2003… A powerful earthquake struck southeastern Iran, killing over 43,000 people, injured 20,000, left 60,000 homeless and destroyed much of the historic city of Bam. The earthquake had a magnitude of 6.6. About 60 percent of the buildings in Bam were destroyed. The old quarter and a 2,000-year-old citadel (severely damaged by the earthquake) were built primarily of mud brick.
2004… A powerful earthquake struck in the Indian Ocean, killing over 230,000 in dozens of countries (400,000 dead or presumed dead), 144,000 injured, and 1,600,000 permanently or temporarily homeless. The earthquake had a magnitude of 9.3 and was followed by an 80‘ tall tsunami wave, which caused most of the distruction. I went to Banda Aceh, the hardest hit of all the countries impacted by the tsunami, and worked for a short time -- an experience I won't forget.
2006… A powerful earthquake stuck the southern Taiwan coast, killing 2 people, injuring 42 people, disrupting the power supply to 3,000 homes, and disrupting 98% of the internet in China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, and triggering a regional tsunami alert. The earthquake had a magnitude of 7.1 and was followed eight minutes later by an aftershock of 7.0.
OK, so this last week's earthquake wasn't as bad as the one two years ago or even the one in Iran. I find it odd, however, that all these earthquakes occurred on December 26. And, even if it isn't up to full speed yet, I am thankful that the internet is working in China once again!
I saw this meme on my friend Kim’s blog. Right now, it is still Christmas in America, and since I live in China, it is already Dec 26, Boxing Day. And I have nothing else planned for today, so…
Wrapping paper or gift bags? Usually what we use is wrapping paper from things that have come from other countries, so it is nearly always second-hand paper. But this year, I saw many gift bags – some were still second-hand, but then one clever person used a Starbucks sack as a Christmas gift bag – very, very clever (Starbucks in Beijing, there isn’t one where I live).
Real tree or artificial? Our only choice is artificial, unless someone uses a large houseplant. But living in the country where these are made for export around the world, sometimes we can find some really nice ones.
Eggnog, hot chocolate or apple cider? My preference is actually mulled wine! However, I do like hot chocolate, and eggnog, if the eggs are cooked (we can’t buy any apple cider, or cartons of eggnog).
Favorite gift as a child? I am not sure I remember any favorite gifts. But, my youngest sister and I have given slug jokes back and forth for nearly 20 years: once I received a 5-foot long slug, with smaller toys from previous years inside. I once gave her a photo album of her family – real faces of her family, on slug bodies. These photos were enlarged and laminated a few years later and turned into place mats for the table. The slugs have changed shape and form over the years, sometimes an expensive joke, sometimes really cheap, and always a lot of fun! I guess that is what you get from growing up in the Pacific Northwest.
Nativity Scene? I really like mine. Actually I have several of them, and they are very original. The one from Nepal is made from cornhusks. One from the east coast of China is hand-carved wood, and the features are very Asian. But my favorite one is my own ‘Asian Mix’ (top photo). Most of the characters are Kazakh, although there are Russians, Tibetan nomads, Chinese emperors, a Swedish girl, and a Nepali angel hovering overhead. It also has Uigher camels, Tibetan yaks, Mongolian sheep, and a Polish donkey. And, who is to say that the wise men didn’t bring their wives along??? These are just little people that I have collected along my travels in Asia, and gifts from other friends.
Hardest person to buy for? Usually my dad. He can buy whatever he wants or needs. Although, one year I bought him a Tibetan chuba. I altered it slightly it so as to make him a really warm, thick wool dressing gown.
Easiest person? My friends here in China, as I spend a lot of time with them. And my youngest sister. Slugs are always a good bet with her.
Mail or email Christmas cards? I usually email a letter, and sometimes send out real cards, but we don’t have them here so they must be hand made or bought somewhere else. Usually the timely greetings I get are all by email. But, I can’t believe how precious the snail mail cards are. Having that tactile card makes such a difference. I find myself touching them over and over. Email really takes out that tactile sensation, which is so important.
Worst gift received? I loved my grandmother dearly, but she had the worst taste in color. One time when I was 13 or 14 years old, she made me a maroon corduroy jumper with a V-neck. It had gold rick-rack trim. And a blouse to go with it, covered with red, blue, and green balloons of different sizes. I wrote her a thank you note, thanking her for the ‘colorful’ outfit. And promptly tossed it.
