Posts Tagged With: asia

Stumbling Upon an Amazing Place of Love

This is what we love about traveling the way we do: because we’re less than briefly in a place, we get the opportunity to stumble on places which would’ve illuded us otherwise.

Great places.

Amazing places.

Mysteriously wonderful places which aren’t on the tourist itinerary or promoted on the official websites.

We were looking for schools is nearby Doudian.

We’re on an extended trip.

And extended trips cost money.

Especially if you’re a Tribe of 7 people.

The Tribe must eat and live.

So we teach English to cover the cost and finance the experience.

Maybe we’re more like migrant workers, or Gypseys.

Gypseys.

I like that idea.

So, yes, we’re Gypseys, working a little in a place, for a little while, while we meet beautiful new people and taste beautiful new experiences and discover a little more about The Way of the Gift.

We’ve settled, briefly, in a little village on the outskirts of Beijing.

DaGaoShe Village.

Working in the town of Liangxiang.

But the school we work for treats the contract we signed, more like a very broad guideline than a contract, and even though we are just migrant workers, we do afford ourselves the luxury of, if we have to work, enjoying what we do.

So we’re looking for new schools.

Which is much easier than trying to get a school, which does not know what honesty or integrity means, to grasp these principles.

As we travel, we notice, everywhere, dogs bark, birds fly and people are the same.

Some are honest.

Some not.

Some are caring.

Some can care about no one except themselves and their own interest.

This seems to be unrelated to race or gender or religion.

As if only glimpses of completeness is sown across our world, to spark happiness, framed by love and peace, on mountain tops and along the banks of rivers as they create new valleys flowing to the ocean.

DaGaoShe is sort of between Liangxiang and Doudian.

12 kilometers from Liangxiang.

8 kilometers from Doudian.

On the edge of the massive Beijing.

So we thought, a school in Doudian would be great.

An honest school.

It is closer.

It is smaller.

And generally we seem to meet greater people in smaller places.

So we’re Googling English Schools in Doudian.

And Bethel pops up.

A school.

But not a regular school.

And they’re not advertising that they’re hiring.

So we Google some more and later call in the help of recruiters, which makes things easier, because they know of all the schools and opportunities.

And we interview with other schools and look for that opportunity that will viably finance our experience in another place.

But it doesn’t matter.

The fact that Bethel isn’t hiring is of no consequence.

Because what they are doing, draws our interest.

Sort of like the sun drawing water from the ocean.

It cannot be resisted.

We call them.

Speak to a woman who introduces herself as Anna.

We make an appointment.

We’ll visit them on a Monday afternoon.

Anna explains that some kids won’t be there, that weekends are better for visits, but we work on weekends and kids aren’t monkeys in a zoo, so it doesn’t make a difference that they’ll be busy with their daily lives.

Over breakfast I order a cab on Grabtalk.

If you’re ever in China for a while, near a big city, you should get Grabtalk.

It’s like Uber, but much more.

In China you use WeChat, not Whatsapp.

And on WeChat you add Grabtalk.

And Grabtalk will get you whatever you need, wherever you are, at a really good price, between 8 in the morning and 11 at night.

Sometimes even later.

My sister went home to SA.

On her arrival back in China, she took a cab from the airport to our village and paid 400¥ just for the cab.

The other night we were in Beijing CBD for a medical emergency, at the Beijing Children’s Hospital.

Our Maddi had a terrible fall.

We had a big scare.

It was a wild chase in an ambulance through the streets of Beijing.

And it was 3 in the morning when we headed back home, relieved that she is okay.

With Grabtalk the taxi cost 82¥.

Same distance.

More 300¥ cheaper.

You need tickets to go to the great wall, or a hotel, or a restaurant or a PS4 or perfume or pizza, they organize it for you, they don’t charge you anything extra and they speak English.

That’s nice.

Believe me, that is very nice for people who have only a rudimentary understanding of Chinese, yet live in a world where few speak fluent English.

At 2 the cab arrives.

A smart new Beijing Motor Company x65 SUV.

Something like a Hyundia ix35.

The driver is friendly.

He knows the way.

It is a 15 minute drive.

Even closer to our home than we thought it was.

At Bethel Anna welcomes us.

She is a Spanish girl who has been with Bethel for about 2 years.

She studied to be a translator.

Studied in Spain.

Then studied more Chinese right here in China.

And her journey brought her to Bethel.

On their website we read about the project.

It was founded a decade ago.

A couple came to China from France.

They knew they wanted to do something which makes a difference.

They’re both musicians, so they started visiting orphanages and playing music.

Then they adopted a child.

Then Bethel happened.

An orphanage for visually impaired children.

Or a foster home specifically equiped to love and raise and educate kids who face this challenge.

China is an interesting place.

We’ve come to love the people.

We’ve come to respect their way.

But it isn’t Utopia.

No society, no matter how well it is run, is free of trouble.

China is a well run society.

It is egalitarian.

People have access.

The streets are safe.

Old people and young girls walk in streets and parks, late at night, without fear of mugging or rape.

Public transport is clean, effective and affordable.

Public healthcare is available and of high quality.

Police are well trained, friendly and helpful.

Education is good and free, until you have to go to High School and then it is inexpensive, even University within the reach of a Mom and Dad who work at a factory and want to send their one child to University.

That is one challenge this society faces.

One child.

Our Tribe adored by some, envied by others.

One child.

For a long time a couple could have only one child.

Then it eased a bit.

If both members of a couple were the only child, they were allowed to have 2 children.

Then it was eased a little more.

If either member of the couple were the only child, they were allowed to have 2 children.

And quite recently couples were being encouraged to have 2 children, as the government saw a negative population growth and projections predicted a lack of labor and consumers in the world’s second largest economy.

But it seems, most people have gottten used to the idea of one child.

A family is 3.

Or 5, if grandma and grandpa is included.

4 adults.

One child.

6 adults really, mostly, and one child.

So women don’t seem to be dragging their men to the bedroom at every opportunity to conceive that second child.

And somehow this affects babies who are born with a visual impairment.

“A blind baby won’t be able to take care of us as well as a healthy baby would.”

Of all eight of us.

That is quite a burden children in China grow up with.

Family is everything.

And you take care of your family.

First.

It is beautiful.

But imagine the weight on a Chinese child as he grows up and goes through education with the one aim: to get to the top with the best possible job, so that I could take care of my Mom and Dad and my husband’s Mom and Dad and our grandparents.

Imagine the fear in a parent as they discover their baby is blind.

