Friday, May 16, 2014

To Call Nashville Home Again

It's a gorgeous Friday evening. I'm listening to the crickets and birds sing their evening song, inhaling the sweet honeysuckle that has overtaken a portion of my Mom's porch here in Georgia. It's one of those nights that I wish I could bottle up and give back to my heart on a dreary day. Pure southern perfection, honey.

I've started mentally preparing myself for what happens in the next 4 days. Just four days and our world shifts. And I count in my, two, three, four. That's it. I consider the dates too...16th, 17th, 18th, 19th.

It's time.

Nate and I will begin a new season in four days. A new adventure. A chance to 'begin again.' A slow walk of unknowns.

It's time.

We will drive 10 hours northwest and begin life (again) in Nashville. It's been a whirlwind the past couple of years and neither of us knew when/if we'd ever return to Nashville. We love that city and the people there so much, but God had to kick us out of life in the comfortable United States to teach us a few things. Guess we were 'dumb & dumber' in a way - too stubborn to learn some of the things He was trying to teach us while we lived in our insanely busy, rather comfortable way of American living.

It was time for a change.

I could just blubber myself to an ugly mascara cry if I paused long enough to reflect upon all the things the Lord did for us during our time away. Our move to China was indescribably hard for me. When we knew it was time to leave, our move back to the states was indescribably hard for me in other ways.

It was time for a change though - again...

I consider our remaining suitcases. I think I can make the belongings we've lived out of for the past three months fit into the shells that remain. The rest of our items we had shipped from Beijing three months ago and they sit in a warehouse in Nashville. I cannot wait to open them. I think it'll feel like Christmas when I see their contents again.

What does this time in Nashville hold for us?

We have a lovely little rental home waiting on our feet to walk its floors. Hudson has a large back yard to enjoy. I see him in my mind, pacing through it, nose in the air, tail wagging, squirrels running as he chases after them. There's a guest bedroom where I hope friends and loved ones come to stay. There's an office that will undoubtedly see late nights of coffee and chocolate binges; my own four walls for research, class work and writing when I'm not doing the coffee-shop-shuffle.

What will we do with our time? With this new beginning?

I'm not entirely sure. For now,  I'll continue the research, the class work and the writing. Job offers have come and they sit in the air of my mind: I'm not sure what my next step is. Nate will continue being a producer and dreamer, taking risks on those dreams to bring life to people.

We'll sit at our favorite coffee shops, juice joints and brunch spots. I'll walk Radnor Lake with girlfriends, thankful that the deer who stand feet away from us there don't tell on us and judge us for  our raw, vulnerable conversations.

And I can't wait. And yet in this time away, I realize more than ever, how much I needed to wait. That a time of waiting is a gift. That a time of waiting is perhaps exactly what we need. That a time of waiting does not always mean inactivity, but preparation for the next thing.

Four more days.

And we will call Nashville 'home.'

Friday, September 13, 2013

Meet and Greet: Sorrow & Joy

The sun’s heat pressed in closer on my skin. My feet found their rhythm and pounded the pavement. My thoughts raced faster than my running pace and I took in the morning’s surroundings. The ocean glimmered, reflecting the same summer sun that pressed in on me, my skin glimmering too. The birds squawked, trilled and chattered, signaling the new day. A fish jumped and I turned in time to see the rippling effect of its presence on the ocean waves.

It was stunning, a beautiful morning.

In my mind, I could hear the praise. The songs of the birds, the lapping of the ocean waves and the splash of the fish joined in the unending cry of ‘Holy Holy Holy’ in ways that only they could.

And I joined in the speech too. That speech that pours forth, day by day, declaring His glory (Ps. 19). I whispered His Name quietly under my breath. I spoke it over my wounded heart and up to the Heavens.

Out of sorrow, I could participate in the holy. Beautiful creation amid my journey of pain. Marvelous glory surrounding my run this morning.

I wasn’t entirely surprised by this wound, but it was raw nonetheless. I felt it deeply. It hurts more than the mile I’ve made it to.

We've met before. Sorrow that is...