Favorite Christmas movie? “The Grinch” with Jim Carrey, no hesitation here! The cartoon of “Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (the one narrated by Boris Karloff), and “A Christmas Carol”, my favorite being the one with Alistair Sim as Scrooge.
When do you start shopping for Christmas? I keep an eye out all year long for interesting things. But my biggest problem with buying things too early is that I may put them in a cupboard and forget about them until after Christmas!
Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? All the time! One of our jokes here is giving ‘student gifts’ as white elephant gifts, or as 'house warming gifts' to new teachers!
Favorite thing to eat? Whatever people make. This year, the chocolate-coated peanut butter balls, and homemade almond roca were the biggest hits.
Clear or colored lights? On my tree, clear, non-blinking ones. In my window, colored lights. This year I found lights that did a variety of things. My favorite was solid, non-blinking, and fade-in, fade-out. Most of the blinking, schizoid, erratic ‘patterns’ I can do without.
Outside lights? None. One of the advantages of living in an apartment. I did, however, have the only window lights in my entire compound!
Favorite Christmas Song? Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel, Angles We Have Heard on High, and Little Drummer Boy. This year at our International School program, a group of Korean men sang their own arrangements of these last two -- truly the best I have ever heard. They continue to amaze me.
Travel or stay home? I usually have at least two parties at my home during the holiday season, sometimes more. On Christmas Eve and day, I celebrate with friends with families in their homes. And if I travel to America, I am always traveling. Not much of an option here.
Angel on top of tree or star? I have crocheted many, many angels and have given them all away as gifts. I keep seeing my angels on top of trees, so this year, I crocheted my own angel.
Favorite thing to do in celebration of Christmas? One tradition that we have had here is that on Christmas day, all the foreigners would go to the People’s Park and ice skate, or have races and contests with the boxes, which are on skate runners. Last year, the ice wasn’t solid enough, and so no one could ice skate, but three young local children fell through the ice and drowned. So this year, while cold enough, the city actually drained the lake so that there would be no more tragic accidents. I really loved this tradition and miss it greatly. One of the highlights, however, is the annual Christmas program put on by the International School. While I don’t have any children, many of these kids are like nieces and nephews to me, and I wouldn’t miss their performances for the world! And, another great tradition is that our team puts on a Christmas program for the Tibetan kids in our compound. This year had the biggest turnout ever, and the most fun. We even had a piñata that two of my teammates made!
Open presents Christmas Eve or Christmas morning? Always on Christmas morning. Though in the States, it is usually one gift on Christmas Eve (pj’s), and the rest in the morning with the entire family.
Favorite ornament theme or color? All of my ornaments have come from different parts of Asia, and most are little people from different countries. I love my ornaments!
Favorite Christmas Dinner? I really like Christmas brunch. And my favorite thing to make is Almond Danish Puff. I made it again this year, and it was probably my best one yet. Of course, I have to import the sliced almonds! And I know of a shop in Beijing that carries them. So I just have to make sure that I plan ahead each year.
What do you want for Christmas this year? I really want my closest friends to know the real reason behind this season! And, peace, joy, happiness, and good health for my friends and loved ones!
If you have made it this far, congratulations! Tag, you're it! (if you haven't already done this one, and if you don’t think it is too late). And everyone, have a wonderful holiday season!
Recently I made a trip to Kazakhstan to visit my former patient for her 18th Birthday. Shakidah had a severe curvature of her back and a large portion of my time working in Kaz was spent arranging for her to have surgery in America. During this recent trip, I was deported on my first attempt to enter the country. It was a difficult period, and three days later, I entered the country overland, on a 30-hour bus ride. One of the gifts that I gave Shaki was a ring that her grandmother had given me seven and a half years ago, on the day I moved from Kazakhstan into China. While the ring itself was not very valuable, I was reminded that the long journey was part of the gift.
There is a story about a foreign person who was working in Central Africa. This man had taught a group of native people about the Christmas story and about the wise men. He told them the story of how the wise men had travelled hundreds of miles on foot from ‘the east’ and how they had searched and walked for more than two years in their search for the baby Jesus. He told them about the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but he explained that the real gift was the walking for hundreds of miles for two years. One young boy heard the story. One day, this boy disappeared from his tribe and was gone for more than two weeks. He finally returned with a gift for the foreign man. His special gift was a beautiful shell. The man asked the boy where he found that shell. “I have never seen such a shell my whole life.” The boy replied, “I have walked to the Great Sea, and it is only in the Great Sea that this shell is found. Long walk part of the gift.”