Anna welcomes us in the foyer of the school.

It is an old hotel of sorts on a largish piece of land.

The hotel building has been converted to offices and classrooms.

The property is well maintained.

Clean.

Warm.

She shows us the classrooms, the music room.

We meet some students and teachers.

A little guy runs up to us and starts talking.

Playing.

He seems happy.

And confident.

Anna tells us there are about 500 000 orphans in China.

A lot of children.

But, if you think about the population of China, maybe half a million orphans aren’t that many?

Still half a million children.

Children abandoned for some or other reason.

Many of them abandoned because they are blind.

Anna explains, parents often don’t realize their baby is blind at birth.

And many times, visually impaired babies are abandoned when they are closer to their first birthday, or even after that.

Almost like little Moses, abandoned after he did not need to be nursed anymore, with the slight difference, these babies are not abandoned to go live in a palace, they are taken into State Orphanages, which are mostly not geared to take care of and raise and educate children with disabilities.

Which complicates matterrs a bit.

The sooner a visually impaired child can get the care he needs, the better.

Bethel has a relationship with many Chinese Orphanages.

They provide training and do awareness campaigns.

They’re launching a new project inside a specific orphanage where the need is deep.

And some of the children are fortunate enough to come to be in their care.

At Bethel they get a proper education and all the care they need.

They learn to read braille.

They learn Chinese and English and music and all the regular subjects they would’ve been taught at school.

They learn to move in their environment, without sight.

To cope.

To thrive.

As Anna takes us on our tour, two kids with bowls of fruit make their way up the stairs to the second floor of the school.

They are taking an afternoon snack to their classmates.

They find their way with ease, playing as they go along.

One stops halfway up the stairs at the large Christmas tree.

Puts the bowl of fruit down and looks at the tree, feeling the decorations and smiling.

Then he’s off, after his friend, running up the stairs.

Counselors come to meet the children once a week.

A large hospital in the city helps with medical care.

Some children need operations.

Cataracts.

Others would be greatly helped by a cornea transplant.

This year Bethel managed that.

A donor and transplant which changed a child’s life.

But being here at Bethel seems to change lives.

Being abandoned as a child must be something to deal with.

Being abandoned because of a physical impairment must be even harder.

And as we walk from classroom to classroom, meeting beautiful children and amazing teachers and carers, we are overwhelmed by gratitude.

For our own sight.

For being able to navigate our world with ease.

For being able to come to this place, so close to our little Chinese House, and meeting these awesome people who love without hesitation.

Changing the future of a handful of beings.

“It is a drop in the ocean”, Anna says as she explains the daily routine.

“We foster 40 children”.

“And there is a long waiting list.”

“Here at Bethel we care for 27 children.”

“In the city we have two apartments where we care for 13 older kids who we’ve been able to enroll in a special needs school.”

“Why not more?” I ask.

“It costs 4000¥ to take care of one child.”

“4000¥ per month.”

“That’s about $650”.

It comes down to funding.

“We have a ‘sponsor-a-child-program’ in which you can give 400¥ ($65) a month towards the care of a specific child.”

I do the math in my head.

It takes 10 donors to sponsor 1 child.

40 kids.

400 donors.

And then the needs of the existing children are taken care of.

“There are always more kids waiting to come to Bethel“, Anna explains, as we stand in front of a large world map at the top of the stairs.

I don’t get the map.

Then a see a sign talking about adoptions.

And Anna explains.

“We try to find the kids homes.”

“A child needs a home.”

“A child needs a family who will love them.”

“Last year we did 14 adoptions.”

“This year we did 19.”

“It is the most adoptions we could manage so far.”

“Most adoptions are international.”

This is part of Anna’s responsibility at Bethel.

“A lot of adoptions are to America.”

Anna explains that people from other countries have done adoptions too.

I can’t remember the countries.

I think Spain.

Maybe Canada.

This year they had a child adopted by a Chinese family in China.

“That is the ideal. Then the child stays within his culture, his own language and world.”

Kids are well prepared for adoption.

In addition to being able to read braille, find their way in their environment and being counseled regularly, there are always English classes, so if they are adopted by an English speaking couple, language is not a problem.

At the moment an American and a Brazilian girl volunteer a year of their time specifically to teach English to the kids who are being prepared for adoptions.

And my gratitude deepens.

How amazing that there are people who love so much that they would adopt a visually impaired child, from another country and raise that child as their own.

“It is difficult, ” Anna explains.

“People want to adopt babies”.

“Babies without challenges.”

“Often our kids aren’t babies anymore, when they are ready to be adopted.”

In China it seems there is a deadline for adoption as well.

If you’re 14, that deadline has passed.

“We were so happy”, Anna says as we walk from the world map, past pictures of children and Christmas decorations, “this year a boy was adopted just before his 14th birthday. That is good. He has a home. He has a family.”

And as children move to families, new children come to Bethel to receive a gift they would not receive, had this organization not been here in our backyard, supported by good people and run by stunning people, who love enough to change little lives into eternity.

We see the homes where the kids live.

The playground where they play.

The pool where they swim in summer.

We hear of the horses they ride once a week at a stable in Beijing.

And then it is four o’clock and our Grabtalk Cab is back to pick us up and take us home.

Maddi plays on one of the bikes in the playground.

I know we’ve only seen a glimpse of what happens at Bethel.

I sense that it wasn’t chance, or by the way that we stumbled on this place.

We believe in ‘serendipity’.

Our lives drawn by our Origin towards meaning in every moment.

And as we get ready to leave, I ask:”So what can we do? What are needs we can fill. I can shovel coal for the heating? Or do dishes? Maybe clean?”

“It sounds stupid”, Anna responds, “but maybe you could come and play with our boys?”

“Two thirds of our kids are boys, but our staff is female and the boys lack a male role-model.”

Except for Anna and the two volunteers, the rest of the people who make Bethel a reality are all Chinese.

Locals.

The manager is a woman who studied special needs care and education.

The carers and teachers are women who live in the nearby village.

And I agree.

Hesitatingly, for it is not something small to be a role-model for a child whose world you have no idea of.

“Okay.”

“I’ll come. And be. Here. With a boy or two. For as long as I can and as often as I can, and as long as you’ll have me. It would be a gift.”

As we ride the short drive home I think of it all.

The families who moved close to Bethel, who kept their visually impaired children and changed their own lives, so that they could bring their kids to Bethel during the day for education and special needs care.

The founders, who started something astounding, in such a way that it could continue long after their departure.

The families who support and adopt.

