Thursday, May 29, 2008

On my way home

Just so you all know, a rooster woke me up this morning... at the time I needed it to... it was weird.

It's my final day in Xiamen. We've accomplished a lot and seen a lot. I didn't do as many touristy or recreational things as I was expecting but that's okay with me. I've really enjoyed working and we've been able to get a lot of good things done. I guess I'll have to come back and really do the touristy things. Next time I'm bringing my wife and daughter.

So I leave this afternoon at 2 - 3pm out of Xiamen and fly into Narita. I was thinking about taking the train into Tokyo proper just to see it. But my flight gets in at 7 pm and the train into Tokyo takes around an hour and I have to be back at the airport in Narita for an 11 am flight. Given how tired I am I don't think I want to try and manage something like that.

I get back in to Chicago at 8 am on Saturday and will meet up with my aunt and uncle for the drive back to Grand Rapids. Unfortunately, Katherine and Lyla leave on Friday to go to Ohio for her cousin's wedding. So I won't see them until Sunday. It will work out fine because I'll need to rest and don't want to force them to be around me when I'm jetlagged. Still I miss them a lot and really can't wait to see them.

Here's a picture taken last Sunday at lunch. Adriel and his wife Lauren are front right, Bill is on the left in the very rear.

China has been awesome. It's definitely more modern than I think a lot of Americans would expect. It's so neat to see how the country is shaped by two main forces: the sheer number of people and the culture... both of which go hand in hand. The culture is very different from American culture in that freedom and independence are not valued. You might think that this is absurd but when you think about living in a place that has 4 times the number of Americans it begins to make sense. When you are a country as big as China, you value stability and stability requires control and maintenance. As a result, the people seek to fit in, to not rock the boat. And the government seeks to preserve that stability and protect its people by attacking whatever it perceives to be threatening. The other huge cultural influence here is the importance of saving face. As a result, people (esp. the government) are more likely to respond to shaming than they are to logic or foresight. Once you understand that, it's easy to fit in and to use that knowledge to get things done. This of course is a very simplistic assessment of a culture and people who have a long history and thus is not complete nor does it do justice to the beauty and intrigue of this place.

I've really enjoyed my stay. I like Chinese food a lot but I am ready to come home. Forty six hours of travel to get back to my own bed does not seem that bad right now. Especially because ANA (All Nippon Airlines) really knows how to treat its passengers.

The picture to the right is me looking perplexed at the "no pandas" sign in the Japanese temple grounds.

Here's a video I took while we were driving somewhere. I tried to get a video of what has been described as the "blending" style of driving but this doesn't really capture it. If I take a cab to the airport I may have a chance to film it. The crazy thing is that cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians all use the roads (even highways) and everyone just tries to take the path of least resistance when trying to get somewhere. It's crazy. Kind of stressful too.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Lyla and I have been enjoying a visit from Kristin! She arrived on Saturday night and we have had some fun and full days. Sunday was church, and then allllllllll afternoon in the garden pulling weeds. Weeds grow very quickly, in case you were wondering. Monday we went to Meijer Gardens for a lovely walk, and then home for naptime for Lyla and a National Treasure marathon for Kristin and me. Today is her last day here (sadly for me and for Lyla). It's been fun to see her interact with Lyla for the first time, plus a huge help to have someone else around. And we've snuck in some good food and (so far) one trip to Jersey Junction.

Lyla is getting bigger by the minute! She is almost done with her brief stint in the Bumbo since she's just about able to squirm out of it. I think her hair is getting curlier, which explains the wild stylings. She squirmed around 180 degrees on her stomach this morning, so we're counting down to crawling too.

Here are a couple of pictures from Meijer Gardens yesterday:

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Day 5? I'm still really confused by the timezone differences.

