Chinese immigrants vs. Laowai expats

I always try to imagine parallels and differences between Chinese immigrants raising their kids in North America and us raising a family China. Our first child is due in the middle of Julywas born seven weeks early, and if all goes well we’ll move back to China in September (our families would never have forgiven us if we’d had our child on another continent!), so when I spend time with Chinese friends on this side of the Pacific it often makes me imagine what it will be like for our daughter (and her future siblings) in China. Even though Chinese immigrants and 老外 expats both live in a country and culture not their own, I wonder if their experiences are more different than they are similar.

For example, I recently stayed three nights with a Chinese family in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for the second time. The parents came to the U.S. as adults when their now teenage son was two. They have two other especially cute kids: a six-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter.

Within the local Chinese circles that this family runs in, the general level of English is better than most other Chinese I know — actually, some of them have better English than a lot of Americans (especially in Louisiana)! However their strengths are reading and writing (lots of advanced degree holders from LSU), and when talking they’re still more comfortable in Chinese, which was great for me.

Although all three of their kids understand Chinese, the youngest two will only respond in English. I don’t know if they can’t or just won’t speak Chinese. When the four-year-old speaks, you can hear a southern U.S. drawl in her vowels, especially when she’s disappointed: “Aw may-an!”

It’s such a common situation for Chinese immigrant families. It seemed the parents of the Chinese kids at the local Saturday Mandarin school in south Baton Rouge were all struggling to not let their kids lose their family’s language.

This probably won’t be our problem in China. While Chinese immigrant families to North America often struggle unsuccessfully to raise kids who retain their family’s culture and language of origin, North American 外国人 in China (few if any truly immigrate to China) have the opposite problem: getting so thoroughly sucked into the foreigner subculture in their jobs and social lives that they abdicate the opportunity to pick up serious levels of Chinese. Their kids grow up in the international school system or home school, if they even stay in China long enough to grow up. I’ve only heard of a North American kid losing their English once, and that was in a book where the kid’s parents had moved to China in the 50′s to join the Revolution.

In Tianjin there were tons of foreigner kids (most?) who couldn’t speak Chinese; they spend their whole China experience inside the foreign bubble. Chinese immigrant kids, by contrast, typically go through the American school system. The only foreign kids I met in Tianjin that could speak Chinese (and they spoke fantastic Chinese) were the exceptions; their parents had gone out of their way to put them through Chinese kindergartens and some primary school, rather than start them in international schools or home schooling like most foreigner families.

Still, it’s a scary thing to imagine — your kids not being fluent in your own language, not being able to communicate smoothly with you or your parents or your siblings or your nephew and nieces! That must be just a brutal experience for immigrant families in Vancouver and the grandparents who can’t talk with with their grandkids.

It’s official – we’re delayed one year

postofficialdelayed01 Its official   were delayed one yearWe finally made some decisions. Here they are:

- We have moved our leaving-for-China target date from February 2006 to February 2007, because we’ll need an extra year of school.

postofficialdelayed02 Its official   were delayed one year – We’ve applied to a school in Southern California. It will take us year to complete the remaining Intercultural Studies and International Development courses. We’re actually pretty excited about getting into their particular program for a lot of reasons – one being that for much of their offerings they use a “block” model of graduate education rather than the standard 3-credit lecture format. They’ve done this for 5 years and love it.

postofficialdelayed03 Its official   were delayed one year- We’re leaving Baton Rouge, Louisiana for Surrey, British Columbia, Canada on November 17. It’s about 45 hours of driving time, but we’re hoping to drop in on some conveniently-located friends in Colorado and Montana. We’ve gotta get there in time for Julia’s starring role in Fiddler on the Roof!

Also, we’ve e-mailed out our first progress report. If you didn’t get one and want one, just let us know.

Off to California

We fly out at 5am tomorrow morning for California to attend a couple of Chinese educational opportunities. We’ll be gone for a week before returning to Baton Rouge. By then, the shelter will probably be emptied and closed and we’ll get to start doing what we came here to do in the first place: Chinese stuff! First thing we do when we get back is move in with a Chinese host family. We’ll live with their them until we leave for Canada around the middle of November.

