Kung Fu School

kung fuIt all started with Kung Fu.

When Mr. Lee won 2 nation-wide Kung Fu championships, he decided to start a school for poor children. Despite being a communist country, even school in China isn’t completely free and so the poorest of children often can’t attend. Mr. Lee had been in that category himself until a kind soul had offered to pay for his education. Before long the prize money was gone and the school had over 400 students. So Mr. Lee sold his house and car to fund it.

Meanwhile, he’d become a dad. When he found a baby abandoned in a gutter in a nearby neighbourhood, he decided to adopt the child. Soon word got out that he would care for abandoned children and now’s he’s a father to 32 children, only 1 of which is biological.

It was incredible meeting this Chinese super-start who’s used his fame and fortune for others.  Sorry Brangelina but you ain’t got nuthin’ on this man. We went to the school and got to “teach” English to the kids, sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and do our famous Judy drama. But best yet, we were able to introduce him to other Chinese who want to support him & his school. And they were able to introduce him to JC.
chinese schoool children


Wow, it’s December, our DTS has finished, Dan’s working at an outdoors store & I’m working at a video game store (ha!) and yesterday we collected red berries and evergreen branches to decorate the house for Christmas….. but I’m still blogging about CHINA. I need to get a move on!


sleeper-busA bunch of us took a mini 2 day holiday to Lijiang, a tourist-hot spot where part of the city is a maze of traditional Chinese houses. To get there we took an overnight bus. It’s basically a bus crammed catastrophically with bunk beds. We were at the very back next to some Sketchy McSketchser Chinese men. And Dan was vomiting the whole next day from car sicknesses. Brilliant.

Nevertheless, we had fun exploring this charming city where the Naxi people live. They have a the only pictographic language, Dongba, still in use. Every word is a little stick figure or drawing. dongba
It’s a matriarchal society, and in their language when a feminine word is a superlative, and a masculine word is diminutive. For example a “female stone” is a bolder and a “male stone” is a pebble.

babiesWe did have some trouble finding a restaurants, though. Of course, being in a big group, no one had a preference until we came across a restaurant, at which point at least 1 person would find a reason it wasn’t good enough. Finally, after more than half hour of looking we decided on a colourful cafe. We went in and got seated and then someone complained about something so we decided to leave (with our stomachs rumbling and our tails between our legs.) Then we saw the restaurant had a rooftop courtyard so we decided to go back in and ask if we could sit there. We got seated (again) and got menus (again) and then waited and waited and waited, wondering what was taking the cafe staff so long since we were the only people in the whole restaurants. Finally someone went to investigate and found the waiter at a computer using a on-line translation service to type out in English, “WE ARE NOT COOKS. GO COOK FOR YOURSELF!”  Thankfully at that point we came to our senses and remembered that our Mama, the dear Naxi woman who ran our guest house, cooked up a feast for a pittance. The food was delicious.


The next day we hired bikes and explored some little villages at the foot of Jade Snow Mountain, whose majesty  played hide and seek with the clouds. We also visited a rundown Buddhist monastery that had been the largest in the region prior to the Cultural Revolution. The dear old monk was so sweet and eager to show off the English he had learned. “Cup of tea? Cup of tea?” The old part of Lijiang was lucky to escape the Cultural Revolution, but became quite run down until 1996 when the old houses survived an earthquake much better than the new ones. Relief funds helped fix up the run down areas, tourism exploded and now even the newer parts of town are built in the traditional way – quite unusual in China.


Yippe Yi

A little Yi girl in traditional dressAfter our time at the leprosy village, we travelled to another remote hillside village. The Yi ethnic minority live in this village and they had never had foreign visitors before. The Yi are one of China’s 55 ethnic minorities, who speak a language very similar to Burmese. But to explain why it was such an exciting visit for us, we have to go back to February in York.