Woke up, met up with my host and the rest of my traveling companions and went to church. The local government has allowed the ex-pat believers to form an officially licensed church. One of the conditions for certifying the church is that all attendees must show a foreign passport. Worship was lead by one of the visiting Texans who we had met last night at the beach party. The sermon was based on John 11 (the whole chapter) which is the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. After the service we went to lunch at a french cafe/coffee shop, I had the Tex-Mex wet burrito, which was quite good. I also had a diet coke which are very rare in these parts. While at lunch it started raining so we returned to our host's house and enjoyed some down time. Then we went to a local massage parlor and enjoyed a 2 hour massage (total cost $13) which was amazing. Apparently there is a special type of massage that is taught to blind people, so it was neat to see these blind people ushered in and then work there way around. My guy was able to identify my trouble spots and spent a lot of time addressing those. I think I'll definitely have to go back at least once before I leave. Then we had dinner at a near-by restaurant that is 60's themed. I was trying to picture a 60's theme and kept picturing hippies and tie-dye. Nope. Chairman Mao and revolutionary themes. Hostesses in Chinese Army uniforms. It's amazing how deeply American culture permeates my worldview. I'm enjoying shining light on those assumptions and questioning them.

I took this photo on Friday, it's from the 5th floor of our host's factory. What you see aren't slums, they're buildings that have been demolished so that newer apartments and office complexes can be built. It's amazing how quickly the Chinese will develop an area.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

My trip: Day's 1 through 3; Chicago, Narita and Xiamen

Here's the condensed version because I'm tired and need to go to bed (remember, morning in the US = nighttime in China). We left Grand Rapids about 6 am on Wednesday and drove to O'Hare. Checked into our flight on ANA (a Japanese airline), boarded and took off. The flight was 13 hours long but it seemed shorter (we think it was because we were traveling with people we know - my cousin Mike, my cousin Laura, and her husband Andy (aka my BFFe) were traveling with me. Also because I watched three movies, ate a few meals, had a few drinks, and crossed 14 time zones) We arrived in Narita, Japan (which is real close to Tokyo and a major hub for most flights into Asia). We checked into our hostel (which we stayed at b/c we had a 20 hour layover) and then explored Narita. Saw a giant temple, met a new friend from London, and marveled at how much taller I am than everyone there (got some good pictures of me standing in front of door frames that come up to my shoulders, also visited a grocery store where the aisles all came up to my chin).

Next day, we got up (b/c of jet lag we woke up at midnight, 5 am and 7 am), returned to the airport, said goodbye to our English friend (Jo) and flew to Xiamen (this time the flight was 5 hours but still seemed short, probably for the same reasons). Landed, met our host and drove to his company's building for a tour and to meet some of the people who work for him. Then drove to his house dropped of our stuff and went to a local restaurant (in the village where he lives) and had excellent, authentic Chinese food (no General Tso's, sorry) and my dad's favorite Chinese beer, TsingTao (which we learned some of the history of), returned and went to sleep.

Woke up on Saturday and I got to chat (instant message) with Katherine, which was great b/c I miss her and we hadn't communicated directly since Wednesday. Spent the day at work with my host (we're thinking through a strategy for the company and how to manage the strategy going forward). Stopped by a beach about 2 mi from where we're staying and visited a party that this local ex-pat family was throwing for some visitors from their hometown in Texas (we learned they go to the same church in Dallas the Jason Castro of American Idol goes to) and a bunch of local Chinese teens and young adults. So I spent the afternoon playing beach volleyball with limit capacity to communicate with the people I was playing with. Followed that up with another great dinner (and more TsingTao) and then we retired for the evening. Katherine and I got to speak tonight (unfortunately the quality wasn't very good b/c I was using an internet phone) but it was great to hear her voice and to hear Lyla in the background.

I miss my family, I wish they could have come (though 14 hours on a plane, a 20 hour layover, and another 4 hours on a plane with Lyla sounds awful). I'd prefer to be sharing these experiences with them. I really like China, I think living in New York City and San Diego makes Xiamen kind of familiar to me (large city, coastal climate) but it is very limiting not being able to speak the language and know that the trip would be completely different without our host. Anyway, 6 more days. I'm looking forward to it, but also excited to see my beautiful wife and baby again. Thank you to everyone who has been praying for us. Here's a video of us walking through the village in Xiamen where we are staying:

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

(Gum) Breaking News!

