Life

“Forgive me for being so ordinary while claiming to know so extraordinary a God.” -Jim Elliot

#aphotoaday China Traffic

I love this photo. It’s not that I did a great job taking the shot. I didn’t and it could be alot better. But what I like about it is that it shows so much of China. The bike, the 3 wheeled electric wagon, the bus, the stoplight, the restaurants in the background. Describing China can be difficult and much of it is not tangible. But I think this shot captures a bit of it.

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#aphotoaday Buses

We take buses just about every day. Most of the time we’re taking a charter bus to the school. But sometimes we take the public bus to go shopping. The buses here are really nice. They’re temperature controlled and many of them are electric. A public bus can get pretty full. It’s always a site to see the morning bus get so full that people are literally smashed between people as they stand on the bus. It’s even more of a challenge to get off the bus when we’ve reached the destination. One of my worries is that one of our kids will be left on the bus because he or she wasn’t able to get out. I always do a headcount when we get off and so far we’ve never left anybody behind.

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#aphotoaday Bird Throwing Hobby

Ever heard of “Bird Throwing”? Yeah, me neither. “What is it”, you ask? Well, it’s quite literally throwing a bird. Seriously. It’s like Angry Birds without the pigs…or the walls…or dazed birds. Ok, it’s not that similar to Angry Birds, but it is interesting.

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Everyday on my home from work, I see two groups of people out in an empty lot of grass. And each day I see a bird rack with several birds on it and what appears to be people throwing birds into the air. At first I thought they were shooting them down because I’d see a guy point a rifle-looking thing at the bird and it would come straight down, but that didn’t make any sense. First of all, “shooting stuff down” isn’t a thing here. And the Chinese have a general respect of birds. So I had to go and see what it was all about.

Walking up to the group, I quickly confirmed that they were indeed throwing birds up into the air. They gripped the bird in their hand and whipped it straight up in the air and then the bird would come straight back like a boomerang. As I got even closer I could see that the man throwing the bird was also throwing some food pellets up at the same time, giving something for the birds to go after. And the man who looked like he was shooting them down, well, he was using his rifle-looking stick thing to throw an additional food pellet up near the bird in the air so it would also go after it. After the bird got the second pellet, it would then return to the man who threw him.

I asked one of the guys what the purpose of this was and he said it was just a hobby. And the birds seemed to like it as well. They weren’t being hurt or anything. After some time one of the birds didn’t want to go after the food any more, and they guy said, “He doesn’t want to play any more”. He put the bird back on the stand and gave it some water and moved on to the next bird that “wanted to play”.

I tried doing a Google search on this, but wasn’t able to find anything. I really have no idea where this hobby came from. If you know more about this hobby, comment below!

It looks like a lot of fun.

Normally, I only post one photo a day, but this one was just a cool thing, I’ve decided to break my rule and post some more. I hope you don’t mind!

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#aphotoaday Hole in the Wall

When you think of the phrase, “hole in the wall restaurant” in China, this is what comes to mind. The man smoking a cigarette, with his subservient mongrel dog next to him. The mini-kitchen with a wok on the burner and a calendar with a buddhist image on the wall. The size of the entire room is 130ft². I haven’t eaten at this particular take-out place, but I guarantee it’s some of the best Chinese food around.

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#aphotoaday Concentration

Lucas, once settled from other distractions, has an uncanny ability to remain focused on something for a long time. Of course, when we’re trying to get out the door and he’s focused on something not related to getting out the door, it can be frustrating. But it also means he can immerse himself in a task completely and enjoy the moment.

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#aphotoaday View of your Dad

My daughter, Anna, is my second guest poster in this series. It’s an interesting shot and it got me thinking of how my children will view me when they are off on their own.

Loving?

Reliable?

Silly?

Self-absorbed?

Faithful?

Respectable?

When they think back at the important moments of their childhood, will the memory of me be positive?

Or will it just be blurry?

