if I strayed into their domain or bands of killer monkeys hunted the forests for tourists to skin alive. Suddenly, in my mind the cute little fuzzy monkeys became horrifying mutant apes with vicious gnashing incisors!
So it was a hot and humid 40 degrees C; no air-conditioning or fans; couldn't swim in the pool because the goldfish were there; couldn't swim in the ocean for threat of being sucked into a propeller; couldn't leave the resort grounds because of the "monkeys", and no other transport available to get to Batam town. Stranded in the middle of nowhere, yet as night fell, I was certain I could still see the lights of our luxury Singapore hotel across the waters and bows of ships.
If you are interested in reading more of Guest Traveler Theodorusrex's work you can find them at theodorusrex
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Ethnic means (according to wikipedia) a group of human beings whose members identify with each other, usually on the basis of a presumed common genealogy or ancestry. Ethnic identity is also marked by the recognition from others of a group's distinctiveness and by common cultural, linguistic, religious, behavioral or biological traits.
So according to this definition- ALL people are part of SOME ethnic group- I went and looked up the word 'ethnic' on Dictionary.com and found this as part of the definition:
|1.||pertaining to or characteristic of a people, esp. a group (ethnic group) sharing a common and distinctive culture, religion, language, or the like.|
|2.||referring to the origin, classification, characteristics, etc., of such groups.|
Well...according to all those definitions- we are definitely all part of some ethnic group or another...so why is it people say "Let's go for some ethnic food"....wouldn't ALL food be ethnic- because no matter what it is- it came from one particular group of people.
I think we should ban the word ethnic! It is highly offensive to me-- since I seem to NOT be included in this classification system-- why? I'm not sure why-- coz I'm not 'Indian' or "Chinese" or "Italian"...yes I did find Italian under ethnic foods-- for the European, I only found Miscellanious European foods.
On the other hand, maybe I'm quite happy not to be referred to as "Ethnic" since the Merriam-Webster dictionary says one of the definitions is "Heathen"-- whoa-- "Who is up for some Heathen food tonight?" yep, I think it would go over really well, don't you?
I guess that is what a plate of bulgogi will do to you- make you contemplate the important things in life. On this line of thinking here is a quote by Max Weber: "the whole conception of ethnic groups is so complex and so vague that it might be good to abandon it altogether."
I think Mr. Weber might just have been eating a bit too much Heathen food- what do you think?
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Sean went to the Minami Yoichien in Urayasu. (the kindergarten) We weren't allowed to drive him there by car; all mothers were advised to either walk their children to school or take them on a bicycle. I found myself with a bicycle seat in front of me and another one behind me. Sean sat behind me while Katrina sat precariously in front of me. The bikes were parked one street away. Japanese mothers disembarked gracefully and extricated their children from the seats. It never ceased to amaze me how graceful and feminine the Japanese women were. I rode up on my bicycle with a stuttering stop. The bike invariably listed to one side as I attempted to get the children out of their seats before the bike fell. All the while, I tried to look graceful; of course, it was a lost cause.
On one of my more 'graceful' days, I was approached by several Japanese mothers. They asked if I would be willing to teach the English class at the Kominkan. I was already teaching English in Shibuya and the thought of teaching closer to home certainly held some appeal. sigh. If I only knew those women had no intention of learning English. This was their masterful scheme to have a 'girls day out.'
I tried. I used beautiful sign boards and clever English teaching techniques. I ordered no Japanese to be spoken in the classroom. My 'students' covered their mouths ever so politely with their hands and giggled with just the right tone. They ended the giggle with a gentle, "gomenasai" (sorry) I wondered what they were apologizing for. I guess they were apologizing for the false pretences of my employment. Not to worry, I soon joined in their little 'girls day out' and we found various locations other than the kominkan to 'learn english.' I thank my "Mothers' English Class" because they became my teachers. They taught me how to make tea just right. They instructed me on the correct napkins to use and the right kind of serving dish. They patiently worked with me until I understood the significance of making sure the child is sent to school with their pencils sharpened just so and their erasers intact with a cleverly packed obento. Yes, they taught me the ways of Japan.
Monday, July 7, 2008
The time was ripe for me to board an airplane with my two children and journey back to Singapore to wait for the birth of my third child. It was about 2 months from my delivery date so I knew there would be no problem traveling. The doctor gave me the green light. Unfortunately I think the baby thought the doctor gave the green light to come early...and early she came.
