January 29, 2010

Love in a box

I just want to say a BIG, hear-felt "Thank you!" to all of our friends and families who continue to bless us with care packages. We see those postage prices in the corners of the boxes, and we know how many of you go without Friday night at Chili's, or a new pair of Uggs (or whatever the American fashion trends are these days:) in order to afford the shipping alone on those puppies.

So thank you! As you can see from this picture, we LOVE our care packages!!!

January 26, 2010

what he said

"I want to be on the bacuter!" -Zion (meant computer)

"I don't like all these rules." -Bright

"Mom, what's it like to be an adult?" -Bright

"Ohhhh...this is APPETIZING!" -Bright (trying to tear the toilet paper; he meant frustrating)

"I don't want juice. I don't have a mouth. I'm a basquito." -Zion (meant mosquito)

"Let me see that real quack." -Daniel (meant quick, I can only assume; he was tired)

January 23, 2010

Our Asian Baby

No, we are not adopting (yet). I am talking about this little guy. Ok, so he looks like a typical white baby, but he is sort of Asian. Brave Ransom was made over here, born over here, and has never laid eyes on his passport country. I wonder if and how that little fact will define him. I can't even guess. His original birth certificate is in Thai, and needed to be translated in order for him to become an American citizen. His weight and length at birth were measured in kilograms and centimeters.

He was caught in the delivery room by a woman who barely spoke his parents' tongue. He was the only peach-complected face in the hospital nursery. The quilt above his crib has his name on it, but not in English. When we bring him to America this summer, WE will be going home, but HE will be visiting a foreign land.


January 21, 2010

Gettin' Jiggy Wit It

Last week our ladies study group went out to celebrate two birthdays (Erin and Marianne, the two gorgeous brunettes on the far right). Here is a picture of the five of us, Lindsay on the far left, me next to her, Alisa in the middle, and the birthday girls, on the couch at Mazagran cafe, one of the western-style food joints in the area. Our group was minus Anita who is in America for the holidays and Liz who is in Thailand having her second daughter.

After chit-chatting at the cafe like sophisticated women, we decided to take a much more unsophisticated route. To the karaoke parlors we went! Karaoke is wildly popular in this country. There are many factors that contribute. This is a performing culture, for one thing. When you meet new friends here, it is not uncommon, within the first hour of aquaintance, to be called upon to sing. Your audience will listen seriously to you, and then take turns belting out their own tunes. Its fascinating. Another contributing factor is the overpopulation problem. There are just too many people for the amount of space and resources. Teenagers are crammed into tiny apartments with their parents and grandparents, college students are literally stacked up like sardines in tiny dorm rooms, and there is no where for young people to hang out and be loud...except the karaoke parlors. Corridors and corridors of private rooms, decked out with glitz and twinkles, lined with pleather sectionals and frosted windows. A tambourine and a pink ash tray complete the commodities. And these kids take it VERY seriously. While we croaked out our best "Crazy For You," fumbling all over each other with laughter, the rooms next to us were filled with the sounds of effort and focus. At one point I had to use the bathroom, and there were teenagers literally soaking their heads in the sink to rinse away the sweat from hours of singing. Granted, we had the disadvantage of sobriety on our side, which makes it a little more difficult to be completely humiliating. Though I'm convinced that even if the kids hadn't reeked of cheap liquor, we could not have held a candle to them.


And perhaps my favorite part of the night? Hearing our always, and I mean ALWAYS quiet birthday girl, Erin, bust out "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It," word for word. You just never know your friends until you take them to a karaoke parlor.

January 17, 2010

"What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger"

At one point today, amidst celebrations that our power did not get turned off, we noticed that Brave had launched himself backward into the pillows that were placed around him on the rug. He was flailing his little arms and pumping his fat little legs and voicing his complaints. We were eating enchiladas, and quite frankly did not feel like getting up.

"Let him struggle," Daniel said. "Struggling will make him stronger."

He of course meant that struggling like an upturned turtle would fine-tune his muscles and coordination, but the vastness of that statement hung in the air and got me thinking.

I thought back to my favorite scene in my favorite movie, which I guess makes it my favorite movie scene, where Sandra Bullock as "Pertty" Bertie Calvert in Hope Floats does not intervene as her ex-husband rejects their daughter, preparing to catch her broken-hearted little girl when it was all over.