But “in this life, we will have trouble” won’t we? And we should not be “surprised at the fiery trail” that has come our way. And sin is arrogant isn’t it? (Ps. 19) It deceives, blinds, destroys and separates. And we feel the weight of hurt and suffering as we groan for something greater (Romans 8).

And yet joy is ours (John 15:11). And we can live compelled by love, not a toxic dose of fear (2 Cor. 5:14). We can dare to hope again (Ps. 25).

We experience them both. And some days, in our prideful sense of entitlement, we act surprised by the sorrow that comes our way.

Sorrow and joy.

Sometimes they seem to go hand-in-hand. Joy can be experienced alongside of, in the midst of, and sometimes, dare I say it, even because of sorrow. Its presence is a reminder that we are fragile beings in desperate need of rescue and redemption in a broken world.

I see the two actors play in my life, tension over which character wins the applause before the curtain falls on my day.
Like the day I listened to a loved one share his dreams that had become reality. And a phone call later, I listened to another loved one share her dreams that had shattered, hopes vanquished in despair. Sorrow and joy.

Like a couple of weeks ago when my sister and I played like children outside, laughing until it hurt. And it felt good. And we meant it. And I didn’t want the moment to end. And right smack in the middle of that warm summer evening, text messages appeared from several loved ones, the jarring reminder of pending divorces and addictions. And I clutched a hand over my stomach to make the pit in it go away. And I cried.  Sorrow and joy.

I see it in your life too.

A dance of heights and depths, lows and highs, feet stepping, twirling, stumbling. Grace your partner.

Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.

This is what I’m thinking about as I continue running, my legs feel heavier, and the beauty of creation still there. Like boomerangs circling my heart, joy and sorrow are inevitably coming my way. They are mere shadows of the One I see in my mind:

“For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross.”

The most scared juxtaposition of sorrow and joy there could ever be. A holy cry of grief set in a context of finalizing triumph.

Glory in the Highest, spirit submitted to the lowest of lows, unspeakable suffering, joy still before Him.

And He dwells in you. And He dwells in me.

And a nail-pierced side of sorrow brings surprise and delight to a doubting man. And a nail-pierced hand upholds and saves. And the scars of sorrow mark the deliverance brought to all mankind.

Deliverance from sin and ourselves, yet sorrow and disappointment and loss still live on. There are still scars. But there is also joy. Right there in front of you and me. And there are promises awaiting fulfillment. And there are tears to be bottled up and songs of praise to be uttered from dry lips, needing to taste the Name that is sweeter than honey.

Sorrow is not exclusive of the practice of joy. Instead, our days are mingled with both. So press forward. And remember that the One who endured the greatest suffering for the joy set before Him is the One who is before you too. 

Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Little Match of Chicken

I pedal faster, eyes fastened on the driver who is playing chicken with me on my ride home. I have the ‘right away’ according to the pedestrian walk light on the corner, yet the local driver dares to pull his car out in front of me. He doesn’t care who he cuts off and Beijing road lawlessness sees fit to his driving manner.

I’m inches from his front bumper and stare boldly towards his mirror as I come around the center of his polished vehicle. I’m not letting him usurp me. Pedals pumping, I continue onward and make him stop.

Winner of the chicken match. That’s me. I grin a bit, catching my breath, proud that I didn’t succumb in the battle. And I realize in that moment that something is different.

Maybe it’s that Nate and I ride our bikes everywhere now. No. That’s not it.

Maybe it’s that I fought that game of chicken today without my helmet on. (I promise I typically wear it). Nope. That’s not it either.

Oh…(pause). It hits me as sudden as I could have slammed in to that car.

I know what’s different.

It’s not the streets of Beijing. It’s not our mode of transportation. It’s not the lower level of pollution that graced us with its presence today.

It’s me.

I’m different.

I’ve changed.

Five months of living overseas have molded me. And after pondering this new reality, I realized a verity of equal weight - I’m not sure I’ll ever be the same again.

Sure, I’m still me. But there are people, sights and experiences I’ve waltzed by, tip-toed through, and been graced by in these past few months that have shifted things inside of me. If I’m living with eyes wide open and a heart open to the unfamiliar, then I don’t know how I could have avoided the word that feels so unsafe to me -- change.

