The Other Side of the World


The Other Side of the World (Possible chapter 1 from my book)
by Lori Qian

The drive to Aurora had never taken so long.  The car seemed to have a mind of its own, perhaps wanting me to think things through before making any rash decisions.  I was done thinking, though.  I knew what I wanted.  Sort of.  I wanted to go to China, but I needed to talk to Dad first.

I wanted to sit down with him and explain this uncharacteristic-for-our-family opportunity that had been presented to me, as if on a silver platter.  I wanted him to understand how important it would be for me to go, to accept this job, do something for myself, to finally carve out a new life.  I wanted him to be happy for me, to wish me well in this adventure. But I knew this would not happen.  Let's be real. 

Last time I had visited---Sunday dinner just 6 days ago---he had  thought I was the neighbor's daughter.  Not he and Mom's current neighbor, mind you, but Sue Frocks, our neighbor from 15 years ago when we lived in the small white house on the outskirts of Wisconsin Rapids. Anyway, he had no idea who I was then and a coherent daddy daughter talk today seemed as likely as a quick trip to the moon.

This idea to go to China seems perfectly normal when I pretend that I am, well, normal.  When I have parents who are not old, or poor, or sick.  Who have enough money to support themselves and don't rely on me to close the gap between their rent and their social security allowance.  When I pretend that my Dad is the strong man he once was, playing his guitar, solving logic puzzles, reading 800-page books, rather than the fragile man whose Alzheimer's has taken over all of our lives.

I hoped when I pulled up to their apartment I wouldn't find him wandering outside as I had two weeks earlier.  He had been walking around looking for their apartment.  Worse than that, he had forgotten to put his pants on before embarking on this little stroll. 

“I was trying to find Sparks.  It was always here on this corner,”  He says slowly lifting his finger and his gaze while pointing at nothing really.

“I know, Dad.” I said as I took him by the arm.  “Let's go inside.”

Sparks was a grocery store in Starbucks, Washington, his childhood home.  My childhood is filled with stories relating back to this town and I'm reminded that I really need to visit there someday.  I'm also reminded that I need to arrange full-time care for him, or Mom needs to quit her job so she can stay with him.  Well, I tell myself, accepting this job in China will enable to me to help her do just that.  If we can just make it through until then. 

As I open the door to the apartment I'm relieved to find him sitting at the kitchen table, eating toast.  He's wearing clean blue sweat pants and a black cable-knit sweater that was a hand-me-down from me.  He'd lost weight and I'd passed along all those once fashionable oversized men's sweaters I'd bought years ago.  He looks small to me, now, like a little child sitting on a big kitchen chair, carefully using two hands to bring the buttered toast to his mouth.. 

“Hi Daddy”, I said, closing the door behind me.

“Hiiii” he said, dragging out the word.  He's done this ever since his first stroke.  I'd become used to it now.  When he'd first had his stroke, all the changes in his speech were hard to deal with, but I didn't mind it so much lately.  His new mode of speech made every word sound more sincere, like it was trying to stay in the air a little longer.

“How are you, Dad?” I asked, kissing the top of his bald head and then settling my arm around his shoulder.

He looked up with a slow smile that began in his glossy eyes.  “Oh, fine”.

We chatted for a few minutes and I realized that I'd caught him on a good day.  I moved around the kitchen, putting things away, listening to him, testing to see how coherent he really was.  I had already told him I wanted to go to China when I called from the conference several days before.  He'd said that was nice and then passed the phone to Mom.  I knew it had not really hit him, and I was sure he had no memory of the conversation.  I had become familiar enough lately with how his mind seemed to work, or not work.  I hoped that maybe, just maybe, if I sat down and told him in person, that it might sink in.  I prepared myself for two possibilities---either a blank stare, indicating he really had not understood, or, extreme sadness, indicating that he had.

As I played out these possibilities in my mind, he shuffled into his bedroom.  He's probably going to lie down, I guessed, and that's a good thing.  I could help with the laundry while he slept and maybe I could come up with a fantastic way to tell him without hurting him, or me.  Just then I heard his voice behind me.

