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

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Space Shuttle's Final Voyage

Last Friday the space shuttle Atlantis made its final launch ending 30 years of a program that has seen more than its fair share of success and tragedy. 

For me, I can't believe its been 30 years since a 14 year old Steve convinced his parents to let him stay home from school so I could watch not only the maiden launch, but all the lead up commentary and excitement.  In fact, we didn't have a VCR yet (it was 1981) so I taped the launch on an audio tape recorder and would listen and re-listen to all the analysis and the launch over and over again.  John Young and Bob Crippen were the first shuttle astronauts and my friend Tom and I would wear flight sunglasses and refer to each other as "Crip" as Young did to Crippen.

Young and Crippen 1981

At 14, I was a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol and was pretty convinced that I would go to the U.S. Air Force Academy to become a fighter pilot and then when NASA heard what a great pilot I was, apply to be an astronaut.  I even figured out that we would be heading towards Mars around 2005 and I would be just the right person and of just the right age to command the first manned spaceflight to another planet.

Ok, things didn't quite turn out that way... for me or for America's space program.

Young and Crippen today
Somehow the dream of the space shuttle making space flight routine and safe never quite materialized and the bold mission of exploring strange new worlds got bogged down into ferrying supplies, satellites, and astronauts into low earth orbit.

(Insert the sound of America's collective yawn here)

However, the space shuttle is one of the most sophisticated pieces of equipment ever developed and the research and technology it has been responsible for will help us into the next stage of manned space flight.  NASA has stated they are looking to concentrate now on deep space missions with the hope of establishing a permanent moon base as well as a manned trip to Mars.

OK America, it's quite a daring vision and darn near impossible to when do we go?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Where are you (really) from?

As a Westerner living in Hong Kong one of the questions I get asked on a regular basis is, "So, where are you from?"

This question will be asked at dinner parties, church functions, the workplace, and nearly any other activity where at least one other person is involved.  The cosmopolitan nature of Hong Kong means you have a lot of people "from" somewhere else and the question just seems to roll out when you first meet a new acquaintance right alongside of "So, what do you do?"

The "Where are you from?" question has become a lot harder for me to answer as the years roll by.  When I first moved to Asia more than 20 years ago I would always answer, "I'm from Detroit."  It made sense then but as I haven't lived in Detroit since 1990 am I really still, "From Detroit."

So where am I "from"?  Well here are some contenders and why:

Detroit Michigan USA:  (Birth - 1990) City of my birth and still very dear to my heart.  Its where I was raised and gave me the Mid -West American values I like to think have shaped me somewhat into the person I am today. The family moved to the suburbs when I was 8 and I experienced a wonderful childhood there in the 1970's and '80s with great friends and great memories.  To this day I'm still a Detroit Tigers, Red Wings, and (sigh) Lions fan!

Hong Kong:  (1990 -2000, 2009-Present) I arrived in Hong Kong in 1990 for 5 months and stayed nearly 10 years.  I met my wife here and both of my sons were born here.  A formative part of my adult life was established in this city.  I have had the privilege of experiencing Hong Kong both as a territory of Britain and then later as a Special Administrative Region of China.

Boulder Colorado USA:  (2000 - 2008) Our years in Boulder were not always easy but they were special.  It was the formative years for Gabriel and he is still quick to say he is "from Boulder".  Within Boulder though we have dear friends, a dear church family, and many dear memories.

We briefly lived in  Qingdao China in 2008 and  Gabriel would have a little fun whenever Chinese people would ask where we were from.  He would say, "From Hong Kong" often eliciting stunned reactions from the questioners.  There is a certain expectation based on a person's ethnicity of where they are "really" from.  I know when I have attended conferences where my name tag will say I'm a participant from Hong Kong but people would subtly try to find out where I was "really" from. 

Which had me wondering; "Are white people allowed to come "from" Hong Kong?" 

I realize now in America the sensitivity some people have when other people try to categorize where they are from.  For example we tend to assume a person of Hispanic origin is "really" from" Mexico or other South American country when they were very likely to have been born and led their whole lives in the States. 

I remember once when I was working in Colorado how I asked a hotel guest, who I recognized with a very distinct Singaporean (Singlish) accent, where he was from.

"Chicago" he replied.

He didn't elaborate and I was disappointed as I am quite familiar with Singapore and wanted to talk a bit with him about it but he said, "Chicago" in a way that indicated he didn't want it I didn't.  But deep down I wanted to know where he really was from.

