Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Monday, April 25, 2011

My Greek Trip Part Deux

Well, I had hoped to have some ongoing blog posts during my Greek trip BUT my power cord fried 3 days after I got to Greece and I was regulated to quick e-mail and Facebook updates at hotel computers and internet cafes.  Anyhow...thought I would do a quick wrap up of the highlights:

Old Town on Corfu

* The Greek Islands were fantastic.  We spent 3 nights on the Island of Corfu and then one night on Santorini. In its history Corfu has been ruled by the Greeks, the Turks, the Romans, the French, and the British...and it shows.  Beautiful architecture from all of the above have made their mark making it a very cosmopolitan place.  Santorini is almost so beautiful it is beyond words.  Our tour guide informed us that Angelina Jolie has just bought a place there...and you can understand why.

Palm Sunday devotion
The cliff top Monastery
* We got to spend Palm Sunday visiting the the cliff top monasteries of Kalambaka.  Huge rock outcroppings jut straight out of the earth in the most peculiar way and of course, the monks thought it would be a good idea to put monasteries up there.  I can just see the builders back then going, "You want to build a monastery up THERE??"
But I got to lead a devotional for the students we brought on the trip on a balcony overlooking a steep cliff.  I explained the importance and meaning of Palm Sunday and the reason for Christ's entry into Jerusalem that Passover week.

* Because it was Holy Week and Greek society is highly observant of Easter, every night when I retired to my hotel room there would be another classic Christian themed Easter movie.  I fell asleep most nights to the cool sounds of Jesus of Nazareth ( Michael York's portrayal of John the Baptist is my all time favorite), The 10 Commandments, and Ben-Hur.

* Again...the FOOD...the FOOD...the FOOD!!!  I really put on 2 Kilos  this trip (which my wife immediately noticed when I arrived home).  The trip we go on eschews cheap cafeteria or fast food.  Every one of 3 meals a day were full of olives, cheese, bread, and meat.  Yep, Tammy has me on protein shakes now.

Our hotel on Santorini!
Anyhow, I feel incredibly blessed to be part of this trip.  Of course after being responsible for 27 students 24/7 for 2 weeks straight I think I need a vacation :)

Friday, April 15, 2011

My Big Fat Greek Weddi....I mean adventure! (Pt. 1)

The Plaza in Corinth where Paul preached
Hi all, I'm writing this post from a little hotel in the village of Olympia where the first Olympic games were held in Greece.  I'm on a 2 week tour of the country that is known "for being the "cradle of Democracy" with 27 students from our schools in Hong Kong and Shanghai.  I'm pressed for time but wanted to update the blog so some thoughts:

 * I fly a fair bit and can say Turkish Airlines is one of the best airlines I've ever flown.  In economy class there were literally hundreds of TV shows, movies etc to watch on your personal screen.  (It took me nearly 20 minutes to cycle through just the movie selections)  For economy class the food was very tasty but the slam dunk for me was the fact that after they made the obligatory anouncement of no electronic devices during takeoff and landing...they ignored it.  Deep down they just knew my 4 gig ipod was just not going to flummix the navigational system of a Airbus A350 that still smelled like new car.

* I am realizing I just LOVE the food of the Medditeranian cultures.  In less than 12 months I have been to Turkey, Italy, and now Greece and although there are certainly differences in their cusines there are some commonalities that I have just fallen in love with.  The salads, olives, breads, cheese....I swear after just 6 days I have eaten the equivilent of a whole lamb.  This morning I had "├Âlive bread".  How genius to take two of my favorite things, olives and bread, and put them together in a delicious mash-up.  Of the cusines around the world, I think this culinary region is my favorite.

*It is awe inspiring to stand in places where so much history was made.  The Acropolis, Mars Hill (where the Apostle Paul addressed the Athenians) and the stadium in Olympia where the first Olympic games were held.  I particularly liked walking through the plaza of Corinth thinking this is where Paul preached and was persecuted.

Ooops the bus is leaving soon...this will have to be Part 1

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Roughing it" in China

Just got back from a week travelling in China.  I had the opportunity to go to a fairly remote area of central Sichuan that you may recall was struck by a devastating earthquake in 2008.  The education foundation I work for helped rebuild a school in this area so we took a group of students from our schools in Beijing & Shanghai to go and do some service projects there.  As you can tell from my last post, I enjoy the Rugby Sevens alot so it took a pretty noble cause to get me to leave Hong Kong during this time.