“Lori, come and show me where you're going”, he said.

I spun around, almost dropping the plate in my hand.  I caught it just in time and was shocked to see him holding the globe.  This was what he had brought from his bedroom.  Tears came to my eyes as I realized I could not remember the last time I'd heard such a clear sentence some out of his mouth.  And to ask me this question meant that he remembered me calling from the conference.  That was days ago.  How could he possibly remember?

I knelt down beside him and spun the globe.  Wiping a tear away, I pointed to Guangzhou. 

“It's right here Dad.  That's the place I want to go.”

As he looks intently at the globe he doesn't speak.  He touches Guangzhou and slides his finger all the way up to the top of the globe, and then down the other side.  He stops right on Chicago.

“The other side of the world,” he said.  His grin was thoughtful.

I stared at my father.  He knows exactly who I am and exactly what I need from him.  He is doing just what he has always done as a father.  When I was younger and would ask him for help with a decision, he would always consider the situation carefully and then give his opinion quietly, leaving the choice to me.  That was exactly what he was doing now.

“I think you should go to China.” he said.

“You do, Dad?” , I ask, catching my breath.  “You really do?”  I was hoping I had heard him correctly.  He raised his eyes from the globe to my face.

“I really do”.

I could feel the tears streaming down my face, and then falling from my chin.  These were tears of gratitude for my dad's brief moment of clarity when I needed it most.  I had no idea what my future held, but with my Dad's blessing, one thing I knew for sure was that I was going to China. 

 

   

Adventures in Cambodia


Although our family has travelled to many places, I don’t remember the last time I blogged about our travels.  Yes, I post lots of pictures on facebook, but I’m usually too lazy to recall the details of our trips once we are back.  I just come back knowing we had some great family time and saw some cool new things.  However, our trip to Cambodia was different. 

We did so much and yet it never felt stressful, the kids never complained, and everything was just easy and magical and wonderful.  I learned about Cambodia.  I got to see a small glimpse of real life there, which gave me a lot to think about.  Of course, we were tourists and we did lots of tourist things, and enjoyed every minute of it!  A few of you have asked me about our itinerary and how we structured our time, so that’s what I’ll give you in this post. 


 What this post is not is a history lesson or a travel essay---it’s just what our family did and some practical ideas if you are planning a trip there.  There is a lot I could share about what we learned, but that’s not what this particular post is about. Please let me know if you have any questions.  We loved our time there!
















Saturday, Travel Day:
We arrived on Saturday night and someone from our hotel picked us up at the airport.  When we arrived at the airport, we needed to get a visa for Cambodia, which was 20 USD, and was fairly easy to get.

Our hotel was about 15 minutes from the airport.  We stayed at Cyclo D’Angkor, a charming boutique hotel a bit off the main area.  The staff at the hotel were wonderful.  We checked into our room and had dinner there.  It happened to be William’s birthday and they took it upon themselves to get him a cake, decorate it personally, and surprised all of us by dimming the lights and singing to him.  It was so sweet!  
We told the manager, Ham, what our plans were for the next few days and he helped us arrange a van and an English-speaking guide.  We were completely aware that we could have accomplished the same thing with a Tuk Tuk and finding a guide on our own, but we were happy to pay a bit more for convenience and someone to save us the hassle (not that there would be a big one there) of figuring things out on our own.  We knew where we wanted to go and we wanted an air-conditioned van to take us there, and a knowledgeable guide to accompany us and tell us the history and other tips.  We loved the driver, Jeng Lan, and the guide, Won, the hotel hooked us up with.    The charge depended on how far we went, how many hours, etc. 


