Discovering China


I’ve traveled pretty extensively, especially for someone my age.  However, most of those travels have occurred in Europe and the USA.  Never have I experienced China—until now.

While preparing for this trip, I thought about my image of China—what pops into my head when I hear the word “China”, etc.  I knew I wanted my stereotypes to completely shatter, and I’m excited to report that they are obliterated.

From the moment I stepped off the plane I began to love this place.  It grew with each passing moment during which I observed the people, the government (my first communist country), the types of cars driven, the driving culture/etiquette, the manners and mannerisms, the restaurant culture, the food, the work ethic, the architecture, the lights, the living conditions, the pollution, the hotels, the tea and tea culture, and so much more.

I am the first to acknowledge that I am lacking much insight into the Chinese world, as my time has primarily been spent in hotels, taxis, and buildings, but I managed to find some time for exploration and found my thirst for knowledge about this country and culture to be unquenchable.  Oh, and the food is incredible.

I’ve experienced multiple cuisines and have yet to be disappointed.  The question remains: will I be able to even tolerate Chinese buffets after this (especially considering I rarely was in the mood for them before this trip)—even out of politeness, if I’m with someone who wants to eat there?  I will also be researching the best cookbooks for Chinese, Korean, and Japanese foods.  Recommendations are welcome!

I’m currently sipping “Honey Grapefruit Tea.”  It’s delicious and amazing.  However, when I asked for the recipe, there didn’t seem to be actual tea involved.  Perhaps my China-knowledgeable friends can shed some light?

This is a place to which I want to return.  I want to learn more about the people, the poor and the rich, the living conditions, and what it means to be “Chinese.”  I’m fascinated and have experienced a “rupture of the mundane plane.”  My international button has been pushed, causing the juice to flow through my veins…and I don’t want it to stop.

Manipulation, Marketing, and Why I Haven’t Blogged

A few hours ago I discussed with my boyfriend my difficulty with blogging over the last 6+ months.  If you scan through my posts, you’ll probably notice the various phases and styles I tried over the five years I’ve maintained this blog.  Of late, I’ve contemplated starting a new blog where I focus on events, issues, and other things impacting our world, but I’m not positive that’s my answer.  First, I need to find a writing groove…and I’m not promising this is it.

There are lists of blogging challenges and creative inspiration ides.  I just finished reading one with 33 ideas, and before I made it half way through, a rant against manipulating the masses was already rising up inside of me.  Manipulation is despicable (but I’m good at it–and at spotting it).  However, knowing I’m good at it, while hating it, means I make almost every effort to stop myself from manipulating situations and people…though, not always with success.

The list I read was geared for people in the marketing industry.  Some may think marketing is synonymous with manipulating, but I do not.  Yes, manipulation is a key part of marketing for many, but I don’t think it is necessary to manipulate and still sell a product or idea.  I’m sure you all know someone (or many people) who sell products with a “not available in stores” company (i.e. Mary Kay, Avon, Arbonne, Lia Sophia, Rodan + Fields, Cutco & Vector, Jamberry, and many more).  Most people sell something they love and swear by.  I’ve considered selling a product line, but I’m not convinced that I can do it honestly.  Before I sell something, I need to have a solid, fresh reason that I can give for being impressed by and an advocate for a certain product.

My approach to marketing is to simply share with someone why I love something and why they might, too.  Do you know my favorite things to market?  Boutiques and TV shows…more specifically, Laura’s Boutique, Ltd. in Hot Springs, VA and White Collar and Sherlock.  Seriously, I’ve gotten many people hooked on White Collar and Sherlock by just talking about the fun, brilliant, and chemistry-connected writers and actors, as well as the excellent story lines.  As far as boutiques–people want good customer service.  They want to go somewhere and feel special.  Laura’s Boutique give that: great variety of clothes and accessories, relaxed ambiance for shopping, and associates who will go above and beyond for each person.

Marketing, networking, all of it–it’s about people.  People want to improve their lives and others’ lives.  They want to find new things to do and try within their range of interests, and even splash in some new experiences.  BUT, it can be done truthfully and creatively!

What Hairspray Can Teach Us About Current USA Problems

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This morning we three girls watched the musical Hairspray.  I had not seen the movie in over six years and did not recall the plot (it was practically like seeing it for the first time–with a few exceptions).  What caught me off guard were the glaring similarities to the current, American, societal issues, particularly the ones occurring on the racial/governmental front.

While there is no longer legal segregation, racial prejudices are an underlying (and blatant) problem–all ways, might I add, not only white to black.  In the movie, there is a peaceful walking protest made up of black people and a few white people.  In the middle of the street, they come across a line of policemen that do not want to let them cross.  The woman leading the walk speaks calmly, saying they are peacefully walking, the officer won’t budge, the main, white character hits the officer on the back with her sign, and he calls her on assault of a police officer (if you want to know the rest, watch the movie).

The first issue is the line of police officers refusing passage to a peaceful walking protest.  The scene bears an eerie resemblance to current happenings in the USA.  The second issue was assaulting the officer–violence, no matter the level, is not the solution.  The third issue was that the individuals/entity that people expect to go to when injustice occurs were the very ones acting unjustly.  Again, how many YouTube videos display officers blatantly shooting non-violent and unarmed individuals, committing a crime for which a non-officer would be arrested?

There is a deep-seated problem in the United States (yes, in the world, too,but I’m addressing the USA in this post), one that many claim is not an issue, but daily news headlines are saying otherwise.  Find the movie and watch it–don’t let the fact that it is a musical deter you.  As you watch it, look past the plot and understand the message.  Then, compare it to today.  If you are a teacher and you are reading this, may I recommend you play it in your classroom and have each student make notes of issues and comparisons to today.  This is not the time to play the part of an ostrich.  When young children are being shot for holding toy guns, when officers’ first instinct is to shoot to kill and not to injure, when law-enforcement is no longer considered safe–SOMETHING IS WRONG.  And something needs to change.

It Started With Donetsk

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A lot is happening in the world.  Attacks, war, attacks, lost trust, attacks, and more.

I left the USA just as things began to heat up (unintentional on my part).

Now, I sit in England, not far from more attacks and war–France, Ukraine, and, because my idea of distance is different than other people’s, the Middle East and Africa….and all I want to do is talk about it, write about it, bring light to the truth of what is happening.  However, in order to do that I must be there.  I must talk with people.  There is a story, many stories, that need to be shared.  I rack my mind, thinking of ways to write truth into a world of lies.  While anonymous officials make anonymous statements, REAL people are dying.  Artillery is being fired.

People don’t stop living because their surroundings are in turmoil.

I read a brief interview transcript from NPR’s Corey Flintoff in which he shared the environment of Donetsk, Ukraine.  Shelling, spurts of artillery going off—and I asked myself how it would change me to experience that.

Why are we all not asking ourselves that question?

Perhaps if we attempted to place ourselves in the shoes of those who are accustomed to guns constantly exploding in the near distance and where the death count is more than a number–it’s family, friends, the neighborhood grocer–we might work harder, and with more passion, for justice, truth, and ending the war(s).

*Photo of painting taken in summer 2014 at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC

Why I Hate the Word Ministry

P1030557Photo by K.L.R.

*Written approximately four months ago*

It’s ok, breathe, I didn’t just speak heresy.

“Ministry” is a word thrown around to describe something a person or group does to help other people…typically in the name of God.

For some reason people feel it is necessary to label that part of life, rather than considering it simply “working with high school students” or “helping single moms” or “meeting with a group of friends…who may or may not be Christians” or some other activity you do throughout your day, week, month, year in order to have a life that is not centered strictly around you.

Life.
We all live life.
But, life is not divided into a lot of squares.
Life is a mish-mash of running errands, going to work, spending time with friends and family, cleaning the house, helping your neighbor, running food to someone who needs it, going to church (or another religious gathering place, if you are religious), involving yourself in that place…ultimately, life is functioning as a part of a community and doing what is necessary in your particular place.

Back to why I hate the “M” word.
It evokes images of people giving of themselves, holding themselves above others, and making people(s) into a project that they can help/fix/change/whatever.

In college, we were required for three semesters to have some “ministry.”  Then, for the following three semesters, it was a degree specific “ministry” (or internship…a little more open to interpretation).  I fell under the false idea that if I was enjoying myself I couldn’t count the hours…because, God forbid I enjoy what I was doing…after all, it was “ministry.”

Now, one year, eight months, and seventeen days after graduating, I find myself hating the word even more.
Why do I need to label something I do?

