Posts Tagged With: Beijing

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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Every long Journey will be Interupted

image

We’re taking a trip.

A long one.

With no specific destination in mind, except perhaps to experience and learn.

And no determined end, except when we run out of grace and goodwill, which are both invaluable on a journey like this one.

We left our beloved country almost 20 months ago.

And for now, we find ourselves in a little village ( 大高舍村 ) on the outskirts of Beijing, about 10 kilometres from a city called Liangxiang.

We’ve received a lot of goodwill from beautiful people in this very foreign world.

And we lost some goodwill, from beautiful people who suggested that they were friends.

That is the nature of goodwill.

It cannot be claimed or demanded.

It is given, or not.

And in receiving,  or not receiving it, we are grateful,  for there is a Sourceror who conjures goodwill and lets it disipate in a perfect rhythm of gift and care, loss and gain and loss again.

On an extended journey like ours, the worst interuption is a medical matter.

In a country where we’ve not even been able to explain eloquently that we have a headache, it is daunting to imagine you might need a doctor, on short notice.

It is one of the things you put at the very back of your mind, lest angst consumes your every moment and you confine your children to padded rooms, only letting them out to pee, if they really have to.

We’re good at walking away from the things that worry most people.

You have to be if you want to load a 13 year old boy, two girls of 12 and 11, and an 18-month old Boo on an airplane and head into the unknown, without an idea of what it all will demand.

And then, when a need arises, you deal with it, at least consoled by the fact that every moment leading up to this need wasn’t poisoned by fear.

Fear is a terrible thing.

It sort of sucks the life out of you.

And everyone in proximity to you.

And every experience, which might’ve been beautiful, but seem gray and tasteless in the dim light of nightmarish phobia.

Fear makes us do stupid things.

Like being selfish and needy.

And existing without truly living.

In our little Tribe, the only thing soliciting greater anxiety than an amputated head on a stainless steel hospital trolley, after an horific accident in which half of us lost the ability to perform normal bodily functions and the other half lost their heads, is a dental emergency.

Ask Wildrie, our kind and very patient dentist back home.

It takes an unusual amount of coaxing and encouragement to get any of us to open wide, even despite excruciating pain and vivid pictures of Zombi-like rotting faces, brought to life by our own imaginations enticed by pain induced hallucinations.

So when one of our daughters anounced that she was going to need a dentist, only days after we arrived in 大高舍村, we knew it was important.

So how do you find a dentist in a new city?

Ask friends?

Google it?

Go on Facebook and ask for recommendations.

All pretty handy in a world where you and all your friends speak the same language, where you can read it and Google and Social Media is open and unrestricted.

Where we are, none of these options are viable.

In fact, private medical care isn’t available.

If you need a doctor, you go to a hospital.

If you need a dentist, you do the same.

And so we ask our neighbours where the nearest hospital is and head there, hoping for the best, armed with our passports, all the Chinese currency we could scrape together, after having relocated our Tribe of seven, aware that we’ll need to eat for 6 weeks, before my little bit of income from teaching makes its reluctant appearance, and that every ¥ we spend is part of a meal we won’t have.

Hospitals in China are Public.

State operated.

They are not expensive.

They are clean and well run.

We find the hospital.

Amidst a thousand signs we’re not able to read, we find an information desk.

With a translator app (almost as invaluable as goodwill if you journey through this part of the world) we explain we would like to see a dentist.

The problem with translator apps, they translate fine from English to Chinese, but the person you speak to usually doesn’t carry a handy translator with them and even though they understand you, because they are relieved they understand you and want to move right along as quickly as they can, in order not to seem incompetent, they start answering your question in Chinese which must have inspired the fast train which runs between Beijing and Hong Kong and you have to listen and understand as much as you can in the 7.3 seconds it takes for them to talk, before your eyes glaze over and you can see a mindless stare reflected in the lenses of their spectacles.

A bit of advice: learn as much of the language as you can, as soon as you can.

We’ve found, even though what comes out of our mouthes sound like giberish, since Chinese has different tones which influence the meaning and you can think you are explaining to someone that you are a teacher, while in actual fact you are telling him you are a mouse, solliciting uncontrolable laughter, always recieved in good spirits and optimism, because you don’t know what was heard and only what you hoped to say, when you practice listening, over time, you understand more of what is said.

I listen to the radio, to every conversation on which I can eavesdrop, to people in shops and restaurants and gradually my brain has built a translator of its own.

So this morning I figure out we must go to the 3rd floor of the hospital.

Which we do.

Where we are told we need a hospital card, fear slowly dripping down my spine, becuase why would China provide state-sponsored healthcare to a foreigner and his oversized family?

Before the sweaty droplet could reach the crack where a monkey-tale used to be, according to the stories my Dad told me, the friendly nurse writes a few words on a piece of paper, asks an attendant to accompany us somewhere and smiles at us.

We go to the 1st floor, which is actually the ground floor, since buildings in China do not have ground floors, making it easier for me to understand,  since I don’t know yet what ‘ground’ is in Chinese, but I do know how to count, and there is no word for 1st or 2nd or 3rd in Chinese, just ‘ee’, ‘ar’ and ‘san’, one, two, three and ‘low’, which means ‘floor’, so ‘ee low’ is easy enough to follow, but on ‘ee low’ it took us 30 minutes to find the information desk, and so we are grateful for the smiling chatting attendant walking us down, first to one desk where our daugther’s details are entered onto a computer and she is handed a hospital card, then to another desk, where we pay the 3¥ for the hospital card and a light blue booklet in which all records will be manually kept of all treatment she will ever receive at the hospital.

Then we go back up to the 3rd floor, where a young dentist greets us.

She calls herself Dr Gee.

She speaks a little English.

She takes a look at the mouth of our daughter who, by now, needs no more vivid imagination or gentle coaxing to open wide, as relief that we’ve come this far washes over the two of us and pool at our feet.

She needs x-rays.

A piece of paper is printed.

We go to the 4th floor.

10 minutes later we’re back with Dr Gee, x-rays in hand.

She explains the problem and starts treatment.

45 minutes later we stand at a counter and pay the days bill.

151¥

Then we go to the pharmacy counter to collect medicines, which we need to take back to Dr Gee, before we can be ‘released’, so that she can retrieve and replace the anesthetic she used and explain about the rest.

151¥ and about 2 hours later we head back home, laughing at ourselves for our rediculous fear of dentistry, while patting ourselves on the back for being able to find our way through this as well, with so much ease, in a place where nothing should really be easy for people like us, except for grace and goodwill.

This morning, from a nurse who was kind enough to scrible a few words, an attendant who didn’t mind showing us the way and Dr Gee who took the time to give our daughter treatment which equals everything we’ve ever received in our beloved country.

And from Wildrie we received better than the best.

Goodwill.

We can’t make sacrifices at the feet of little golden statues to sollicit or guarantee it.

We can’t make advance payments or take out insurance.

It is given or not.

Which fills us with gratitude every time we receive it in such abundance.

Helping us not to take anything for granted, not anything.

On our journey, we are learning this, feeling a bit stupid, since this isn’t suddenly true.

It is always true.

For all of us.

And as we walk away from Dr Gee and the friendly nurse, finding our way to the home with the kind neighbor who fed us on the night of our arrival and who helps Zuko with her vegetable garden, who shows Zuko where the perfect little shops are to get unique little things, we are deeply aware that whoever we are, wherever we go, even despite our desperate striving to create a safe bubble in which to exist, but for the goodwill of our Origin, we would be lost in a world filled with animosity.

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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.

Categories: Asian Adventure | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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