Appearances

For days now, I have wanted to write about an experience I had with the Sacred last weekend in the mountains.  But I just can’t seem to get my thoughts and words to come together.  So, until they decide to join forces….

 The whole world seems to be keeping up appearances.  We are all guilty.  We use make-up to cover up our blemishes, in hopes no one notices.  We wear fake smiles and always answer, “I’m good, how are you?” to make it seem like our lives are in order.  In Cantonese they say, “ho-ho” – “very well.”  It crosses all cultures.  We want to give the appearance that everything is great.  Countries too are trying to keep appearances.  Until 4 days ago, most people probably couldn’t place Burma on a map, or knew that Burma was the same country as Myanmar.  And everyone thought they were a happy, peaceful country, because we never heard anything.  But their mask of silence has slipped, and now we see what is really going on.  We see images of monks, thousands strong, marching for peace and justice.  We are hearing stories through text messages about the oppressive junta.  Burma/Myanmar can no longer appear at peace.

America – Bush – they are giving the appearance of offering help to Burma/Myanmar.  Strongly worded threats of boycotts, sanctions and a responsibility to stand up for people suffering under a brutal military regime” makes it seem that America wants justice and peace in the world.  But again, that mask slips when we catch wind of heavily US-supported and funded “brutal military regimes” in the Philippines. 

Two nights ago I attended the mid-Autumn Lantern Festival in Victoria Park.  Hundreds of beautiful lanterns.  Children were carrying homemade and purchased lanterns, dangling the lights before them.  There were complex lanterns, depicting ancient folk tales.  And in the center was a dragon, green as the grass, 10 meters tall, with flowers and bright colors surrounding him.  The sign of explanation read, “…to represent minority equality in China.  A nation that has been working to give a voice to ethnic minorities for generations, offering them hope and a place to call home.”  Yet every day I hear of the women who are forced off of buses, simply because of their accent.  Of men who cannot find work because of their nationality.  Of large groups of women, foreign workers, forced to work long hours, without holiday or rest day, suffering abuses and mental anguish.  Where is the equality for the men and women who came to Hong Kong in hopes of a better life, a chance to send their children to school and support their aging parents?  Is their equality only wrapped up in a lantern?  Is it merely a light, flickering one night out of the year? 

On my ride home, I see the appearance of a sunset over the mountains.  I am riding the ferry, having had to chose between the upper and lower deck – which class am I?  Do I ride on the lower deck, where the benches are worn and crunched together, taking the sidewalk to my destination?  Or do I ride up top, where the benches have perfect stars imprinted in the seat?  Do I pay the extra 50 cents for the appearance of being on top of things?  Because either level, I see the same bay.  I feel the same breeze, smell the same salt-water.  When I look over to Kowloon Island, I see the same appearance of a sunset, going down over a mountain.  The ferry tips to a wave, and I realize, it is not a sunset at at all.  Where once there was a grand view of the horizon, there are now high rises, banks, windows, and a glowing half globe on the top the hotel, where the sun used to be before it was blotted out by pollution.  The appearance of beauty.

In my own life.  I’m guilty of this too.  Maybe that is why it bothers me so much.  I get so angry at fake sunsets and governments that prevent peace – yet in my own life, I try so hard to maintain the appearance that all is grand.  That I can move to the other side of the world, eat strange foods, listen all day to languages I don’t understand, come home to an empty apartment – and adjust just fine.  Ask me how I’m doing?  “Ho-ho, doh je.”  (very well, thank you)  But, just wait for my mask to slip, and really, you will see that it is hard.  Not all the time.  But some of the time.  Sometimes, I get really lonely.  And I play old videos from Kentucky and home on my laptop just to hear familiar voices.  And sometimes, I don’t want to be brave and try whatever unpronounceable food is on my plate, I just want grilled chicken and mashed potatoes.  Sometimes, I get really frustrated that I only know English – that not knowing Cantonese keeps me from doing something as simple as installing internet in my apartment, and not knowing De-gala leaves me out of the jokes in the office. 

So here’s to dropping the masks.  For authenticity.  For hope for true justice, and for the peace and bravery the monks are demonstrating will spread throughout the nations.  How am I doing today?  I’m a little tired, hungry, and missing some of the comforts at home, but excited about my day off tomorrow.  Doh jey.  Thanks for asking.

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“Long Live International Solidarity”

The UN International Day of Peace

In 2001, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution (55/282) designating 21 September of each year as a day for the entire world to observe peace and nonviolence.  In 2004, UN secretary general Kofi Annan supported the proposal of the WCC to establish an international day of prayer for peace.