Similarly, God took the long walk from the heavens down to earth, … and Mary and Joseph took the long walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem… and Jesus took the long walk from Jerusalem to the cross at Calvary… the long walk is part of the gift. The long walk is where you give of yourself to another person in love, for that is what happened when God gave himself in his Son, and that is what Christmas is all about. Have a wonderful Christmas and holiday season!
This past Sunday Scribbling's prompt was "Anticipation". If I hadn't been so selfish and so gosh darn cold, I should have written about the anticipation of my brother's child. Well, no more anticipation. Brady Lucas was born on Dec 20, weighing in at 9# 3 oz! A big boy, and the first boy born in our family in nearly 30 years! My brother is so proud!!! (as he well should be). And my sister-in-law is doing fine! Congratulations, bro, on the new addition to your family!
An addendum to my complaining about the cold: Today we lost electricity for about 9 hours, and it got real cold indoors. I lit 24 (yes, twenty-four) candles. It was gorgeous in my apartment! And made me forget how cold it was. When the electricity came back on, I turned off the lights, turned the heat on full blast, and sat by candle light... until I got the photos of my new nephew!
The temps these days are -17’C. to -2’C (2’ to 28’ F). And when the wind kicks in, it is even colder. The problem I face right now is that in my “new and modern” apartment with the new natural gas heating, the temperature inside my apartment ranges between 13’C. (55’F) and 15’C (59’F)! I don’t mind the cold OUTSIDE, but inside it is just too uncomfortably cold. While I love my new flannel-lined stretch jeans, one or two days with these temps is OK, but for any duration, it is no fun. I should be thankful that it isn’t freezing inside my apartment. One year, in an older style of building, I had an inch of ice inside the kitchen window! That was cold.
In a few short weeks, I will be headed to Thailand, for the annual snow-bird migration south. Right now in Thailand, the temps are 22’C. to 29’C. (72’F to 84’F). How do you pack for a temperature change like this? It is hard to imagine that it could possibly be warm enough to wear shorts, let alone a bathing suit! And how do you dress for the airport? Either way I look at it, I will be too hot or too cold. One year, I actually had a 35’C (95’F) temperature change in one day.
Regardless of the problems of how to pack and what to wear, I am eagerly anticipating getting warm.
Today was English Corner, and the foreigners put on a narrated Christmas play, which was kind of nice, because then we didn’t have to learn any lines. After the play, we were discussing holidays with our students, and I had a group of Intro students. These are the same students that I teach phonics to once a week, and two of them live in the same compound that I do.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get them to interact with the questions. They were simple questions, like, what is you favorite Tibetan or Chinese holiday? What do you eat during this holiday? How do you celebrate this holiday? What is your favorite American holiday? etc. I finally told the students that they could answer in Chinese or Tibetan, and I would help them learn a few English words. Still with no reply, I asked them, “When you were young, what kind of punishment did you get if you did something wrong?” The answer was that they were usually hit, or they would have to write something repeatedly. One young man said that his grandmother would make him write ten pages of his Chinese and Tibetan characters when he did something bad. So that is why his characters are so good! OK, at least now I am getting some responses. So then, “If you did something good, how were you rewarded?” Most said that they got some type of praise, and they all said that they got money for doing good things. And, they all were punished more often than rewarded. Then, it came out: they were afraid to give me an answer in English, because of being raised with so much punishment and not wanting to make a mistake. (Not punishment from me, probably more saving face with me). But I see language learning differently -- when learning another language, I see that making mistakes along the way is really how we learn (in fact, I do this all the time!) So, I told them the story of about Thomas Edison, and his use of positive rewards instead of criticism to train someone, which I had just read in Sheryl’s blog right before I went to English Corner, and I talked to them about how much better we can learn through success and compliments rather than by criticism. Then the discussion really got going. And I learned a lot about the students’ favorite holidays: Tibetan New Year (usually in January or February), and the Horse Festival in July. I learned about the celebrations, clothing, preparations, and foods associated with the festivals, etc. I didn't know that Tibetans always have to eat bread on Tibetan New Year because the Tibetan word for bread, balo, is similar to a word that means good fortune.