The exquisite beauty, hidden in our backyard, in the Chinese countryside, in a seemingly insignificant place.

The startling beauty of the gift these kids receive, in a world which was ready to destroy them.

The grace of it all, as our Origin conspires to take loss and transform it into gain, by touching peoples’ being and connecting people and filling us with happiness, framed by love and peace.

And I know this hour or two on a cold Beijing afternoon was just the beginning.

For us.

As we forge new relationships.

And are allowed to share in the immensity of it.

As, perhaps, your reading this, is just the start.

The seed.

Of your own involvement with this exquisiteness, in a far off place, which you cannot comprehend.

Maybe you could look at their website: www.bethelchina.org/home/?

Maybe you could see a child?

Maybe you’ll be taken on a trip, which would be the best years of your life?

I don’t know.

For, each of us, have our own journey.

But I do know this: no one can visit this place and leave untouched.

Even virtually.

Maybe, instead of planning your next trip in the Seychelles or the US or Paris, maybe you could do a trip to Bethel?

Or if you are at that stage of your life where you have time on your hands, you could offer to be a volunteer, giving the most precious gift of all.

Who knows how this journey will go?

But we share it.

Even now.

Even if just briefly.

And it is not without meaning.

It is serendipitous.

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Every bus-route has an end

A while ago we took bus 35, the only bus which runs from our little Chinese village to the nearby city of Liangxiang, in the opposite direction.

Away from Liangxiang.

Along the way we got off & discovered the most beautiful organic fruit farm.

Today we decided to take the bus again.

Same direction.

But ride it until it stops.

Or returns to our village.

After 30 minutes it stopped, of ambling along beautiful country roads & through picturesque little villages.

The conductor asking us to disembark.

Google Maps, with the helpmof a sturdy VPN, informed us that we were in ZuCun, or Zu Village.

The place didn’t look like much, but we’ve learnt that the most exquisite treasures are around the corner, if only we are willing to take a walk.

Life is often like this.

Somewhere the bus stops & then we have to get off & if we are willing to walk where we are, we might just experience something great.

In the streets of Zu Village, as in the streets of all the villages on the way, corn is spread to dry, workers carefully turning it & working it, so the corn may fall off the cob & dry in the sun.

Happy yellow greet us everywhere.

We get ice cream from the nearest shop.

Then we walk.

Past old Chinese homes.

A pond where old men are fishing.

Then a country road.

Fields of corn & cabbage & nuts & berries.

A river accompanying us & friendly locals greeting us, as we make our way.

We walk past a paper factory.

Small.

Unobtrusive.

Then a dam & sluices.

More fruit trees.

More fields of vegetables

Probably we’ll never set foot in Zu Village again.

But we were here.

We saw the old man & his dog, making a vegetable garden on its sidewalks.

We spoke to the boy who waits for the bus, at the end of its line, to carefully wash & clean it, while driver & conductor enjoy a meal.

We sat in the shade of an old Willow Tree.

Greeted the old men as they waited for a fish to bite & spent a moment with a Mom and her toddler who wanted to take a picture with Maddi & Sophia.

It wasn’t a ‘wow’-moment.

It was a quiet one.

Calm.

A needed one.

We need quiet moments along our way.

We can’t always be on the Great Wall or at the Forbidden City.

In fact, mostly, real life, I think, is lived along forgotten paths, near insignificant little villages,  where few tourists make their way.

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Let’s take Bus 35 to Somewhere

Bus 35 runs from our village, 大高舍村, into Liangxiang, where I have classes 5 days a week.

The bus runs between 05h40 to 20h30.

We’ve taken it to Liangxiang many times over the past few weeks.

This morning we got on it in the opposite direction, to see where it would take us.

It is amazing what you experience if you are willing to just get on a bus and go somewhere unknown.

We rode the bus for about 20 minutes and then got off in a neighbouring village, started walking along its streets, taking in the atmosphere, the old buildings, the beautiful people, the smell of food and the sound of laughter.

We walked down the main street, eventually getting to the entrance of the village.

I love how villages and towns and cities here in China have ornate entrances welcoming you.

We kept on walking in the shade of large trees planted decades ago, all along the road.

A woman on an electric scooter stopped alongside us.

She started talking and explaining, too fast for us to follow, but friendly and kind, us able to understand she has a gift she wants to share with us.

A little way further down the road we find their farm, their gift.

Amazing organic fruit trees.

Plums.

Peaches.

Apricots.

And a similar fruit we don’t know.

They explain that they do not spray their trees and invite us in to come and pick and eat as much as we like.

Birds provide the soundtrack fro our experience.

We enjoy one juicy plum followed by another juicy peach.

Maddi’s face and clothes are marinated in fresh fruit juice as she eats along.

As we leave we take a bag of fruit with us.

It starts to drizzle.

People offer us umbrellas which we politely decline.

The drizzle is perfect.

We find our bus stop.

We ride home, along tree-lined streets.

As Beate would call it, ‘China the Beautiful’.

Not just the trees and fruit and countryside.

The people.

Always friendly.

Always welcoming.

Always sharing their little bit of abundance with our little tribe of strangers.

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大高舍村 Market day

Along the moon calendar 大高舍村 (Da Gao She Cun) has a market.

Four, sometimes five times a week.

We recently moved to 大高舍村.

It is about 10 kilometres from nearby Liangxiang in Fangshan County of Beijing.

We have village life, while being not too far from the little University Town where we teach and study.

Recently Zuko acquired a pick-up.

The kind which runs on pedal power, which is very popular in China.

It makes life easy when bringing potatoes and mushrooms and all kinds of exotic fruit back from the market.

The market isn’t really just 大高舍村’s.

It is set-up between Siao Gao She Cun and the next village, an easy 3 kilometre ride on Zuko’s pick-up.

At the market you get not only fresh fruit & vegetables, but also meat, fish, clothes, house-ware, bedding, furniture – pretty much anything you can imagine to need and at a much lower price than you would pay in a Liangxiang Supermarket.

It is sort of 大高舍村’s Taubau, just with instant gratification & a little more color.

But you have to head there early, by 9 the action starts to fade and by eleven the only evidence that there was any business done is some corn leaves or onion peals discarded on the side of the road.

This, I think, is how getting your food should be.

A little more pleasant than the supermarket’s white isles and organized rows.

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From 大高舍村 to Beijing and back.

It was about six o’clock when we stood at the 35-bus stop.

The sign says the bus operates from 05h40 to 20h30 every day.

We’re heading to Beijing, about 40 kilometres away.