With the acknowledgement that I have been marked by change, something else that day made me feel lonely. You, my family and friends, don’t know the new me. And that’s not wrong or bad. It’s no one’s fault. It’s just a jarring reality that I am no longer merely separated by 6,500 miles. I am separated by a way of life, one not superior, but just different.

Sure. I still send my sister videos of the hysterical moments of my week. Or I’ll tell a friend about my latest ‘China moment.’ (A ‘China moment’ is an event that shocks the American culture right out of you and must result in unspeakable frustration, momentary disdain or stress regarding a certain aspect of China norms). And yes, I try to capture the beauty of the city within the borders of a photo so that you too can see what I behold.

But these things fall so short.

I’ve motor biked through the streets of Vietnam where Agent Orange still mars individuals in the population. And my heart ached with pain.

I’ve shared frequent meals with Germans, South Koreans, New Zealanders and Austrians and listened to their stories. We’re all unified by an unspoken ‘outsider’ status in Beijing and our lives sway to a dance of both fear and triumph.

I’ve walked the grounds of the Forbidden City, built in 1420 and home to 24 emperors, in awe of its grandness and architectural beauty. And then I’ve walked in the opposing direction towards the grounds of Tiananmen Square where statues and structures represent a polar opposite take on the dynastic period of China. Its very existence stands as a loud juxtaposition against the emperors’ rule – that it was not one of beauty and grandness, but of dislike and captivity.

I’ve sat near Pakistanian refugees and heard their stories with such a lump in my throat that I dared not blink for the longest time because I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop crying if I started.

The people have changed me. Their eyes have beckoned me to see things in a different light.

I’ve played a game of chicken with my successes and goals as well. Things I would have considered puny or ridiculous in the past are now my worthy victories: like when I can order my own food, or when I manage to get myself from point A to point B, or when I get flowers at a great price after a lot of (expected) arguing.

I feel like a strange unrelatable girl to friends back home. My inside-jokes stopped with you around January 2013; that makes me sad. I don’t have a clue about the latest popular television dramas. I keep seeing ‘Chevron’ as one of the latest fashion trends but it holds zero weight here in the land of shiny + animal print + baggy britches. It’d be outright embarrassing at times to tell y’all the highlights of my day while you are busy closing deals, paying off your car loans, teaching your baby sign language and making new recipes.  

Even my worries are redefined, completely alien to my life back home. I deal with things like foregoing consumption of chicken for extended months to avoid bird flu. I worry about my dog eating grass as a nutritious pick-me-up because there’s no regulations on the insecticide they spray in the spring; I’ve had friends of friends lose their dogs as a result. I deal with the inconvenience of not getting to open my windows for fresh air or take a revitalizing jog outside when the days of high pollution hover over the city like a cage. I find new heart-rewarding friendships and find out weeks or two months later that they are moving; Beijing is an extremely transitory city. There is a constant reminder to engage in all things life here at the venture of it going away at any point.

Thus the city has changed me. Its culture has demanded me to redefine my standards, expectations, risks and items of gratitude.

So I’m different. And most of me is so grateful for the change because I needed it. I needed to learn to risk and see the world outside of my safe, comfortable, beloved Nashville bubble. I needed to see God operate in this world, His kingdom work expanding far greater than one I had limited Him to on my prayer list back home. I needed to be asked questions I didn’t know the answers to. And in these things, change has been so good. 

The part that causes the ache is the increased gap of separation I feel from you, which is partially why I write. Because you are so dear to me. Because I think about you often. Because I still love jeans and wear my hair in a messy bun on the top of my head and I want to make sure you know that.

It’s just that these days, my messy bunhead bobbles a bit from the pace I keep on my bike, playing chicken with local Beijing drivers. 

It’s been my honor Beijing. Thank you for the constant chicken matches that force me to change.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mother's Day and a Bouquet of Buttercup Flowers

In less than a day, America will celebrate a national holiday instituted over 100 years ago. Cards will be purchased in a last minute frenzy. Others will be crafted by tiny hands that end up covered in glue stick stains.