Sunday:  First Full Day
So, on Sunday we had breakfast at 6:30 at the hotel and left at about 7.  We entered Angkor Wat from the back and it seemed we were the only people there.  This was one of my favorite times of temple exploring.  Magical is a word that sort of can’t be overused when you are visiting these places, and that is how this felt.  I think we spent at least a couple of hours there, and even the kids were interested in the guide’s descriptions of the carvings and the history.  Our kids asked him lots of questions and in true inquiry fashion, shared their wonderings with us.  It was truly wonderful, all of us learning and exploring together.
We then headed to Ta Prohm. This is the one where part of Tomb Raider was filmed.  It has all the over-grown trees and lush green everywhere.  This is the one described by many as “other wordly” and yes, that’s exactly how it feels.  None of it seemed real---I didn’t want to leave.  The kids just explored endlessly---everything was fascinating to them.  We spent at least an hour or two here and then it started pouring!  We enjoyed a nice jog in the mud and then headed back to the hotel to clean up!

We took a tuk-tuk to lunch (always 2 USD) and very easy to get at our hotel.  Lunch was at The Blue Pumpkin, recommended by friends who said they ate most of their meals there.  They have comfy couches where you sit with trays and of course the kids loved it . The food was great, smoothies were amazing, and service was good.

We rested a bit and went for a swim at our hotel.  Later that night, we again took a tuk tuk to the downtown area, just 5 minutes away, and we all did the crazy fish-nibbing-on-your-feet massage.  It was really fun (and creepy), and two of our kids ended up doing it 2 or 3 more times during our trip! 

We then had dinner at the Mexican place on the corner (this place and Blue Pumpkin were our go-to places the whole trip).   Loved the food here!  Amazing food, again---great smoothies and shakes, awesome chips and salsa, incredible service.  We just loved it, so we kept going back.

We then did a family foot massage and headed back to the hotel.

Monday, Second Full Day:

We got up at 5 and left the hotel by 5:30, arriving at Happy Horse Ranch before 6.  We did a sunrise ride, each of us on our own horse, for one hour.  There were incredible views, and this was just a serene and unique experience.  There was a guide leading us and I asked for 3 helpers to come along since the kids are not experienced (not that William and I are super experienced either), and I wanted helpers there just in case the kids couldn’t handle the horses.  It was easy and fun, and the kids loved it.  My younger two (the same ones who kept going back for the fish massage) even had the horse trot and they were fine with that.  I enjoyed that too, but Abraham and William preferred to just walk, which was great too.  This was straight-forward, easy, and very well-organized.  The price was 28 USD per person.  We, of course, tipped the guide and the helpers, which we were very happy to do. This was another wonderful experience.
We came back to the hotel and had breakfast and then had a very lazy day.  We read and the kids played.  William and I took turns going downstairs for oil massages right in the hotel.  We napped and just hung out, which is what you’re supposed to do on vacation, right?  Then, at night, we swam and went out to eat at either the Mexican Place or the Blue Pumpkin.

Tuesday, Third Full Day:
We left around eight.  We headed to the floating villages, per Annabelle’s suggestion. She really wanted to do this and it ended up being very cool.  First we drove to the place where all the boats are.  We got on a boat, and rode for almost an hour though a flooded area, which eventually fed into a lake.  This was an old, sort of rickety boat, with an 11-year old driving it.  He was Alex’s size, maybe a tiny bit taller.  It was a silent ride and we were all lost in our thoughts. 

Cambodia is a poor country and the little guy driving our boat was a reminder of that.  Our guide had talked to us a lot about the country’s history and economic situation and I think we all had a lot to think about, even though it was only the second day in the country. The scenery was also just so beautiful that there was really no need to talk.  We rode through, seeing houses on stilts and people going about their lives.  Again, we just felt like we were learning and seeing a whole other way of life.
We then transferred to a little canoe (2 actually) and rode through what I can only call the jungle.  Our kids enjoyed sharing some cookies and candies with the local kids who rode up to us in their boats.  Once we entered the jungle though, there were no other boats.  A couple of times we thought we were lost (there was a young girl leading Abraham and I and I think it was her mom leading Will and the other two kids).  It was cool and peaceful, yet surreal. 