By car it takes 90 minutes to drive.

Today we’re taking the bus to Liangxiang and then the subway, all the way to the heart of this massive city.

It’ll take, maybe 2 hours.

Just after 6 the first bus arrives.

It is packed with people, more people get on, but we decide to wait for the next one, in the hope that there’ll be a little more space.

Just before half-past the next bus is there, as packed with people and we get on, because we need to get to Beijing to do our application for residency.

We’ve been in China almost 19 months.

First time round we got a 6 month residency permit.

Then a 12 month one.

That’s the longest they’ll give you.

They could renew it, or extend it, like we’re hoping they’ll do today, but 12 months is what they give you in one instalment.

It is the 23rd.

Today our existing residency permit expires.

So this is the day to do it, unless we’d like to burden ourselves with a massive amount of red tape and bureaucratic trouble.

We arrive at Liangxiang 25 minutes later, just outside the new subway station which looks like a scroll.

Everyone on the bus heads towards the station.

They’re smartly dressed in office clothes, ready to commute for 90 minutes to get to work, to commute right back home tonight.

I’m grateful I don’t have a 3 hour commute every day.

We take the Fanghsang-line to its end, get on line 9 and ride it to its end as well.

Then we take line 4 for 3 stops to transfer to line 2, taking it to the Lama Temple Station in the heart of the city.

We’re there by 8h45.

Anna Wang meets us at exit B and together we head to the local entry and exit administration office of the Public Security Bureau (PSB).

We complete forms, go to the right counter, but then the officer informs us there is a problem, my Foreign Expert Certificate (which allows me to work in China) has been cancelled by my precious employer and the new employer has taken too long to renew it.

Anna asks us to wait.

We wait.

2 hours.

She calls.

We should go have lunch, she’ll be back at the PSB at around three o’clock.

We walk down the street and find a beautiful Halaal restaurant which serves Chinese Food with  a Malaysian twist.

It is beautiful.

Then back to the PSB.

Anna is there.

The problem has been sorted out.

And I am reminded that good will and strong relationships often make a way where a way does not seem to be.

Our applications go in without any glitch, except fro the slight frown on the officer’s face as he processes applications for 4 children, repeatedly asking ‘four children?’, Anna explaining that we are from Africa and I am a good teacher and Zuko teaches the children and Beate is with us, so it really isn’t that bad as we are 3 adults and 4 children, which isn’t that different from China.

And I am reminded of grace.

Aware that it is our Origin’s grace which allows us to make this journey through this foreign world with its exquisite people and exotic places.

We make the same journey home.

This time the subway isn’t as congested and on most lines, most of us get to sit for most of the journey.

By 5 we’re back in Liangxiang.

By five-thrity we’re in 大高舍村 (High House Village).

Zuko brews a cup of coffee.

We talk about how clean the subway is and cheap, only 7¥ for the entire journey.

We talk about, even though millions of people use this system of underground trains and busses every day, how nowhere it felt too crowded or congested.

We talk about how well our little Tribe did, as we do the things you have to do, to be able to experience this journey.

And my heart is filled with gratitude, hoping that somehow these experiences will enable them and help them be able to live lives less ordinary as they quickly head towarss adulthood.

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From Jiamusi to Liangxiang

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On December 29th 2013, we loaded our luggage in a friends Fortuner and drove the 400 odd kilometres from Bloemfontein to OR Thambo International Airport, to start a 24 hour journey, taking three flights, to arrive in Jiamusi, Heilongjiang, China, late the afternoon on December 30th.

That was 18 months ago.

On July 1st 2015, we loaded our luggage on train K2606, departing from Jiamusi train station, to start another 24 hour journey.

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This time to Beijing.

And from Beijing to Liangxiang in Beijing’s Fangshan County, about 40 kilometres from the city centre.

Public transport in China is cheap and convenient.

We bought second class tickets, or what they call ‘hard-sleeper’-tickets.

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You get a bed, with fresh clean bedding, in a carriage,  alongside many other travelers.

The carriage is equiped with a toilet, bassin area and conductor who constantly cleans and makes sure everybody is comfortable.

The journey was easy.  We played cards.  Excitedly talked about what awaits us on the other side.  Read some.  Shared dinner and breakfast and lunch.  Slept some.

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And then we arrived in Beijing.

At the beautiful old train station with its bell-tower which rings on the hour.

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Crowds of people easily finding their way.

We find our way to the KFC for a cup of coffee and ice cream for the kids, while waiting for Anna Wang, who is meeting us for the last leg of our journey.

In Jiamusi we had new friends seeing us off at the station, making sure we catch the right train and find our carriage and settle into our little semi-compartment.

18 months ago, at OR Thambo International,  it was just us, our friends far away in Bloemfontein and Nelson Mandela Bay.

This afternoon, as we sip hot black coffee, the bell striking once, it is just us again.

Our little Tribe, on our amazing little journey.

It is different from a 3 week tour, with luxury accommodation and arranged transport.

It is immersive.

Tasting and experiencing what never could be on a short little visit.

Anna arrives.

We load our luggage in the black mini-van and head out of Beijing, towards Liangxiang.

The air-con a welcome comfort after 30 minutes at the train station.

It is a 90 minute drive.

We could’ve taken the subway.  Google Maps says it is 90 minutes by subway from Beijing Train Station to Liangxiang on the new Fangshan-subway-line.

Anna insisted on meeting us.

She takes us to the Police Station, where we need to register our arrival.

And then to our new little home.

In Jiamusi the institution I worked for provided us with housing, for which we were grateful,  since it would’ve been an impossible requirement for us to seek and find housing, in a country we’ve never been to, from South Africa, before our departure.

In Liangxiang, we found our own home.

Over the internet.

With lots of negotiations, with the help of Google Translate and WeChat, China’s version of Whatsapp.

I was a little worried, despite my belief that our lives are connected to the Origin of Life and Being & that there is a rhytm of loss and gain, which is good, aware that every loss brings gain and every gain will flow to loss again, creating space for new gain.

We’ve ordered shoes online.

Electronics.

But never before have we ordered a house.

You speak.

You agree.

And then you trust that everything will work out.

And eventually it does.

In Liangxiang, on the outskirts of Beijing, housing is expensive.

Not as expensive as in Beijing itself, but still, on what I would earn with the little bit of teaching I would do, a 3-bedroom apartment would eat more than 35% of my income each month.

And we did the apartment thing in Jiamusi.

Which was an interesting experience.

A difficult one, in some ways, for a little Tribe who came from a beautiful little wooden house, set on a not so little hill, overlooking forest and ocean.

