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Archive for December, 2007

Happy New Year – its going to be a Big One

Friends and Family,

Happy New Year! 2008 will be a big one for China – hosting the Olympic games for the first time, trying to slow down the nearly boiling over economy, building the world’s largest ferris wheel, laying bullet speed tracks from one major city to another, working to clean up air & water pollution, managing inflation on everything from pork to gasoline, teaching citizens to queue, refrain from spitting and learn a few helpful phrases in English … its going to be a busy year!

For us, it will be another year of what I’ve begun to think of as “endless humility”. Not that endless humility is necessarily a bad thing – in fact, I am quite certain it is good for the soul – but as are so many things that are good for the soul – it is exhausting. The longer we live in China, the more we realize how very little we know. We survive by the grace of G-d and the compassionate local and ex patriot people He brings into our lives.

Our language skills have improved just enough to make a mess out of most conversations. The person we are conversing with momentarily mistakes our Chinese as reasonably good (because most conversations with strangers begin the same and we have those words down pat), and begins to speak to us like we are intelligent adult-like people. When we are reduced to the three word phrase we were using a year and a half ago (“ting bu dong” – I hear you, but I don’t understand) … well, its back to toddler land (ie endless humility).

It doesn’t matter that we have college degrees, held good jobs in the US, owned a beautiful home and can speak perfectly well in our own language … we are bumbling, frustrating, but hopefully endearing toddlers here.

Last week when I took Hannah to the clinic for her strep infection, the taxi driver plied me with questions – was I dressing her warmly enough (foreigners will NEVER meet local standards in this area)? Was I giving her plenty of hot water to drink? The questions continued – I simply couldn’t keep up language or culture-wise. THEN … Hannah pulled out of her pocket 6 chocolate bars and dumped them on my lap. I had NO IDEA where they came from, but there they were. The evidence the driver needed to nail me for making my child sick. With absolutely no way to respond, I sat with my sick child on my lap and listened to a benevolent (I am giving the benefit of the doubt) tirade about my parenting. Endless humility.

We want so much to make this painful part of life here hurry by – to know the language at perhaps a 3rd grade level (have I mentioned that Chinese is hard to learn?), to “get” the culture enough to limit the number of times we stumble over local mores, to move into a season of blessing others who don’t happen to speak English.

As we move through this new year, we will continue to live this life of endless humility … trusting that with such broken jars of clay, He can do something wonderful.

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Grandma and Grandpa’s last full day in Tianjin

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We have totally enjoyed our visit here in China. But the one thing that just glares at me when we are on an outing, whether walking or riding in a taxi, is the unique flow of traffic. Daniel has suggested that we just close our eyes!!!! My father had a saying he taught me when he taught me to drive, “LET THEM GO!” Such good advice, particularly at stop lights when certain drivers find they can’t tell some of their colors apart. However, here in China, Daniel suggested that they just say, “GGGGOOOOOOOOO!” And it is true. The taxi drivers only use lane designations as mere suggestions. One will hear horns constantly honking which is not necessarily telling the world, “watch out” but rather “here I come.” In the midst of taxis, cars, buses, trucks come an array of pedestrians, crossing or walking (not honking) and bikers……many bikers. The Chinese people ride bikes like you would not believe. It is truly impressive. What is more impressive about all this is that no one seems to mind letting the other guy go or pushing ahead ( ie no road rage)!

Our visit is coming to a close on Sunday, December 30th but I can tell you, we have been deeply moved by all that we have experienced…..we enjoyed the friendly smiles from people we do not know, met many of the families, both Chinese and expats, been awed by all of the buildings (unending construction unlike I have ever seen) and businesses in this little town of thirteen million people, experienced several street vendors preparing yummy foods, visited the local outdoor vegetable and fruit stand offering fresh/delicious/unique items, loved the different restaurants and well as the delicacies of Dan and Sara’s Ai. (We were wanting to take her back with us.)

We leave with many happy memories and look forward to returning at another time of year to enjoy the other sights that we missed this trip.

– Grandma Kennedy
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Fruit and vegetable stand outside of Dan and Sara’s apartment complex

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Seeing the plague… 20/20

So its not really the plague. But we did want to share why we have gone especially dark of recent. We received several nice emails and Skype messages but have been unable to respond. Not only are my parents here visiting this week, but 4 of us (Sara, Mia, Hannah and myself) were diagnosed with various forms of strep bacterial infections (on the heels of Noah coming off a week fighting multiple viruses). The medicine is kicking in (see crazy schedule below) and all but Mia are recovering well. In fact at the doctor’s office Mia suffered a febrile seizure. It was brought on by high temperature and dehydration. She had a rash of these when she was much younger, but it has been years. All told it’s felt like the plague.