My children are Americans but born in Hong Kong.  Are they from America...Hong Kong... or both?  Recently I was chaperoning a school trip overseas with some of our students.  As we were entering the customs area there are electronic booths for Hong Kong residents allowing them to insert their I.D. card and thumb print and not have to enter the long immigration lines.  One of the Hong Kong Chinese students laughed and said, "Ha, Mr. Hackman now we get to go through here but you must go down there," indicating toward the long lines at the immigration counters.

The students inserted their cards and walked through.  I smiled and inserted my card placing my thumb on the scanner.  The metal gates opened up and I "departed" Hong Kong.

Watching this, the student's mouth dropped open and she asked in bewilderment.  "Mr. Hackman, how did you do that?"
"You do know I am from Hong Kong as well...right?"
"But are a foreigner."
"I may be a "foreigner", I answered, "but I was living in Hong Kong since before you were born."

So where am I from?  Maybe the best answer is "lots of different places" or maybe Larry Norman said it best when he sang, "This world is not my home...I'm just passin' through"

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"Planking" in Australia

I was surprised a couple weeks ago when my 13 year old son Gabriel came bounding into my office, dove onto my couch and just laid there face down pinning his arms flush against his side with his feet pointed out.

"Do you know what I'm doing Papa?" he asked.

A few thoughts came to mind but I held my tongue and said, "Nope."

"Its called planking...and everyone is doing it."

Now when teenagers say "everyone" obviously a few qualifiers come to mind.  Does "everyone" mean:

* your geeky friends
* your class
* your school
* 13 year olds in general across the universe

I mean is the Dahli Lamma doing it?  Is Betty White planking now? 

Turns out my 44 year old social circles just aren't "with it" anymore as apparently everyone  is planking.  And do you know where planking is REALLY popular?...


Yep, the Land Down Under which gave us other notable cultural curiosities like Crocodile Dundee, Yahoo Serious, Shrimps on a Barbie and Aussie Rules Football is now out on the cutting edge of relevance with this new export to the world...Planking!

Apparently the idea is not only to "assume the position" but to do it in the most creative and public place possible, get a picture of it and then post it to Facebook.  It seems there are contests with people trying to outdo the "plank" of a friend or co-worker.

Anyhow, I may have to give the "plank" craze a miss but when I saw the Youtube clip I have included, I had to give it a post.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Todd Helton's 2000th Game

Todd Helton is my favorite baseball player currently still playing and I just wanted to do a shout out that today he hit the milestone of playing in his 2000th Major League ball game.  Let me say that again...


Two thousand times running onto a field nearly every red blooded American kid dreams of running on.  Which also translates into going to bat 7139 times, striking out 1008 times, 2308 hits, 1273 Runs Batted In, and (ouch) being hit by a pitch 54 times.  Multiple years he has been an All Star, Golden Glove, and Silver Slugger

Whats even more impressive is in an era of big money and free agency he has done it all on the same team; The Colorado Rockies.  In fact, of the literally tens of thousands of baseball players who have played in Major League Baseball he is only the 54th ball player to play that long with a single ballclub.

Helton struggled last year with a degenerative back ailment.  The lifetime .326 hitter ended the 2010 season with a disappointing .256 and just 8 home runs.  Speculation was raised on whether the Colorado fan favorite may retire at the age of 37.  But Helton, whose contract with the Rockies runs through the 2013 season, wants to finish his career on his own terms.  Rising to the challenge, he has silenced his detractors going into the All Star break with a .306 batting average, 14 doubles and 9 Home Runs.

Usually when I see a hitter with a full count I feel sorry for the hitter.  When I see Helton with a full count, I feel sorry for the pitcher.  Watching him bat is always a pleasure as he has an uncanny ability to wait a pitcher out, put some stick on the ball on a bad pitch, and just plain make a play happen.  

He also is very "old school" in his approach to game.  He hustles on and off the field and has set an example for his teammates for years.  He said once that he was taught in Little League that you always had to run while on the play field; that you couldn't "walk" on and off between innings.  That mindset, coupled with his active Christian faith, has served to lead his team against the odds to a 2007 World Series appearance.

Todd's not done yet and I, and many Colorado fans, look forward to watching him at Coors Field and who knows, maybe another "Rocktober" season or two.