4 days ’til Taiwan

Jessica’s not having a birthday this year. We leave on the 13th, fly 20 or so hours, and arrive on the 15th. The 14th gets gobbled up by the International Date Line. I’ll be 6 months older than her when we arrive in Taiwan, rather than the other way around. Apparently she sees this as a good deal.

I can see why everyone wants to live in Southern California and the land value is unbelievably high… it’s like a Vancouver summer minus the rain all the time – you can be comfortable in t-shirts and shorts all day but not sweat.

There’s a beardless short-hair picture in the hair memories gallery.

Leaving for Taiwan

We were intending to settle in Surrey, BC for the year to finish up that last year of grad school. There’s plenty of opportunity to study Chinese culture and language in greater Vancouver, and it was relatively close to the university. We planned to work part-time while we finished our studies and continued preparing for language school in Tianjin, China in February 2007. We’re still doing all that, except we’ll be in Taiwan instead of Vancouver.

When we committed to an extra year of full time graduate study we never dreamed that we’d get to complete it in Asia! We are overwhelmed with the ways in which we’ve been blessed. Taiwan may not be the Mainland, but it’s about as close as you can get.

Soon after arriving in Surrey Joel applied for a Teaching Assistant position at his old high school, Pacific Academy. P.A. came back with an offer for both of us to work as elementary school English teachers in a satellite school P.A. is opening in Taipei, Taiwan this January. We hadn’t even unpacked our bags yet from our sojourn in the Untied States, but after prayers, interviews, more prayers, and more interviews, we accepted.

The upsides are numerous. Aside from the cultural exposure, our total costs for the year will consume less than one of our two salaries; we’ll be able to save much more than we could have in Surrey. Our employers are accommodating our schooling requirements, flying us back for our June session in California and providing us with computers and high speed internet to do our distance learning in Taiwan. In the summer we’ll return to BC with some of our Taiwanese students to teach in P.A.’s international student summer program and take about three weeks of vacation with family before returning to finish out the year in Taiwan.

There are some downsides, too. Having much less time than we anticipated with family and the SBCC is the biggest – we leave January 4 and we just got here at the end of November! That, and balancing full time English-speaking jobs with 9 credits each of grad work per semester leaves little time for formal language study and running wild in the streets (two of our favourite overseas activities). We’ll be diving into the local culture less than we have in past overseas experiences.

We leave for California January 4, and Taipei, Taiwan on January 13. Our contract ends in mid-January, 2007.

Welcome to the City

This guy’s sign says, “I’m looking for a women to marry” and “Please come talk.”

His sign, the cobble stones, and his clothes and appearance compared to that of the people around him suggest that he’s a peasant from the countryside who has migrated to the city. In this picture he’s in some downtown shopping area surrounded by middle-class urbanites, looking for a wife.

Every year in China, migrant workers equivalent in number to the entire population of Canada move from the countryside to the city seeking work and escape from rural poverty. Collectively they are referred to as “China’s floating population.”

If this guy manages to marry an urban resident he’ll likely be able to legally stay in the city. Otherwise he won’t have legal residency when his work (usually unskilled labour on building projects) is done. Without legal residency, he’ll have to maintain an illegal, impoverished existence on the fringes of urban society or go back to the rural poverty from which he came.

Rapid urbanization is a global trend, and in our lifetime we’ll have – for the first time ever in human history – more people on the planet living in cities than in the country.

It’s official – we’re delayed one year

We 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.

– 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.

– 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!

Classroom vs. Real Life

Regarding the value of graduate-level education it was recently said that, “Even rectal thermometers have degrees!” Regarding the type of people who make those types of comments it was slightly more recently said, “Sure, but a rectal thermometer without degrees is just a pain in the butt!” I’m personally conflicted over this, as I have major sympathies with both sides.

But the battle over theory vs. experience was driven home in my life at the beginning our recent 2600 mile road trip, manifesting itself this way: 26 years old, 8 years of college education, and I can’t drive a stick. The car we gratefully borrowed for our 3+ weeks on the road was a standard, so it was either I learn, or Jessica would have to drive the entire trip. I’m happy to say that after 2600 miles I can drive a stick – at least, I can drive that one. But moving understanding from your head into your hands (and heart) takes the willingness to go through a learning process that usually can’t be found inside a big box with desks and chairs. Here’s some of what it took for me to learn to drive a stick (note – some of these are connected):

  • Green lights sat through until they turned red… 1
  • Honked at by other drivers… 1x
  • Red lights accidentally run… 1
  • Very frightened in-laws… 2, at least
  • Furry woodland creatures killed… 1
  • Number of times Jessica hit the hazard lights… [incalculable]

Understanding something in my head and having a real feel for it are two totally different definitions of understanding (remember your honeymoon? Ha!) Our friend from Brazil talked one day about how it’s easy for him to have a cultural discussion about English “swear words” and necessarily use those words in the discussion. He can explain the cultural significance of those words but doesn’t feel the cultural significance when they’re spoken. At the same time, he won’t have the same conversation in his own language with Portuguese swear words because he feels those ones when they are uttered, and it feels wrong for him to use them, even in that kind of discussion. Driving a stick, sexual intimacy, cussing people out, and living in another culture all have this one thing in common: you won’t really get it if it’s all just in your head. Head knowledge is good and in most cases necessary, but it can only take you so far. You’ve got to do it and experience it and start living it to have any hope of really understanding it.

I can’t wait for China!

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.”

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.

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.