Timing is key

So God gave me a new job.

When this all started I didn’t even know I wanted a new job. Back in November or so, a competing education consulting company started pursuing me to join them. The head of their high school consulting team frequented a lot of the same events as I, and we kept running into each other. I met with him outside of those events several times to talk about what kind of a role I could have at their company. We were talking management, we were talking VIP clients, etc.

That was the first time I seriously considered leaving my company. I spent several weeks writing out the pros and cons, and what it would look like to pass off my program/responsibilities/students, and to leave my friends.

I was frustrated with the lack of support my program was getting, and generally bogged down in the stress of client expectations and being responsible for each of these kids’ futures. I was ready to join a company that had a whole team set up for high school consulting, and where we would support each other, instead of me, myself, and I dragging along.

By February I was ready to sign with them, but then the guy let it drop that they would be interviewing other people for the position as well. That bummed me for a minute, but then I realized it would be silly of them to put all their hope in me when I hadn’t even been sure I was looking for a change. No worries, I told them, confident that they would pick me anyway. Days and then weeks passed and they still hadn’t sent me even the job description, nor asked for my resume. I checked in again, and the guy told me that they were going to need to wait until after March 10th (when their application results came out) to see just how successful they had been, so that they could estimate the amount of clients they would sign and thus how many new people to hire. I asked if that meant it was possible that they might not hire anyone, and when he said yes, I felt like I had been strung along, so I removed myself from their hiring pool (if I had even ever been in it).

By this point I was super frustrated. I had already detached myself emotionally from my company, and suddenly couldn’t bear the thought of staying another year, going through the same motions, the same struggles. I thought I would have to stay and stick it out since I had no other options.

I was falling back into my age old habit of needing to have everything mapped out from now until forever. I talked with my parents, I talked with God, and I talked with Hallie. I knew I needed to let go of the control, and seeing as how I didn’t have any control left at that point, it was easier than usual to let God do his work. I decided to put out feelers for new jobs in new industries, and if nothing panned out, I would go travel and apply for grad school (in what area I still don’t know lol).

I applied for a whole retinue of jobs, some that interested me and some that didn’t really but I felt I was qualified for:

Restaurant reviewer

Managing editor of one of the local expat magazines

Sales and marketing at a new magazine app for expats

I went on this great website called EscapetheCity.com and applied for exotic jobs like:

Sales and business development in Trinidad and Tobago

Volunteer business development for an app serving refugees in Europe

The only one to follow up with me after the interview was the Trinidad one, and I was nearly convinced. I mean, come on, live and work in the Caribbean?

I began thinking if I was ready to leave Beijing. It’s funny how this place that seems so far and foreign to all of you would become my comfort zone, and that leaving it for a country far closer in language and culture to the US would seem like a risk.

Around this time I saw another job description for sales and business development that carried a much higher pay range than the Trinidad one, and it was based in Beijing. A high paying job, working with high paying clients, for high level bosses. I was intrigued, but intimidated thinking I wasn’t entirely qualified, and nearly passed over it to the next email until my coworker told me to apply for it, or he would apply for it himself. My competitive nature took over and I sent in my resume. Turns out the guy who had put out the ad was already an acquaintance of mine, and we set up a call for the following week.

After learning more about the job, I realized I was exactly what they were looking for in terms of being able to aggressively make sales, network, be detail-oriented and responsible. I wasn’t sure I had entirely convinced my acquaintance of this, but suddenly I had an official interview with the company who was hiring. When I showed up, the woman who would become my boss hadn’t even really looked at my resume yet, but trusted the judgment of my acquaintance, to whom she had outsourced hiring.

It seemed to go well, but suddenly I was nervous about what it would look like if they actually gave me the job! I couldn’t possibly be as qualified as someone else, who they would surely want more. Hallie told me to read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, who mentions that men usually apply for jobs if they feel they are 60% qualified, while women wait until they are 100% qualified. The man may end up getting the job, while the woman won’t because she probably didn’t apply for it! I “leaned in” instead of leaning back, and an avalanche of interviews continued, next with the woman’s husband who is an advisor to her company, and then with the man whose position I would be replacing when he goes back to school, and finally I got the offer.

It all played out once I let go and let God. The job came at exactly the right time for them and for me. And funny enough, the competing education consulting company has come back around asking if I’ll apply for various management positions with them. If this job hadn’t come through, I might have thought about it. But now that I have this job, and a different future ahead of me, I’m so glad I’m not going back into education. I’m tired of those conversations. I’m ready for a new challenge. And oh the contacts I’ll make at this new job!