Then tonight we had a party with the same group of students (plus a few foreigners). We played two games, and totally had a blast. The students learned a few simple phrases, a few more nouns and verbs, and all in a fun atmosphere. People do learn from their mistakes, and they learn so much more in fun, positive surroundings than through criticism. It was rewarding for me to be with them tonight as we laughed and played silly games. If the students can make great gains by learning English in a positive environment, I can hardly wait to see the success these young folks will have outside the classroom!
Two weeks ago, I flew from Urumqi, Xinjiang, China to Almaty, Kazakhstan. The flight itself was totally uneventful. Then THE HOUR began… I took all my forms, letter of invitation, copies of passport, visa application, photos, and stood in line with four others, who also had all the same forms. Stamp, stamp, stamp, stamp, “Nyet! Deport!” The other four got their visa stamps, but I didn’t! I couldn’t believe this! So much planning and anticipation had gone into this trip. The purpose was to see my little patient, who was turning 18. Nearly nine years ago, I helped get her to America for surgery on her back. And this is how I was welcomed back to Kaz? “Nyet! Deport!!!” That is all the customs agent would say. I tried to explain to him why I was there. “Nyet! Deport!!!” He wouldn’t listen. No matter what I said or did, nothing worked, not even tears.
So I was escorted by the MILITARY out to the plane. The route was through the departure hall. I asked for my plane tickets. The military guy had to go and find my ticket. I asked about my suitcase. The military guy had to go and find someone to find my suitcase. I asked about my passport. The military guy had to go and find who still had my passport. As I was being escorted to the plane I had arrived on, tears were non-stop and very much overflowing, and I told them that I hadn’t even had a chance to tell my friends where I was. By this time, there are some Chinese people in the picture. They were very sensitive to my tears. One Chinese man working for the airline even gave me his cell phone. I couldn’t read the numbers through my tears, so he called my friends for me. This delayed the flight a bit (she writes with a smirk on her face). But then, they had to move the plane. Since I was now labeled a “criminal”, being deported I was put in a front seat, but not a First Class front seat. And a sky marshall was seated next to me. At least they spared me the handcuffs. I didn’t want to eat or drink on the flight, except for water – partly because of my tears, but also I didn’t want anything. The airline folks gave me customs forms to fill out, but wouldn’t give me my passport to do so. And, the forms were in Russian and Chinese – no English! The sky marshall was probably the rudest man I have ever met. And, he never even fastened his seat belt for takeoff or landing! When planes land in China, everyone always stands up before the plane comes to a complete stop. So I stood up with everyone else. The marshall glared at me and shouted at me to sit down! I asked him, “Wei shenme?” (why?) He told me again to sit down. In fact, three times he told me to sit down. Since I didn’t officially know who he was, I ignored him. Then the Chinese military showed up and escorted me off the plane first. When I got inside the terminal, another Chinese military man took over. He was sooooo nice. He gave me a form to fill out, and when I told him I didn’t know my visa or passport number, he read them to me. And the form was only in Chinese and Russian, so he went and found me one that was in English. But wouldn’t give me my passport. I didn’t actually get my passport back until after I had cleared customs and was stamped back into the country!
This HOUR was seemingly days long, though in actuality was less than two hours total. Two days later, I crossed the border on a 30-hour sleeper bus ride, with no problems at customs. I arrived with one hour left of my little patient’s Birthday. I told her that she should never doubt that she is well-loved – look how hard I worked to try and see her. And only one hour left of the American holiday of Thanksgiving. On the bus, I had the opportunity to reflect on the different things I was thankful for, and indeed, I was very thankful for finally gaining access to the country where I once worked.
Why was I deported? At first, the best I could imagine was that I was the only American trying to get my visa at the Almaty airport. This was very plausible. Americans aren’t liked throughout the world. I found out later that my host family actually talked with the man who had made the final decision to deport me. At first he said it was a “law”. When asked about which law in particular, he said it was a “rule”. When questioned about this, he said it came down to an arbitrary decision. There had been many foreigners crossing the border back and forth earlier in the month, and he wanted to stop the border crossings. And, I was American. My hour, my nightmare, was his control issue. The story isn’t finished, as the head of my host family works for a local, and highly respected, law firm…