Archive for June, 2008

Next stop… Inner Mongolia!

Dear friends,

Tomorrow morning our family heads off on a 2.5 week adventure to the northern reaches of China. We will be working with a team of 70 students and teachers from across our organization teaching English to local kids. While we hope to keep you updated we know that internet access is limited at best where we will be located. You can get a feel from the map below where we are now (the bottom blue push pin- Tianjin, just 2 hours south of Beijing) and where we are going (near a city called Hailar, about 750 miles away, almost to the border with Russia. While we are all very excited, the 26-hour train ride has us a bit nervous. If we survive that, then living in a Mongolian tent (called a yurt) should be a cake walk!


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The Greening of Tianjin

Along the Olympic torch route and all around the Olympic stadium, near the Sheraton where the athletes will stay and around the brand new airport terminal, Tianjin has, within a few short weeks, become unrecognizable. The manicured grass with underground sprinkling, the rose bushes, the varied blossoming trees, the intricate landscaping … it is a breathtaking transformation.

I’ve struggled a little with this display as I watch the back-breaking work of laborers, the soaring cost of food, the traffic nightmares of daily life in the middle of what has become a massive construction zone. Hosting a few of the Olympic venues (ping-pong and soccer) has sent our city into a frenzy. The money and energy spent to make Tianjin look like a modern environmentally green haven for two weeks in August is incalcuable.

I’ve asked local friends what they think of this mad rush to beautify the city. Some are frustrated, some are proud. As foreigners, we just don’t “get” what the Olympics mean to China. It is the Grand Opening Party of the Century, and the Whole World is invited.

But more than just the frustrations of traffic and construction dust, I felt this display was somehow not genuine. Not the “real” Tianjin. More like a movie set than a real place to live. But the other day riding home on my bike, I was struck by the realization that China’s frenetic drive to update and beautify the Olympic corridor is the exact drive I operate under when I scour the more public rooms of my house before a guest comes over. Nevermind the dust on my dresser or the piles of laundry stuffed behind the closet door. My intent is to give my guest the best possible experience in my home – to make them feel welcome – to know that they are so special, I even bought fresh flowers for the table.

Am I being disingenuous? I never thought so before. In fact, I would be mortified and upset if a guest went through the closets and under the beds purposefully looking for the mess I tried to hide. I suspect China may not be expecting that particular instinct in western reporting … “look for the mess! Never mind the good, report on the bad and the ugly!”

Just like a hostess readying a home for a beloved guest, China (magnified millions of times) is trying with considerable success to ready it’s Olympic venues for the world. Undoubtedly, if you venture off the proscribed path, you will experience a more “genuine” China .. but today, I am less inclined to judge the show. The effort to create a perfect 2008 Olympics is primarily and rightly for the Chinese people — it is also and not insignificantly, to honor her much-anticipated and welcome guests.

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Family Life pictures: Soccer Fun & Passport Party

Warning: This post is a bit more grandparent-oriented (read: lots of kid pictures)

Yesterday was the international school’s annual Kids Fun Cup – a low-key soccer tournament for the elementary school kids. Not only was it great to see the kids play and run in open spaces (a rarity for our urban lives), but to observe how the boys interacted on the field on opposite teams. During the game Noah once uncontrollably gave Zach a big hug and the end of the game handshake was predestined to be replaced with a big Kennedy Men bear-hug. (You can view the slide show by pressing the Play button, or the underlined title in the bottom left corner.)

As about 20% of families on our team have adopted kids, anytime a new family member comes home or paperwork is finalized, we really celebrate. Last weekend, we had a ‘Passport Party’ for one of our young community members, Olivia. After 6 years waiting for her paperwork to be finalized, her adoption was finally complete with the delivery of her US passport. This took place in the communal ‘backyard’.

– Dan

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