Ten New Things 2015 – 1

Looking back on 2015 I can think of so many things that are new to me.  We had some wonderful trips, I grew in my role at work and my cooking has continued to improve as I start moving into Asian cooking more and more. Here are the highlights!

1. Travelled to China – This was my first time in Asia and it was such a rich, exciting adventure for Dave and I.  We did so many new things while there.  We ate all kinds of new foods (frozen yogurt with beans, YUM!), explored the Forbidden City, survived the driving, bought steam buns from holes in the wall and sped through the countryside on a bullet train.  The country is vast and the people so kind.  I’ll remember Dave constantly getting his photo taken, line dancing with the locals, bean smoothies, the painful Chinese massage and the corn that came topped with sugar and sprinkles.  I suspect we’ll end up back there soon.

Before the pain of the Chinese massage.
Before the pain of the Chinese massage.
Enjoying street food with Megan and Shannon.
Enjoying street food with Megan and Shannon.

2. Worked with disabled and abandoned kids – This was such a highlight of the year.  In Sanmenxia, China, I was placed in the baby room and every day I would spend time with these wonderful kids who struggled with various disability, showing them love and attention, which they desperately desired.  Since coming back, Dave and I have continued to support the baby room at the orphanage we were at.  I hope to one day get back to see how these children have developed, and even better, not see them because they have been adopted into a loving home.

The centre where the kids lived in Sanmenxia.
The centre where the kids lived in Sanmenxia.

3. Touring the Terra Cotta Warriors and The Great Wall of China – Seeing these sites always seemed like a far off reality.  I didn’t anticipate that I would even see them in my lifetime since China wasn’t really on my list of places to visit. But we did, and we loved it, and we saw these great wonders. I really enjoyed The Great Wall and would have loved to spend more time there. It really was beautiful seeing the ruinous area that stretched as far as you could see from the clean, safe, tourist section. It was like there was an adventure waiting right over the next hill. 

Into the forbidden zone!
Into the forbidden zone!

4. Joined our strata council – When we bought our condo a couple years ago I knew I wanted to join the strata council to be apart of decision making and the care for our buildings (there are 3 large condo buildings and 4 townhouse complexes – 165 units total).  So this April when we had our annual general meeting, I signed up for the standard two year term.  My goodness, I had no idea how much work and communication would be involved.  Within just the first 2-3 days I had about 50 emails back and forth about issues.  You’ll never know what is going on in the background until you get on council!  It has been trying at times, but a good learning experience so far.  

5. Grew into a manager at work – The first year as a manager is pretty challenging.  Every difficult conversation you have with am employee seems painstaking for the first while, but then you get used to it (thank goodness) and you are able to sleep at night knowing what conversations will take place the next day.  I pray a lot for wisdom in my job and the ability to be fair and consistent with my employees, to coach them through failures and praise them in success.  At the start of the year, I didn’t enjoy being a manager, and while I still have lots to learn, it has become easier and I gain more confidence in my abilities each day.

China – The Centre

Our awesome team at the centre.
Our awesome team at the centre.

Let me share a bit about the time we spent with the disabled and abandoned kids in China.

The welfare centre consisted of three buildings and a central courtyard built by the government to provide basic care for abandoned and disabled children and adults.  International China Concern, was asked by the government to choose a location to partner with them to improve on what they were providing.  And they did!  The children went from having very minimal necessities to having play areas, toys, physiotherapy, education, a large outdoor play area, very good food and most importantly, adequate care givers.  Imagine 1 adult to 20-30 babies, now there are 6 adults to about 30 babies during the day.  They have time to actually sit and play with the kids.  It is a happy place to be.

It was overwhelming the first day we went to view the different rooms where the kids were.  There were so many in the rooms and they were very excited to see us.  I mean VERY excited.  The big boy room was probably the most overwhelming.  They wanted to give hugs and shake your hand, and just be there with you.  I really wasn’t sure where I wanted to serve and put the Pearl Room (baby room) as my first option, but didn’t know if that was where God wanted me.  I wanted to be in a room where I might see improvement in the kids in the two weeks and wasn’t sure if that would happen there.  Turns out God wanted me there, because that is where I went.  

It was pretty intense at first.  28 kids from 3 months to 4 years old, who are all really like babies. Only two could walk on their own and about five could feed themselves, some could crawl, but still a lot couldn’t and none could really talk to communicate.  These kids needed some one on one time!  It bothered me at first that I couldn’t spend time with all of them, or that I had a couple that I really liked and wanted to be with, but then the reality is, I can’t spend quality time with 28 kids in a day and we were four volunteers in the room, so I had to trust that we were all spending quality time with most of them.  It was tough though to see them crying or banging their head against the (padded) ground over and over again as they lay on the play matts wanting to feel something.  

The Welfare Centre.  The kids all stayed on the second floor.
The Welfare Centre.  The kids all stayed on the second floor.

I connected with some of the boys who were about 2-4 and spent a lot of time holding them by the hands to get them walking.  One little boy, Fei Yu, who was four, spent his days laying on his back just looking around.  He couldn’t sit up, talk, feed himself or crawl.  When I first tried to get him walking in the second week, he smiled from ear to ear and was so proud that he could stand on his own two feet.  For all I know, it was he first time.  It almost had me crying because I hadn’t seen him smile much at all.  

