Archive for March, 2009

Thoughts on Coming Home

This past weekend, the kids and I attended a “Leaving Well” Seminar offered by our company.  The meeting focused on how to prepare to transition away from China, and how to re-enter your passport culture with some shred of dignity – in other words, its easy to fall apart during the chaos of grief, transition, packing & unpacking, reverse culture shock, loneliness and helping your kids do all this as well!

One of the tools they shared was developed by David Pollock, one of the early and most prominent writers/speakers on the topic of transition (and also my boss’ father!) — he suggests thinking about transition as if you were building a raft — based on R for reconciliation (asking for and seeking forgiveness, leaving relationships well), A for affirmation (giving and receiving affirmation for your contribution and those who contributed to your life), F for  farewells (saying meaningful goodbyes to the people, places and things that you cannot take with you, but have become a part of who you are) and T for think destination (beginning to look forward to the new place, with realistic expectations).

I guess Think Destination was on my mind the other day, when sitting in a patch of warm sunlight on my bed, day-dreaming a bit, the following little poem came to mind.  It was fun to write – keep in mind we haven’t had any of these things in 3 years!  I hope it is fun to read! *** WARNING – Tianjin friends, don’t read unless this is your summer at home ***

I want to eat a ridiculously yellow ear of corn,

sparkling with a hundred sea salt stars

and not worry about how much fat is in real butter.

I want to drink a huge – a supersize lemonade

with ice and pulp and sugar and just enough water

To help it all go down.

I want to smell and watch and hear a filet of salmon

turn from the faintest pink to shocking orange

over the flame of a well-used grill.

I want to hold a heavy crockery bowl of mint chocolate chip ice-cream

white, of course (who ever thought green ice-cream could taste good?)

from a black box with Breyers on the label.

I want to sit wrapped in a quilt on a faded Adirondack chair

in my own backyard with crickets and june bugs and unscented citronella candles

in the dark, with my children, my parents, my siblings, my friends, my husband.

And marvel at the wonder of such an evening.


Korea on my mind

Flags of the Democratic Republic of Korea (North) and the Republic of Korea (South)

Today, Daniel and two dear friends toured the DMZ on the border between North and South Korea.  I’m sure he will post photos and stories when he returns from his long weekend visit to Seoul, but in the meantime, I just wanted to share a few thoughts on the Korean Conflict.

The Korean Conflict (so named in the USA to avoid the need for Congress to declare war – which would have officially brought the US and the USSR into direct combat) ended in the summer of 1953.  For most Americans, it would soon become the forgotten war, wedged somewhere between WWII and Vietnam.  In China, the War to Resist America and Aid Korea is very much a part of recent history (with a history of 5000 years, the 1950s isn’t so long ago).  For Koreans, the war was and is hugely horrifying and traumatic.  Family members were divided, places of worship, ancestral homes and temples, places of employment suddenly and permanently became off limits to huge parts of the population.  Imagine if everything and everyone west of the Mississippi were forever divided from those in the east — and yet the problem is even greater considering that the Korean peninsula would roughly equal the size of two states of Illinois stacked on top of each other.

Working in an international school with a majority Korean population, we have the high privilege of interacting with Korean culture every day.  I have been reminded over and over, from the youngest students to the seniors in high school, of the heartbreak most Koreans feel about their country.  North and South Korea share the same homogeneous people group, same language, customs, foods and the same long history.  Many feel their country was used as a pawn between a larger war playing out between the US and the USSR.

When students at our school are asked to do creative writing or art projects, the subject of the divided Korea comes up over and over.  I’ve seen paper mache birds without wings, two halves of a broken heart with futile attempts to patch it up … lots of expressions of brokenness, separation, hopelessness.  Many students dream of one day crossing the border to visit the famed beauty of the North, or meet relatives they’ve only heard about.

The economic and life expectancy disparities between the two Koreas is also troubling for our students.  How can the same people group with nearly the same resources have such radically different experiences in the course of the last 30 years (South Korea’s economy only surpssed the North’s in the mid 1970s)?  Of course we can point to the government, but this head knowledge does not heal the emotional scars of the Korean people – even the “lucky ones” born south of the 38th parallel.

Google earth satellite image at night of the Korean peninsula.  Can you tell where the line is?

Interestingly, though many South Koreans I’ve spoken with express anger that a tug of war between the US and the Soviet Union tore apart their country (or perhaps just made permanent something that was already happening), they do credit US Servicemen and women for enlarging the reach of Christianity in Korea.  While Christianity played a significant role throughout Korea (especially in Pyongyang before the North Korean government abolished the free exercise of religion) before the war, it simply exploded in South Korea in the years of recovery that followed.  Today, the largest protestant church in the world is in Seoul, along with a number of record breaking mega-churches.  The majority of the South Korean population who have a religious affiliation (46% do not), ascribe to Christianity (30%).

In China, we often hear that Christianity is perceived as a western religion that is not well suited to eastern peoples.  How fascinating then to study the situation in South Korea!

More on Korea when Daniel returns, until then, remember our brothers and sisters on both sides of the 38th parallel.  They are a beautiful people, and we are so thankful for this chance to understand and appreciate them a little more.

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Body Language

In my business English class yesterday, we talked about cross-cultural body language.  We looked at Chinese body language, and discussed how certain gestures might be intepreted in the western context.  Then I demonstrated some common American body language cues, and asked the students to guess what they might mean.  It was eye-opening to say the least!  Apparently, what feels so intuitive (for example, rubbing your thumb and index finger together to signify money) in one culture MIGHT not be intuitive in another.

Here are a few that really stumped my students:

winking (could mean flirting, could mean conspiratorial – how hard for a cross cultural visitor to know which!)

eye brow raising (again, could be flirting, could be questioning)

crossing fingers (this sign in China represents the number 10)

whistling (showing appreciation for woman’s appearance, or music or happiness)

sticking out the tongue ( mostly children – showing dislike)

moving index finger in a circular motion, pointed toward head (crazy)

rolling eyes (exasperation)

snapping (could be musical, could be impatience)

These are just a few of the visual cues that were not intuitive or understood at all by these students – and they are business professionals with great educations and strong English!  Imagine how confusing these signals are to the rest of the world!

Of course, every culture has its own body language – some even use the opposite signal given in another society for the same meaning.  What a diverse world we inhabit!

If you are interested in learning more about body language in the cross cultural context, check out this website:  This is fascinating reading!

For my students, and students of English and American culture around the world, we are profoundly sorry for the arduous task ahead of you.  This poem nicely demonstrates just a few of the complexities our mother tongue presents:

The English Language

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you
On hiccough, thorough, slough and through.
Well don’t! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps.
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard but sounds like bird.
And dead: it’s said like bed, not bead,
For goodness sake don’t call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).
A moth is not a moth as in mother
Nor both in bother, nor broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear, for bear and pear.
And then there’s dose and rose and lose –
Just look them up – and goose and choose
And cork and work and card and ward
And font and front and word and sword
And do and go, then thwart and cart,
Come, come! I’ve hardly made a start.
A dreadful language? Why man alive!
I’ve learned to talk it when I was five.
And yet to write it, the more I tried,
I hadn’t learned it at fifty-five.

– Author Unknown


An Amazing Weekend in Tianjin

It was just perfect.

The weather was crazy nice so decided to make an adventure out of hopping on a double-decker public bus and riding into the city center to get lunch and do some shopping.  What a joy it was to enjoy the gift He has given us in our little family.

Click this link to come with us on a photo slide show of One Day in March…