A morning in Wuhan

I am on a quick trip to North America to do some practical stuff that cannot be ignored any longer, as well as get to a friend’s wedding, woot!

I found the cheapest flight ever with China Southern airlines. ($450 round trip- what?) They are often overnight layovers and you have to leave the airport. So I got a hotel and in the morning, I went to explore. I liked Wuhan. Somehow I found myself a hotel room in the historical district, which I’m sure was prettier than the area around the airport would have been.

The back alleys are everything. Light filters through and people gather whatever chairs they can find, sit around and chat. I was surprised by how chilled out things were. Laundry hangs from the power lines that cross the alley.

It is not an automatic smile country, though I did startle a laugh out of one older lady, after she stared at me for five minutes, trying to figure out what I was. I actually loved her verdict. She clearly couldn’t come up with a category or definition, so her conclusion was just to say heh heh heh and walk away.

Her work seemed to be fishing used chopsticks out of the trash. She was very old and had a hard time walking. It looked like the hardest, dirtiest, least rewarding work.

People seem relaxed and not as aware of convention as in Thailand. In Thailand you do a lot to reassure people around you. I see you, I’m for you, I’m glad you’re here. This is communicated all the time. In Wuhan it seemed like people just stared if they wanted to stare, or ignored if they wanted to ignore. But none of it felt like it impinged on the relaxed feeling.

People seemed self contained.

I ate black bean noodles on the side of the road, sitting on a plastic stool with other people doing the same thing. The noodles were okay. Kind of weird, more fermented than a similar food that I’ve had in Korea (it originated in China, but Korea is famous for their black bean noodles now.)

However disappointing the road noodles were, though, I ate hand pulled noodles at the airport and they were a noodle lover’s dream. Handmade noodles! At the airport!

I couldn't communicate with anyone. Anyone. The language is completely opaque to me. I remember when Thai was like that. It seems like a long time ago. I liked how we kept trying. I would something in English and people spoke to me in Mandarin and no one could understand each other, but even though we were pointing and gesturing, we had to talk while we did so.

The frisking at the airport was rather thorough.

There were cameras everywhere. Everywhere. Everything is recorded and they have been using some wild new facial recognition software. It is a wild new world.

I found a park and wandered through it, making my way down to the Yangstze River. The river is the whole reason I bothered to get a hotel in the city center. It was worth it, this wide, old river, though of course I found it in the middle of this city, and no one was punting any sampans along it.

One of my favorite things about travel is to truly enter into the anonymous observer space. Not talking or understanding makes the whole thing feel kind of dreamy.

My taxi driver was using some kind of app where he voiced messaged friends the whole time we were driving. Just voice recording after voice recording in a big group. That was intriguing.

I think it would be hard to do this jaunt with kids, or if you have any special dietary needs. I have been eating by simply pointing at the menu. There are no options for vegetarian things, and I cannot speak!

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By myself, though, it is an unexpected little gem.

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Blessed by these fathers.

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Happy Father’s Day to my father, my father-in-law, and my husband.

Three men who grew up in three different places. All three have suffered loss and been through difficult times, coming through strong and full of integrity.

All of them exude warmth, welcome, and kindness.

All of them listen well, love music, and have kind and encouraging words ready.

All of them love their kids and grandkids.

I am very blessed to have these men in my life, examples to our sons, a shelter of love. 

The Thread (Again.)

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Here I am. 

Whew. 

Big and beautiful changes have been taking place. I’ve written about following the thread before, I think, a concept I gleaned from Tim Keller, who gleaned it from George MacDonald. I have a lot of concerns in my life right now, a lot of people to take care of, a lot of futures to think about. Not to mention the teeth. All the extras and gaps, all the crowding. 

My jobs. Education, writing, and community life. All beautiful, all full. It is hard to see into the future. It feels opaque.

I find it is best to follow the thread. I envision a golden thread in front of me. Each child has their own as well. And we allow God to be God. It doesn’t mean I’m not proactive. But I’m not forcing things either. We follow.

We have big things to trust about. (We’re still looking for a place for Kai to live next year, during the week, while he’s in school.) And books to write. I offer these things like tiny jewels. I envision opening my hands. 

(Kai’s life, a tiny jewel. He is a precious, precious man boy. Radiant and upright in his heart. God knows his life and wants the best for him.)

So. 

Following the thread.

We followed it right to a new house. We’ve been in our house in Pai town for seven years, limbs stretching all the while. We were content there, even without a yard of any kind, because the house was lovely and convenient, the neighbors and our landlords very, very kind. It was perfect for the kids to walk around in town. The one thing I have sometimes wished for was a view. And maybe some garden beds. 

And then our landlords built themselves a new house and offered us their old one. It’s in a village 4 km away from Pai town, next door to our dear friends, and the view is out of this world. We took two weeks to think about it, then decided to follow the thread. We thought about our values of having people over (more space) and outdoor life. And finally, we said yes.

I’ve been slowly packing up our house over the last month, moving boxes when I had enough to fill a car. We moved two days ago. Ro, Winnie, Christy, Josh, Neil, and Aya helped us get our things over here in many trips, as well as a couple of men who lugged the heavy things. 

It feels like home right away. The view is so lovely. The kids can run around in the yard. Chinua and the older kids went out to the nearby basketball court to play last night at around 8:30, and got back at 10:00. 