Am I supposed to call it ministry every time I hang out with my high school students (who, by the way, I adore)?
Am I supposed to call it ministry when I take food to a family who is low?
What about those kids who come from a not so great home, should I make it my life goal to fix them and make up for the deficit left by their parents?

No.  I love to hang out with my kids.  We have a good time together…we laugh, joke, and sometimes share deeper conversations.
That family?  It’s called being a human and caring for someone’s well being.
And the kid who doesn’t have a great home?  Please, let me provide an escape for them!  Need a getaway?  I can be that.

But what is my motivation?  I love people.  I care about their well being.  I want to be friends with a variety of people.

I do not want to invite people into my life for the purpose of giving me a “project.”
They know.

Instead of ministry, I live life.

I’m supposed to love God and love others.

Teachers, Do You Know The Weapon You Wield?

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Dear Teachers,

I know you look at your students with disbelief at some of the things you overhear them saying seven feet away from you…because when you’re gone, I hear it, too.  It’s as though they think you can’t hear them, don’t understand English, or were never a teenager.  Ah, but that is where they are mistaken.  You, your colleagues, and I chuckle about it after they leave and sometimes catch them at something later because of a slip-of-the-tongue.

Yet, there is a contradictory factor at play in this scenario.  When you are seven feet away from your students, you talk to your colleagues about school being better without the students, you complain about a particular grade, and loudly (and laughingly) state other such negative comments.  Do you think they don’t hear you?

I am an observer, I see both sides, I’ve participated in both sides.  I remember sitting in that desk hearing teachers (who I liked) speak negatively about students (sometimes jokingly).  I now sit on the side of the teacher and hear the negative chatter–sadly, I cannot claim innocence from participating.

I beg of you, each and every person who claims the title of teacher, educator, aide, substitute, guidance counselor, and administrator, please speak words of kindness that uplift, challenge, and encourage our students to do their best and be the best “them” that they can be.  I don’t have to tell you that many of them only hear negative comments out of school, so let’s be a place of safety where they can learn and grow.  How many struggle with their self-image, confidence, eating disorders, abuse, drugs, alcohol, and so much more?  What if they want help?  Are you approachable?  Do they look at you and know you’ll listen without flying off the handle, love them, and offer them assistance with grace and compassion?

Our children are not problems.  They are precious lives that need guidance, discipline, and the space to grow with help nearby.  From preschool to the seniors about to walk across the stage, they all need to know they are loved, cared for, and approved of.  Those are all things that we can give.  Can you step up to that challenge?

Sincerely,

An imperfect substitute who has a deep love for her students

The Right Way to Mourn?

Photo from Yahoo News

Photo from Yahoo News

As I skimmed the headlines this morning, I saw an article about thousands of Turks coming together to mourn a 15 year old boy’s death.  Curious, I clicked on the link to find out the significance of the young man’s life (all lives are significant, but not everyone pulls a crowd of thousands).  In a nut shell, the boy was hit in the head with a tear gas canister and died after nine months in a coma.

The details are not the point I find intriguing.  Rather, what is different in cultures that mourn, celebrate, and live life en masse compared to more reserved cultures that feign being moderately alright, when in reality they are hurting inside?

I remember reading a book in college that observed the grieving process of a particular tribe.  The people in the tribe did not quietly cry, keeping to themselves with the pretense of being alright.  Instead, they wept, wailed, enacted rituals, ever increasing their emotions, resulting in some becoming physically sick.

Diversity is a beautiful thing.  People learn from each other and other cultures.  While it seems haughty to cite a society as being wrong or bad, I cannot help but wonder what scares/intimidates certain societies about being vulnerable, intimate, open, transparent with each other, while others embrace it.

My senior year of college I took a class on the book of the Bible, Psalms.  The most important lesson I learned from that class was the value of emotion.  God created us to feel.  There are several types of Psalms, one of which is the lament.  While the typical “lament psalm” has the writer process through despairing feelings regarding a situation, they end by acknowledge God’s love and power and praise Him for it.  However, the exception to the rule can be found in one or two laments psalms in which the writer is so distraught that he does not close in love and honor of God.

As Psalm 103 reminds us, we are dust, and God knows it.  He created us to feel and does not expect perfection from us, as we are unable to give it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts if any of this struck a chord in you!