Yesterday, Daniel and I co-taught Bright's preschool class at the international fellowship. I watched as Bright followed a particular little girl around the classroom, plopping down next to her at story time, and chasing her around the craft table. She was mildly annoyed with his attention, and snootily huffed at one point, "Why do you always want to be near me?" Bright didn't break stride. He looked at her point blank, wearing a big handsome smile, and said, "Because you're my friend." I, of course, could see that he was being rejected, but he wasn't fazed. His resilience was inspiring.

Panning out even more, the skeptics of faith often ask why, if there is a loving creator, does he allow bad things to happen. I think the answer I'm getting at is obvious, so I won't bother putting it in writing. I just hope I can remember it the next time I am flailing and complaining, and no one appears to be coming to my aid.

January 16, 2010

Let Freedom Ring

People often ask us what it is like to live under "communism," or whatever capitalist-coated version of it we have here. After all, we are still Americans, right? I mean, even though we live here, we still have certain rights because we are human, first of all, and because we have American passports in our safe, bolted to the wall, right?

Not right. Double-meaning intended.

Americans here must, in order to survive with a shred of sanity, relinquish all notions of the following:
individual guilt
personal space
personal belongings
conflict resolution
hot water
all other innate rights

That leaves you with...hmmmm...your husband and kids, your memories, your faith, and your pride. Those are about the only things you can be absolutely sure you will have at the end of the day. At any moment, our electricity might kick off and stay off until the 600 residents at our complex who haven't paid their bill decide to pay (a threat we are currently under). All for one and one for all, people. At any moment, our "landlord" might walk in and tell us her nephew needs a place to stay and we must be out by Tuesday. This is not uncommon. At any moment, young men with large black jackets and billy clubs might appear at our door and tell us, for no reason whatever, that we must report to the officials and meanwhile all of our belongings will be confiscated and held until further notice.

Now, please don't get your feathers too ruffled. We have an emergency fund, ready and waiting for us to use on plane tickets to the nearest country where 2 plus 2 always equals 4. We hope we never have to use it, and we would feel bad, truthfully, to leave behind our friends and loved ones who don't hold a foreign passport, people who remember a time, within the last 40 years, when the entire nation was forced to wear the same color and style of clothing, and sport the same haircut, and no one owned any money, and everyone was given the same amount of "currency" with which to trade for the same amount rice and oil and other basic necessities. Things have changed DRAMATICALLY in a very short amount of time, and I am not trying to belittle this country. I am simply an American, striving to wrap my pampered mind around the reality that is in place for most of the rest of the citizens of this planet.

So fly your flag today, folks. Make notice of your twinkling light bulbs and your roaring heat. Pledge your allegiance, and remember the people who bled on battlefields to give you the right to petition, to strike without threat of injury or death; who gave you every right you have. Unless you've lived outside of the jurisdiction of Washington D.C., you will just have to take my word for it. Freedom is a rare gift, and one that should never be taken for granted.

January 12, 2010

January 10, 2010

Day #4: strategery...

Today we intentionally took it easy and thoroughly planned our exodus tomorrow. Zion and I have looked at maps, surveyed floor plans via the internet, familiarized ourselves with several MTR (subway) stations, and laid out a few contingency plans.

Tomorrow we'll wake up, pack, and take the subway to the eye doctor to pick up Zion's prescription. Then, we'll take the subway back under the harbor to the optical store that will supposedly be able to make his glasses "in a few hours."

Next, we'll need to make our way by foot back to the hotel for check out and hopefully leave our luggage behind the counter. A quick lunch anywhere will do as Zion no longer eats food. He and I both realize the significance of this walking section of our itinerary - we must be mindful of the Indian custom tailors. One mistake could be fatal.

This afternoon, we pulled up a few Michael Jackson videos on youtube. What we took away from that was important - conflicts, both among groups and individuals, can almost always be resolved through high spirited and well coordinated dance routines. This is something I think only a few people realize, and we're prepared to do what we have to do if the need arises.

After lunch tomorrow, we'll need to pick up Zion's new spectacles at the optical store and swing back by the hotel to grab our bag. Then, jump on the subway to the bus station. Then, its the bus to the border. Then, a different bus to a totally different airport than the one we flew into. Then, a plane home which should arrive around midnight hopefully with both of us in high spirits and one of us in new glasses.

Today has been a serious day full of strategy and intense conversations about how this needs to go down. Tonight over pizza and chocolate milk the conversation was minimal as we both know full well what lies ahead. We know what needs to be done, and we're ready.