This was a good example of letting things pan out in God’s timing. I’m glad that this didn’t drag on and on, but grateful for the little lesson, so I can trust again next time.

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Burning vacation days in Suzhou

On a whim, I decided to use some vacation days before I start my new job in May. I settled on Suzhou (very near to Shanghai, about 5 hours by bullet train from Beijing) because it has been the inspiration for Chinese poetry and novels for thousands of years, and is one of the major cities in China I haven’t visited yet (I’m looking at you, Urumqi). Its Venetian canals criss-crossing the city are a breath of fresh air from Beijing’s desert-like conditions, but also a home to some very happy and well fed mosquitoes.

Anyway, this trip was my very first 100% solo trip ever. Nobody sent me off to the train station or picked me up, nobody met me in Suzhou, and I knew not a single soul in this city. I’m quite proud of myself for navigating, filling my days, and not feeling lonely. I deserve an award. In fact, I’ve already written my thank you and acceptance speech:

First off I’d like to thank the weather for clearing up after the first day and spacing the rain out so as not to affect my excursions on Thursday and Friday.

Thanks to the Australian lady on the train ride down for lending me your Kathy Reichs book that I thought I hadn’t read but it turns out I had.

Thank you to hostel for being exactly where the map said you were. Same thing goes to you, bus stops. You really couldn’t have been more convenient!

Speaking of buses, thank you Tour Bus #1 for passing by right before I realized you were the one I wanted to take; it gave me time to chat with the old Suzhou-er who “would have taken me on a guided tour of the city if he weren’t so old and tired.”

Thank you to the handmade-fine-silver jewelry lady for the gorgeous discounted lotus earrings in exchange for shamelessly plugging you on my social media. (If you find yourself in Suzhou 苏州 make sure you visit PingJiang Road 平江路 [historical quarter] to find this lady’s shop. Some really unique pieces there!)

Shameless plug13.picMy purchase

I’d like to thank the Humble Administrator’s Garden for being exactly down the road from my hostel. Congrats on being the best garden in China!

Thank you to the cats in the Cat Cafe for deigning to let me pet you while I escaped the drizzle.

Thank you to the passengers who didn’t get on the boat with me yesterday, allowing me a truly peaceful cruise down Shantang canal. In that same note, thank you to the Shantang neighbors who feel comfortable enough to dry their laundry over the river. I’ve never seen so many strangers’ panties in one go.

Thank you to Jinji Lake for the awesome name (Golden Chicken) and cheers on your lakefront being so wide and empty. It was a welcome break from the crowded gardens.

Thank you to @Ollies Restaurant for your Wednesday night ladies night. Even when I’m the only customer in the restaurant, you still offered me half off on my mojito.

Thank you to the local Suzhou-ers for speaking your dialect around me so I could tune out every conversation all day long.

I’d like to thank the boat lady for your folk singing gracing the banks of Pingjiang Road. It made for a picturesque stroll on my first night.

And a special thanks to the security guard just now for being the only one to snap my picture (actually several) all week, in the hostel cafe; did lots for my ego.

See photos here

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March and April

Lots to catch up on here:

In March I was invited to speak on a panel hosted by an international school here in Beijing. Their topics were on how to prepare for your best college application, so I added thoughts about how attending boarding school can help prepare you for college. On the panel was the CEO of one of our biggest competitors here in Beijing, and the panel was hosted by a CCTV news host, who is also a parent at the school. rsz_daystar

March was the Bookworm’s Literary Festival. The Bookworm is an English language bookstore and cafe here in Beijing. I attended a talk by Hyeonseo Lee, a North Korea defector, and author of The Girl with Seven Names. She spoke about some of the stories in her book, and answered questions from the audience. I had already bought her book the year before so I took it with me to have her sign it.


Early in April I went to youth camp with my church’s youth group. There were one or two other churches’ youth groups in attendance too. I had a cabin of 6th grade girls, all non-Chinese. This sounds weird, but it’s been so long since I interacted with western teenagers, that I didn’t really know how to treat them. We figured it out and at least felt less awkward around each other at the end of the weekend. One of my favorite parts of the camp was the very last massive group picture we took. All of the leaders sneaked bags of colored corn starch under their shirts and when the photographer counted down, we tossed the bags into the air all over the kids. Here’s me in the aftermath with the camp organizer, Tim.


This past weekend I was called upon to help one of my favorite cafes man their station at the Woodstock of Eating, an annual event where the city’s best vendors come together for a giant bazaar-like weekend. I was helping Rager Pie, a cafe with excellent coffee and pies.


Oh, and I bought a bike. A fixed gear street bike that weighs like 5 pounds.



For those of you that didn’t know, I was considering my next steps, trying to decide on a new job and potentially new area of the world. I was looking at bumming around Asia doing writing work, or even moving to the Caribbean for a business development job. In the last three weeks, God has told me to stay put in Beijing for the time being by dumping an incredible job in my lap. I will be doing sales and business development (and managing the small office) of a speakers bureau based here in Beijing. It’s such a high level job that I almost didn’t apply for it, only sending in my resume for the interview practice, really. After the first interview went pretty well I felt confident that I could do the job, but told God that if he wanted me to have it then he would give it to me. Well, he did!

I’m excited about the job not only because it’s in business (not education) but also because the connections of the people I’m working for, and the clients I’ll be serving, are top-notch. This kind of opportunity isn’t so easy to come by in the States. I’m very excited for the challenge.

Also, the timing of the job search was pretty perfect, as God’s plans tend to be. I’ll write about that in more detail later on.

Finally, here’s a view near my apartment to prove once again that Beijing isn’t really that bad.


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Wuhan 2

Today’s taxi driver had a mustache and nodded politely to my inane comments like “that building is pretty” and “Wuhan has a lot of lakes.” Actually, I was pretty satisfied with this basic conversation because I understood everything he said and was able to carry the conversation. But thinking back on it his answers were always “Yes, that is a pretty building” and “Yes, Wuhan has a lot of lakes.” No wonder I understood everything he said.

Anyway, today’s drive was more pleasant than yesterday’s. With the sun still out I could see the river and lakes, the budding cherry blossoms, and lots of unique architecture. I had wrongly assumed Wuhan was a smoggy old city, but really its metro was so much nicer than Beijing’s! There was also a Marks & Spencer, which is a fancy British brand of clothing and food. Hallie introduced it to me in Hong Kong as a place where you can find delicious cookies, unique flavors of potato chips and popcorn, and just great foreign things in general. Beijing only just got one late last year, so I was shocked to see one already set up here in Wuhan. Well, their elevator was down so I had to lug my bags up to the second floor to find the food, which was much less plentiful than Hong Kong, and Beijing, but, hey, Wuhan. I bought some breakfast cookies because I can, and Kenyan tea because why not.

The weather in Wuhan was quite pleasant, which they said was unusual, but I’ll take it. Probably because of the unusually pleasant weather nobody came to my speech, so I spoke to a camera, trying not to be awkward. Oh well, China families are notorious for ignoring RSVPs. At the airport, I saw a black guy about my age wearing a Detroit Tigers hat, so I chatted with him at McDonald’s for a while. He was on a layover to Chengdu, where he teaches at an international school. He’s a graduate of Western Michigan. Small world!

After I went through security I was waved over by an airport employee, “Please come here” he said ominously. Then he hands me the tiniest photo frame keychain and tells me it’s a free souvenir and directs me to a short line of people waiting to be photographed in front of a random backdrop of an Airbus plane. I figure, why not? I pose with my hand on my hip and the photographer directs me to lift my other hand Vanna White style, as if presenting the plane to a Wheel of Fortune winner. They gently bully people into paying 20 RMB (barely more than $3) for a full size picture along with the keychain, and I think I can swing $3 so I buy it. It’s really a souvenir of China, and strange situations I find myself in, than it is of Wuhan. And that’s fine.

Wuhan 2 Wuhan 1

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I caused a minor riot the other day

(In Beijing)

Every day on the way from apartment to metro, Hallie and I have to cross a bridge; but first we must cross the entrance ramp to the highway, and then after the bridge, the exit ramp. There is a roundabout which cars coming from the main street we live on use to get onto the highway. You would think that a roundabout would mean drivers are going somewhat slowly, but you would be wrong.

Usually it’s pretty easy to weave our way through those highway bound cars, since there are so many of them, and only so many spaces they can squeeze into. Not to mention, the entrance ramp is usually packed with cars, so one cannot speed off the roundabout to get onto the ramp. If you’re thinking that this makes people not speed, well you would be wrong again.

The other night, Hallie and I had left work a little later than usual, and were both tired and hungry. From the metro we crossed the exit ramp, and then the bridge, and were using our eagle eyes to scout out which cars would let us walk in front of them without getting run over. One car in particular came zooming off the roundabout and headed straight for us. Since there wasn’t really a clear path for him onto the entrance ramp (it was full of cars) we knew he would have to slow down, and since we were right in his path, he wouldn’t hit us. Well, if this is what you thought, you’re mostly wrong again. He didn’t hit us, but he came too close for comfort. I saw him not slowing down, and I put my hand up to say STOP. He didn’t show signs of slowing, so I waved my arm around and after a harrowing second he hit his brakes not too far from us. In my hunger and adrenaline state, I flipped him the middle finger and walked on, a little shaken. Now, I know, giving the middle finger makes me look like a jerk, but the middle finger doesn’t mean anything in China, and I occasionally use it as a way to let off steam knowing that it won’t offend anyone. Well, this guy must have watched American movies because he got offended. Hallie and I had already finished crossing and were moving on to our block when we hear “Hey! Hey! Come here! Hey! Foreigners! F— you! Come here!” sprinkled among a near continuous symphony of car horns. It wasn’t until we heard “Foreigners!” that we realized this shouting was for us. People stopped to stare at the guy making a spectacle of himself and Hallie and I scampered on like we hadn’t heard him. Apparently he had stopped his car to shout at us, and the car horns we heard, as well as tires screeching to a halt, were all the other drivers backed up on the roundabout because this man felt he needed to save face because we had expressed out discontentment at him nearly running over us.

After a couple seconds the shouting died down, the backup dispersed, and we turned onto our street. I felt a little bit of regret for letting my mood get the better of me.

I debated whether or not to put this incident on my blog because it might make me look bad (mom didn’t approve when I told her about the middle finger). I would love to be the foreigner in China who only sees the good things, and manages to never have bad experiences, but life gets in the way sometime. However, the next day I saved an old lady from falling in the subway, so I feel like I made up for having caused the riot. At the transfer station, we were all getting bustled off the subway car, and a young woman on the platform dumped a huge bag right at my feet as I stepped off, causing me to trip; meanwhile the old lady next to me got jostled by people trying to get on the car, and she had nowhere to go except into me. I steadied her with my right arm while I steadied myself on the woman who caused the problem in the first place. No harm done!

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The man to my right was jittery and uncomfortable, yet comfortable enough to let everyone know how uncomfortable he was with his loud sighs, irritated clucking, and frustrated muttering to himself. The man to my left had beer on his breath, and was boring the too-polite man to his left with a one-sided conversation. The too-polite man was clutching his book, open to the page he had intended to start reading an hour ago before he was entrapped by Beer-breath.

Beer-breath thumbed at his nose once or twice, then when the time felt right, he launched a small snot rocket into the aisle separating us. Surprised at how not surprised I was by this, I added the scene to my mental list of places I had previously thought were too public for such behavior (including hawking loogies).

Mall floor

Subway platform

Subway car

Out a moving taxi window

Airplane aisle

The taxi driver wove us in between lumbering cement trucks and other hasty taxis. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. Until we reached the highway and a cruising speed of 100 kilometers an hour. The radio static fought to be heard over the lyrics; the rattling car mourning its lack of shocks.

Five hours ago I was in Beijing. Now I am installed in a hotel in downtown Wuhan. I’m giving a speech at 2 tomorrow.

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I was inspired by A year of reading the world to read stories by local authors of countries I visit, and hope to visit in the future. Lately on my travels I’ve visited bookstores to pick up a book by an author of said country. I’ve done that in Singapore, the Philippines, and Hong Kong.

By now I’ve read books (or stories) by authors from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Botswana, Cameroon, Wales, Greece, Zimbabwe, Kenya, India, Australia, China (as well as Chinatown in San Francisco), South Korea, North Korea, Sweden, Chile, and probably some others I’ve forgotten.

On my shelf ready to go I have: Ghana, Thailand, Iraq, Japan.

I like getting even the briefest insight into part of daily life of whichever country I’m reading at the moment. Even if it’s just the phonetic ending added onto colloquial speech “lah” in Singapore, or “yaar” in Bombay. I’ve learned about clashes in history I’d never heard of, such as the civil war in Nigeria in the 1960s where Igbo people seceded into a new country, Biafra, for 3 years (which is currently a hot topic again), or gaining new understanding about what life was like under Pinochet in Chile.

So this is my hobby at the moment, while I figure out what God has in plan for my next year or two. In the meantime I’m also brushing up on my math skills (had to go way, way back to get started) in order to take the GMAT later this year and apply for business schools. Anyway, a lot of things are up the in the air, and lot of doors have closed (which I guess means I’m narrowing in on where God wants me to be), so if you think of it, pray for clarity and peace.

On another note, my mom, aunt, and uncle are coming to visit in June. We’ll go to the Great Wall, Summer Palace, Lama temple and the hutongs where I live, Hou Hai, and Xian to see the Terracotta Warriors!

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Photos here

While I was planning our trip earlier in the summer, I was looking on forums for things to do in Manila. Nearly everyone said a trip to Intramuros, the old walled city, was a must. So I signed us up for a bike tour through a company that uses bamboo to build the bike frames. Very sustainable, they source local bamboo, they employ local Filipinos to build the bikes and lead the tours, and even donate a portion of their proceeds to local schools. Basically, the ideal company. (Bambike)

Our small tour group was made up of a Taiwanese man who lives in LA, and an American woman who I think lives in the Philippines, or spends a lot of time in and around Asian countries because she works in setting up call centers. Our guide, Edgar, was from Manila. He was a cool guy, whose accent reminded me of a bit of a mixture between Indian and Latino (which I recognize are not accents in themselves, but you get my point). He was our first exposure to Philippine hospitality, always offering a hand and a smile to help up climb up or down. Used to Chinese indifference to customer service, this hospitality would continue to amaze us the rest of the week. See photo here

We biked probably within a 3 kilometer radius, hopping on and off as we arrived at each landmark. We saw an old church (San Agustin, photo) where a wedding was taking place, climbed up and on the old wall, and visited a museum dedicated to one of their national heroes Dr. Jose Rizal. Later it poured rain for about 3 minutes, absolutely soaking us in our ponchos, and as soon as we got under a covering the rain let up.

We learned a bit about Philippine history (colonized by the Spanish for 300 some years, sold to the Americans, and briefly dominated by Japanese during WWII). Manila itself did not have as many high rises as I expected, and it was interesting to see the contrast between Manila and Beijing. Beijing has a ton of people and cars, but most of the highways and roads are quite wide; the drivers ignore many of the traffic signals. In Manila the roads are narrow and winding, and the lanes themselves are somewhat fluid, but for the most part people follow the lights and signs. More on traffic cops later. The people complain endlessly about traffic jams, and maybe we were just lucky, but we didn’t experience anything like what we’ve seen in Beijing.

Our 3rd day in we set off for Puerto Galera, an island about a 2 hour bus ride + 1 hour ferry ride from Manila. We had gotten an excellent deal on the room and ended up with a one bedroom villa, complete with open kitchen, living room and dining room, whose entire south side opened up to the ocean and mountains.  See photo here

We scheduled a snorkeling trip for our second full day on the island. Neither of us had been snorkeling before, and I had forgotten how difficult it is to tread in the open water, not to mention wrestling with my wet hair and a snorkeling mask. I opted for a life vest until I could get used to the mask and the idea of breathing underwater (a recurring nightmare of mine, actually!) Wow, it was so cool to see all those living things down there! We started in a spot where there are giant clams, perhaps 2 feet long and 2 feet wide, and our guide gave us some bread to disperse in the water. All the fish swarmed around us to nibble the crumbs, and I hoped they wouldn’t bump into me. There were some long thin fish hanging out near the bottom (about 12 feet down?) that I actually thought were planks of wood they were so stable, but precisely the fact that they hovered so perfectly made me realize they were alive.

When the medium size hotel boat dropped us off to snorkel, a smaller canoe size boat towed us around while we watched what happened below. We were actually in the water holding a line as the boat puttered; at one point our guide dropped the line and shouted for the boatman to stop: there was a turtle! Resting among some small coral caves was a large turtle, also maybe 2 feet long. We watched him from the surface of the water until he got suspicious and gracefully flapped away.

Then the small boat took us to another section of the island with a narrow beach, completely empty of anyone besides us. The water was very shallow so we played on the sand and in the water until Hallie decided she wanted to climb a massive rock about 30 feet out. The guide agreed so we swam over there, snorkeling on the way. Our guide suggested we put on our shoes (I had flip flops and Hallie had cleverly brought some mesh shoes) in order to climb. I’m not much of a climber and I knew climbing in flip flops would be worse than bare feet, so I decided to just wait in the water. While Hallie discovered the rock was a lot sharper than she wanted to climb, I was discovering the coral on the ocean floor was much closer to my kicking feet than it appears through goggles. When the water tugged my flip flop off my left foot, I kicked down to turn around and look for it, effectively scraping off one or two layers of skin from the top of my foot. Swimming back to the beach to examine it, it appeared puffy and red and I instantly became a hypochondriac, certain that I had stumbled onto a colony of poisonous sea urchins or something. Our guide tutted in pity but assured me I wouldn’t die. I decided to be brave and not call it a day yet.

We moved onto another beach where they convinced me to snorkel again. I swam face down breast-stroking the whole way with my left leg tucked up against my body. I’m glad I went out again because we saw the most gorgeous neon blue starfish! We also saw some sea cucumber, which are ugly, and some orange/red starfish with black nubs on top, which were pretty! Above water photo here

When we got back to the hotel and ate lunch, we decided to go to a store to get some snacks. I stopped by reception to ask if they had anything for my foot and was stopped by an Australian doctor who spends a lot of time at the resort. He volunteered to take a look at it and sent Hallie off to the pharmacy for some calamine zinc lotion to help with the sting I was feeling. Handling my foot, he starts commenting on the sunburn we got. He said that before you go on vacation you can go get some sort of injection that will keep you from burning so much. My brain instantly panicked “Injection! My foot hurts!” and I had to put my head between my knees. The feeling didn’t go away so he made me lie down on the couch in reception and drink an entire bottle of Gatorade. He was very attentive and checked on me later in the day to make sure I wasn’t having an allergic reaction (I wasn’t) to the coral. Hallie and I ordered room service so that I wouldn’t have to go down 5 flights of stairs on my poor foot.

Two days after snorkeling we headed back to Manila. The ferry and bus trip went just fine until the bus dropped us off in Manila, not exactly at a station, and we had trouble finding a cab to take us to our next hotel. The cab driver we did flag down refused to use the meter, quoting a price instead (only $4, but if they don’t use the meter then there’s not guarantee they’ll honor the original price they quoted). A young Filipina watched us send the cab away and commented that it’s really hard to get a cab here, especially one that won’t cheat you. She offered to have her husband drop us off at our hotel, since he was on his way to pick her up. At that moment, standing on the side of a highway, looking totally lost, I felt more uncomfortable with the idea of having no idea where I was, than I was with the idea of meeting her husband and seeing if he could drop us off at the hotel. Her husband turned out to be an Australian (lots of Australians in the Philippines!) who works for a concrete company, and he pointed out the various buildings he had worked on while we followed the GPS to the hotel. Either the GPS led him down a wrong road or he turned too soon, but he turned left on a road where that’s not allowed and a traffic cop flagged him down. He and his wife tried to explain that it was the GPS, and that the cops hadn’t stopped the other two people in front who had just done the same thing, but to no avail. He got a ticket, and apparently in that district they also confiscate your license until you pay the ticket. Hallie and I felt super bad, since he wouldn’t have been on that road if he hadn’t been doing us a favor, but they didn’t blame us.

Our return to Beijing was uneventful (though my foot was itchy as it healed). Now it’s full speed ahead! This month I have to give two speeches, one in Beijing and one in Shenzhen, and my program is a sponsor at two boarding school fairs, one in Beijing and one in Shanghai. College early deadlines are at the end of this month, and all of my boarding school applicants want to interview early so I have a lot of hours of practice ahead of me.

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Joy in all trials

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

I’ve read these words hundreds of times, and listened to multiple sermons on them, but only a couple weeks ago did God open my mind to truly understand why I can be joyful in hard times.

My job is tough. Managing a national program (although it’s still very small), involves so much more than scooping ice cream, waiting tables, or tutoring English, all of which made up my work experience through college. Every day I’m faced with a new challenge. Some days it’s demanding parents, other days new and outrageous sales targets, or, most days, wading through the murky cultural misunderstandings that come from working in an international office. With each new difficulty I’ve been forced to improve my language skills, conjure up patience from thin air, and creatively solve problems that keep all parties satisfied. God has been using my job to show me how new and difficult situations at work are providing me with practical skills and experience so that I can face tomorrow’s new and difficult situation.

Over the last year I’ve faced a snowball effect of personal issues, one leading up to another that culminated in a big difficulty. In the past I used to collapse in a ball of tears under pressure, uselessly trying to swallow a lump of anxiety in my throat. I would feel like I was constantly treading water, just barely keeping my mouth above the waves. That is, until a couple weeks ago.

My office manager had been asked by central management to quickly throw together our annual College Fair with only three weeks of warning. Basically we had decided not to do it this year but at the last minute they asked her to do to a miracle. I had just gotten back to Beijing from the US six days before, and had successfully avoided being looped into the planning. (I had contributed a lot last year only to have every single one of my contributions pulled out at the last minute, so I didn’t want to waste my energy again). That weekend was one of the hottest of the summer, and I was jet-lagged and frustrated that after a full 5 day work week, I had to be available all weekend for hours of training, team bonding, and finally the actual college fair itself. I planned to leave the event an hour early that Sunday evening so I could catch up with my college roommate’s husband who was in Beijing for work, and Sunday evening was the only time we could both get together. After the team picture I sneaked off and caught a cab to my apartment to change. I had a good time with my friend, and I arrived back to my apartment after 10 pm. I checked my instant messages and saw a number of new ones in our office group chat. My office manager had fired off some very angry messages about how every year the College Fair is put together by the sweat of the Chinese staff, who had spent all day out in the hot sun putting together the tents and tables and decorations, only to have the US staff pile onto the bus at the very end and leave, with no regards as to who would tear down the equipment.

Sitting on my bed, I felt a cold rock settle in the bottom of my stomach. My office manager was hurt and upset, and I had played a major role in it. Sure, everyone else had left too, but I was senior member in the office, and a good friend of hers; I had been selfish. But at the same time, I was angry. I was angry that she had made me feel bad over this. If she had just asked for help, then many of the US teachers would have obliged. She can’t just expect people to know when she needs or wants something. Of course, I was looking at this from an American point of view, not a Chinese one, where even if you offer help and are rejected, you should offer two more times so that they can feel OK accepting it. (Lesson learned.)

I complained to God in my personal bible study the next morning about how unfair it was of her to be angry at us (at me) and that I shouldn’t have to feel bad because she never even asked for help. Mostly I was upset that I was feeling bad, and I asked God to show me how to fix the situation so that my stomach would stop hurting over it. He told me that there might be something for me to learn here, just like how every trial at work improves my skills in a certain way. Meditating on the issue, I realized that this had happened to show me that I need to be more aware of other people and their needs. Sure, she could have asked for help, but I definitely should have been thinking about her and the rest of the Chinese staff, instead of rushing off for an early evening like I felt I deserved. (Typing it out now it sounds so obvious, duh! But it really was a revelation at the time).

Mulling that over in my mind, I suddenly felt good. Not good in the sense that I didn’t feel bad over the situation any more, but good in the sense that I am going to become a better person, that people will like me more because I’ll be looking out for them. I still felt bad that I had let my boss down, but I could feel good through the bad knowing that I was now more aware and could make better choices in the future.

Could this be joy? God then directed me to James where I read about being joyful in all trials, because this produces endurance, and endurance will make me perfect and complete. A door actually opened in my mind. What had previously been a wall, was suddenly a door that I could walk through and see what had been behind the wall. Almost like when you conquer a hard level in a video game and are granted access to the next level. I get what it means to be joyful in trials. God allows each trial as a test. Not to watch you fail or hope you succeed, but to teach you from your mistakes. Each mistake I make, I can choose to improve on it for next time, and each improvement slowly leads me to the complete and perfect picture that God intended me to be. I can be joyful knowing that God allows each trial precisely because He’s preparing me for an eternal life with Him in heaven.

Don’t get me wrong. Jesus’ blood on the cross is what allows me to enter heaven; that is the only way to salvation. It’s the trials and perfecting of my faith that keeps me enduring until the time when God calls me home. God calls us to imitate Christ in our daily lives. I am joyful that God loves me enough to teach me, to point out my mistakes and how I can be more Christ-like! Wow! I really never understood what it meant that a loving Father will discipline His kids, but now it makes sense.

Even more, I can awake every morning and say “This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it!” Knowing trials will come each day, I can face them with joy because God is sending them to me to prepare me for life with Him.

Maybe reading what I’ve written you feel it’s just another one of those messages. “Oh sure, have joy, like that’s so easy.” It’s not something you can force, but if you ask God to show how what it means to be joyful in all trials, I know He will.