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#aphotoaday Sleepy

This is my first guest photo on this #aphotoaday series. It was taken by my wife. I was discussing with her my frustration over framing this picture…that I couldn’t get it right with the available background. And the fact that Eloise was asleep meant I couldn’t reposition her. So, Jacquelyn took the camera, took the shot, and said, “there…that’s it”. And there, indeed, it was. She framed it perfectly. I’m still not super happy that this is a guest photo post, but it really was the best shot, so I couldn’t argue and I couldn’t recreate it since Eloise had since shifted positions. If there’s any props to give myself, it’s that it was still me that edited the photo. But Jacquelyn definitely gets the prize for the photo of the day. Great job, dear! 🙂

The words “Eloise” and “falling asleep” don’t usually have positive connotations with it. She, as most children (at least my children), don’t like to go to bed. Eloise rarely is able to fall asleep in the middle of day. So, when we saw this scene, it was a “quick, get the camera!” moment. She’s a cutie, but sometimes we feel a bit like Frank and the triplets on this clip of Friends.

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#aphotoaday Milk Tea

Milk tea is a thing here. And we’re really into it. This is from our favorite milk tea place called, Coco. Actually, I decided to take this milk tea home and save it for another day because I was really full from dinner. I put it in the refrigerator. Apparently, though, when my wife saw it in there she thought it was over two weeks old and THREW IT AWAY! WHAT! Have no fear, I sent her some Bitmoji’s (here and here) letting her I was upset about it. But just yesterday she bought me another one to make up for it. So, now she gets this and this one.

Also, when did my child become an adult?

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#aphotoaday Sunset in Tianjin

Our city gets a bad wrap because it’s known for being polluted…and it’s true. We do have alot of pollution. But over the Christmas break, in the midst of some pretty low pollution days, I realized that our city is a nice place to live. It really has all we could want. Historical stuff, Western stuff, relatively low traffic congestion, and lots of places to hang out. And on some days, when the blue of the sky can be seen, we see it really is a beautiful place.

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#aphotoaday Christmas Tree

Christmas trees remind of us Jacquelyn’s mom. She loved decorating for Christmas. We’ve had a hard time taking the tree down this year. It’s been on Jacquelyn’s todo list for a couple of weeks now, but she can’t quite bring herself to take it down. I think we’ll just keep it up for a little while longer.

I also thought this would be a good time to take a selfie. How do I look?

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#aphotoaday Violin

In coming back to China, one of things we really wanted to see was our children continue learning violin. Over the past couple of years we’ve tried local Chinese teachers, and even had some good success with an online teacher living in the Netherlands. But lately Jacquelyn has been helping them. We’ve had ups and downs in consistency, but Jacquelyn has worked really hard at working with the kids and getting them to practice.

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#aphotoaday Chinese Shack

Outside my office, in the otherwise sprawling surroundings of educational facilities that make up an international school and a university, sits this shack. It’s right in front of a manmade fishing pond. Between the shore and shack it’s not uncommon to see a fisherman fishing or a man singing and/or shouting over the water. It’s quite the contrast to an otherwise modern look at China.

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#aphotoaday Peers

I work with a pretty incredible group of peers. The people that have similar positions to me are in different cities within our company. We see each other in person only several times a year. And I’m always impressed at the camaraderie and fun that we have together. I also super appreciate the focus that each one brings into better supporting our people.

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#aphotoaday Mirror of the Past

In my daily interactions with my children I don’t typically think about the fact that my children look like me. It’s not that I don’t think they do, I just don’t think about it. But when I saw this picture, it immediately reminded me of the photos of my childhood. It was like looking into a mirror of the past.

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#aphotoaday For the Love of Reading

If you’ve been around my house, you’ve seen this as a normal occurrence. I envy her ability to be utterly consumed by a good book. I never gained the love of reading that my daughter has. But at least when she finishes a book we get to watch the movie together.

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#aphotoaday Mentor

When I was offered a chance to move back overseas, I came with the condition that I would need someone to train me on the job. And since being here, we’ve encountered some pretty big storms. I’m not sure that I would have been able to navigate them by myself. In fact, I’m quite sure I would have missed the boat the completely. I’m thankful for having a mentor to continue to show me the ropes.

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#aphotoaday Dog

This is one of the most interesting mutts I’ve ever seen. It has such striking facial features. It wasn’t what I aimed to photograph, but it quickly became clear that it would be featured.

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#aphotoaday Breakfast Parties

My wife and I have an “on again off again” relationship with running. Currently, we are “on again”. Each Saturday a friend of ours organizes a 5K around our housing complex.

One of the best parts of the 5K is when it is over and we a mini breakfast party. These are a couple of our new friends from this weekly tradition.