I support Mother's Day. Moms deserve a heap of praise and gratitude. I have certainly fallen short in expressing such to my Mom over the years. I'm the first to buy in to the commercialization of the day with no regrets and a wish that I could lavish so much more than I do.

But this week, the impending holiday has weighed heavy on my heart. For every joyful mother-child relationship to be celebrated, I have seen equally, if not more, ones full of havoc. As I've reflected on the latter instances, I've felt an urge to put a temporary bandaid over those relational wounds. I envisioned brightening their day with a stunning bouquet of lily's and hydrangeas. Because surely that would make it all better. But in reality, when I really considered the dynamics, I saw instead a buttercup  flower bouquet. A puny fist full of mere weeds whose weak stems droop in m
y hand as I imaginatively gathered them together in my attempt to solace.

This Mother's Day my heart goes towards those whose folded hands hold a fictitious bouquet of vibrant yellow weeds denoting a strained, broken or perhaps just a less than beautiful mother-child relationship. In the midst of upcoming social media that highlights the joy of the weekend, my heart looks at the ones who will likely remain quiet.

Maybe it's you.

Via text, a new friend shares with me words that have not audibly left her lips since she's been in Beijing. Her young sister passed away a few months ago. Her sister's birthday is the day before Mother's Day. She doesn't know what to say to her Mom, a Mom who has faced what no Mother should have to face. Broken buttercup.

Another friend stands up in church while tears wash silently down her cheeks. In a whisper, she barely manages to share that she just had her fourth miscarriage. There's a newborn near us that lets out a soft whimper as she shares and my insides tumble. A blatant reminder of the injustice for a woman who would give anything to be a Mom. Heavy-laden buttercup.

To the one wounded so deeply in the mother-child relationship that communication has been nonexistent for years. Toxic habits and devastating words have left too many wounds. She's still healing. Trampled buttercup.

To the Mom whose child wanders along on their own destructive path, a path opposed to the ways of God. For years, that Mom has bowed knees to the earth over that child and the life he or she will live. But now, the piece of her heart that walks outside her body in that youngin' is headed in a direction opposite goodness and mercy. The decisions break her heart. Shattered buttercup.

To the Mom whose child has been wayward or self-absorbed for so long that the holiday is one of anticipation. Fearful to hope for a gift because what if one isn't given. Preoccupied with whether a phone call from said child will come. She wonders if it is her fault, re-playing scripts from times past, punishing herself for what is not. But it's not her fault. Spiritless buttercup.

To the daughter and mother who are spending their Mother's Day apart. Maybe plane tickets were just too expensive. Or a job commitment prevailed. Or sickness has claimed the freedom and ease of being together. Single buttercup.

For those whose mother-child relationship will resemble a more elegant bouquet this weekend, let there be sincere rejoicing. Laugh, honor, and delight in one another. Bless one another. Have fun and soak it all in. You absolutely should.

But perhaps, in the midst of lunch dates and coffee chats, you can keep an eye open for the less lovely bouquet that may be planted down the road from you.

To you dear buttercup, my heart is so tender this weekend. To you, the Son has come to bind up your wounds. Your hope is in Him and it shall not prove vain. Your wait is in Him and you shall not be ashamed (Psalm 25:3). Rise up mother. Rise up daughter. For you belong to the Kingdom of God.

"Though my mother and my father have forsaken me, the Lord will receive me." Psalm 27:10

"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us..." Ephesians 3:20

"Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll -- are they not in your record?" Psalm 56:8

"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." James 1:5

"Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him." Psalm 62:5

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Heart of a pilgrim

Last weekend, Nate and I took a brief trip to Hong Kong. We left our goose down jackets and face masks at home and boarded the plan for a three hour trip south. Upon landing, we practically skipped through the airport to beat the masses at customs. Thirty minutes later, I found myself in a taxi that drove on the opposite side of the road thanks to Hong Kong's 150 years of former rule as a British colony.