Perspective Shift…

postPerspective01 Perspective Shift...Even though we aren’t currently at the shelter, I wanted to make sure that I posted about one of the biggest lessons that I have learned from the experience of working there and developing friendships with the guests. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, as we were driving through the South and visiting different organizations, there were a few days that I would be so frustrated at our current stage in life. Currently, we have no job, no home (though we have had many gracious hosts), and the future of our plans is somewhat uncertain. We have lots of plans and ideas, a few people to share them with, and nothing scheduled beyond October. In all of this, we are so well taken care of and God has provided for us in so many ways, but on some days, I would get a bit frustrated at our migratory stage and long to be settled – to belong somewhere again.

It didn’t take much time down at the shelter for my perspective on our current state to be radically shifted. My friends there have lost everything (jobs, homes, pets, independence, and so many other things), many aren’t certain where all of their family members are, and it will be a very long time before most of them are truly “settled” again. Our little “transition stage” pales in comparison. Several of the older ladies in particular were a great example of faith in the midst of trial. They often shared about how their faith in God was the only thing that was carrying them through the uncertainty, saying “I lost everything in that hurricane, but God is still with me. I know that if I’m going to make it through this hard time, He’s going to be the one that carries me through it. When it comes down to it, He’s the only one I can trust in.” They also encouraged me about my plans to serve God and said, “He will provide a way for you…just trust in Him.”

postPerspective02 Perspective Shift...I am so saddened by this disaster, by the way people’s lives have been uprooted and rearranged and by the personal tragedy that so many are walking through right now. But I am also very thankful that God brought us to Baton Rouge during this time. The opportunity to help was amazing, but even more amazing were the lessons I learned from my friends. Three of the ladies in the picture have left the shelter and are now staying with family in Mississippi. It’s not likely that I will ever see them again, but I know that I will never forget them and the way that they shared their faith with me even in the midst of their many struggles.

Now we are back on the road, going back to West Texas for a few days, but my attitude toward our migratory stage has changed for the better. I hope that in the midst of these small trials, I can develop the kind of faith that withstands the much larger storms…the kind of faith thatmany of my friends at the shelter have shared with me over the last two weeks.

the Shelter Family

Every night there is a “family meeting” in the shelter for announcements, feedback, Scripture sharing and prayer. I’d just finished the announcements and feedback and was about to read a short passage before one of the residents led a prayer, but we were interrupted by one of the church volunteers who suggested we should ask if anyone had any “special needs” we could pray for. So we asked, though I was thinking, “Are you kidding me? How can you ask these people if they have ‘special prayer needs?’ And what kind of need counts as special in this crowd anyway? And who’s going to actually word a prayer in response to those kinds of needs?” One man raised his hand and said he didn’t know what had happened to his son or where he was. I asked for a show of hands of everyone who had missing family members – at least 45 out of 50. A woman named Simone led the prayer. She arrived today with her baby. She was air-lifted off a roof. The hundreds of people in her neighbourhood waiting on their roofs directed the helicopter to her house because they new she had an infant. Her other children are in a shelter in Dallas and they’ll be reunited there tomorrow.

Today I’ve heard these words more than once: “This is not a third world country! Why did [the government response] take so long?” 9/11 got day-of response. For Katrina, it was four days later than it could have been. It seemed like Bush’s inspirational and action-galvanizing sound bites didn’t start saturating the airwaves in town today until after they were prepped by about three solid hours of sensational, positive, hope-filled, non-stop rescue reports and video of military trucks bringing in supplies to New Orleans. By now (3:30am Saturday), the emotional roller-coaster has long since come back down. I wonder if America is beginning to realize that our perceived special status – the self-righteous double-standard that assumes we’re made of better stuff than everyone else – is really a delusion. What happens in Africa, Asia, and South America can happen here, too.

In the end, the majority of those still in New Orleans will be rescued. But thousands of people who could have been saved weren’t. During the storm our technology and wealth didn’t protect the people who chose not to heed the pre-storm evacuation orders. And even with all our technology and wealth we didn’t get them out in time after they were trapped by the floods. As truly heroic as efforts of individuals and various organizations have been, at some level this nation failed. In Bush’s words, the current results are “unacceptable.” Many of our residents won’t watch the TV.