After this, we had to go back the 45 minutes in the original boat and by this time we were all hot and tired.  We went with our driver and guide to a Khmer restaurant situated outside, with hammocks to rest in while we waited for our food.  The food and service again, were great.

From here we drove out to Beng Melea, the “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” place, for lack of a better description.  This is the one that has not been restored and is literally in ruins.  It’s about an hour outside of Siem Reap.  Much of it was shaded so although it was hot, this was also very worthwhile.

That night, we did another foot massage, walked around the downtown area and ate at one our favorites.  Tuk Tuks are everywhere and it is incredibly easy to do things.
After dinner we went to the Circus, which is really not a great name for what we experienced.  It is an incredible, I mean, INCREDIBLE dance and acrobatic drama, all done in a small little “circus tent” but the performers were so incredibly talented.  It was an amazing show and all the proceeds go to building this charitable program to help promote the arts in Cambodia and give young people a chance out of poverty.  They were incredible! This was a very tiring day and we all slept very well that night!

Wednesday, Fourth Full Day:

We slept in a bit and got started around 9, heading to Bayon Temple.  This is the one with all the faces and my kids loved this.  I found by the time we got to this temple, we had learned so much about Buddhism, Hinduism, the history, the kings, and the structure of the temples----time had gone very quickly and we had been exposed to a lot, even though this would make only the fourth temple site that we visited.

After this we went to the Silk Village and learned about silk-making, the process from the worms-cocoons-getting the silk, dying the silk, weaving the silk----I still could not get my head around this process.  Absolutely amazing and our older two kids enjoyed this.  Alex was a bit bored at this point, but he hung in there.  We bought a few beautiful items in their gift shop and then headed to lunch.

Our lunch was at a very cool Khmer restaurant.  Annabelle and I kept ordering fried spring rolls everywhere we went and then comparing them as if we are Master Chef critics. That’s just a random note---the spring rolls everywhere were great.  This place had a nice ambiance and we loved the flavors of the food.

We had the chance to go on another tour of how silk paintings or wood carvings are done, but at this point, we were really tired and I knew the kids would not last through another tour, so we spent about 30 minutes picking up a couple of souvenirs and called it good. 

The evening included walking around, enjoying ice cream at the Blue Pumpkin and beginning to pack and organize.

Thursday:  Travel Day
After breakfast, the kids and I swam and William headed to a massage class, which he loved.  He was trained in the art of Cambodian massage (well, as much training as you can receive in 2 hours).  I’m very much looking forward to him showing me what he learned!  The kids and I ordered smoothies by the pool and had a great time.

Lunch was at our lovely little Mexican place, followed by one last family foot massage.  Annabelle and Alex also did one last fish massage.  Then we were off.

Our time in Cambodia was wonderful.  It’s always good to get away somewhere new with the people we love most so nothing can top that.  But doing it in such a beautiful and interesting place was truly magical.    We’ve done trips where we barely leave the resort and others that are more active.  This was quite active in some ways and yet wonderfully peaceful and relaxing.  We loved Cambodia and we will definitely go back. 

I hope this information is helpful to anyone who wanted to know about our trip or who is interested in going there.   I can tell you that we loved it and we highly recommend it!








A Love Story's Beginning


I started writing a book about a million years ago. When I tried to get it published and it was not immediately swept up by a national publisher, I lost confidence and put it on the shelf.  That was eleven years ago. This is my attempt at dusting off the manuscript, and beginning to try to put my stories out there, even if they are in little bits, rather than the book I envision.  I'm not giving up on the book---it will happen someday.  Interestingly, I never feel nervous about a face book or blog post---I'm a pretty open person, but  I have butterflies in my stomach as I put this chapter out there.  Enjoy, and feel free to give me some feedback.  I  envision putting about 10 of these chapters together into a book someday, hopefully soon.