#aphotoaday Friend

Living overseas means constant changes. Friendship is no exception. But it only makes them even more highly valued. This is one of my friends. He also teaches my children in school. I’m glad he’s here.

#aphotoaday Beauty in the Morning

This is what my wife looks like in the morning.

I know, right? Even in the morning she glows.

But more than what she looks like, my wife is pretty incredible. She works hard and cares deeply. She loves me and makes efforts to show me. You can’t get better than that.

She’s stronger than me.

And she’s better than me.

And I really like her.

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#aphotoaday Morning Game Time

Micah’s usually our early riser. He’s also the first one done with getting ready to go in the morning. But it also means he has extra time while the rest of us are busy getting ready. This morning he wanted me to play a game. He ended up playing it by himself.

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Carmans and Greenes Together Again

We were thrilled to have our friends, the Greenes, stay with us again for Christmas. We had lots of fun, laughs and conversations. They’re the kind of people that we can easily just pickup our friendship where we left it off. Nathan and I both made a video.

Here’s mine:

Here’s Nathan:

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Thanksgiving in China ’17

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This hasn’t been most ideal Thanksgiving. With the passing of my mother-in-law, it’s kinda thrown our family out of sorts. JK and Eloise are still in the States spending time with family trying to help with organizing the estate while the rest of came back to China about a week ago.

None-the-less, we’ve made the best of it and have enjoyed our Thanksgivings separately. Honestly, I think between JK and me, we both kinda envy each other. I wish we could be with her and her family for yearly Thanksgiving tradition of heading to her brother’s house. And she wishes she could be here to be a part of our community Thanksgivings meals. On Thursday, our small group had a meal, and then again on Saturday we got to take part in a progressive dinner.

For the progressive dinner, at the first house, there was soup and bread. That’s where I contributed my secret recipe – buying store-bought food. From there we went to the 2nd house where we had chicken (couldn’t get a turkey), sweet potatoes and even cranberry sauce, and more main course items. Finally, we headed to the third house where we had a plethora of desserts. At the end it was a 4 hours well-spent!

Lucas and Micah’s Drawings

Every week our 3rd grader brings home a movie from the school’s library. One particular DVD they bring home is called Angel Wars. Honestly, I can’t say I’m a fan. The topic of destruction is a heavy one and the animation and story line are lacking. But, the boys like it and I can just leave the room when I’m annoyed at it.

AngelwarsSo, this week when they brought home another DVD from this series I was again disappointed, but then, once we put it in, I realized it was actually a “how to draw angel wars” DVD. This I can handle. I happily set them up with paper and pencil and let them at it. I wasn’t expecting much. The boys don’t particular like to draw nor have they made any spectacular drawings. But, they actually did a pretty great job!

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This reminds me of a regret of mine. I was in kindergarten and boy named Justin was an excellent drawer. I remember all the kids would huddle around him as he worked on and displayed his latest works. At one point I was chatting with him and he said, “Drawing is easy. I can show you how. Would you like to learn?” (I don’t know if that’ exactly what he said. That was like 1986…). And I, for whatever reason – shyness?, said “no”. I’ve literally regretted that decisions forever. I still do. (Don’t worry, it’s not something that keeps me awake at night. Just when I think about it, I feel regret.)

Funeral of Vangie Smith

Although it wasn’t surprising, it still hurts none-the-less. My mother-in-law has passed away.

She lived well and she loved hard. She suffered through her cancer with dignity and strength. She died well.

Many wonderful things were said about her by her family that I agree with whole heartedly. I’ve told many people that she was an excellent mother-in-law. And it’s true. In-law relationships are often spoken of with disdain, but Vangie broke that stereotype in the way that she treated all of the spouses that her children chose. She often gloried in the fact that God provided the perfect mate to each of her children. Though we certainly didn’t eye to eye on every aspect, she treated me with respect and respected what I felt God was leading us to do.

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As the days were looking more and more sure that she was going to pass, JK went ahead to try and be by her side and by her siblings’ sides in the hospital room. After a very rough 40 hours of traveling, missed flights and sleepless days, she and Eloise made it back. We’re grateful that she got to be with her mom for the last 2 days of her life.

I and the 3 older children followed only a few days later. Our travel was smooth all the way. But that didn’t mean that there weren’t some tired children. I was quite literally dragging Lucas through the airport as we went through immigration and awaited our luggage.