I’m left with many questions, and this is one: Does the “unacceptable” nature of peoples’ responses to this disaster reflect our over-reliance and unrealistic expectations of money and technology, or does it reflect on basic flaws in the nature of humanity in America? Perhaps events like this show us – people, Americans – what kind of a people we really are.

In a Baton Rouge shelter after Katrina

postinbrshelter01 In a Baton Rouge shelter after Katrina I have no deep reflective thoughts yet composed regarding our experience with this, so I’ll just pass along these: “Shouldn’t’ve named it after a black woman. She’ll just come through and tear everything up!” So said two black men at our breakfast table the morning of the day we turned the Baton Rouge Church of Christ’s Christian Student Center in a hurricane relief shelter.

There’s about 50 people from New Orleans (including four UNO students from China) living here now. Things are going amazingly smooth and the refugees are great, though in shock. We’ve already spent many hours working alongside some of them, all of today and yesterday. No one wants to talk about who and what they left behind. The ones we have talked to admit being in denial, saying that if they start thinking or talking about what’s happened they’ll pretty much fall apart. One woman who last heard that her fiancee was on a roof volunteers for all the work she can get just to stay busy and distracted. Others have seen footage of their neighbourhoods – now underwater – on TV. We don’t ask after their experiences beyond generalities, but provide opportunities for them to talk.

There’s several whole families here. People have lost their homes, businesses, jobs, and are missing family members. Most don’t know if they’ve lost anyone or not – though everyone seems sure they’ve lost their property and it seems everyone is missing somebody. No one knows how long they’ll be here… a month? 6 months? These are the people we’re trying to serve and help cobble together a giant home for a giant family.

Jessica and I were planning to join a Chinese student retreat this weekend but the camp is also now a shelter, so that’s off. We made it into Baton Rouge from Huntsville, Alabama at 5am Monday, about two hours before some fences were blown down and roof tiles ripped off. But the real impact of Hurricane Katrina on this city is felt now. Major intersections are still without lights and uncounted numbers of refugees from New Orleans and the surrounding areas have drastically swelled the population of Baton Rouge (some estimates say it’s doubled). This makes traffic is unbelievable. People have nowhere to go. Churches and community buildings are becoming shelters. The city is swollen with a huge extra population of desperate, worn out people. Rumours of looting and rioting come out of downtown. The church van was stolen and some property broken into. Some gas stations are out of gas – the police coordinate the line-ups. You can literally walk into Walmart, strike up a conversation with a few strangers, and find people who came from New Orleans and have nowhere to go. But the facilities at the South Baton Rouge Church of Christ can only hold so many, though they are considering some more-creative options to expand their capacity.

Had a previously scheduled visit with some LSU students tonight – they just happened to be covering Luke 4.37-49
46″So why do you call me `Lord,’ when you won’t obey me? 47I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then obeys me. 48It is like a person who builds a house on a strong foundation laid upon the underlying rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against the house, it stands firm because it is well built. 49But anyone who listens and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will crumble into a heap of ruins.”

Many of these people have literally had their lives reduced to whatever their foundation is. Puts our own little transitory, ‘faith-building’ stage of life in perspective, that’s for sure.

Embodied Metaphor of Marital Intimacy

postmarital01 Embodied Metaphor of Marital Intimacypostmarital02 Embodied Metaphor of Marital Intimacy I don’t know if there’s a word for embodied metaphor but we took some pictures of one. You’ll have to click these and view them full size to see what we’re talking about.

These trees are growing together in the Parish Hermitage bayou. Two separate and whole trees, each a different kind, reaching skyward beside one another. At points, they’ve grown together. Bark overlaps, each on the other’s trunk. In some places the trunks have joined, becoming one flesh, yet each retains a distinct identity from the other. postmarital03 Embodied Metaphor of Marital Intimacy postmarital04 Embodied Metaphor of Marital IntimacyThey don’t join together out of weakness – just the opposite. As each one grows stronger, taller, thicker individual trunks and branches, the potential for connection and oneness increases because it brings them closer to each other. Younger, smaller, lesser trees, weaker trees, would not have the ability or opportunity to grow together as these two are. The expression and expansion of each tree’s unique identity brings them closer to each other, creating opportunities for oneness. Healthy individuality as a required ingredient for intimacy.

With Christ as the source of our identity and the affirmation of our incredible value, finding our selves in God becomes the place from which our ability to be intimate grows.