Hiking the mountain in my holiday boots

I have a pair of boots that I love.  And being a flip-flop girl until there is snow on the ground, it means a lot when I say I love a pair of anything close-toed.  I love these boots.  I couldn’t tell you how long I’ve had them, maybe 6 years.  Maybe 7?  They make me feel grown up and fancy.  The clicking sound the heels make as I walk down the sidewalk make me feel important, and the fact that they are knee-high boots make me feel cool.  So because I love these boots so dearly, I am sure to wear them for all of the important holidays that warrant close-toed shoes.  Like Thanksgiving.

Okay, there was no snow on the ground.  I’d be surprised if the temperatures dipped below 50 degrees.  But I had my boots on, and it was a day worth celebrating.  I adore Thanksgiving.  It is undoubtedly my favorite holiday of the year.  Last year, Thanksgiving was sad.  I was still fairly new to Hong Kong, I didn’t know many people, and had nowhere to go.  So tofu it was.  But this year, my holiday boots and I had a lovely day.  My boots took me to work in the morning, to a wonderful interfaith service in the afternoon, and then up the mountain (well, at least up a little ways) to my dear friends home.  We spent the afternoon cooking and baking, enjoying each other’s company, and being silly and giddy over our love of all things Thanksgiving.   Dinner was shared with a German family and a Canadian.  The Canadian friend had never had sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top. I asked her why they even bothered with sweet potatoes if there were no marshmallows?!  We had two turkeys, the world’s most amazing cornbread stuffing (that I could not get the recipe for – darn family secrets!), cranberries, ratatouille, and 4 pumpkin pies.  Oh!  And a delicious apple cake.  That’s why we invited the Germans – because their apple cake was beyond yummy.

As we sat around the table, outside under the trees, enjoying the night breeze (err, high winds that sent our empty plates flying), going around the table saying what we were thankful for, I realized I was thankful for that very moment.  To be in a place, surrounded by people who would feed me and make me laugh, people who listen to my opinions, and urge me to go back to the dessert table for seconds.  To be with people who appreciated this beautiful holiday as much as I do.  It made me excited to return home, to be with family and friends.  To continue in celebrating, and eating, and being thankful.  And I am thankful, for this whole experience.  For the people that I have met along the way, who have made Hong Kong a little more bearable.  I’m thankful for places of respite and beauty outside of the hustle of the city.  The whole of this experience has been as much challenging as it has been incredible.  And I am as much thankful for my time here as I am thankful to be returning home soon.

Oh!  And leftovers!  I am really thankful for leftovers.  Particularly turkey.


Thoughts on family

Tonight, I introduced my roommate to tacos.  Never in her life had she even heard the word taco, until she met me.  She is leaving tomorrow for a month exposure in Malyasia, so for our last night together as roommates, we decided to celebrate with Taco Tuesday.  We gathered a few of our friends, unfolded our tiny table, made chairs out of the laptop stand, and covered the table with a great array of taco-toppings.  It felt wonderful to be at a table, surrounded with friends new and old, watching as they learned of the wonderful and delicous world that is Mexican food.  (Or as my roommate put it, “Mexican food, cooked by an American, served in Asia.)  Turns out, 2 out of 2 Indonesians, and 1 out of 1 Singaporians like tacos.  Hurray!  Now the world is a slightly better place.

As we passed around 2nd and 3rd helpings of quagamole and soft shells, our conversation turned to family. I sat and listened as two of my friends spoke of families, particularly of mothers, who showed them little or no affection growing up.  The lament in their voices as they could not recall ever being told “I love you” as a child, or of having a mother kiss her 4 siblings goodnight, and purposely miss her eager cheek every night, was nothing short of tragic.  I cannot imagine growing up in a family where partiality was so obvious, where love was purposely withheld.  It made my heart well up with sadness for what they did not, but should have, had.

And then my other two friends began talking about their families, and the community that actually makes up their family.  One spoke of how it is hard for her to sleep here, because in her home, she is so used to the noise of brothers watching football until 2 in the morning, women in the kitchen and chickens in the yard. Whole extended families will all live under the same roof, and it is nothing unusal for a child to sleep in the same bed as their mother until secondary school, or for siblings to share a bed until they graduate.  One friend spoke of her favorite memory in Hong Kong thus far: the day she recieved her first pay check and was able to send money home to her mother.  Not just a portion of her hard earned money, but nearly the entire check was sent home.  It was a source of pride and an expression of love for her to be able to provide for the mother she adores.  And again, my heart welled with sadness.  I will never know the necessity of having to support my family like that.  I cannot imagine what the day would look like, were my father to come to me for money.  I pray I never do.  But the sense of community that is found in the type of family she was speaking of is virtually unknown in my culture.  We pride independence, privacy.  Each has its own place.  Neither culture is better than the other.  Just different.  I think that our culture could benefit very much from the community as family and family as community mentality.

I know that it is not Thanksgiving yet, but I believe that it is never too early to be thankful.  And so, I am reminded tonight, why I love my family.  I love them for the rare early mornings where all 5 of us are cuddled in my parent’s bed, even though we are all too grown to fit, pushing for covers and cris-crossing legs and giggles.  I love the moments around the table, sharing of our days, laughing at one another’s stories, offering advice, whether it was asked for or not.  I love that my mother creates holiday boxes for me, full of decorations for every season.  I love that my father will secretly encourage me to buy a motorcycle when I return to the States, though he has to go on record as siding with my mother that they are “too dangerous.”  I love my sister for trying to follow in my footsteps and yet create her own path at the same time; for the way that made us stark enemies for years, and dear friends as of late.  I love my brother for fighting the norm, for his expression through music, as loud and screamy as it may be. And of course, there is the extended family: the aunts and uncles and countless cousins.  We gather for holidays, for birthdays and sometimes, just because.  I recognize how rare it is to have a family so close.  I keep in regular contact with the great majority of my cousins, and we always have a grand time together.  Gatherings are of full of food, stories that have been told a million times before, Trivial Pursuit and lots of love.  We dote on the youngest and tease the oldest.

When we are all together, we bicker, we argue, we push each other’s buttons; but there is no doubt that we treasure our times together.  Being with my family is a source of comfort and joy.  As I listened to my friends tonight, speaking of families as they were mere strangers, it broke my heart.  I wish for everyone the kind of joy of being with family as I feel.  I have long taken for granted the privilidge of being fully loved by my family – something I always thought should be a right.

And the winner is….

So Mary is the winner of a free week’s stay on my couch in……Seattle!!!  (though if I find out Valerie leaked info to you, you’ll have to bring your own couch, which would actually be helpful, considering I don’t have one…..)

That’s right folks, I’m moving to Seattle!  The the land that produces more apples (10-12 billion hand picked apples), cow’s milk and raspberries (57 million pounds) than any other state; that has more coffee bean roasters and college degrees per capita; the state that a gorge deeper than the Grand Canyon (Hell’s Canyon) and more glaciers than any other state save for Alaska.  A state where the majority of our nation’s mint is grown; that has the nation’s longest  accessible beach (aptly named Long Beach); and is the birthplace of such favorites as Jimi Hendrix, Bing Crosby, Nirvana, Kenny G (okay, maybe he’s not a favorite), Pat Boone (again, just throwing names out here to impress you), the yellow Happy Face, and the Far Side comics.  The Evergreen State – the state with the cleanest air quality in the nation.  Can you tell I am excited?

I will be working for the Church of Mary Magdalene at their ministry, Mary’s Place (yes, I see the irony in the winner and the name of my placement), a homeless center that offers education and health classes, rehabilitation, and a place to rest during the day.  The center is active in city advocacy and women’s empowerment.  They offer services to women and children only, and offer a wide variety of services.  There is a possibility I could be helping to offer advice and education on the immigration system in the States, as many of the women are also migrants and immigrants who have no idea how to navigate the Immigration system.  I have been in contact with the two directors, and they sound like amazing women whom I am thrilled to work with!

This placement will also be 15 months of volunteer service, with my living expenses being taken care of by the UMC.  When I am finished with this placement, I will be finished with the Mission Intern program (and no, I don’t know what I am going to do afterward).

When I first found out, I was a little disappointed, because I had honestly had my heart set on Denver.  But the more research I do about Mary’s Place and about Seattle, the more I feel this is where I need to be.  I start in February and cannot wait!!  I expect many visitors, so go ahead and start saving up for your plane tickets!!!

A guessing game, part II

Well, if you are Alan and you guessed I would be moving to the state of Illinois, you would be……..wrong.  Sorry Alan.  But, if you are Nick, and you guessed I would be moving to the state of Washington, you would be…….correct!  Now let’s narrow it down a little more:

Clue #5: This is the 1st American city to put police on bicycles.

Clue #6: This is where the sports phenomenon The Wave was born.

Clue #7: More people commute to work on bicycles than any other major American city.

Clue #8: This city has the largest ferry system in the nation.

Again, no cheating!  🙂

A guessing game

I have a little game I’d like you all to play.  Its a guessing game.  A guessing game about….where I will be moving back in the States!! 🙂  I officially accepted my new position as of yesterday, and I have to say, I am VERY excited!  The more I learn about this place, the more there is to love, and I cannot wait to begin.  As sad as I will be to leave here (and I will be sad), it helps to have something to be excited about.

So here is how the game will work.  Each day, I’ll give a few clues about the state/city that I am moving to, and accept all educated guesses via the comments section.  Try to do this without cheating (meaning, looking up the clues on google!).  As the days progress, I’ll post more and more obvious clues, until someone correctly guesses.  If you already know where I am going, don’t say anything!  Once someone has guessed correctly, I’ll post more about the actual placement site.

Oh!  And the winner will win a free week’s stay on my couch, redeemable anytime! 🙂

Clue #1: This city was the first to have a soft-serve ice cream machine.

Clue #2: This state produces 70% of the nation’s hops, which are used to brew beer.

Clue #3: This city sells more sunglasses per capita than any other major U.S. city.

Clue #4: The major inventions to come out of this state include water skis, the Slinky, Pictionary, Elmer’s glue and the electric guitar.

Good luck!  And remember….no cheating!!!!!

Submission Day

I do not want to cheapen the proceedings of today.  Or the past 7 months.  I don’t want to cheapen everything by writing about it, trying to spin it elequently enough to be considered a decent post.  I don’t want to manipulate words to seek out pity, sorrow, or even justified outrage.  Those emotions have been felt, and expressed, despite of and beyond my own efforts to inform.  Yet, at the same time, this is a story that needs to be told, that needs to not be forgotten so easily.  And inasmuch as I want to do this story justice, as much as I want to properly convey the depth and emotions of this whole situation, I want to be cautious not to make this about the story.  It is about Vicky.

How do you hope on a day like today?  What form does hope take?  A word that the American culture has accepted as its icon.  A word so liberally thrown around that it is on the verge of losing its meaning.  Yes, I was proud that my nation was reaching out for hope, for change.  And I continue to pray that it comes to fruition.  But to see a word with such deep and profound meaning used as a campaign slogan was a bit disconcerting.  And on a day like today, it makes you wonder, what kind of hope does one ask for in a situation like this?  Vicky is already dead.  There is no taking that back.  After months of fighting, the migrant and concerned communities achieved a piece of justice.  This inquest was not something given to the family, but that had to be fought for every step of the way.  But even with that goal achieved, that battle won, there was still little good to be hoped for.  What ever decision came down today at the submission would not bring Vicky back.  It would probably do little to help the loved ones left behind begin to heal.  But they were at least hoping for the possibility, the slim hope, of an answer.

There are many things that I could say about the inquest itself.  I could criticize the proceedings, point out the obvious faults and the ways that, even as justice was being sought, it was unequal.  How this major decision was being decided by a jury that would be the opposite of Vicky’s peers.  But instead, I would rather talk about how I was amazed by Irene, Vicky’s sister, who attended the hearing as next of kin.  The strength of having to listen to, defend and at times dispute the details of her sister’s life, as well as her death, is a strength that is beyond my imagination.  Through the coroner, the former employer, the relatives, the friends and the supposed boyfriend, Irene listened, along with the rest of the court and public, to the details of a sister who had left home 11 years ago to work abroad.  Irene listened to women she had only recently met speak of eating meals with her sister every day, or of the walks she would take each afternoon with neighborhood collegues.  And sometimes, those details from the witnesses were not pretty.  Remembered conversations that did not paint Vicky in the best light.  The words of a witness that seemed to hold little truth in comparision to all of the other character witnesses. In fact, that particular woman’s testimony was called hearsay, but because this was coroner’s court, not civil court, it was allowed.  Comments and speculations by one woman seemed to overshadow all the other facts and realities of Vicky’s life.  Out of 24 witnesses, this one woman had the power to instill doubt as to the stability of Vicky’s mind.

As the verdict was returned this afternoon, we listened, half-astonished, half-numb, as the foreman read out, “Circumstance of injury sustained: Drowning.  Consideration as to cause of death: Suicide.”  There was hope for an open verdict, which would allow of the possibility of an accidental death.   Everyone knew that the ruling of Suicide was a possibility.  It was just one we were not willing to entertain.  And even now that it has been written in the official records, it is still not one Irene and others are willing to believe.

“They may say it was suicide, but I just don’t believe that can be true.  If Vicky really wanted to kill herself, why did she have to travel so far?  Why not just do it in her room?  Or in the bay near the house.  It just doesn’t make sense, and I refuse to believe it.”  Irene said after the trial.  Tomorrow, the Discovery Bay Community will meet to discuss how far they have come, and what their next steps are.  Of everything that has happened, the unity of this community, made up of migrant workers and employers, a true miracle.  A blessing that will serve the DB community for years to come.

There is no need to continue to speculate.  Further speculation will only serve to take attention away from the person Vicky was.  We do not want to focus on who Vicky is in death, but who she was in life.


Today is the submission of the inquest – meaning, the ruling.  So, say your prayers, think your good thoughts.  Apparently yesterday was not a good day, and opposing counsel was able to plant some seeds of doubt to Vicky’s mental state of mind.

For updates, please continue to read here.