Posts Tagged With: life

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

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

Categories: Asian Adventure, information | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Care Fully Pre Paired

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In less than a week our Tribe will be in Jiamusi, China.

On Friday we collected our passports, with our visas, from the Chinese consulate in Johannesburg.

On Thursday we found flights from Beijing to Jiamusi.

Ever since we’ve been trying to find something which resembles winter clothing, so that we’ll be sort of prepared for the siberian temperatures awaiting us.

This is quite a challenge in summer in central South Africa.

We hope we’ll find something more appropriate along the way.

How do you prepare for something you have no idea about?

We’ve been packing bags.

Carefully weighing them.

Making sure we’re inside the weight restrictions of all the airlines.

On Sunday afternoon I took a moment.

The kids went to play with friends.

A friend did a talk.

I took time away from travel plans & suitcases.

He spoke about ‘carefully prepared times’.

He spoke about ‘coming‘.

About ‘being‘.

About time announced.

And time leading into time.

Always again.

Which reminded me.

Of how stunningly & full of care our lives have been pre paired.

How fortunate I am to be sharing it witb Zuko.

Willing to travel into the unknown.

Not just now, as we head to northern China, but always.

Perhaps tomorrow is the unknown?

Always coming again?

The only certainty, if you wish, or are enlightened,  to believe, that our Origin did not desert us.

Even our individual lives not chance or inconsequential,  but interwoven & filled to the brim with meaning.

With care, full.

Paired.

Previously.

With the Beginning of Being.

Who is.

So that we may be.

And so it is our hope, as you journey too, that you might see the fullness of care.

As you live.

Not alone.

But paired.

With.

One.

Who is us.

May this be yours at a time when tinsel & overcrowded stores are the only respite for many.

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A Journey of 13721km Begins

We imagined, we would leave Nelson Mandela Bay around the 21st.

We’re heading to the Far East.

For a while.

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For an experience.

Not for a vacation.

To live amongst people.

To learn from them.

Serve them.

And become.

As individuals.

As a Tribe.

What we imagine & what eventually happens isn’t always the same.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

On Friday we got word that our visas are sorted & ready.  Zuko’s.  Mine.  And Beate’s.

I’ll tell you about Beate in a moment.

The children’s visas are somewhat more complicated though.

We need to be in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

We need to prove that they are ours.

Or rather of us & in our care.

And so suddenly we wrap-up what needs to be wrapped, relying heavily on friends who come alongside us, as we prepare for our journey.

Melvin will sort the last stuff at the little house on the not so little hill, getting her ready for the tenants who will enjoy her splendour while we are cavorting in unknown places.

Danie & Xandre will look after the horses, for a few weeks, until they’re ready to make the journey to Thinus & Iris, who will look after them until we’re back.

Zuko’s dad will sort some fencing, so they don’t make a journey of their own makings, while in the departure lounge of Klein Uitvlug.

We’re overwhelmed by the love of friends who embrace us & enable us, as we brave this new adventure.

Wouter gives us their Fortuner to get around in Nelson Mandela Bay for the last few days & then get to Johannesburg via Bloemfontein, where we will meet up with our newest Tribe Member.

Nietsche believed the strongest man is he who stands alone.

We know this is not true.

We experience how we are stronger, in the good kind of way, as we gratefully accept what each friend offer to us in these days.

Perhaps our lives are too well organized?

Robbing us of the opportunity to come alongside and need at the same time?

We see grace.

Kindness.

We are anchored to Africa, to Nelson Mandela Bay, not by patriotism or birth or family.

We are anchored to Africa and to Nelson Mandela Bay by relationship.

By all the people we love and by whom we are loved.

This journey, this Asian Adventure, it is a gift we receive from many hands.

Dolf & Adriaan at Yales’ s Jonathan Edwards Centre Africa, from who  we receive the opportunity to study happiness, guided by the world’s greatest kinds.

Mei Han in Jiamusi.

Xandre, Alan, Joy & the rest of the Kingfisher FM- tribe, from who  we receive the releasing, so that we may move towards this new chapter, knowing what we’ve spent the last seven years of our life on will be nurtured & grown.

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We receive it from the hands of everyone who wishes us Godspeed.

Who prays for traveling mercies & tell us that we will be missed.

Perhaps their hands, are the hands of the Creator who created us to be an us?

Perhaps their love & grace & kindness is the kindness of the Origin of love & grace & kindness?

So we leave Nelson Mandela Bay almost a week earlier than  planned.

We meet Beate in Bloemfontein.

We’ve known her almost 20 years.

She has traveled the world.

Not as tourist.

As explorer and adventurer.

She’s lived in Germany, The Netherlands, North America and the United Kingdom.

She’s been to Japan, Botswana, Lesotho & Spain.

She knows international flights & travel documents & settling into new worlds.

She understands very well that our geography determines our proximity & that our proximity determines who we meet & who affects us through their affection.

She guides us through the process of re-completing the children’s visa applications & to the Chinese Consulate in Johannesburg where we meet the officials who accept our parentage & files the four applications,  before informing us that we could collect all seven passports,  with visas on Friday.

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We are relieved.

Elated.

Our journey has begun.

Now to reduce what we each own into one suitcase containing 30kgs & one piece of hand luggage containing 7kgs.

And book the train from Beijing to Jiamusi.

For on the 29th we will board Etihad flight 601 to Beijing.

And in between we will celebrate Christmas with more friends who love & embrace us, not despite who we are, but because of who we are.

Perhaps that is the journey we all should seek?

To become.

Less alone in the Nietscheian-sense.

More ‘us’.

Perhaps in this, there is happiness as well?

Categories: Asian Adventure, information | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Swellendam Explore Day 3

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Every time we travel, we are reminded of how ‘loose’ life can become.

Every time we travel, we are reminded of how important it is to choose time spent together, with the people we value, to grow our connection.

In the end, after all is said & done, our relationships are all we have.

They’re the most important.

Our life partner.

Our children.

Our friends.

As our third day in the swellendam area comes to an end, I make a knot in my ear. Another in my heart.

To remember.

Balance.

As the sun sets I look at little Maddi running around, I think of our son, who was smaller than a toddler, less than a wink ago.

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Today we didn’t drive anywhere.

We rented bicycles & cycled through the Stonehill Reserve.

We played some cards.

Another game of chess on the large outdoor chess board.

We read some.

We slept some.

We walked some.

It is interesting how our concerns can consume is.

Isolate us.

Even if we re physically present.

Lost in that maze of worry & striving.

Under the bush, like a hopeless prophet.

We need to intentionally engage.

Each other.

For it is in our collectiveness that we succeed.

We need to slow down, create opportunities to talk, listen, think.

Sitting was frowned upon as I grew up.

‘Why are you doing nothing?’ the question always came s I was sitting, staring into my being, dreaming, thinking.

That is industrious too.

Now.

At 42.

I think it would be good if I could recapture that.

Think more.

Be more.

Take time to taste.

Allowing the moment to touch me.

Seep through my skin into my being.

Theunsie handles the braai while Zuko & I talk, sipping slowly from the moment.

After supper we read.

Zuko is enjoying a Steampunk Fantasy Sci-Fi Adventure.

I’m lost in the world of Odd Thomas.

Taking a breath.

That is good.

Taking a breath alongside people you love.

By whom you are loved.

That is better.

Categories: 10 Day Trips, information, Weekend Destinations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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