Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hong Kong scenes

ABOVE AND BELOW: Avenue of Stars with its iconical statue, Bruce Lee, overlooking the harbor

ABOVE: Chinese people posing for photos, doing only poses that Chinese people can make funny

ABOVE AND BELOW: The Bird Garden, where people bring their birds for show and for sale

ABOVE: Grasshoppers for sale.

ABOVE AND BELOW: A Christian cemetery on the outskirts of downtown; built stadium style due to lack of space

ABOVE AND BELOW: The harbor from the top of The Peak, the tallest vista on the island

ABOVE: Drying clothes on the roof

Sunday, February 20, 2011


I'm in Hong Kong indefinitely. A problem with my visa kept me from being admitted into Mainland PRC, so....

I'm in a city that looks and feels and pulsates like New York or Tokyo.

It's overcast and drizzly, but people are out at all moments of the day. I can buy Honey Nut Cheerios and eat at Outback Steakhouse. I'm within five minutes of the waterfront. Transportation is efficient and clean and on time.

And yet...I miss Harbin and the faces that make it feel like we belong to each other.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


My Sunday morning was spent at a local fellowship about a ten minute walk from the YMCA. Earlier in the week, I had found out about it through my cooking instructor. My team-mate and I were supposed to go together, but she ended up being delayed at the airport while volunteering to meet some incoming conference leadership and VIPs. Other foreigners eventually showed up. The service was in Thai, but I had a translator -- a woman whom I met several days beforehand when I visited ELIC's new Chiang Mai office location. She works there part-time.

After the service, I was invited to stay for lunch. Of course I said yes. The worship center became makeshift cafeteria as seats were re-positioned to form several little groups of people eating and laughing together. The meal was prepared and served buffet style in the adjoining room.

Once finished with lunch, I thanked my hosts and strolled back to the Y, the sunshine draping itself on my shoulders. I was recounting the residual effects of meeting two local believers within just a few days of each other, both of whom are members of the same fellowship. Nothing like international travel makes certain communities feel so strategically knit together.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


We could’ve signed up for any cooking class that’s offered in Chiang Mai. They all seem to provide the same caliber of experience with some including a bike ride through local organic farms. “But I don’t want to pay for a 30 minute cycle through a lettuce patch,” I told my team-mate and cooking partner, “I want to cook.”

The flyers, stuffed in cascading displays on every street corner’s tour offices, competed for my attention. Colors bled into colors. Text became endless as each pamphlet touted itself as, “CHIANG MAI'S OLDEST AND MOST ESTABLISHED.” I picked up a small handful and sat down to make the final decision and, ultimately, a reservation.

I settled on “Basil,” whose simple logo against a white backdrop struck a chord of favor in my graphic eye. The menu on the inside looked as good as any other: choose a dish from among every course of a seven-course meal, and the price was competitive with other any other in town. Class size was limited to six, and I knew that was an advantage over some of the other companies whose sessions could hold as many as 8-10.

So I called and made a reservation for two. We were picked up yesterday morning by a young man driving an open-bed truck. We climbed in the back and settled on two benches, chatting with the tan delicate woman who had introduced herself as the owner and teacher. Her name is Boom.

“So how many people will join us today?” I asked.

“One,” she answered, “that we’re going to pick up now.”

Once we arrived at the guest house, Boom disappeared into the lobby and returned a few minutes later saying that the client had double-booked his schedule and had gone off on an elephant trek, instead. I tried to conceal my selfish pleasure.

From there, we continued with a truck ride to the local market to pick up fresh ingredients. On the way, with strands of hair flapping lightly against smiling faces, I asked Boom how often she holds class. “Six days a week. I don’t work on Sundays. I’m a C and I go to a service on Sunday mornings.” I didn’t dare look at my partner, but I knew that we were both thinking the same thing. We asked her a few more questions before revealing our mutual faith. She grinned broadly when we told her, and then she informed us that it was the driver - her boyfriend of five years - who convinced her with his lifestyle. We liked him immediately.

The rest of the day was spent back at the “school,” which is the first floor of her home. We cooked leisurely; with two students, the rush to finish by 3 pm was no longer an issue. After completing each dish, we would enjoy it at the dinner table with Boom asking and answering questions about whatever topic attached itself to our conversation. We discussed peppers, markets, rainy seasons, Jack Johnson, faith, and things I don’t even remember.

Boom told us a story that I will remember for a long time. She comes from a Buddhist family, and her conversion caused no small amount of unrest for her parents. They asked her to abandon her new faith, but she refused. Right around the time of her baptism, her mother had a dream in which a man with dark hair and a white robe appeared to her. He was standing next to a river, and looking farther downstream, her mother could see Boom standing near the edge. She became terrified, thinking that her daughter would drown, and she began crying out, “Someone save my daughter!” The man in white calmly said to her, “Do not be afraid. Be calm. She is not in danger. She is starting her new life now.”

Boom’s mother awoke from the dream in tears and called her immediately to say that she knew things would be different for her daughter. Boom ended the story with, “My mother lives in the countryside and doesn’t have so much access to news about me. To simple country people, dreams are powerful. So that dream really had an impact on her.”

When the day came to an end, Boom’s boyfriend drove the three of us back to our hotel. By that time, we had already agreed to attend the Sunday service with her this weekend. As it turns out, the translator for the service is a woman whom I met the other day when I visited the newly opened Chiang Mai office owned by my employer.

Saying goodbye to Boom, I marveled at the odds of not only finding her amid the plethora of cooking schools (hers not even being one that’s well known), but also of being given the unique conversation that could only happen among believers.

me extracting coconut milk

above and below: bananas dredged in flour, sugar and sesame then fried to a perfect golden brown and eaten with coconut ice cream

above and below: papaya salad

Left: Puy (Boom's assistant who emigrated here from Burma after walking for three days to reach the border. She speaks little to no English, and we were told that her smiles with us were a rarity.)
Middle: Boom
Right: Boom's boyfriend, who not only drives a shuttle for her school but is also a computer programmer

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sunday night market

Chiang Mai is famous for its walking markets. One takes place every night in the downtown area, rain or shine, holiday or no. A larger market is held every Sunday night near the entrance of the old brick wall that used to enclose the city. Artisans, peddlers, tourists and locals abound. It's an inundation to the senses as sights, smells, textures, colors, light and shadows collide.

my dinner: kebabs

making popsicles