Call From the World Council of Churches (WCC)

When the world is at war in so many places and the forces of violence, war and oppression seem to be increasing, praying for peace seems to be a futile exercise.  But we as Christians believe both in the power and in the promise of peace, and we also believe in the power of prayer.

Prayer is a part of Christian spirituality, a spirituality which is not a call to turn inward, to retreat from social action and public life but, on the the contrary, a call to awaken and to pursue the continuity of things of the Spirit with action for justice and peace.

That is why, in the framework of the Decade to Overcome Violence, the WCC has called upon its member churches to observe an International Day of Prayer for Peace on 21 September.  On that day, we want to lift up people in all nations who are working together for a peaceful world.  Let us encourage them and walk in solidarity with them.  Let us intercede for them and give thanks to God for them.      ~Samuel Kobia, General Secretary

Last night I attended a prayer meeting for the International Day of Prayer for Peace at Kowloon Union Church.  It was a simple service, with time for intercession, for the community to bring their concerns of the community and the world before one another, to pray, light candles and remember.  They had a board with pieces of paper in the shapes of doves, hearts and circles.  They encouraged us to take one and write what a world at peace would look like, then repost it on the board.  At the end of the service, as we were singing “The Kingdom of God,” (lyrics: “the kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come, Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom.”) I looked around.  What a diverse group we were, hailing from America, Ireland, China, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Camaroon, Indonesia and England.  The chapel was dimly lit, the flames of the candles flickered against the shadow of the cross.  Lilies adorned a simple wooden cross, made for the service.  Our prayers, our desires for peace, overlapped one another on the board.  There were some on their knees in prayer.  Others passing the peace to their pew-neighbor.  And I wanted to change what I wrote on my paper.  This is my vision of peace.  Not necessarily a world without violence – I do not know if we will ever see that in this world.  But a world in which people of all religions, nationalities and backgrounds, can come together, work together, pray together – for peace.  For hope.  For justice.  For mercy.  A world in which we are breaking down walls – the walls in our communities and the walls in our hearts.  A world in which the tears of the lonely are felt on the cheeks of the joyful.  A world in which the yoke of the tired worker is carried by strong.  A world in which the silent prayers of the hopeful are heard in churches, synagogues, temples, and homes around the world.

My dear dear friend David is in Israel right now.  I can only imagine the pain, the acts of oppression and violence he will see in his time there.  But he is there to join in the work for peace, for understanding.  And I long to stand in solidarity with him, and with all others around the world who work for peace in their communites.  It doesn’t have to be Israel or Hong Kong – there are walls being built in America and all around the world- physical walls to keep out our neighbors, walls of restment towards our brothers and sisters of different races, walls of wealth that oppress the poor.  So I leave you with a quote from David’s blog:

“Seeing the Wall for the first time. In Hebrew, the Israelis call it Hafrada. It means seperation. Apartheid means seperation in Afrikaans. I know that’s a controversial statement, but it’s true. It cuts through neighborhoods. Its God is demographics, seperation, encroachment. It doesn’t care what is in its way, just crushes and destroys. So many years, and still we built walls. God, shatter these barriers, shatter our walls…shatter us, and let us flow into each other, at last.”

Amen

Bonding

There are some things that really cross culture and language boundaries.  It is so interesting being in a place where so many things are so very different, and yet finding similarities that I can attach myself to, thus creating a bond with the people here.

Singing.  The Filipino culture loves to sing.  They particularly love Karaoke.  While I am no singer, and not really a fan of Karaoke – there is a joy that comes in singing and listening to others. 

Tears.  The women here face many hardships.  They are abused, forgotten, taken advantage of.  They have left their families, hoping to help provide a better life for those left behind with what they can make here and send home.  Even though their cause is noble, homesickness strikes even the strong.  And sometimes, tears are the only way to express the hurt of loss.

Laughter.  I have no idea what is going on around me most of the time.  There are so many languages that I am exposed to every day, Cantonese, Mandarin, DeGala, Bahasa – there are times when someone will translate for me what is being said, but I usually spend most of the time in the dark – trying to pick out words that I recognize, or that sound like sometime I know.  But even though I can’t understand their words, when people laugh, I can’t help but join in.  Laughter is contagious and it warms the lonely places of the heart.

Worship.  I have now attended Mass twice in the Filipino church.  I had never attended Mass in English – so experiencing it for the first time in another language was really beautiful.  Again, I had no idea what was going on most of the time.  But when everyone around me would kneel, or pray, or sing – I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit.

A smile.  I am turning into the girl that smiles and nods, hoping I’m not agreeing to give away my first born child.  Yet again, something so simple, a smile from a stranger or a co-worker, says they understand I am lost; says that its ok if I don’t understand what is going on; says – in time, you’ll get it.

Richard Marx.  Yeah, I said Richard Marx.  Today I am at the BH – working with the women on cross-stich Christmas cards to sell at the Christmas bazzar next month. (side note: cross-stiching?  Not one of my spiritual gifts.  My star looked more like a sailboat.)  While we were working and chatting, someone put on a Richard Marx cd, and when the song “Right Here Waiting” came on – everyone starting singing.  Even the Indonesian women who only knew greetings in English.  They knew every word to that song.  And so we sang and stitched, stitched and sang.  Twice through – because, well, you can’t listen to Richard Marx just once!

A little bit about what I do…

So I can talk about the cuisine, the mobs of people everywhere you turn, the random guys I meet in the airport…but it occured to me that I have yet to talk about what it is exactly that I am doing in Hong Kong!  So, I’ll give you the low down, complete with coding reference to be used from now on (since everyone is so uptight about online anonymity and all 🙂

As of July 15th I was commissioned as a Mission Intern (Mintern) in the Young Adult Program (YAP) of the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM), which is the global mission sending agency of the United Methodist Church (UMC).  Whew…ok, I’m done.  Just kidding!  As  Mintern, I have dedicated the next three years of my life to the UMC, with half of that time being spent in a social justice mission context overseas, and the other half spent in a social justice mission context domestically.  So, here I am in Hong Kong, working for the Filipino Migrant Workers Mission (FMWM or sometimes I will call it just The Mission) and the Bethane House (BH).  Both are ministries for foreign domestic workers how have been abused or mis-used somehow in the work place.  The FMWM focuses, obviously, only with women from the Philippines.  They offer legal advice, peer counseling, consultations on contracts, visitations in the hospitals, and escorts to court and immigration.  The FMWM is run out of St. John’s Anglican Church (we’ll just call it St. John’s from here).  There is a board of 5 members, and only 3 paid staff, one of which is Father from the church, so he is paid from the church, not the mission.  The rest is run by a small handful (about 150) volunteers!  What I will be doing there is filing, encoding case loads, eventually once I learn the system I will be able to take on cases of my own, helping the women one on one.  I will also be helping with grant writing (yikes!  any advice!?), as well as writing for all three publications put out through the Mission, the Church and the Filipino community!  I am most excited about getting to write for these publications because it will give me the opportunity I have always wanted – to write for a real publication!  I will use stories from the women to incorporate into my writings, which is also very exciting, as I love to hear about people’s stories!  I have also become the resident “grammer-girl” since I am usually the only native-English speaking person around.  (There are a lot of questions like, “Do you say ‘on behalf’ or ‘in behalf’?”)  I will be working at the Mission 4 days a week, Tues, Thurs, Fri and Sunday.  The people I will be working with most often there are my advisor, CA, the Father, and Lady (obviously not their real names – you can all imagine why).  They are fantastic thus far, and have been very helpful in orienting me in not just my work, but the area and history as well!

The second part of my job is working in the BH.  The BH is a shelter that is open to women in emergency situations.  It was created out of the FMWM, but is open to all nationalities and religions.  When a domestic helper (DH) faces a situation of abuse or mis-use, they go to places like the FMWM for advice and counsel (there are about 6 other organizations here in HK focused on specific nationalities), and if they are in need of shelter, they are refered to the BH.  BH can house 20 women comfortably, but has been known to house upwards of 35.  Here, the women can also seek counseling.  They are soley responsible for the cooking for one another and cleaning – meal times are a big deal here, as 20 or more “sisters” gather around the table or on the floor, sharing a meal and the bond that always comes out of that.  The BH offers sessions on various topics from Western Cooking, English classes, as well as different handicrafts.  The cooking and English are to help make them for marketable to the DH-market, and the handicraft session is two fold: 1- it allows the women to focus on something with their hands, getting their minds off their present situations, even if for just a few hours; 2- the crafts are sold at the annual Christmas bazzar and the money is used to support the BH.  The BH is a registered charitable organization, so it soley run on donations.  On Mondays and Wednesdays, I will be here, working on encoding files into the system, assisting in counseling, and teaching classes in the evenings.  Next Wednesday I start teaching English classes!  That was something I was totally unprepared for – so if anyone has any ideas – I could use them!!  In October I will start teaching a handicraft class, and probably starting in November or December, I will also co-teach the Western Cooking class!!    Here at the BH my advisor is EW and I work mostly with MD and UV.  (again, not the real names…)  The BH is open to women of all nationalities, but right now there is an influx of Indonesian women.  They love to cook, and then watch as I try these strange new dishes.  They got a kick out of the whole “chili” incident. 

So my days are very full and busy.  I work from 10am – 6pm, that’s when I don’t have sessions at night, or am setting up in the morning for a rally or peacewalk or picket.  (I particpated in my first HK picket last week, and my first peacewalk ever will be on the 23rd!)  But so far, I am really enjoying my job(s).  I love the flow of cultures, and the common desire for stories to be heard.  It is going to be a long and busy 16 months, but I know that I am going to learn SO much! 

*any other questions?  feel free to ask.

Asian Cuisine Experiences

Sitting down to the plate they have prepared for me, I only recognize one thing on the plate – rice.  Plain, white rice.  And some green stuff, brown congealed mush with skin, bright red dots and clumps that are NOT tomatoes (trust me) and the most disconcerning thing on my plate – two brown mis-shapen triangles that look like will hurt me if I attempt to eat them.  And everyone in the room is watching.  One of the young girls sets a mug down by my plate.  In the mug the dark liquid pops and fizzes.  My arch nemesis – Coke a cola.  “I thought I banned you four years ago.”  The bubbles dance on the surface.  My hand touches the side of the mug – cold.  Cold Coke.  Ahh.  Cold anything, I am quickly learning, is a rarity in this country.  Everything is served hot, from the weather to the water.  My parched throat can no longer resist.  A sip.  It is like the juice of forbidden fruit resting on my tounge.  I hold the cold liquid in my mouth before swallowing – pops of celebration and defeat finally overtaking the taste.  I reach for my fork and burp. Quietly.  Oh dear.  Again, a silent burp stirring in my chest.  My eyes water.  “This is why I gave you up, remember?”  Too late.

My stomach and taste buds are still getting used to this new Asian flair they weren’t prepared for.  Maybe depriving myself of Chinese food for the 6 weeks before I left wasn’t such a good idea.  But then again, this is different than any Chinese take-out I’ve ever had.  In fact, the dish before me is actually Indonesian, prepared by eager young Indonesian girls in the BH.  No turning back now.  I mix the brown and green with the rice.  Turns out the green isn’t so scary after all, and tastes a lot like unseasoned green beans.  That I can handle.  The brown?  Well.  The color describes its taste.  The texture was mushy and a little slimy, yet still solid.  I have my suspicion it may have been a raw snail.  I’m afraid to ask. 

The hard part about this meal compared to the others is, this time, I’m the only one eating.  I have no one to copy.  I have no idea how to, or even if I’m supposed to eat the mangled triangels.  The top looks as though very young small early barnacles have taken up residence.  Mover over guys, I’m going in!  The bottom side is a dark brown with yellow specks.  I tap my fork to it and it cracks.  Oh, its a crust!  Inside I find white flaky meat – fish!  I don’t like fish particularly, but I sucked every last bit of white out of that shell.  Then I realized, the crust, not the barnacles, could be eaten as well, kinda like the skin off of fried chicken.  This I like.  Two for one, might as well venture towards the red clump.  I put a little on my fork and move it towards my mouth. “Sister, you like chili?”  I nod my head, thinking of cold nights in Kentucky, warmed by a delicious pot of brown beans, bacon, and brown sugar, topped with cheddar cheese.  Comfort food.  “Its hot Sister.”  I was brought out of my chili-trance too late to heed the warning.  Hot indeed!!  My mouth on fire, I reach for the chipped mug of bubbling cold cola.  Burp.  No help.  My fork retreaves the brown slug-thing, thinking its slick texture will calm my throbbing tounge.  Only now, my mouth is hot, disgusted and burping.  And I still have to finish my lunch.

That is why you always eat…then ask. (If you ask at all!) Three hours later, I’m still burping.

Just idea of a few other things I’ve eaten, minus the story:

-Mussels   

-More triangular fish, only the second time, without realizing it I got the head.  I had to grip the eye sockets to hold onto the piece.

-Lots of peppers and lots of rice

-A form of “potstickers” – or as they are called here Dumplings and Soup.  The dumplings have some kind of pork in it, chopped finely, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a part of the pig I’ve ever eaten.