I was barely in Singapore for more than 2 weeks and Cassandra decided it was time to arrive. Thankfully Daniel arrived before she did and was able to rush me to the hospital. Emergency childbirths had become my specialty by then; however, this particular occasion was a bit more emergency than what we were used to. Not to worry- we both pulled through- and within six weeks we were back on an airplane heading for Japan.
When we returned to Japan we were greeted by hanabi - summer was on us. Where had the spring gone? Spring, summer, autumn and winter swirled by me. I grasped for the seasons but they slipped through my fingers. I caught wisps of them as I took the children on picnics; kneeled 'Japanese style' on my tatami mat drinking tea; bought fishes for the children at the festival down the street. Maybe if I knew how fast time would fly, I might have attempted to hang on to the wisps and preserve them...now I simply have the memories.
Saturday, July 5, 2008
1. A picture of Padma and myself in the middle of France
2. The car out in the middle of Turkey with a beautiful rainbow
3. The car up on hill overlooking the road the car just journeyed
4. The road stretching out ahead of the car
Friday, July 4, 2008
Last Saturday, I sat and watched my eldest son, Sean say, "I do" to his bride. He was saying "I do" to so many things: A life of sharing, a life of caring, and a life of togetherness. It was a day of celebration and indeed a day of cheer.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
"Can we go to Disneyland today?"
"Not today, we are busy" (roughly translated- "Not today, we have no money!")
There were times we did go and enjoy ourselves at Disneyland. Listening to the "It's a small world" song in Japanese. Walking through "Sleeping Beauty's" castle. It was fun seeing the park through the children's eyes.
Japan was more than just Disneyland. There were futons, tatami mats, sliding doors, sitting on the floor, and trains.
The trains took us wherever we wanted to go. When I took the train into Shibuya to teach English I traveled at peak traffic time. Human bodies crammed into each compartment. Amazingly everyone retained their personal space, even while they were being shoved up against each other. It was a Japanese art.
Longer trips required the bullet trains. A trip to Osaka was just as easily made as a trip across town. If we were going up to Lake Yamanaka-ko we would forfeit the train ride and just drive our car. If we decided we didn't want to travel far, we could go to any of the children's parks located near our home. Each park was given a nickname. The 'bicycle park' was a free park made to look like a mini road system. There were real traffic lights and stop signs scattered throughout the park. Bicycles of all sizes and shapes were available for anyone who wanted to 'drive' around the park. The 'ship park' was another free park which contained a large replica of a ship. The children enjoyed exploring every facet of the vessel. Hours were spent at the 'Big slide park,' where the children slid down a tall slide and ran through mazes.
Japan continued to politely house us. As always, she was on her best behavior showing us all the good she had to offer.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
I was Cio-Cio- san from "Madam Butterfly" for a forensics competition in Kuala Lumpur...back when I was a senior in High School. I won an award for my interpretive reading. I should have given Kayoko the award; she was my best friend. She was a Japanese and I 'stole' her accent for my reading. When I stood up on the ISKL stage reading my excerpt, I had no idea that Japan would one day become my home...at least for 7 years.
With Sean tagging along behind me and Katrina safely tucked in my arms, I followed Daniel to Urayasu, Japan. The home of Tokyo Disneyland. The place of small apartments. The kind of small which entails you to stand up so someone can squeeze by you to get into the restroom. You can't allow yourself to have claustrophobia otherwise you will never be able to use the toilet. The walls look like they are creeping in on you. Oh, but the ofuros make up for the small toilets. The lovely hot baths in the deep tubs. The water is so hot it makes your skin blush.
Japan is the land of seasons. Every year I went with the women to the park to watch the cherry blossoms come in. It didn't matter that we went the year before and sat in the same spot with the same little obentos. This was tradition. Every year there would be the time for fireworks. This was summer. Sometimes it was enough to just have the children walking around in their cute little kimonos with sparklers. It didn't matter that we did this last year and the year before; this was tradition. Every festival had its location and its tradition. I fell comfortably into these expected seasons and events.
Japan embraced my family. She welcomed us dutifully like a waiter in a Ramen Shop, "Irashaimasu." It didn't take us long to figure out we were there on her terms; afterall, she was Japan.
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