January 09, 2010

Day #3: attacked by custom tailors

Today Zion and I had three main goals: ride a double decker bus, locate a special bookstore, and find an place where we could pick out some frames for his glasses.

First things first, we needed the glasses. I was a focused man as this is our whole reason for being here. Thankfully, we bumped into Steve. He's a man in his late 40's, a good four inches taller than me, from Ohio, and prematurely going gray. We first met Steve and his partner Peter in the Burger King the night we arrived. I needed an extension cord and an adapter for our noise maker and they were more than willing to help. Nice guys.

Steve was excited about our reunion and happily pointed us in the right direction, though we would have a long walk to the Lens Crafters store. As we passed several city blocks I saw a familiar scene - on almost every corner there are multiple custom tailors who are more than willing to grab you and wrestle you to their store. In just a few days, I've seen many a tourist duped by these kind yet persistent men. I've kept a firm, yet kind policy toward them. Until today...

I was starting to wonder if Steve's Lens Crafters would ever appear so I began asking a few people where it was, how far, and so on. As I finished one of these talks with a fellow passerby, I turned to proceed and there, toe to toe with me, blocking my way, was a large Indian custom tailor. He was more than willing to provide information concerning the lens shop and I don't know if I was weary, emotionally weak, but in a moment of indecision I followed him to his store where I was introduced to his "brother" - an even larger, more imposing, Indian custom tailor.

As I looked around his small shop, I thought to myself, "I have always wanted a nice coat to wear over a suit, why not find out how much it costs?" He quoted me cheap prices, showed me pictures, material, gave an impressive presentation, and suddenly I was hooked. This is how it happens - I've pitied men like me who go out looking for lenses and out of no where forking over the cash to the custom tailor.

I thought it was a pretty good deal, 275 HKD for a coat of some kind. That was of course until he pulled the ol' currency swap on me. I should have seen it coming. I first encountered this technique in Jerusalem - where the shop owners would move from one currency to another and back and forth during negotiations to further confuse you. What was supposed to be 275 HKD, suddenly became 275 USD - only 7 times more expensive and the large, rather imposing, Indian custom tailor already had my 500 HKD deposit in his pocket. Things were not looking good.

If I had anyone to blame, it was myself. Me, if anyone, should have seen this coming. I laughed out loud intentionally, which I've found either to be the appropriate response to such situations, or a response so confusing to the people you're dealing with that they are caught off guard. He reluctantly handed the 500 back over and Zion and I moved quickly - not just to exit the store, but also the whole neighborhood that contained several competing custom tailors who would now want a piece of me as well.

Zion jumped in the stroller, no time for a coat, hat, or sunglasses to protect his incredibly large cross-eyed pupils - we needed an escape route quick. We took the alley out to the main street, where not one, not two, but three consecutive custom tailors made their appeal about how their shirts were cheaper, better quality, and would make me more happy.

Down the street, we discovered a closed Lens Crafters...

Thankfully, later this morning we found a great place that may even make the lenses up before we catch our flight. I also got a hold of the book I've been looking for and we rode a double decker bus. Zion only ate a bag of baked Lay's potato chips for dinner, but I figured he was still stressed from our earlier dealings and let it slide.

2 more days.

January 08, 2010

Day #2 in a strange land.

We woke up this morning and got dressed pretty quickly. While Zion played with some toys Kayla thought to pack I fell back asleep only to wake up to him telling me that he flushed a "tissue" down the toilet. We have no tissues and that made me somewhat concerned. So, I used some of the plastic silverware they gave us on the plane to dig a previously white hotel washcloth.

Soon enough we hopped on the ferry and rode across to the main island. After killing some time walking through one of the many luxury malls, Zion and I stumbled on to a Subway! I had a foot long Italian BMT - it was amazing. I really wasn't even hungry, but knew I would always regret not eating the whole thing. While we were eating a man came in wearing Carhart pants. I forgot they even existed. Another man, actually bowed his head to bless his food. Then after spilling his ice, said "Sh*t!" In a strange way, the whole thing was comforting.

This evening, we ate dinner in a crowed McDonald's. A really nice young girl was kind enough to share her table. She told me her boyfriend lived in Beijing and had just signed a contract to be famous. Wow, I thought, "it's that easy." I asked his name but didn't recognize it. Obviously, the contract is still "in the works" as famous people and their friends like to say.