                                                                   Climbing the Tower


William and I have decided to climb a TV tower.  It’s something we’ve talked about doing for several weeks and for whatever reason, we have decided tonight is the night.  The tower sits at the top of a big hill, right down the road from our apartments.  Usually, people climb this hill for exercise but William pointed out that if you climb a little higher, there’s actually a tower at the very top.  He had been curious about it and thought it would be fun to climb sometime.  I told him I was game and as I now leave my apartment to meet him, I feel incredibly excited. 

Up until tonight I have had doubts about whether William could be truly interested in me.  At one point in my life, I would have attributed his possible lack of interest to my own inadequacies. Now, though, my insecurity has more to do with all our differences. After all, he is a quiet, dignified Chinese man and I am an outspoken, American woman who just happens to be his boss.
There have been moments when I have been almost positive he sees more in me, though. The way his eyes seem to look right through me and how a smile always begins to emerge when my eyes meet his.  He cannot walk into my office and say anything without smiling and I can’t help but smile back.  We could be talking about a student’s assignment or paperwork or any other mundane thing, yet we both have these gigantic grins on our faces whenever we speak.

We see each other and he waves.  I wave back and it occurs to me that I have never seen him looking so handsome---which is saying something, because I always think he’s extremely good looking.  His white shirt is un-tucked and he is wearing khakis and tennis shoes.  I have only seen him in formal slacks, and dress shirts, and he always wears formal blackshoes.   He looks so casual and sort of rugged, and I suddenly have the overwhelming urge to kiss him right now and scream to the stars:  “I love you William!!” but instead I say “hi”.   

We start walking toward the steps leading up the mountain, both of us obviously nervous.  We have spent so much time together lately but this feels different. This is the first time there isn’t much of an excuse to do so.  We are doing something together because we are interested in each other.  I want to spend time with him and he wants to spend time with me, simple as that.

As we climb up the mountain together, it is as if we are climbing into another dimension.  With every step we take we are one step further away from the walls of the community in which we live.  We seem to leave behind our labels, our categories, our worries.  He is no longer Chinese.  I am no longer American.  I am no longer his boss.  There is nothing physical or material to define us because those are not the things that drew us to each other in the first place.  Sure, we obviously seem to be attracted to each other but there is more than that, and suddenly I can feel it.  There is this unspoken goal of getting to the top of the mountain and looking at each other in a way we’ve never done before.  We want to see each other outside of familiar and distracting contexts.  It is as if we have known for forever that we are to be together but we need to get away from it all and say so.

Truthfully, as I left my apartment tonight I didn’t know what to expect but I knew it would be a night to remember.  As we sneak by the guard toward the tower, William touches my back.  He leads me toward the ladder.  “Ladies first”, he says.  I begin to climb the ladder and he starts climbing behind me.  Up we go.  When we get to the top of this ladder, we take a few steps and find another one.  There are a total of three ladders and each step I take makes me happier and more exhilarated.  Granted, it isn’t truly dangerous but it is just risky enough, and surreal enough to feel like nothing short of magic.  After all, here we are, at 9:30 on a Thursday night sneaking up the TV tower in a posh community in the People’s Republic of China. 

When we finally get to the top I am drenched in sweat.  I feel self-conscious and thank God for giving a cool breeze, which helps me to resemble a normal person again.  The top of the tower is small, no more than 8 feet in diameter but the view is more than I’d imagined.  We stand for a few minutes while catching our breath, looking out at the estates and the stores.  In one direction we point out our school, the grocery store, the tennis courts. Behind us, though, is what I refer to as the “real” China.  Housing for the workers—temporary shacks that look like a small breeze would destroy them.  Further on there are rice fields and open space.  Another world.

We stand for a while feeling a little nervous and finally we began to talk.  The conversation goes on forever and yet goes by too quickly.  We talk openly and honestly. We are sharing everything--unfulfilled dreams and regret, as well as hopes and ideas for the future. We talk about our families and our responsibilities toward them and the love we have for them.  We talk about the past and the future and as he talks to me, there is some kind of transformation that takes place.  I suddenly can see everything.