We have lots to do. Fans to buy. Things to organize. I need to paint my new (own) little writing room and get a router extender so the internet will reach it. We need to plant our garden beds. Figure out our new kitchen space. I need earplugs for the squeaky floors, and to calm my heart in a new house at night. (Last night my Superstar Husband was searching for stuff at midnight, and the wood floors have this squeaky lacquer on them, so I couldn’t get to sleep.) 

In other news, the first book in my new women’s fiction series is coming out soon. And I’m working away on World Whisperer 5. 

Today I’m thinking about all those jewels in my hands. My marriage. The lives and futures of my kids. The things I don’t understand. Hopes for our community here. Friendships far and near. I open my hands and they settle into the heart of God. He cherishes them and holds them. And the thread spools out a little farther, into a good place. 

***

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A little extra care.

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On Sunday I made community lunch, but first I had to shop. I bought 10 kgs of mountain rice, eight cabbages, a whole bunch of vegetables, and toor dal (to make sambar.) I need coconut, so after I bought everything else, I drove over to the coconut shop to pick up some fresh grated coconut.

Leaf told me about this shop when I thought there was no more fresh grated coconut in town, and I had despaired over it. The man who used to do it in the market shut his operation down. What to do? But then she told me about this place.

It’s a sort of warehouse-y home, with a collection of family members of all ages. I never know who belongs to whom. There are some babies, some women around my age who know everything about me (where I live, how many children I have, but they exaggerate how long I’ve been here—”10 years!” they say) and a few snoozing older men and women in cane reclining chairs.

On Sunday, however, only one person was there; one of the old men. I sat down to wait after I told him that I needed a kilo and a half of ground coconut. After a moment at the machine, he brought me a pot of coconut water and told me to drink it.

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“How should I drink it?” I asked, looking around for a cup or a straw.

“Just like that,” he said. “Out of the pot.”

So I did. I drank and drank and drank. It was from mature coconut, nearly like water, not as flavorful as young coconut. But I was thirsty, and it was good, and I drank about half the pot. When he was ready with my grated coconut, I stood to go, and he told me about the benefits of coconut water. “It’s good for your liver, your stomach, and all of your insides. It prevents cancer. It keeps you strong. (He popped his muscles for me.) It keeps you young. I am eighty-one years old!”

I told him that he looked remarkably young and strong. I went to pay and leave.

“What are you doing?” he asked. “Drink all of it.”

So I stood there and drank the rest while he watched, and when I was done, he nodded in approval.

It had been a more difficult kind of morning, one filled with self doubt and recrimination.

But God knew that I needed someone to extol the benefits of coconut water to me, and then make me drink a liter and a half of it, for my health. I needed some extra care, and that day, it came in the shape of a old man and a very large pot of coconut water. 

A New Part of the Journey

All beginnings are also endings. And sometimes, to celebrate a beginning, you also need to grieve a bit for an ending, especially if you are a fairly melodramatic, questioning kind of a mother-person. The kind of mother person who still likes to lie on the floor when she is overwhelmed by life and documents.

But the beginnings still need to be celebrated. Change is beautiful, rich, full of life, a thing to be cherished, one of the aims of raising children. 

Kai is starting high school. This is a minor miracle. He came home from camp in April and told us (with a lot of excitement) that he would really, really like to go to high school. And so we began to pray about it and then miracles began rolling in. He has received a scholarship from a loving couple to attend an international school in Chiang Mai. Another beautiful family asked if he can live with them. He will come back on most weekends. And school starts on Monday.

The last months have been a flurry of filling out forms and figuring out details and I wasn’t really sure of anything, so I didn’t write about it. But everything is finalized and our oldest child is half-leaving the house, back on weekends and holidays, living in a city three hours away. 

This will be amazing for him. His brain and brilliance need more challenge, he needs peers and teachers and a good transition point between living in a tiny town in Northern Thailand and moving to Canada or the US when he starts university, three years from now. He will thrive, I’m sure of it. I’m incredibly proud of him and excited that more people get to see the coolness that is Kai.

And also it’s sooner than I thought it would be.

There is this very instinctual, instrinsic part of my mother self that feels like Wait! Watch the kid. Keep the kid close. That’s our job. That’s what we do. 

It doesn’t help that every time I look away from him I reimagine him looking like this:

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How can you send that out into the world? How can you give that away?

But I blink and look back and he looks like this:

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For scale:

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This is a healthy, normal change, but it is the ending of an era. We all lived in a house together for sixteen years. All the family. We had a lot of time together; Kai was always home. We traveled on trains and buses, planes, boats, one tractor, rickshaws, canoes, cars or vans, and even on foot. We did it together. We’ll do more things together, I know it. Kai will still be home a lot over the next three years. But a certain time of life, a quality of how we were as a family is coming to an end, and it brings with it great possibility and the sadness of things that can’t be forever. 

I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said I am terrible at transition. Change often has me charging around dropping things, and stubbing my toes. I grow clumsy and vacant. I am overwhelmed. But I want to do this well. So I am writing, listening. We are in the city now, getting ready for school. Doing a bit of thrift shopping. Getting his bicycle fixed. Figuring out class schedule stuff. It’s all normal. I’m channeling my very best Molly Weasley. I’m pretending to be the mom who knows about school and grown up things, who totally has this. I totally have this. 

I mean really.

I do. 

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