I traded in our Chinese money for the Hong Kong dollar and considered it a joy to work with multiples of seven instead of six in terms of converting against the US dollar.

Beautiful park 
For those of you who haven't been to Hong Kong, I regard it as a union of LA and NYC, condensed. Skyscrapers abound to such an extent, that if you are down below in the concrete jungle, it is hard to find that blue sky. Individuals in Beijing lack the practice of personal space, but in Hong Kong, it is not even an option. The island demands to be walked if you want to capture the alleyway boutiques, captivating art galleries and incredible food. The city is a winding maze of steep hills, street-side fruit markets, and inundated with a lively young professionals scene. Grab some fish balls on a stick, stinky tufu or pineapple buns and go explore. We opted for crepes, tacos and roasted chicken instead.

Street in the Soho district

Our final evening there, as weariness from the day's worth of stair climbing walking through the city beckoned me to sleep, tears began to quietly fall to my pillow. My silence clued my man that something was wrong.

I was smack in the middle of a mini-vacation, but for the first real time, I was homesick. And my heart ached.

Perhaps it was that I experienced yet another cultural shift. I'd just become used to the Chinese yuan and now I was handling another currency. Perhaps it was that I'd just wrapped my mind around some Mandarin sentences and now I was hearing Cantonese on top of Mandarin. Perhaps it was that I was becoming accustomed to being rejected by taxi drivers in Beijing while here in Hong Kong they drove on the 'wrong' side of the road.

It was a lot of change all at once. Again.

And it made me want the West. I wanted to be understood. I wanted to have knowledge that a restroom (with an actual toilet even) would be in proximity. I wanted to go to dinner with our friends back home. I wanted to sit across the table from one of those rare girlfriends where knowing the other is a mutually shared privilege. I wanted salsa, not diced tomatoes.

Love this door. And that man.
I wanted home.

On that day, the East reminded me with an intense emotional gravity that I was not at home. I was here, not there. 

When we landed back in Beijing, a heavy blanket of smog greeted us on the tarmac. As I took a deep breathe still inside the airplane, deciding recycled germ-filled cabin air would be better than what I was about to walk into outside, the truthfulness of it all soaked in my bones.

Ever so tenderly in my spirit, I was reminded that I am not at home. That the West nor the East will every truly satisfy my longing for dwelling.

Because I'm made for something more. And so are you.

That you too look forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God, whether you are cognizant of it or not. A residency of perfection, where you are fully known and community flourishes, held together by the Godhead. A place where the unknown becomes known and the shadows become breathtaking light. Pain is gone: decay, death, loss, and tears are no more.

I could not keep from staring at these roots

You've searched for home too. Amid the joyous moments and comforting belly laughs of friendship, you've wondered. Settled in to routine and content in your season, your spirit has whispered quietly to your soul. Right there in your apartment. Right there in your beloved house of 20 years. You've observed the surrounding hurt and pain against the backdrop of a ticking clock and somewhere, deep down, you ache for something more. Something greater.

As you should. Because you aren't meant to feel too comfortable here. This Earth and its beings aren't meant to go on and on, void of imperfection or difficulty. It's meant to remind you that you're a pilgrim here. It's meant to be so blatantly obvious that this is temporary. It's meant to admonish us for emotionally responding as if this is it.

We're pilgrims here, feet called to walk the soil of this Earth, but hearts bent towards something upward. That innate longing is a beautiful propensity to discover the God who does not change, the One whose kingdom is in heaven.

Our very existence here points to our having purpose on this Earth and plans for His glory. I sure don't want to miss that. Our time here is of paramount significance and weight.

But in the meantime, on those days where I'm tired of fumbling with my chopsticks or fail grotesquely in my Mandarin pronunciation, I'll recall, unspeakably grateful, that a better country awaits (Hebrews 11:16).

Thank you Hong Kong for the reminder that I am but a pilgrim...
PS - In case you were wondering, I am no longer aching for the West...

A few more pictures from the trip:

You have to get used to this sight. Or run from them like I do.

My man at Victoria Harbor.
Brief pause b/c of steep hill for photo opp
Arches. Can we please incorporate them more into American architecture?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Similar and Dissimilar: Life in Beijing

Six weeks. 