In other news, Zach is seeing clearer these days. He got his first pair of glasses this week. Contest: What literary character does he most resemble? Deadline: January 5th. Winner gets red bean ice cream!

-Dan


Zach with Grandma – getting his eyes examined for the right prescription

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Zach poses in front of our medicine dispensing white board chart

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China Then and Now

As some you may know I was in China for three weeks in 1983. The question has been asked what has changed in China?  It might be easier to say what is the same – they still speak Chinese. Other than that almost everything has changed.

In 1983 China was just emerging from a difficult period in their history. My sense was that there was a certain sadness and melancholy in the people. Although in talking with some of the technical people we met, there did seem to be a hope for the future.

That hope is being realized. The China I’ve seen in the last few days is vibrant and full of activity. There are many stores full of very modern goods especially apparel.  At the same time there are many small street vendors offering a wide variety products  and fresh produce.  Streets that in 1983 had two or three lanes for bikes and one for cars now have the reverse. (Speaking of cars, the best way to handle a taxi ride is to just close your eyes.)

My first inkling of  this change happened in the waiting area before boarding the flight to Beijing. The area was full of young Chinese men and women returning to their home during the holiday break at the American and Canadian Universities.

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It’s a Small World After All.

[Special Note: The next series of blogs will come from our special world-traveling guest bloggers – Gene & Nancy Kennedy (aka Dan’s parents). We have the privilege of sharing our lives, friends and Christmas with them during their 10-day visit all the way from St. Louis, Missouri, USA.]

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Grandma and Grandpa were able to visit Mia’s class as she celebrated her fifth birthday with her classmates. Notice the fog outside. It was so thick that the prekindergarteners were not allowed to play outside because the teachers were concerned that they could not see the children.

We have come on an amazing adventure! This trip to visit Dan, Sara, and our four across the sea grandchildren has been truly a wonderful and enlightening experience. Our flight was long but uneventful (uneventful being the best kind). Seeing Dan and Sara at the airport brought a wave of relief: they found us!!! The van trip to Tianjin was two hours of non- stop catching up….it also helped keep us awake in anticipation of hugging Zach, Noah, Mia, and little Hannah. Hugs are the best!!!

In the past five days we have been enthralled with wonderful new foods, new sights, and the best part , new friends. We were able to visit the International School where Zach, Noah, and Mia attend. (The taxi ride to the school was quite interesting because the fog was so heavy that you could not see beyond about two feet around the cab. They have amazing taxi drivers here.) We met teachers and other staff members and were very impressed with the high quality of education our grands are receiving. Even lunch there was great!!! Dan took us on a tour of his office and discussed the work he is doing. Again: impressive on all counts.

We have been hearing many wonderful stories of their Ayi (house helper) who comes to their home three days of week to lovingly care for them. Her cooking is outstanding and her happy disposition just makes you want to hug her. She was trying to teach me how to make her special dumplings. I just couldn’t get the hang of folding the dough in half and squeezing them shut!!! I made her laugh a lot. She finally told me I was probably tired and should rest. Is that subtle or what!!! What a gift she is to this family.

Spending special time with our grand kids always blesses us. As many of you know, I am always knitting. Well, Zach and Noah wanted to learn this summer and did well. They brought out their needles again as we were knitting together. What fun. I have treasured reading stories to the kids and spending time hugging them….to store up for when we have to return to the Us.

One of Dan and Sara’s friends, Kimberly, agreed to take me to the yarn market. I went kicking and screaming, of course. Shop after shop after shop after shop after shop…need I say more. The visit to the fabric market is beyond description: many floors each the size of a ball field with many, many shops of fabulous wools, exquisite silks, and pretty cottons…… and several yarn shops. Of course, I had to support the economy.

We have enjoyed a Korean BBQ, McDonalds, unusual and delicious fruits, and a goodly number of Chinese foods. And as I understand: more to come. We are enjoying the many traditions accompanying many different occasions.
Thankfully, I am not as stressed out as I thought I’d be. Little Hannah as been sick this whole time and I hate that. Many of the children were out of school with varieties of this same “bug”.

-Mom/Grandma K

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The Kennedy’s Ayi, Sara, and Mom Kennedy making dumplings!

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Hannah’s special time with Grandpa

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Noah, Grandma, and Zach having a knitting party.

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All I Want for Christmas is …

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My students at Shi Da are amazing. I love them. Each week, through their questions to me – and their answers to mine, they show me what it is to be young university women in a country trying desperately to modernize while clinging to the best of an ancient and proud culture.