Basically, one February day our leader Jennifer said we were going to ask God to speak to us about a people group we could pray for. Now, I believe God still speaks today (maybe more so through thoughts, nature or events, than in a booming James Earl Jones voice), but I have to admit I was a bit skeptical. I mean, there are 100s of countries in the world, and probably 1000s of people groups! But after some silence, we all shared what had come to our minds. A few people got the word “China” or images of Asians. Others got pictures of terraced fields or random words. After some research, everything people had heard came together with the Yi people group! So, for almost 8 months we’d be learning and praying for these people halfway across the world. And now we were going to actually meet some!

Some of the villagers invited us into their traditional courtyard house for lunch. They’d cooked enough to feed the entire village and then some! There was pig feet, fermented tofu, fermented beans (definitively an acquired taste!), exotic vegetables, chicken feet, something like french fries, enormous buckets of rice and much, much more. Then, after the meal, a beautiful older Yi woman kept giving us handful upon handful of sunflower seeds. When we began to refuse her she switched tactics and began trying to covertly fill our pockets.

covertAfter lunch we waddled over to the village church. Even though the majority of Yi are animist, many of these villagers follow Christ. We had planned a little service, including a scripture reading, a drama and then a talk by Dave. Angharad read the scripture in English, then our translator read it in Chinese, and then we realized most of the villagers didn’t even speak Chinese! So the pastor invited an elderly man to come up and read the passage from the Yi Bible. This dear old man, bless him, seem to have only become literate in his 70s and read at a painfully slow pace. The Yi are beautiful people but I have to say their language sounded like a wounded cow. At every pause we would think, “At last, he’s done!” but then he would start up again. I don’t think he stopped reading until he reached the book of Obadiah!  Nevertheless, it was a memorable visit and our prayers for the Yi are easier now that we’ve met some!

Red October

During our 3 weeks in Kunming, China we got do to a great mix of things…

  • dave Make friends with lots of Chinese
  • Practice Charades when trying to order food at restaurants
  • Dave met a lovely lady friend
  • Till the earth alongside lepers
  • Slurp up amazing American-style milkshakes (like coconut oreo!) at Samoana Cafe
  • Tell people about JC
  • Perform our famous Judy drama
  • Stroll the ancient streets of Lijiang
  • Hear the stories of some Chinese Christians
  • Play ping-pong with orphans
  • Sing Edleweiss with an accordion accompaniment
  • Teach English to people of all age

Definite highlights include our time at the leprosy village, the Yi village, Lijiang and the Orphanage School. More on that coming soon…

China 101

maoOk, enough about my democratic homeland, let’s return to a country that has never been a democracy: the People’s Republic of China!

1. Gender Equality

You have to give credit to the Communists for the gender equality in China. Especially when you look at China’s tradition of treating women as good for producing sons and not much else. These days girls are generally valued as much as boys (at least in urban areas). But one of the most striking aspects of this equality is how many women do manual labor. Chinese women are hard core! They work in construction, they do backbreaking work in the fields, I even came across women-only chain gang carrying ridiculously heavy stones up several flights of stairs.


2. Traffic

I would describe traffic in China as “ordered chaos.” In Kunming they had big wide straight boulevards with bus lanes, car lanes and even motorcycle and bike lanes. But having designated lanes doesn’t mean the appropriate vehicles are in the appropriate lanes. Motorcycles seem to consider themselves both cars and pedestrians, depending on whatever is most advantageous at the moment. And most of the motorcycles are electric so there’s no sound to warn you when they nearly run you over as your walking on the sidewalk. But what empresses me most was the bicycles. Many have a cart attached and the amount of things they haul is unreal, especially the one who carry styrofoam.

squatty potty3. The Squatty Potty

The squatty potty is the toilet of China. All squatty potties consist of a hole in the floor which you squat over to do your business. Some varieties have porcelain and flush, others are more like a concrete trough. I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of these WCs…. No, it’s not the squatting I have a problem with – I squat over all public toilets, even those with seats. The problem arises because the waste is kept in a huge cesspool under the open hole, and so, as you can imagine it gives off a less than pleasant aroma. In addition, many public toilets have no stall doors and even when they do have doors, many Chinese don’t bother locking them which can create some embarrassment when searching for a free toilet. Which brings us to our next topic…


4. Potty Training

No need to worry about changing dirty nappies here! The Chinese are the ingenious designers of crotchless trousers so that whenever little Li needs to poo or wee, he just pops a squat and goes for it. (Yes toddlers will do this out on the street.)