I can see our pasts and our futures and I can see them intertwined.  I know that as a child I lived in America and he lived in China but I can see us together.  All of a sudden I am aware that when I was ten years old and Jake Marley was taunting  me on the playground, William was there.  When I was in high school, thinking there must be more to life than cheerleading, Friday night dances, and superficial boys, William was there telling me there was definitely more.  When I couldn’t sleep due to anger at things that had hurt me, or a society that wasn’t fair, or a dying Father, or a struggling Mother, William was there singing me to sleep.  When I forgot about the beauty of life, William told me to wait, there might be a reason to hold on.  When I accepted a job in China and then promptly wondered what on earth I was thinking, William was there to assure me it was the right thing to do.

I didn’t know his name was William and I didn’t know that the encouragement I’d gotten my whole life was tied to him.  But at this moment, as I stand here listening to this man, something in his voice and in his eyes and in the way he carries himself tells me I know him.  I see his past and I really see him.  I see our future and our children and grandchildren.  I see a life together and it is as real as anything I have ever known. He belongs to me and I don’t know if he knows that.  I am not sure if he knows that I belong to him, but suddenly I hope more than anything that he does know it and that he recognizes me.  I recognize him. There is no doubt about it.  I know this man before me and I pray to God that he knows me too.

He tells me that he came to Guangzhou from his hometown in the hopes of finding a good job.  He didn’t want to teach English but there were no positions available in the business fields he was interested in.  “When I came to Guangzhou I got confused.”  He says this as though he is still trying to figure it out.  He came in search of any job other than teaching English and he ends up doing just what he didn’t want to do.  Something about what he has just said makes me love him.  There is something in his honesty and humility, as if he is saying it to the stars and admitting that he is still confused about how he ended up here.  Even after he had the interview at my school, he wasn’t sure he’d stay in Guangzhou.  He did though.  As he looks straight ahead seemingly still thinking about why he became confused when he came to Guangzhou, I want to say something kind of bold.  I don’t know how he’ll react but I suddenly realize that I mean what I’m about to say and I have to say it aloud.

“Maybe you came here for a reason.”
He smiles. He smiles a big, genuine smile as if he already knows this and is glad I have caught on.  He looks down as if to gather courage and says, “Maybe now I have a reason to stay.”
We both smile…a lot.  Where does this go now?  What have we just said to each other?  He answers before I can ask. “Do you know what I’m thinking right now?”

“No, what?” I ask.

He takes a big breath and says: “I love you.”  His smile becomes even bigger. He stands up taller and says it again, as if to be sure I have heard him: “I love you.”

For me the world and more specifically the tower is spinning.  I am so glad he said it twice because if he hadn’t, I might not have believed it.  I cannot find words.  I just stare at him as he wears this gigantic smile that seems to get bigger and brighter with every second that passes.

“William,” I begin, “I…I’m so happy you told me that because…because I feel the same way.  I love you too.”

I didn’t know if that was adequate.  I didn’t know what to say.  I couldn’t believe any of this was happening but it was.  He looked at me and said:  “May I embrace you?”  Months later, we both had to laugh at that.  His English was good, maybe too good, as he hadn’t thought to use the more informal “hold” or even “hug”.  Nevertheless, I said “okay” and he did in fact embrace me. 

Then, he turned me around, gently pushed the hair out of my face and said less formally this time: “Kiss you?” and then he did.  And nothing has been the same since.

Taking Readers & Writers Workshop to Public Schools in China

So,  this is what I did last week---introduced some of Panyu's best English teachers to the Columbia readers and writers workshop model as an approach to literacy instruction.  It was interesting, to say the least.  These are Chinese middle and high school English teachers, and 30 of them were chosen from over 12 school districts in the Panyu area to take part in a 3-week course taught by faculty from Brigham Young University.  I was lucky enough to be included as part of the faculty team for the course.

Guest Post by Annabelle Qian: Hawaii Highlights

 
Aloha! In Hawaii we saw some very big sea turtles! They were huge! Since sea turtles are endangered, many people came to see them.  There shells were a meter long! 

We also saw some beautiful scenery of the beach and other places.