It took some getting used to the 5 flights of stairs to climb every day and the view of another apartment building and the less space and the neighbours above and below.

We made the most of that and enjoyed the experience – somewhere, if we get the gift of old age, we’ll talk about the beauty of our little apartment on the 5th floor in Yi Yuan Qao Qi, but when we found a little house, with a little garden, just 10 kilometres outside Liangxiang, renting for not even 17% of my income, we were excited.

Could it be possible?

To live in a house with a garden, and a beautiful entrance gate, in China where most families live in apartments?

It must be a scam!

And had we given ourselves to fear of the unknown and belief in the worst, we would’ve opted for a smallish 2-bedroom apartment,  somewhere on the 5th floor again, neatly furnished and very safe, but above our means and already inside the sphere of our experience.

It is a littlenharder to be brave when you are part of a Tribe.

When Zuko and I were just married, young and without children, we would often throw caution to the wind, without thinking about it twice.

We shared an adventerous spirit and we would deal with whatever happened, together.

We continued this tradition after the kids arrived, but it took and it takes a little more now.

We have 4 other lives to consider and you don’t know how hardy they would be and you don’t want to subject them to stuff that is unpleasant or bad.

Still we phoned and WeChat-ted and ordered.

And arrived.

Driving down a little alley.

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To stop in front of a beautiful red gate.

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And find a not so little house with 5 fruit trees and loads of birds in the garden.

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The landlord and his family are friendly.

He apologises.

Everything isn’t ready yet.

He misjudged himself on how long it would take to prepare for our arrival.

The inside is repainted.

But the bathroom and kitchen isn’t ready yet.

Zuko can’t cook and more than 30 hours after we’ve left Jiamusi, it seems we can’t wash either.

Maddi is unaffected.

She starts playing in the soil under the fruit trees.

Dude and Pippin and Sophia choose bedrooms.

For teenagers this is important.

The house has 5 bedrooms, not 4, as the landlord indicated.

The wood-panneling and Chinese sliding doors give it an exotic feel.

Chairman Mao greets us in the lounge.

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And as the sun sets our neighbours, an elderly couple, bring dinner.

Since we can’t cook.

Beans with beef.

Vegetables.

Rice.

In the cool of early evening, we sit on the steps of our new home, enjoying the warmth and hospitality of beautiful people we’d just met.

We sleep.

And then we start cleaning, while the landlord brings a new fridge and washing machine with great pride.

And installs a beautiful new gass stove in the kitchen.

Our Tribe impressing me,  hardier than I thought, braver, alongside each other, as we livemthrough a little discomfort and make the best of this very moment.

Perhaps the Landlord too struggled to believe and was a little hesitant?

Not believing that a foreigner, who says he lives in Jiamusi, would arrive, when he said he would and rent, what he agreed to rent?

And because of his disbelief, he held back, not wanting to waste time and money?

Whatever the reasons, 3 days after our arrival we take a hot showermin our own bathroom, we do some laundry in the newly installed washing machine and Zuko cooks a beautiful dinner on her new gas-stove.

This morning we’ll head to the little breakfast shop where we had breakfast on our first morning in 大高舍村 (High house village), then we’ll stroll to the outdoor market to find bedding and seeds for the garden Pippin has already prepared.  Later we’ll watch a movie and have dinner on our steps.

And so we’ll find a new rhythm, in a new place, filled with new people to meet and beautiful places to discover.

Life, not very normal, but interesting.

A little discomfort and uncertainty,  always the gateway to something exquisite.

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10 Must-Do Jiamusi Activities

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Maybe one day you find yourself in Northern China with a few days to kill.

Or, you’re keen to go where few others go on holiday.

Here are 10 must-do things to enjoy in Jiamusi, in China’s Heilongjiang Province.

We’ve lived here for 18 months and had time to explore, experience and enjoy.

1.  Walk or Cycle the Shongua River Park:  The city is stretched along the bank of the Shongua River which forms the longest Park in Northern China, with beautiful walkways, gardens, Memorials and Statues.  During the day the Park is filled with old people playing board games, playing traditional instruments and taking slow walks.  There is music playing and there are vendors selling balloons, ice-cream and snacks.  At night it lights up with energy, large groups of people doing ‘Zombie-dancing’, a kind of co-ordinated slow exercise dance-thing, which is quite something to see.  In summer we loved cycling the park at night, feeling the energy of this vibrant place.

2. Take the Ferry to Willow Island: from the tall Memorial Monument at the River Park, near the RiverSky Hotel, you can take a ferry to Willow Island across the river for 2¥.  On the Island you are greeted by a minority group who are the last remnants of a Gypsey like people who first lived int his area, hunting and fishing like Eskimo’s.  Now they entertain you with a little Amusement Park, restaurants, horse riding, bicycles for rent and carraige rides.  If you walk past the noise and buzz of the organized amusement, you hit the gravel road and experience a little bit of rural China with 2 little villages, a forrest and large farmlands, cattle and sheep grazing along the way.  Whenever we had time, we would take our bicycles across on the ferry and cycle from one side of the island to picnic and swim on the other side of it.  This is a great day-trip.

3. Enjoy a Picnic at TsiFung Mountain:  TsiFung Mountain has a massive reservoir at its feet and pristine forrest with little paths to picnic spots.  There are boats to rent and restaurants, a wooden walkway on the edge of the water and an old Temple set slightly up its side.  You can take a bus or taxi here.  We’ve even cycled there one sunny summers day.  A large Buddha greets you, as you arrive and at his feet are statues of all the animals of the different Chinese birth-years.  In winter you can ride a snowmobile, tube down a slide, ice skate or even go sledding on the reservoir.  We loved walking in the forest.   Hearing the birds.  Breathing solitude, always amazed that even though this is a densely populated city, none of the places ever feel over-crowded.

4. Play in the Children’s Park: As you arrive at the Children’s Park, you are greeted by the chairman, or rather a statue of him and then you walk past playgrounds,  canals with peddle boats,  pagodas and food-vendors.  The Parks in Jiamusi are many and all of them are well kept, clean and safe.  They are beautiful havens where you see children play, couples whisper sweet nothings and others practicing traditional arts.  TaiKwonDo, Kung Fu, TaiChi.  Music.  Games.  It is in the Parks that we always tasted China’s wealth.  In winter the Children’s Park is transformed into a playground with every imaginable activity you can do on ice, on offer.