5. Squatting

To the Chinese, to floor is dirty so they would never think of sitting on it, even inside. So if they are waiting around and there’s no chairs, they squat. Even little kids squat. I actually find it quite comfy but it takes a bit of getting used to.

6. Spitting

You already learned in my earlier entry that Chinese spit in the street regularly but the good news is they make a hideously loud throat-clearing noise before they shoot which warns anyone nearby of the approaching projectile.

800px-flag_of_the_peoples_republic_of_chinasvg7. Privacy & Personal Space

There isn’t even a word in the Chinese language for “privacy.” Living in a country of 1.3 billion doesn’t usually grant you that luxury. Dan and I were once looking at the photos on our camera on the bus when the elderly man sitting next to us eagerly started looking over our shoulder for a good look. So we just decided to tilt the camera his way so he could also enjoy the slideshow. I was once on a bus where a woman was holding a complete stranger’s child on here lap and then the elderly woman sitting next to them started picking through the little boys hair. If a stranger said they’d hold your child on their lap in the West, there’d probably be a lawsuit.

8. Umbrellas

There are your constant companion in China – come rain or shine. In rain they keep you dry, in the sun they keep you cool.

9. V for Victory

A must for any Chinese when photographed. Even this little girl is learning how to properly pose with a little help.


10. English Names

Many Chinese take on an English name as well. Some of the best: Banana, Foggy, Orange Juice and Lovey.

Welcome to China!

This blog is back in business! We’re now back in the UK (yes, I got my visa!!) but have plenty to blog about from our month in China!

Our first impression of China was somewhat lacking… one of our first sights upon crossing the border was a dead rat in a restaurant kitchen and then when we got outside Dan was the unfortunate landing spot for a large hunk of phlegm. (Many Chinese spit regularly, though normally on the ground, not on people). To add to this, Guangzhou was stiflingly hot & crowded and various uniformed people kept ushering us onward whenever we tried to stop and figure out where in the world we were headed. But in the end we managed to find our train to Kunming, where we would spend the next 26 hours on 3 story high bunkbeds.

Actually, despite the claustrophobically small compartment, our train journey was amazing. The scenery was breathtaking, especially the limestone karsts in Guangxi province (think Painted Veil scenery). Mud-brick houses were nestled in the foothills of lush mountains and peasants in bamboo hats toiled on terraced fields. About 70% of China’s 1.3 billion population are rural peasant farmers – that’s about 1/6 the population of the Earth!

But China’s cities are growing fast, as is it’s economy. I was startled by the abundance of sleek luxury skyscrapers and posh stores selling clothes and jewelry that are expensive even by European standards. The bustling urban area of Kunming we stayed in was just fields a mere 6 years ago and the horizon was full of cranes continuing the expansion. But head into the countryside and many still live in small mud houses and count themselves lucky if they own a water buffalo.

China’s recent history is tumultuous: civil war, the Japanese occupation, mass starvation during the so-called “Great Leap Forward,” and the Cultural Revolution which attacked intellectuals, religion and traditional Chinese culture. But since the 1980s, massive economic reforms and relative stability have helped China have the world’s fastest growing economy. But economic inequality is also growing, especially between China’s rural and urban.

Don’t be suprised if China, with its 4,000 year old history & culture, and invensions of umbrellas, paper, silk, the decimal system and kites, soon enters centre stage.