Lyla has her first tooth!! The bottom left front tooth broke through the surface on Monday. I haven't really tried to take a picture of it, since every time I try to look at it I mostly see baby tongue. Plus, Kevin took the camera with him to China. His departure went smoothly this morning, and he still has a few more hours on the first leg of his trip. Lyla and I kept ourselves busy today with a long walk and a trip to Target, and then dinner with our neighbors. She's still pretty cranky so I think there might be another tooth coming through.

Oh, and Kevin and I both have new cell phone numbers now. Anything you have for us that starts with 858 no longer works. Shoot me an email if you need the number!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Off to China

Well, I leave in three days to fly to Xiamen, China for a 8 day visit. We're visiting a client of ours and escorting my cousin who is working for the summer as an intern in the country. I'm both excited and sad to go. I've been away from Katherine before for 10 days (she had a business trip) and that was not fun. I've never been away from Lyla. I know it will be alright, but she's my little girl. I love spending time with her. And ten days is a long time for a 5 and 1/2 month old. Who knows how different she'll be by the time I get back. So I'm sad to go.

But it will be a good trip. I'm looking forward to visiting China and seeing the culture. I'm also looking forward to visiting our client and exploring ways we can help their business. The great thing about this company is that they really focus on the transformative power of knowing Christ and seek to share that in their company and community. So I've heard great stories of how they've helped the disabled and beggars by giving them jobs (and ultimately, dignity). Through their business, they've brought economic growth to a remote village. They're teaching their employees life skills and the company strives to make a difference in the community, helping the local orphans, supporting local ministries to special needs children. So if we can help them do more and do it better, then we will have served them well. So I'm quite blessed to be going and to get the chance to love and serve the people of this company.

Anyway, Katherine and Lyla have quite the ten days planned including: dinners with friends, working in the garden, a visit from Kristin, a trip to Ohio for Rhoda and Dave's wedding (which incorporates spending time driving there with Uncle Stephen (is the best!!!). So hopefully the time will fly by until we are reunited.

Don't know if I'll have opportunity to post while I'm there, but I'll be sure to put up some stories and pictures when I get back.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Thank you and an update.

Wanted to thank all of you who have been praying for my dad's health. Quick update, he visited with his oncologist yesterday and found out that none of the cancerous spots in his lungs had grown at all. In addition, the spot in his chest lymph-node (which had alerted him to the cancer in the first place by swelling) is now completely gone. So things are going well. Please continue to remember Mike/Dad/Grandpa Ring in your prayers!

The tradition in the Ring family is to call the paternal grandfather "Grandpa Ring." I did it. My dad did it. I think his dad did it. Anyway, there is a long and distinguished line of Grandpa Rings and my dad fits the mold quite nicely. Something tells me though, if Lyla ends up calling him something other than Grandpa Ring, he'll like that just as well.

Here's a video of Lyla dancing a celebratory jig (and otherwise ignoring my efforts to rile her up) after hearing of Grandpa Ring's good news.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Eating is hard work.

I know this is cruel, to exploit my daughter for cheap laughs, but this was hilarious and needs to be shared.

We've been feeding Lyla solid foods for a couple weeks now. Every night around six she gets a meal of rice cereal mixed with some sort of mushed fruit (so far it's been either bananas or pears, I think peaches are being introduced tonight). Every night Lyla's level of interest and hunger has been different, making the feeding unique every time. For example, two or three days ago she apparently was starving and end up eating two servings. She just wouldn't stop eating and would yell in between bites (as if she was saying, "GET IN MY BELLY!!!). Super cute, kind of disturbing.

And then there was this... Poor girl had had a long day and could barely continue. See for yourself:

Monday, May 5, 2008

Happy Birthday Aunt Julie!!!

Today is my sister Julie's birthday. Here's a special birthday video from her favorite niece: