Monday, October 13, 2008

Take a Deep Breath and Relax-Not!

Living in Michigan I've never really had to think about whether or not the air was clean. I just took it for granted that I would be breathing clean air without a lot of pollutants in it. Of course, I could always count on a little pollen and dust to kick up and irritate my allergies and asthma, but that's the case almost anywhere you go. Tianjin however is much different. I knew that I would be moving to a place that was known for dirt and pollution and I thought I was prepared. I packed allergy meds, a couple of inhalers, and called it good. For the most part, it's has been pretty good-especially since I came during the Olympics. All my colleagues were oohing and aahing over the beautiful blue skies and while I was enjoying them, I did not have the level of appreciation that they did. I was told not to get used to this kind of environment because it would not last long. They were right!

This morning when I got up I was amazed that he world seemed to be in a heavy fog and I couldn't see down the road very far. Even on my way to school, I kept wondering where the TianJin TV tower was hiding. Surely, someone had moved it because it was nowhere to be seen. Usually I have a pretty clear view of its massive structure. You really can see it from all over the city. I use it as a land mark when I'm out biking so in case I get lost I can always head toward it. However, today was a completely different story. No wonder I couldn't get my snotty nose under control yesterday and today! Hopefully, tomorrow will be better!


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Jia You!

This week during National Holiday, a group went to the Great Wall to hike in a remote section called Simatai. There were 2 paths to hike. One was about an hour going east and the other was 3 hours going west. Now it might not seem like a 1-3 hour hike would be that difficult until you realize that the terrain is amazingly steep and the steps up and down the wall have been decaying for decades.

I was the oldest member of our group. Everyone else was from 25-35 years old. Yet, I was determined to once again experience this "Wonder of the World." The last time I had hiked it was in 2003 in a more traveled section. On our first day we went to the east and I was feeling pretty confident. It was a steep climb, but really not too bad. I was energized by the beautiful landscape and clean air of the countryside. I was looking forward to the next day.

We all stayed overnight at a roadside motel, (which is a story unto itself) and early the next morning the seven of us got up, ate breakfast and went right to business. We knew we would have a long day of climbing and we had to be back in time to catch the train from Beijing to Tianjin. It was a gorgeous fall day. The sun was out, the sky was blue and the view was breathtaking. I was definitely ready....or so I thought!

I’d like to say I am part mountain goat, part human, but the truth is that I am fully human, overweight, out of shape, and 47 years old! My idea of exercise in the past year has been exercising self control- limiting myself to one piece of cake instead of two! Yikes!! I found myself looking at treacherous slopes of winding rock and with each new peak and valley I climbed, I wondered how I was going to navigate the next. It was really high up and a really long way down again! We crossed a long chain bridge over a huge body of water and eventually we reached the 18th tower. A guard stationed there said that if we wanted to continue on we had to pay another fee. Actually, I was relieved. I felt quite accomplished in what had already been achieved, and totally satisfied with quitting.

Then it hit me. It wasn’t like stopping meant we were done. Once you’re on the path, there are no exit ramps, no bathrooms, and no way back except the way you came. It is impossible to reach the end of The Wall because it stretches across 2000 miles. It’s not like I could say, “Wow that was great, where’s the elevator?” I had to retrace all those steps and go back to the beginning! I was overwhelmed. I had made it to that point in the journey, but I really wasn't convinced that I could make it back without a physical revolt from my knees.

A popular Chinese chant during the Olympics was "Zhongguo, JiaYou!” It means “Go China!” but it’s literally translated “Add Oil!” At that moment, I knew I was going to need more oil for my journey. The problem was, I didn’t have any. Good thing my oil was only a whisper away! There have been other times in my life when I have been at the end of my resources and additional strength, energy and encouragement have been supernaturally imparted to me: Resources that are far beyond what I could’ve ever mustered up in my own strength... and that’s what I got! Runners refer to it as a second wind, but I refer to it as a wind from on high.
About 3/4 of the way down, we came to this zip-line cable that went across the large waterway we had crossed earlier . Using the zip-line would take you over the water and to a boat near the entrance of Simatai. I was so incredibly sore that I decided that this would be an exciting, dangerous way to end the trip. I figured I was half dead anyway, so if the cable broke, well at least I would go out dramatically. (HaHa) I got strapped in and enthusiastically waved and yelled "ZaiJian" (good-bye) to my friends as I took the plunge off the edge of the platform. It was exhilarating! I was flying through the air held only by a harness around my waist and legs and sliding down a cable that was, who knows how safe! I wasn’t actually brave...or a dare devil; just too stinkin' tired to walk one more step. I really was being carried by the wind from on high! (Youtube video soon to come-Don't freak out ya'all! Search for it with the name chinachick61)
It was a wonderful trip with deep conversations and new bonding relationships being forged.
With every step from the bus to the subway, to the train, to the apartment, I just kept repeating in my head- “JiaYou!” Sometimes the only thing to do is add oil and keep going!

Today if you have some time, read the whole of Chapter 40 in the book of Isaiah. It is a beautiful word picture of One who Is, and it’s great encouragement to those of us who believe. There will always be “Great Walls” in our lives, but there is an even greater One that who knows no boundaries! Jia You!!!