Now I knew I was going to be "roughing" it.  This was a no frills trip to bless a poorer region of China and I told myself I was ready for it.  Hey, I have spent over 1300 hours travelling by train crisscrossing China before, mostly on what is known as "hard sleeper" (hard beds stacked 3 high with six to a compartment), I have traveled across Borneo trekking in the jungle and sleeping on bamboo.  I know how to "rough" it.

But if I'm honest, that was in my 20's and early 30's.  In the last few years I've gotten a little "squishy".  "Roughing it" these days pretty much means the outrage of staying in a hotel that doesn't have room service.

I knew I was in trouble when one of the other adults on trip asked where my sleeping bag was.
"Excuse me...sleeping bag?" I asked.
"Yes, didn't you see the e-mail that said we would need a sleeping bag on the trip"

Apparently I missed that memo.

So we had one night in the city of Chongqing before taking a three hour bus ride the next morning.  I was assigned the corner section of floor and the local staff where we stayed was able to rustle up a couple of blankets for me so I didn't freeze.  But sleeping on the floor of a clean room with spotless toilet was a King's Palace compared to what lay in store the next couple days.

"Nite John-Boy"
We arrived the next day at the primary school and it really was something.  The people of the village (as opposed to the Village People) even came out to greet us as it seemed that a busload of foreigners suddenly arriving was not normative in these parts.  All the boys were assigned to a single room with about 9 or 10 handmade bunks all up against one another, I'm told, for additional support.  So there we were that night, all sleeping on wood planks only a foot or two away from one another.  Laying there I couldn't help but envision myself on Walton's Mountain  and had to restrain myself from giving a "Nite John-Boy" to a gang of people for whom the cultural reference would all be but lost.

The toilets were the real challenge.  The men's loo was essentially 4 holes in the cement with no water flushing it away.  Likewise for the urinal.  Also there were no doors or walls (something we are hoping to address on subsequent trips) which for me was the real challenge.  Having traveled throughout Asia for the last 20+ years I am used to less than ideal toilet situations, but they always at least offered a measure of privacy.  I did not relish the thought of a student walking in on me while I was squatting over a hole doing "my business".

Even the sewer monster refused to visit...and no thats not water!

Fortunantly, my body was in agreement with my mind on this one and cooperated on Day One by shutting down all "bowel" systems.  Day 2 was a different matter though and I began to feel a pressing need develop that was not going to wait for my return to civilization.  I made a tactical decision...since sleeping on a wood plank in a room without heat doesn't make for a night of interrupted sleep, I used my 4:00 AM wake time to good use.  Knowing the bathroom would be clear I slipped on my flip-flops, grabbed my torch, (flashlight for my American readers) and headed over to the bathrooms.  

Even in the dark, I just had to follow the smell which even from the outside was overpowering.  Walking into this place in the middle of a freezing cold night was pretty spooky.  I had to stick the torch in my mouth to do the delicate balancing act that any foreigner using an Asian "squatty potty" is familiar with.  As my light beam danced up and down creating shadows on the wall I couldn't help but think that some sewer monster was going to jump out of one of the other holes, whack me on the head, and drag me down to the underworld.

Apparently, even the sewer monsters were turned off by this particular toilet...

Our Policeman assigned to "protect" us.
Also in all my travels in China I have never needed to have a police escort.  (Well, I take that back, there was another incident a few years back but thats for another blog post).  Apparently the area in Sichuan where the 2008 earthquake occurred is a sensitive area.  Because there has been negative stories about building conditions and the amount of people that died because of "dodgy" construction the Chinese government has closely monitored outsiders coming into the region.  When I asked the guard (our assigned policeman) if I could go out he had to say no.  After a little persistence he agreed but only if he could go to "protect" us.  When operating in China you have to distinguish between the "real" reason for something and the "official" reason.  Not making this distinction can lead to real frustration. 

Although my point of this post was to talk about my "roughing it" I do want to mention that we were able to do some great service projects for the school.  The kids were wonderful and so appreciative of our being there.  We met one little 9 year old girl who lost her parents during the earthquake and is now being raised by friends in the village.  She shared how she is happy again being able to go to the new school.

And the school staff went out of their way to accommodate us to the best of their ability.  There are no showers at the school so the cooks heated water in the kitchen so we could wash a little in the evenings.

When I finally got back to a hotel room in Chongqing I saw the toilet and shower when I opened the door and never even minded that they didn't have room service.