My favourite little girl, Fu Ning, didn’t get payed much attention, and often layed on the ground hitting her head on the matt.  She was probably two or three, but it is hard to know.  It took a bit to get her smiling, but we went for stroller rides outside and I just sat with her on my lap and cuddled a lot.  She had a beautiful smile when it came out.  It was really hard to leave her and I almost cry now thinking about her.  I don’t know what her future will be, but I keep hoping others will go and volunteer and spent time loving her or that she will get adopted or be in foster care one day.  It’s sad to think someone gave her up in the first place, she was so beautiful.  I specifically asked Dave to teach me how to say “You are beautiful.” in Chinese so I could tell her all the time.

There were a lot of other kids that were wonderful, Xing Wong, who was skin and bones, but had brown eyes that just bore right into you.  He was so curious and smart and loved to walk with a swagger of determination if you helped hold him up.  His hands were completely crippled and twisted, but it didn’t stop him from grasping toys between a couple of his fingers.  He had an overbite and dimples and this made him really cute.  He could also give you a ‘wink’ which was more of a full, quick head bob.  Every time that we fed him, we would cry when the bowl emptied, even though it was a huge bowl, he always wanted more.

Despite the number of times I got snotted on or had a diaper leak on me, it was still a wonderful experience.

Dave with his Mandarin name on his cheeks in front of the bouncy castle.
Dave with his Mandarin name on his cheeks in front of the bouncy castle.

Dave had a completely different experience working with the big boys (aged 10-35).  He arm wrestled, played soccer and went to class to learn about shapes or play on computers.  ICC also rented a massive bouncy playground for a couple days for the kids.  You should have seen the look on the kids faces when they saw it.  It blew them away and they had an amazing time.  We even had special time on it for the kids in the wheelchairs to lay on it and ‘bounce’ or go down the slides with our help.  Picture two girls who can’t walk sitting on my legs while others bounced around.  I never thought I would get up! So tiring but worth it.

Dave and I came away having a much greater understanding of what ICC is doing there, and it is amazing. I hope that their work spreads across that big country, because with 900,000 disabled children being born every year in China, there is great need for places like this.  Hopefully Dave and I will get back to the centre in the next 5 years.  I want to see the kids again and see how much they have developed, better yet would be that they wouldn’t be there, but adopted or fostered in the community.

If you want to learn more about ICC and the story of how they started, check out their website here.  It really is an amazing organization who cares for God’s children when others can’t and really gives them the fulness of life everyone deserves.

China Return

What a trip!  China was something I didn’t have many expectations for, but it blew me away.  I can’t remember how many times I told Dave I was loving it or how many times I had sensory overload and was filled with a rush of excitement (mostly in the food markets!).  We travelled with a lovely group of 20 people, we spent time with some really wonderful kids, and experienced wonderful Chinese hospitality.

There are two sides to this story, the tourist in China side and the International China Concern/working with children side.  So let me give you a brief bit on the tourist side and follow up with a post specifically about how our experience with ICC.

Tourists and Travellers 

We went with a goal of seeing the thing in China that you have to see if you are going to China: that big wall!  It really was pretty incredible to see and climb around, and though we had about 2 hrs to explore, I certainly could have spent a lot more time there.  And what great exercise!  (No, I am not about to do the Great Wall Marathon.)  Some parts were really steep and I ended up using my hands to climb up.  At the end we took a little go-cart like contraption down the hill, which was fun until you hit a traffic jam of people.  They would send about 30 people off a short distance between each other and you really are only as fast as the slowest person!

The other big highlight was going to Xi’an and seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors.  I really didn’t have any intentions of seeing them when we went, and actually forgot about them until someone mentioned that we were only an hour away and a couple other people on our team were going to go.  So on our weekend off, we spent one day going and checking them out.  It ended up being quite the journey to get there since it was crazy busy with the Chinese Tomb Sweeping holiday happening, but it was worth it.  What was almost better was going to the old walled part of Xi’an and checking out the Muslim Street filled with street food and thousands of people.  Dave can tell you I was so overwhelmed that I thought my head was going to pop off with excitement. I just wanted to eat everything (except the crawly creatures on a stick).

Entrance of Pit 1
Entrance of Pit 1
Pit 2
Pit 2
Horses at the Terra Cotta Warrior Museum.
Horses at the Terra Cotta Warrior Museum.

Beijing was also a really nice surprise.  The smog was horrendous, something you just can’t imagine, but that aside it was a really lovely city with green areas, lots of great shops and easy to get around. We managed to visit The Forbidden City, The Pearl Market and The Temple of Heaven.  I would definitely go back again to explore more.

Layers of farm land outside of Sanmenxia.
Layers of farm land outside of Sanmenxia.

Aside from tourist attractions, which really only held my interest a little, was the time we spent in Sanmenxia learning about Chinese culture, eating local dishes, and serving the kids at the welfare centre. Unfortunately, I can’t post any pictures of the kids as the Chinese government doesn’t allow it and International China Concern does not want to hurt their relationship, but I do have some photos from around town to share.  We had a lot of fun at the city centre line dancing on a Sunday night with the locals, drinking bean smoothies, checking out the local outdoor food market during the week and taking local transit everyday…and surviving to tell the tale.  The people were so great and friendly, and Dave had a lot of chances to practice his Mandarin, especially when people were always wanting their picture with him.  In a very Chinese centric area, our group were the only white people in town, so we were stared at everywhere we went.  Nothing like feeling like a rock star for a couple weeks!  :)

The entrance to the market in Sanmenxia.
The entrance to the market in Sanmenxia.
Delicious steam buns filled with pork and onion at the market in Sanmenxia.
Delicious steam buns filled with pork and onion at the market in Sanmenxia.

More on ICC and the Centre in my next post.