5. Visit the Heroes Park: this Park is slightly aside from the city centre, near Jiamusi’s number 16 middle school.  A Park dedicated to a brave Jiamusian who fought during wars with Russians and Japanese.  There are memorial stones, an old tank, an old river boat and along with the Park’s surroundings,  we tasted something here, which we did not taste anywhere else.  Not so many people.  No music.  A quieter place, as if remembering isn’t always pleasant.

6. Enjoy the Public Art at the Memorial Park: The Memorial Park is riddled with monuments and beautiful statues.  It is a stones throw from the very large, very modern New Mart Shopping Mall rising 16 storeys into the air and it remembers the Russians for emancipating this little part of China from the Japanese and their puppet Emperor.  If you’re there, look for the massive ant sculpture and the beautiful woman with the peacock.   In summer fountains dramatically spray into the air and children find relief from the season’s heat.

7. Eat beautiful Food: Hot-Pot, Dumplings, Barbecue,  Beijing Duck and Fabulous Breads. In Jiamusi you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to food and restaurants.  You’ll see the big multi-storey restaurants,with private rooms where you are served by a dedicated team of waiters at no extra charge, from the main streets and when you head down alleys and little roads you’ll stumble onto exquisite family-owned restaurants, each offering something special.  You can try threm.  The food is stunning.  Noodles.  Korean food.  Russian food.  There is even a French Restaurant and a selection of coffee restaurants.  “Summer” is our favorite place for coffee, cake and sandwiches.  Exceptional coffee.  And after dinner Jiamusi offers an Theatre, Cinema and Bowling Lanes for late night entertainment.

8. Shop at the Markets: The Markets in Jiamusi is something to explore.  At the big shopping malls you’ll find all the Western Brands you’ve desired, but at the markets you find treasures at robbery prices.  Be sure to haggle.  If they say it costs 100¥ you should bargain them down to 50¥, they expect you to do that.  There is a massive underground market, built in what I imagine serves as a bomb shelter, stretching kilometres and many streets under the city.  Then there is also the Flea-Market where you’ll find anything from food to household items, around the corner streets with furniture and behind it an 8 storey market filled with clothes and shoes and curtains.  Here you can get a pair of Lee or Tommy Hilfigger Jeans for 100¥ and shoes for even less.

9. See the past at the Museum: The museum doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside you’ll find pictures and artifacts giving you a feel for the long history of this area, from the time of little fishing villages spotted along the Shongua River, through the revolution, Japanese Occupation, Russian Occupation into more recent days.  The museum is dedicated to a local teacher who lost her legs saving students, her story dipicted as you enter the museum.

10. Amuse yourself at the Zoo: The zoo is right next to a massive Temple and is also host to Jiamusi’s Amusement Park with a fair sized Roller Coaster and pretty big Ferris Wheel as major attractions among all the other Amusement Park kind of stuff.  The zoo itself is forest-like with not too many animals, but enough to make for an interesting afternoon of leisurely walking and playing.

In addition to all of this Jiamusi has interesting architecture.   Two diverse temples.  A little Roman Catholic Church, a larger Evangelical Church and a Mosque.

Just walking the streets is interesting, as old and new and rich and poor exists and lives amongst each other, knit together by the smells and sounds of a hearty people who embrace their bit of world.

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Between Worlds

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It’s been 18 months.

At the end of 2013 my little Tribe and I packed up our little wooden house on the not so little hill, sold our ageing Defender to a shrewd lawyer and our beautiful inherited antique furniture to Colonial Antiques, bought six plane tickets with the proceeds and found our way to Jiamusi in Siberian China.

A bit more than a year before our departure, we realized that something will change in our life.

We didn’t know what, but we knew change was on the horizon.

We sensed it, like you can smell the rain in the Kalahari, as it is on its way.

It wasn’t the first time, we’d smelled the rain before and felt it on our soul.

I’d been working for a non-profit for more than half a decade.

It wasn’t the first time.

My career, if you could call it that, had been in non-profits and non-profits are just that, not profitable, so you go into it, with a lot of passion and hope, aware that you won’t be making exceptional profits, hoping you would contribute something to life and society, and sometimes the non-profit isn’t even breaking even, so you walk away with loads of experience, but somewhat poorer financially than you went into it.

I’d been interested in happiness, writing and speaking about it on every opportunity afforded me.

Not because I wasn’t happy, or was seeking happiness, but because I was immensely and increasingly happy, since I could remember, and wondered why, for so many others, happiness seemed so illusive.

As a young child, immersed in ignorance, as a young adult, inspired by aspiration and most recently, progressively framed by love and peace as faith seeped deeper into my being, enabling me to live a happy life, despite loss & gain, always caught by loss again, happiness existed in my being.

I was curious to understand why I’d been happy for most of my life, except for that brief moment in 2006 when my world seemed to implode and rejection desired to devour my heart, from which I emerged happier than before, aware that the depth of our sorrow contributes to the breadth of our happiness.

Curious, why so many with seemingly so much more, weren’t.

Aren’t.

Then two forward thinking Academics noticed my writing and offered me the opportunity to study again, perhaps sensing that happiness is indeed an Ancient topic well neglected in modern literature,  only recently revived, in Psychology and Spirituality,  but perhaps untied from its deep Ancient Roots and the thinking which has gone before.

I had the privilege of studying when I was young, and publishing in an Academic Journal, but life and hope and aspirations consumed my time and it had been 15 years since I expended any real energy on extensive learning.

There was the post-graduate Certificate I gained from Rhodes University, which taught me a bit of Broadcast Management, but to be offered the opportunity to read towards a real PhD, on a topic which made your being come alive, was a prospect to be embraced.

The rain we smelled started falling.

The scholarship,  however, wouldn’t cover the cost of clothing and feeeding a family of six, nor would the 16-hour days I’d been working at the non-profit, allow any time for legitimate learning or pondering.

It seemed an impossible fortuity.

Something which would have been wonderful,  but would have to be set aside as the glistening golden chains of regular life and responsibility bound us.

Impossible, however, only exists, when we are unwilling to let go and unwilling to consider  metamorphosis,  and so we let go and found the chance to teach, while studying, in the deep Far East.

A world apart.

18 months later, I am inordinately grateful.

I’ve only touched the surface of what had been written, by Ancient Philosophers,  excited that there are deep wells from which to drink, over time and encouraged by the old African Philosopher, Augustine of Hippo Rego, that we should allow ourselves time to digest, but somehow I’ve learnt much already.

Sustained as I patiently consume and consider.

Energy does flow where attention goes.

