Spring News from China!
May flowers have definitely come in here in China, though the April showers seem to be sticking around! We have seen lots of things bloom including the peach trees that covered the countrysides.The yellow fragrant rapeweed plant is also everywhere, and we found out that that is what they use to make Canola oil! The plants can also be eaten as well.
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It is still strange to live in a place where you check the air quality each morning. Most people don't even think about it and when you compare the 159 unhealthy here to the 59 in Atlanta (probably a little high because of the pine pollen) or even the 24 in Las Vegas, you start to realize a hidden blessing. It is a crazy fact of life that as we get older we get wiser and can see the "vision of life" better, but our physical bodies say, "If I only had my youth...." Even though 2 Corinthians 4:16 says "...do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day," I would still appreciate a good "shell" until the end. I think this "deterioration" if you will, is to keep us humble and knowing that we are not what is important but what is inside us that we share with others that makes the difference. You have to read the rest of the verse to really bring it home and see the big picture: "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." That is what I am hanging my hat on and remembering when I get frustrated that my thighs rub together.
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Steve was on guard with the soldiers at the temple.
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Where else can you go and find every type of seafood on a stick!
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I find it interesting to see the contrasting areas where the old type housing is being torn down in the middle of new hi-rises.
If you can get a train there, and more than likely you will be able to, you can go lots of places for a quick weekend getaway. Sometimes you end up on a bullet train and other times a version of the "slow boat to China", but both have their exciting moments. We visited the next town over, Hangzhou, to see the famous West Lake. It is a freshwater lake with lots of temples, gardens, and man-made islands throughout the area so it is a popular getaway spot for the Chinese. As always, the 1,000s of people at the lake at the same time made it a challenge, so this time we took the lake golf cart tour and let them "beep beep" the people out of the way on our scenic journey! It was drizzling our whole trip so no good pictures (sorry!). I think the difference I notice between here and Colombia is the grey skies to blue skies. You have a 90% chance here of waking up to grey skies and seeing them all day while the opposite was true in Colombia.
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These were the traditional cakes in the bakery which I have to say looked prettier than ours!
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This is what our cake making operation looked like.
Over the Qingming Festival (also known as the Tomb-sweeping Day), we helped make some traditional cakes with our students and kids at a special needs school. The tradition is very similar to those in Mexico and Guatemala where the families go to the graves of relatives to spend time "with them". The cakes are made from dough and stuffed with vegetables or sweets.It was fun to learn how to make the cakes but it took forever as all the older women at the school we were at had their ideas of how to do it, or their grandmother's recipe, and they made us keep starting over.

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Most sweets involve some use of sesame, even the special flavor of ice cream at McDonald's. You have to be willing to eat ice cream and a cone that are the color grey, but the taste is worth it!
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We are trying to take advantage of our last couple months here to get to a couple more places and just returned from a small island off the coast of China. I never realized that there were islands that are part of China that sit between the mainland and Taiwan. Gulangyu didn’t really have a beach or a beach atmosphere, but it was a nice getaway. The island itself was actually made-up of a community of foreigners whose countries did trading through this port city back in about the 1800s. None are there anymore, but the look of the island remains and reminds you of Europe with the old wooden and brick shuttered homes, narrow alleys, and winding streets. No motorized vehicles are on the island so that was a nice break from the usual mayhem of Chinese streets; the only things you had to look out for were the tourist golf carts and the usual bevy of oblivious meanderers.
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The island is only a five minute ferry ride from the mainland so it is literally "right over there".
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All the products and supplies for the island had to be delivered by boat and carted by cart wherever it is needed on the island. A lot of manual labor and muscle!

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Steve and I were the only ones with bathing suits on the beach, other than two guys in speedos swimming in the South China Sea.

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One of the biggest areas that the Chinese have to get under control is the garbage and pollution problem. As a rule, they don’t seem to care and through litter everywhere. We were on the “beach” for about an hour and a good garbage bag of trash washed up in our little 15 ft. section. When you have 1.2 billion people you can’t be complacent. We have seen the problem everywhere we have traveled, but the gravity of it here is the highest. If everyone did their part wherever they lived or traveled, we could all be a part of a global solution.
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Where are you Tom Hanks?!
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A bag even floated up that we could use to put in all of the trash.
We had a flashback "Castaway" moment as Steve found a FedEx envelope that floated up on the beach! There was no volleyball or usable parts to make a raft, but it was still fun.

One problem that causes part of the litter problem in China is their desire to over-package everything. Even a cookie requires breaking through 3 layers of wrapping to get to the final product which is then sitting in a plastic tray. It is hard to be proactive here when there are limited options but everyone can at least reduce the use of plastic bags by bringing reusable canvas bags when shopping. However, an additional problem we have seen is the need for appearances so you want people to see you carrying the shopping bags that say Gucci and Prada for that reason.
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If you ever wondered why the royalty, such as ourselves above, stayed in the palace or maintained a "Forbidden City", it was probably to get away from the crowds! If you haven't been to a train station in China, I took a couple pictures to give you a basic idea. Definitely not a place for claustrophobics, and this was on a Monday, not a typical holiday day which would have about 4x the people.

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We have had a good adventure here in China and we are glad that we came because seeing things first hand almost always gives you a better understanding of a place. It is interesting that we ended up in China because of a situation that was out of our control. Our plan was to stay in Colombia, work a few more years, open up a hostel, and enjoy our life.

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This was typical of the houses on Gulangyu. Some are renovated or in the process, but many are just closed and labeled as historical buildings.

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You often see Buddha covered with children crawling on him, I am guessing similar to Jesus loving the little children and caring for them.

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This is the Ye Olde Cotton Shoppe where they still make your bedding for you from scratch. It is one of the original business from olden times.
Instead we found ourselves with health problems and having to leave a job with no prospects for the future and negative comments and situations that would impact what we could do. All of it was out of our control but what we often forget is that it is all in God’s control so there really is a plan. Matthew 6:34 reminds us not to worry or doubt and to be confident that tomorrow will take care of itself and I really believe that and trust God. We were never guaranteed trouble-free lives but with God, we have that security and comfort of never facing anything alone. It is that strength that makes the difference and lets us see the situations for what they really are and how they can help us grow in ways we never could have imagined or would have tried on our own.