Next, we walked along Victoria Harbor and we were really in awe. The buildings here are insane. Zion kept thinking the bigger boats were going to eat the smaller ones. My favorite part, they were playing some mean Chicago, Phil Collins, and Kenny G over the loud speakers. I almost expected my sister to walk up in a hot pink prom dress and bangs the size of a mountain. Unfortunately, she didn't.

To cap the evening off, we watched the light show. Apparently, it's the largest in the world. Huge ships, helicopters, lazer beams, spot lights - we both agreed it was thoroughly impressive. The people who sat next to us were from Saudi Arabia, and were actually on their honeymoon. She asked if I could read characters and I said "yes" confidently - though I can confidently read only about 250 of 10,000.

They had gotten their fortune printed out from a machine in some mall. After a few moments of realizing how little I actually knew, she suggested I just make something up. So, I proceeded to bless their marriage and I hope it sticks, they were really sweet people.

Tomorrow, Zion has requested a ride on a double-decker bus and I want to find a particular bookstore.

January 07, 2010


Three days ago now, Zion's right eye took an almost permanent horizontal veer into his nose. For the last few weeks we've noticed it doing this off and on, but were not too concerned. I (Daniel) thought we'd just wait till we head back to the states in a couple of months to get it checked out. When it became apparent that his eye was rapidly getting worse, we made some phone calls.

Within 18 hours, he and I were on a plane to Hong Kong. What was initially supposed to be a two day trip has become a six day long endeavor. Thankfully, Dr. Yu is exceptionally good with children and very reassuring. Turns out young Zion is far sighted and needs glasses. The good Doc recommends that we get them immediately because that will almost guarantee a full recovery of sight and eye functioning.

For now, Zion is cross-eyed and dangerously cute. Dr. Yu gave him some eye drops, which I will continue to administer over the next few days, that will help him determine exactly what kind of glasses Zion needs. Side effects include, pupils the size of nickels and a constant lazy eye. Thankfully, he's only disoriented in a minor way.

Tonight on our way to dinner, for an unknown reason the hotel manager suddenly became a zombie and slowly chased little Zion around the lobby. Though stumbling, and not exactly on his a-game, the Z was elated. We then pushed our way through the crowded streets to TGI Friday's for a meal - what a treat! I had Cajun chicken pasta with shrimp. The waitress brought the Z an orange and yellow crayon, to which he looked up, one eye locked on her smile, the other looking at who knows what, and said, "I like crayons."

So now I sit in a small, dark hotel room quietly typing while he sleeps. Definitely glad that his eye will return to its normal state. On one hand, he needs to be able to see. On the other, disciplining him is almost impossible. When he refuses to come to the bath tub because he wants to play for a few more minutes, it is really hard to not just laugh as he tries to get himself to make eye contact with me.

Now we'll sleep and tomorrow we'll ride the ferry.

January 04, 2010

Men vs. Wild

My husband does not watch sports. Not that he is some kind of weenie, mind you. The guy is a stud. He has an Arkansas state football championship ring, in fact (which we recently considered pawning on account of the current value of gold). That said, he had no idea which teams were playing in the last super bowl until we showed up at the super bowl party, snacks in hand.

He just has better things to do with his time. I could not be more thrilled.

Our sons, as a result, know nothing about sports. They can swing a bat and throw a football, and they know that a soccer ball is to be kicked into a net, but these things do not define manhood in our home.

What does define manhood for our sons? What they see Daddy doing, of course. Fixing things, building things, and killing animals for food.

So instead of watching football together on the couch, they watch episodes of Man vs. Wild (or rather Men vs. Wild, if you are watching a cheap, pirated copy bought on the street here, which is, sadly, our only choice...and pirates are usually not very good with English).

There they sit, man and sons, as they did this evening, watching Bear Grylls tear open a trapped snow chicken in Iceland, ripping out its innards and pulling free the dark breast meat. They watch as he ties chunks of scavenged sheep to his shoe lace and dangles it into a hot volcanic spring, because cooked meat uses less calories to digest than raw meat. The boys got toy shot guns for Christmas this year, and already they know how to hold their guns vertically whenever they are not being "fired," and to always pass them to another person butt-first. Bright knows the names of the bits on a drill, and if we get on youtube together, he wants to watch construction footage or how-to woodworking classes, like how to build a birdhouse.

Some guys are devoted sports fans, others play video games, many are both. My guys are neither. But if you came across a snake in the woods, or had a leaky roof, you'd be glad to have guys like mine around:)