The gift of the past 18 months, not only reading forgotten wisdom, but reading it in an environment to which I am un-accustomed, a listener and observer, learning about happiness in every moment and every interaction.

Soon we will depart from Jiamusi, heading to Liangxiang, a little University Town, with fewer than 100 000 residents, not too far from Beijing.

And as we pack our bags and say our goodbyes, I contemplate and take stock.

I’ve realized my own happiness is a gift.

A gift received from when I was born, as I lived under the grace and kindness of our Origin.

They, awakening in me an awareness of their presence and a comprehension (rudimentary,  but non the less) of Their Being.

Gradually, like the tide, coming in, pushing water over rocks and river-banks, until all that is parched is covered by its cool.

I’ve realized, loss is gain and gain is loss.

Neither one better than the other.

Both vital to our happiness.

I’ve realized, although we verbalize it, and endeavor after it, in different ways, we have this desire to be happy in common, as a species, a kind, a race.

And mostly we are dissapointed, because we seek it in Spirituality or Materialism, but seldom in the Origin of Spirit and Matter.

Denying ourselves the gift we have already received, from Them Who brought us into Being.

And perhaps the unwrapping of what has already been given exists in ridding ourselves, or being ridden of, the conviction that we have want.

Seeing, that we have no want, for They are and we are with Them.

Also, as we embrace the metamorphosis,  receiving the time to live slower, to walk slower, eat slower, love slower, happiness is afforded the conditions it needs to flourish.

The past 18 months gave us the opposite of what we had.

Instead of 16 hour working days, I had 4 or 5 classes to teach.

Instead of getting into the car and rushing through traffic to just be on time for an appointment,  we had slow walks, talking along the way, listening, smelling, consuming our environment.

Instead of no breakfast and a hurried late dinner, we had slow meals, with long conversations and simple food.

Wealth isn’t always wealth, for with it, often it seems, comes the poverty of our being.

Instead of short sleepless nights, interupted by anxiety of unpaid salaries or knocking suppliers, we had the regular deep rest of uninterrupted long nights, waking up revitalized.

We were happy before we came to China.

I was happy as an oblivious little boy and as an arrogant post-teenager, when Zuko and I fell in love, I was happy as a student and as a Minister and a Media-guy trying to bring about change with no resources and excitable people.

We were happy then, despite the loss.

And we are happy now, despite the loss.

For loss is always gain and loss will thankfully be ever present.

Don’t be misled.

The happy life is not a life poor of loss.

Selling all your movable assets and moving 13000 kilometres away from everything you’ve ever known is loss.

Being in a world in which you understand nothing and are never understood is loss.

Being the distrusted foreigner is loss.

Not being able to reach out to your Mom when she is afflicted by a stroke, or being able to console a friend when his wife and daughter dies, all of it is loss.

But loss is gain and gain is loss and it is good, for our happiness isn’t born of circumstnaces, but concieved by the Origin of our circumstances from Whom we receive in such a way that it is complete.

Not some of us.

All of us.

And not because of our devotion or delighting in Them.

Because of Their Being.

For They let it rain on everyone and They too bring famine to everyone, indiscriminately, as old confessions would say, for we all are from Them and They do not abandon what has been brought into being from Their own Being.

There is no reward or punishment, as religions would like you to believe.

There is They from Whom we come, Their grace and kindness, Their indestructible consistency and desire to live at One.

And so we find ourselves between Worlds, finishing up in Jiamusi, looking forward to settling (for a while) in Liangxiang, but always between Worlds, as we live a life which is complete, while it is still being completed, understanding it, as understanding will still dawn in our being.

Gypseys, vagrants even, in a world filled with death and injustice, seemingly out-of-control, yet perfectly loved by They Who are Love.

And so we encourage you to be on your own journey, from World to World, good travelers who never arrive at their destination.

Looking inwards, instead of at the illusions of success and acceptance.

Listening to Their ever present Voice, not the voices of destruction planted in your  being over time, the Voice of Them from Whom you come, always Whispering, calling us out, to be, as They are.

Not seperate or superior.

Redeemed and Regenerated, as we are being redeemed and regenerated.

Becoming the gift, as we receive it, for we are all created in Their image, not just some and we are all being called, all of us also answering at once, even if it be fumblingly in our muted blindness.

Happiness ours, along this Way.

Our Gift.

Which cannot be lost.

PS: at Sevencitys you could read some more about The Gift of the Way

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Tangyuan, Heilongjiang, Northeastern China

Our Tribe loves traveling together.

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Sometimes it is impossible & we travel vicariously through each others’ experiences.

When Xia Yin invited us to join her family for a day trip to Tangyuan,  I knew I won’t be able to join in, but encouraged Zuko & the girls to enjoy the day.

They left at 07h00 from Jiamusi.

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Tangyuan is just 50 kilometres away.

You can get there by car, bus or train.

Jiamusi is surrounded by beautiful, exquisite towns, filled with beautiful exquisite people & hugged by stunning parks, mountains & forests.

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By 08h30 they arrived in Tangyuan.

At the temple.

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For Zuko’s travel companions this was an important day.

There are many temples all over China, but this one is special.  It is buzzing with activity.  Monks spending months at a time here, studying, meditating, praying.

Our friends pray.

Zuko & the girls taste the holy space.

A monk befriends Maddi.

Gives her a hug & green stone bracelet.

Inside this space they do not take pictures, respecting the sanctity of the moment.

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From the temple they take a tractor train to the forest.

Beautiful Asian trees & wooden decks greet them.

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They play games.

They love games.

They share a meal.

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They talk.

Mostly with smiles & gentle touching, for language is limited.

They nap & relax on the hangmats.

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Take a walk into the mountain.

Listen to the sound of the wind rustling through leaves.

Then the return by tractor-train to the temple & from there they head out back towards Jiamusi.

On the way, they stop for dinner along the Shongua River.

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Barbeque meat on sticks are very popular.

Corn is picked in the fields right next to the restaurant.

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They play some more.

Eat some more beautiful food.

And then the day is gone.

And as they tell their story, we resolve, in October, when I have a few days, they’ll take me there too & maybe we’ll follow the track of the train, disembarking wherever it stops, spending a day, to embark again, to see another little town, meet more beautiful people, taste a different China.

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Fuyuan, Heilongjiang, Northeastern China

We left Jiamusi City early on Tuesday morning, eager to experience this 3-day trip to China’s most Northeastern border.

We were heading to Fuyuan, the place where the sun brushes China first, every day.

It is a place of history.

A place of conflict.