-Chicken liver and hearts

-Some strange looking fruit from the Philippines – a Tamarind

*I figured out a trick – mix whatever it is with plenty of rice, chew as much as you can stand, and right before you think you are going to make a face (or throw up), swallow and smile – because someone is watching!

All joking aside, it really isn’t all that bad.  It is just taking some getting used to!

First few days in HK

I stepped off the plane at half past 6 to face the Hong Kong morning – excited.  Fog was dancing off the peaks of the mountains.  When we flew in, I was convinced we were going to land on water, the only thing I could see around, until I actually felt the landing gear skipping the runway, settling on a nice spot conviently located by our exit gate.  The dog was still barking in the cargo below.  Poor guy.  We deboarded and I followed a guy out who looked suspiciously like Logan Baker, except it wasn’t of course.  The Logan-imposter kept stopping in the flow of people to tune his mandolin.  I lost him in the crowd.  As the woman stamped my passport and welcomed me to Hong Kong, I took a deep breath. Yes, welcome to Hong Kong indeed. 

“Are you waiting for someone?” the blue-eyed scruffed faced stranger asked.  Fighting tears, I told him yes, hopeful. “It wouldn’t happen to be Maggie, would it?”  I sighed. “No, I’m looking for a Delores.”  The tears were starting to come out. “I’m sorry,” dabbing my eyes, “It is the exhaustion taking over.”  He was very sympathetic – being in the same predicament and all.  And his spirits hadn’t yet dampered.  He was helping my soul.  We had both been waiting nearly 2 hours for someone to pick us up.  Looking out the window, we could see the fog clearing, the mountains coming into clearer view. 

Eric told me where I could check my email for cheap, to find the numbers that I needed to find a ride.  Together, we fought the foreign phone system – losing until a kind police officer showed Eric where he could make local calls for free.  So we joined one another in an odd type of solidarity – not exactly the solidarity I was expecting to be a part of here. 

Eric and I got to know one another – passing the time by asking the appropriate questions: Where is your family?  Any siblings?  Where did you go to school?  He is here for 11 months to teach English to 2-6 year olds, having never worked with children that young.  It comforts me to know that he has less of a clue about what he’s doing here than I do.

Luck finally hit when I got ahold of my advisor, C-A, who is in India right now.  She got ahold of someone who found my Delores.  She thought I flew in at night.  At least she came.  Four hours later.  I felt bad leaving Eric.  He was wearing down, exhaustion was overcoming him as he set off to get a smoothie.  I hope Maggie found him.

The first thing you notice when you get into the city are the signs.  Neon signs.  Each building hosts at least two per floor – they build upon each other, higher, wider, brighter, on and on for miles, until the street is drowned in signs.  That is where the eye is first drawn, upwards, at the wires crossing from window to window, the strange characters mixing with English words.  I’ve never seen anything like it before.

Below the signs, the streets look like any other street in a big city.  Crowded.  Traffic and people fighting one another.  Only here, look right, then left.  Something that will take some getting used to.  The public transit buses look like the tourist buses in England or New York City – covered double deckers filled with people.  Only here, the people are not tourists.  In Kowloon, everyone is going somewhere, and quickly.

The sidewalks lead right into the open store fronts, blasting their air conditioning for the sweltering patrons and passerbys.  Bakeries, restaraunts – sit down or take out – clothing stores, pharmacies.  With their racks on the outside holding newspapers in two languages, magazines and bottled water.  The entrance to the subway is smack in the middle of the sidewalk.  I guess it is so you won’t miss it while everything else is vying for your attention. 

The smell is something else too.  Not good.  Not bad.  Just different.  It is the smell of a lot of people.  Of exhuast and other city smells.  And food.  Things frying, baking, grilling, sizzling, cooling.  The sounds of the cars honking, people talking on their cell phones.  They wear their phones around their necks, as if they are expecting so many calls, to reach in a pocket or purse would waste too much time.  The sounds of vendors, suffling, the beeping on the crosswalk sign.

I’m here!

And very overwhelmed.  There is so much to share! But for now, just wanted to let everyone know that I have arrived, I am safe, and settling in.  I move into my flat on Monday and start work on Wednesday.  I am visiting the office right now, and have limited time on the computer, but wanted to let everyone know that I am so thankful for all of your kind words and prayers.  They are very sustaining right now!! 

I will post hopefully very soon, with a full update!

Love to all!!