Through days of inadequate sleep and conversations based on my use of charades, I've blinked and six weeks have passed by. 

Six weeks. 

It's hard to believe. My mind feels like a library bursting at the shelves with unorganized facts, cultural tidbits and some basic Mandarin. I cannot presently synthesize all of it and I am reminded of my uniqueness here. My newness. My 'whiteness' in this city called Beijing.

The city is both similar and dissimilar to the ways of life back home. Altering my presuppositions, some of the things I imagined unattainable or hard to come by are within easy reach or the everyday norms of my days. 

For instance, we have met two American couples that live in our complex. We take our dogs on play dates at least once a week and bond over the ease of English conversation and understanding of the unspoken. There is also a grocery market that I walk to which carries Western products. I have nearly all the ingredients I need for a lasagna for instance, though I cannot seem to find ricotta cheese for the life of me. And to transform a common misconception, there are so many non-Asian restaurants here, I could eat at a different one every week for a year and still not come close to repeating one. Similar to life in the states, shopping options abound, coffee shops and Starbucks are nearby for comfort, and we seem to have found a beautiful church home. 

If I close my eyes for just a moment, I believe that life here isn't too different. Maybe just a little different. And then the naive equation of two entirely unique countries flees as quick as the crazy drivers here. 

Because there are moments and experiences that are entirely foreign to my Georgia, Massachusetts, and Tennessee ways of life. I've lived in small towns, on the beach and in two major cities. None of them parallel life here, where cultural differences strike upon me like a Chinese tanggu drum.

These paramount difference I love, abhor or have not reached a conclusion for yet. Some differences are of minute size while others impact every single one of my days. 

Who likes lists? In this season of my life where the learning curve remains steep, I cling to them like a bff. So here is a list of what is different for me with life in Beijing: 

  • I no longer drive a car. I miss the freedom that those times provided. Instead, we have a 'driver.' His name is Mr. Lian. I love his smile. I also love that I have no idea what he is saying to me and vice-versa, yet we have entire conversations as if the other fully comprehended. It is quite entertaining. He gives me a big nod and smile when I speak my newest Mandarin word of the day. I'm pretty sure I'm slaughtering its pronunciation, but he makes me feel good for trying. 
  • How do I say this one without grossing you out? I'm not really sure that it can be done. To be blunt, people spit all the time. Everywhere and anywhere. And they are very engaged and work hard at their spitting. And while I'm on it, don't be surprised to see parents holding their toddler up in their arms for a public restroom moment. 
  • I no longer work an 8 am to 6+ pm gig anymore in corporate America. I work from home on a project basis for several different people and companies. And I love it. The hours are flexible as long as deadlines are met. And let's be honest. I can work in my sweats with no makeup and do what I love. Win, win and win.
  • I am frequently stared at by locals. Nate too. There is certainly a prevalent expat community here, but I suppose the ratio isn't enough to spread us around. We're foreigners. We're different. And I can't go out without being unapologetically looked upon. I've heard you get used to it. But I still get the heebie jeebies. 
  • I take two gym classes that are led strictly in Mandarin. Y'all should see me trying to keep up with the Pilates class, straining my neck to look at the instructor in order to follow. 
  • Have I mentioned I witnessed an all-women's sword fighting class at the gym? I so desperately wanted to go join them. I held myself back because y'all know a Southern girl with a sword who doesn't understand Mandarin would surely end up going the wrong way at some point. And well...that would be bad. 
  • We get two English channels on our tv. T-w-o.
  • I blame their pictographic and ideographic-based language, but the Chinese here do not seem to bond with linear thinking or movement. They don't know what personal space is. They don't stand well in lines. They don't mind stopping smack dab in the middle of their walking, totally unaware that you may be behind them. You are pushed over with no apology. It is their norm. And it's okay to get used to that. 
  • Golf and karoake are big here. 
  • My number of spoken languages pales in comparison to those here. Most all of the educated Chinese I come across are fluent in a minimum of three languages. That's fine: I speak Southern, ten minutes of Spanish, read a couple of other languages and know about 15 words in Mandarin. I'm totally on par right? (Not)
  • Taxi drivers, which we depend upon two days a week, could care less about driving you anywhere. I've learned to go ahead and get in their car before they have a chance to tell me no. 
  • You can have restaurant food and your groceries delivered. It is the oddest thing.