Like most border-towns, a place where cultures spill into each other.

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We looked forward to visiting Dong Ji Square, Black Bear Island, the world’s largest Wetland & walk the streets of an old Chinese City influenced by Eastern European ways.

We took a Coach, so that we could stop along the way & see where the Yellow Dragon River & Black Dragon River meet.

And visit the birth place of the world’s first Eskimos.

If you come to Fuyuan via Beijing you should fly.

It is remote.

In a corner of the world known to few.

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The Coach was comfortable & air-conditioned.

There is also a train to Fuyuan.

Until 1998 the city was cut off from the rest of China.

The railway only reaching the city in the Autumn of that year.

The airport quite recently completed.

A deep water harbour being built.

It was a place where outcasts were sent.

Siberia.

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Iced for the greatest part of the year with temperatures dropping below -40ºC for almost 7 months of each year, Spring & Autumn bringing good weather with temperatures rising to zero & a short summer creating the opportunity to grow food & stock up for winter.

If you visit Fuyuan,  you should come in summer – July & August.

By September temperatures drop again & by October it becomes unbearable, unless you are equiped with Alaskan-gear.

Han Mei, one of our travel companions tell us her story along the way.

She came to Fuyuan when she was six years old.

She came from wealth.

The Han-family prominent & influential.

Her father an artist.

A leader.

An influencer.

In 1965, as it always does, things changed, in China & in the life of the Han-family.

Where her father’s influence brought them privilege,  suddenly it did not.

They were ‘redeployed’.

To Fuyuan.

Not to be a teacher of art or leader, but to be a laborer.

Carrying building material down the mountain to the River harbor, from early morning to sunset & beyond.

Her life changed.

Suddenly expected, as six year old, to go into the mountains to fetch wood for the fire that would keep them warm as temperatures drop too low to measure.

Can you imagine that?

A six year old, walking axe in hand, through deep frozen snow, into wild mountains.

Her only company a 10 year old brother & a few other brave children.

To come home, bring life to a dwindling fire & start cooking dinner.

Not from pre-packed shop stuffs.

A chicken to be caught & killed & skinned.

Rice to be cooked.

Flour to be kneeded into bread.

To sleep & do it all again, tomorrow.

And the next day.

In 1976 change came again.

Her father never restored, but at least his artistic talents not squandered anymore.

And as an 18 year old, having excelled at school, despite life’s demands, she is off to University.

To become a nurse.

Later to study in the USA, during the early 90’s.

To become Professor of nursing management at one of China’s biggest Medical Schools & Director of an International Language School.

Her father now 80.

His battered body showing the scars of more than a decade’s hard labor, his heart the scars of life’s rhythm of loss & gain & loss again, always bringing new life, new experiences, new gain to be lost again.

A story isn’t told in a moment.

Our travel companion sharing it with us as we visit different sights, share meals & walk along ancient paths.

On day one we stop for a moment at the place where the eskimos of old were born, a little village with a little musuem and less than 5000 people.

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They are the Hezheh-people of China.

One of the 56 peoples who form this nation.

Now protected & their lifestyle of hunting & fishing supported by their government.

We also stop at the place of three rivers, where the Yellow Dragon and Black Dragon Rivers flow into on big Heilongjiang River.

It is late afternoon when we arrive in Fuyuan.

The Eastern European influence very visible in the buildings, the food & signage.

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Everything is bilingual.

Chinese & Russian.

Caviar is on the menu.

And Salmon.

Beer is deep rich Russian-style beer.

Pagodas are relieved by domed roofs.

Day two takes us to Dong Ji Square with its 40 meter high Sculpture.

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Until 2008 Black Bear Island was taken by the Russians.

Then half was given back to China.

Now Dong Ji Square comemorates peace & positive relationships.

Nearby Usu Town, the smallest village in China, with a single road & a single family, remembers a different time of conflict, the commemorative wall remembering the conflict of 1929, the battle, the lives lost.

We visit there too.

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And we visit the largest Wetland in Northeast Asia.

This world has 56 ponds & 700 lakes.

It is a paradise for birds & water plants.

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Many protected species & most only found here, in this little corner where China & Russia rub shoulders, sometimes even embracing each other.

Across the river is Russia’s smallest Village.

With its own history.

Its own story to tell.

Perhaps another story.

As in life.

A story of loss & gain & loss again, as seasons give way to the resilient rhythm of high tide & low tide, of abundance & poverty.

The Treasure Tower is our last stop for the day.

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Reaching high into the sky, surrounded by 56 pillars,  symbolizing the 56 peoples who are China.

A new structure with carved stone & a deep spiritual feel.

A sign.

Even here, far away, people recognizing that treasure is gift received, never earned, for a moment to be grateful for, no matter how uncertain your connection with the Divine.

We enjoy a late lunch.

Fish.

Prawns.

Sweet & Sour Pork.

Pork leg.

Green Beans & shank of goat.

Soft white bread & sweet tea.

Then we walk  the streets of Fuyuan in the golden rays of another precious Summer’s afternoon.

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Traders approach us in Russian, believing we are just another group of Russians who came to Fuyuan to buy special goods at low rates.

But we are not.

Our journey is of another kind.

We came to become more.

We feel our beings expand, a cool breeze rustling through our leaves, from off the smooth cool surface of the Ussuri River as it flows towards the Japanese Sea.

Day three starts with another beautiful breakfast.

Then we head to the Fish Museum.

A 800 sq meter Pavilion featuring this world’s ancient Sturgeon.

The largest freshwater fish to be found anywhere.

It is called the living fossil of the Ussuri & Heilongjiang, believed to be 130 million years old.

It is carnivorous.

It grows 8 metres long & can weigh up to 1000kg.

It matures at 17 and can become 100 years old.

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Some Sturgeon, born during Chin’s Cultural Revolution, still swimming the waters of these dragon rivers, spawning off-spring, providing Caviar to those who can afford it.

Then we drive up to the mountain.

Walk in the forest.

Take lunch, before we grab our luggage at the hotel & head back to Jiamusi City.

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As we drive past kilometres and kilometres of rice paddies,  sometimes broken by fields of corn, I think of what we’ve seen.

A place where even the street lamps are works of art, whith a welcome gate which reminds of the Arc d’Triomf & people whove known what life truly is.

I think of my own Tribe of Vagabonds.

And I am grateful.

For we see from another perspective.

And we become.

Every day.

As we taste & share & experience.

Our own vagabond-culture taking shape in new ways, as we see a golden thread amongst all people, expressed in different ways, along the way.

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