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The Great Trek back to China

8 days in Arizona boiled down to about 5 trips to Dunkin’ Donuts, 2 trips to Walmart and 2 to CVS, evening strolls with my parents, eating cereal at 4 am because I can’t sleep, petting Anna’s cats, arguing with Ainsley (who has a lot to say these days) and passing Adrian around the circle because he wants to be held by everyone!

I had a bit of an adventure (as usual) returning to China. United had me arriving in San Francisco at 10:05 am and departing at 11:10 am for Beijing. The gate attendant assured me I would make it because the gates were only 20 gates apart. But when my plane to San Francisco was repeatedly delayed due to fog, United rerouted me to Los Angeles where I would take a 2 pm flight to Beijing. I should have arrive in Beijing around 2 pm on Saturday but this would have me arrive after 6 pm. Not a big deal, but still.

Turns out my leg to Beijing would be done by Air China, in conjunction with United, but on an Air China flight with Air China staff and terrible, terrible Air China food. I reminded myself that at least I should have my individual TV in the back of the seat in front of me, which United does not (seriously, on 12+ hour flights, you need that to remain sane), although there would be a majority of Chinese movies.

Landing in LA I checked the board to find where my plane was. Every other plane had a gate number but mine said TRM 2. I asked around and it turned out I had to EXIT the terminal I was in, completely, as in, stand outside, in order to get to the correct terminal. Meanwhile, my mom sent me an update from United saying one of my two bags would arrive in LA on a later flight. Oh great, but wait, I only have one bag. It turns out that the system got confused when I was rerouted. I had watched them carry my bag off of the plane bound for San Francisco and assumed it had traveled down two gates to the LA flight but now I was worried. But it was fine! The bag had been scanned as arriving in LA and I didn’t even have to pick it up and shepherd it to the new terminal.

I walked up and down the sidewalk outside in the LA sunshine but couldn’t see any obvious signs. I checked in with the oldest lady volunteer at the Info desk and I told her I was looking for terminal 2. She starts rummaging in bag and then in a folder, pulls out some hand-cut slips of paper and starts highlighting in different colors the shuttle stops and terminal routes. She asks where I’m flying and I said Beijing with Air China. She keeps rummaging then loudly exclaims: Nooo. No no no!

Uh oh, now what? Just 3 weeks ago Air China had made the move to Tom Bradley International Terminal, and no longer used Terminal 2. I feel like the board should have reflected that change since it was 3 weeks ago! Anyway, not a problem, she highlighted my sidewalk route to the shuttle and counted with me 4 times the 4 stops the shuttle would make before I got off. Very thorough!

At TB terminal I wandered around until I found the outside escalator to the second floor because this is LA and they don’t need indoor things when it’s always sunny. I skip the check in counter because I already have my boarding pass, but when I try to take the escalators to 3rd floor with security, the agents at the bottom turned me back saying I needed it reprinted by Air China. Sorry, that’s just the rules!

So I trudged back to the counter and waited, frustrated by now, for the lady at the desk to print my new pass. She wandered off with my passport for a minute without telling me why, and I could see her gesturing in my direction while talking with another agent. Don’t mind me, I’ll just wait here and worry. Then she printed my pass and told me to go to gate 155 for my flight.

Security was a breeze. Surprise! I wondered around the bookstores, ate a snack, and then splurged on a super fancy neck pillow made of memory foam. It was a good buy. I plugged in all my devices, read a magazine, and then checked the gate’s TV to discover the plane would go to Hong Kong. Hmm. I ask the gate attendant and he marches me over to another screen that lists my plane as not having a gate. UGH. He says to check the board regularly to see when they post the gate, but all I can think is that my plane doesn’t exist and now I’m stuck in LA with the airport with stupid unconnected terminals. Two minutes later the board says my flight will leave from gate 157 so I plunk down and take a nap. When I wake up I’m surround by Chinese and the screen still says Beijing.

We boarded 40 minutes late because they were late to finish cleaning the plane, but I was VERY pleased to discover nobody wants to fly Air China flights, and I had my pick of entire swaths of seats in the back of the plane. After we hit 30,000 feet I moved into an empty row of 3 seats and stretched out with all 3 pillows and two blankets. Now that is how you fly a long haul flight.

Arriving in BJ my bags were outrageously heavy but Hallie helped me carry them up 5 flights of stairs, where I unpacked and promptly fell asleep.

Now it’s on to a week of student meetings, parent meetings, and a big company-wide event this weekend. But at least it’s in Beijing so I don’t have to travel!

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