So life is different half way across the world. Its moments of beauty are captivating, while its context for humility and feelings of insecurity demand to be embraced, accepted and appreciated.  They must be to survive abundantly and joyfully. So I am here, with my man, called by our God for this present season to life in Beijing. And despite the chopstick mishaps, peking duck overload and smog, I wouldn't trade it.

Monday, January 28, 2013

What was once routine, I now find novel

Nín hǎo

Is ‘hello’ in Mandarin. It’s one of the four words I know thus far. Where I come from, you smile, make eye contact and say hello to most everyone you meet. It’s what we Southerners do. Do Beijingers do the same?

I’m not sure. So for now, I walk in my ways and say Nín hǎo to most anyone who 
will look my way. I’m Southern, in need of friends and hold tight to one of the four words I know.

I have been in Beijing for only a week and can already see the propensity for being lost in translation, both in language and culture.

This week, Spanish came readily to mind as I tried to talk to Beijingers. As if that would help.

I tried to read Hebrew characters in the Mandarin characters. 

Presumptuously, I tried a few introductory English remarks to a couple of individuals I came across. Nope. One was German and another was French.

If anything, this new beginning is a season of learning and adventure. It is strange, fresh and exciting. Not a day goes by where I do not experience being utterly helpless or inept for a task, even those which were most commonplace in my life in the states. 

Like, doing the laundry. Because who can tell me which of these buttons means wash, dry, delicates, start, hot or cold? Do not fear about the Griffins having an unkempt look though; I simply make some best guesses and wait to make sure the machine turns on. Did I mention I can only fit about 10 pieces of clothing in it per load? 

Or like going to the grocery store. Because I now walk to mine, which means I budget meals for two to three days rather than a week as I did back in the states. This is because sister can only carry two to three days worth of grocery bags back to her condo. And it took me 10 minutes to decide what kind of boxed milk to purchase. And then I paid for my new groceries in the currency that I still cannot convert easily in my head. This inability to quickly convert yuan to USD nearly took my breath away when I saw my bill of hundreds of yuan ring up on the register. Oh wait, that’s 80 USD. Okay. Color seeps back to face.

And then there was that time we went out to dinner. One of Nate’s business partners graciously took us out and treated me to my first authentic Chinese dinner. Nate and I were the only two Americans in a restaurant of over a hundred people (Standout moment one). The setting was beautiful and I regret that I did not snap a picture of it. It buzzed with energy, both in conversation and the constant clink of chopsticks against beautiful ornate bowls of all sizes. Paul, Nate’s business partner, did the ordering. I kindly requested a Sprite in advance of the meal to settle my stomach from the unique smells around me. (Standout moment two because here you are served no beverage, hot water or hot tea).

Do you see how many bowls of food ended up on our table? It started with pig feet, the “appetizer” came out as the 3rd dish, followed briefly by the “dessert” and then the rest of the dishes came. Here, they bring out whatever is ready first. Works for me; I’ve always loved my sweets. Oh, except this sweet was a bean-based broth. Score. I love beans too. That’s fine.

I had a noodle-based soup that was warm to my soul. And a turnip dish that actually made me feel like I was down in Georgia eating some splendid greens. Only they weren’t green. And I didn’t hear “darling” anywhere near me.

My first week in Beijing has passed. I still deal with jet lag each day. I’ve started experiencing culture shock. I’ve started taking baby steps to explore the city. Like the time we went to Walmart and I saw the dried fish, eel and chicken feet on display. Or the other time that I got an amazing 1.5 hour massage for 10% of what it would have cost in the states. I believe Beijing will be a wonderful blend of challenge and beauty. Of pollution and beloved days of sunshine. Of simplicity and complexity.

Until next time, I’ll be working on unpacking our house and making it a home.