The celebration of Christmas is foreign to Chinese culture — and so in some circles, desirable — and in others, detested. For university students participating in the AA English Club, Christmas is something to be understood as the premier holiday celebrated in English speaking countries. Moving past this curiosity into something meaningful is quite a challenge.

All around our city, Christmas trees are popping up, secular and sometimes spiritual songs are piped through store sound systems, employees in the major stores are wearing Santa hats … but ask what is this holiday all about and the answers invariably revolve around Santa, gifts, decorations, music, food and western culture. Can’t imagine where the Chinese saw this version of Christmas modeled ….. (grimace).

As part of our conversation circle a few weeks ago, I asked the students to imagine that Christmas was a part of Chinese culture — what would they like under their Christmas tree? Of my twelve students that night, not one mentioned something that could be wrapped. Their answers — ‘more time with my parents’, ‘success on my exams’, ‘health for my grandmother’, ‘happiness for my friends’ sounded more like a Fellowship sharing pr@yer requests than college students hoping for Christmas gifts.

While we teach these students about the true meaning of Christmas … they are teaching us important lessons, too. These conversations remind me over and over that the fingerprints of our Creator are indelibly imprinted on the soul of every person. These young women are His beloved – may they understand and embrace the best Christmas gift of all!

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Jia ren

We do love living here. But as with any place it has it’s trade offs. The biggest for most people like us living overseas is not being close to family (jia ren in Chinese – literally “home people” – I like that). It hits the hardest around the holidays.

So we Skype a lot and get pictures like the one below of my (Dan’s) family gathered in St. Louis for Thanksgiving (my folks, my brothers and their families – which as some may know includes Sara’s sister…). While we love staying in touch like this it also serves as a reminder of the loss the distance causes. It is a paradox – true fulfillment in what we believe we are called to do AND grieving the time away from loved ones.

BUT, this week is DIFFERENT! My parents, Gene & Nancy Kennedy are descending upon China for a 10 day visit! We are all so excited. We can’t wait to show them our home and expose them to a small slice of life in China (of course they can’t wait to smooch their grandkids!). Perhaps we can ask them to be guest bloggers next week! (My father has a great story to tell – he visited China about 25 years ago when China first opened to foreigners. The changes have been immense since then!)

Would you think of them this week? The 13 hour flight, jet lag and an entirely different culture is a lot to take. May He give them comfort, peace and a wonderful connection with the people of China.
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Kennedy Kids Sing – Short video with Jingle Bells & ZK’s “solo”

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East meets West at the Shi Da Christmas Party!

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For those of you who follow our blog regularly, you know that the Christmas Party at Shi Da (our local university) is one of the highlights of our year. The English Club students host a wonderful event – with decorations, music and performances of traditional music and dance. As foreigners, we share the meaning of the Christmas holiday through a living nativity, teach carols, bring Christmas cookies and share traditions. It is a very special night – attended by several hundred students. Here are a few pictures with captions to help share the story of this wonderful celebration (click on the thumbnail to enlarge):

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Daniel and Joycie/Zach and a student work on a mixer game together/about half of the sugar cookie extravaganza (not one was left!)

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Traditional Tibetan dance performance/my students sing Silent Night by candlelight/Santa gives out candy canes with the legend of the candy cane attached (note his nametag)

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The students watch the living nativity in awe/our friend Ben’s finest performance as the Birthday Boy/Noah, Mia and Rachel teaching carols (including their meanings)

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I got a… “lacerated ligament” in China

A short note for the thousands out there gripped by the drama of my injured hand. The specialist in Beijing pronounced I had suffered a lacerated ligament, gave me prescription for an ointment (no comment) and basically said “Go and be well! You shall be healed in 1-3 months.” A wise man once said “a man without choices lives a simple life”…

The good news? Due to issues with my ride back to Tianjin, I was ‘forced’ to spend an extra 7 hours in a very cool coffee shop I found in Beijing near the hospital. I couldn’t find a picture online but imagine a cross between Lakota Coffee (Columbia, MO), St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub (Alexandria, VA) and Seoul Garden (Grand Rapids, MI).

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Lastly, and completely unrelated, I attach a picture from our Thanksgiving in Shenyang with several dear friends. The kids had a ball playing in the snow (Shenyang is north of us). This picture is proof that my son Zachary (8) got the best of my friend Jerry (he’s like 70 or 35 – regardless – older than me) in a snowball fight. Notice the shattered snowball falling from Jerry’s cranium. He might have cried but I cannot confirm that.

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