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The funeral was really amazing. I’m so happy that my children got to be a part of healthy funeral and be a part of the celebration of the life of their grandma. I’m also proud to be a part of the family. Jacquelyn’s siblings and extended family are amazing. They handled the death of their mother, grandmother, aunt, sister and friend with grace, giving honor to our Father. Looking back, it seems odd that we even Facebook Lived the funeral. I was a bit worried that this would be insensitive when I suggested it. But the celebration that took place made it obvious that this was exactly the right thing to do. This type of hope and joy in the home going of one of His children should be shared.

Here’s the Facebook Live (via Youtube):

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Here’s the slideshow we showed at the funeral service:

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Below are some photos taken by Jacquelyn’s cousin, Steve. These are just the ones that have our family in them. He took a bunch more.

Chaos at the Weighing Station

In China, as in most places, most fruit and vegetables have to be weighed before you can buy them. Normally, you grab a little plastic bag, pick your veggies and then immediately go the person at the weighing scale right there in the produce area. Then, when you get to the register, he or she just scans your item and you’re done. Now, this is different than what I’m used to in the States. In the States nobody is going to pre-weigh your item. You simply bag it up and take it to the cashier to weigh it for you as he or she scans it.

So, today, when I grabbed my produce, I looked around for the weigher person, but there was none to be found. There was a weighing scale, but no weigher. Another customer was also there wondering where the weigher was and was calling out, “who can weigh my stuff?” I kinda just hovered around waiting for her calls to beckon someone over. But when nobody came, I just continued shopping and figured I would come back when I was done with everything else.

A few minutes later I came back and found that 3 or 4 other people were wondering where the weigher person was. By this time there was an employee there pointing people towrad the front of the store and saying they don’t weigh it here anymore. It’s normal for me not to exactly understand stuff here and to follow where people point me to. I just headed in the direction that she pointed hoping to follow some of the other people to the news, secret weighing station. But everybody else was as confused as I was and wandering arund aimlessly looking for someone to help them.

Eventually, I realized what might be happening. They are now weighing everything right at the counter. So, I went to the register and saw that they indeed have scales to weigh items. So, I got in line, hoping this was truly the case and that I wouldn’t be wasting my time once I got to the front of the line.

But as I get in line I can see that there is utter chaos at the register. Not only are customers annoyed at the new produce system, they’re also trying to figure out the new mobile app VIP card. The lady directly in front of me spent about 5 minutes with the cashier getting her account set up. She was also annoyed that the seaweed she wanted wasn’t in the system and therefore couldn’t buy it. There was a man, perhaps a manager, that was running between the 4 cash registers dealing with problem after problem. He was sweaty and looked tired. It was going to be a long day for him.

Here are some of the reflections of this event:

1. It’s best to let the locals deal with the problems. Life as a foreigner can be frustrating. There are so many things that are different than what we’re used to. But I try to take cues from the locals as to how to deal with it. Is this different and frustrating just for me? Or is everyone thinking something is strange? Traffic on the roads flows differently in China. But you quickly learn that the only person doing something wrong is yourself when you try and force your own experiences on the traffic.

2. Good communication goes a long way. The most frustrating thing about the experience wasn’t that they changed the system. Changing it is not a problem. In fact, weighing my produce at the cash register is what I’m used to. But the communication was poor. There were no signs or people pointing people in the right direction. The one person that was there wasn’t very helpful. She kinda just waved us “over there”.

3. Changes take time. I kept thinking back to the day when the States made changes to the way things were done with produce. I don’t remember that day. It must’ve been before my time. But it had to happen at some point. Fast forward to how ever many years later, and it’s simply the way things are done. It’s more efficient for the grocery store and the customer doesn’t have to wait in line multiple times.

4. I’m happy the store is trying new things. Despite the obvious struggles that it was to change the system, this particular chain of grocery stores is working hard to change the status quo. They’re making the system better. They even have their own version of a self checkout! You use your phone to scan your own items and then pay with your mobile phone, too! That’s great stuff! That’s still a system in progress as the time it takes to get that done is significant. But it’s a step in the right direction.

Lots of good ideas get trashed by poor execution. Produce weighing at the cash register is a great idea, but it might get thrown out with the bathwater if it doesn’t get executed better.