Millions Dissatisfied

By , December 24, 2004 00:00

So my sister only just pointed out to me that the guestbook was not working. Seeing as the last entry was in May, this means that there are potentially millions of people who went to sleep disappointed at night because they were not able to sign the guestbook. This is now a very cordial invitation (yeah, command) to sign the guestbook immediately. Heidi is always complaining that no one signs it.

This update is being written from a very familiar sofa at 130 MacKay street where Heidi, Jake and I have been spending the last week. The clock just struck midnight, Christmas Eve, but we have yet to hear reindeer on the roof. Instead, the room is filled with the lively and very wonderful sounds of family and home.

The last week has been filled with … sitting. According to Heidi, this is all that ever happens when I’m back home in Stellarton. Is that true? Of course not. I go to the “New” mall, Andre’s Pizza and we were down in Bridgewater yesterday. All very wonderful things in a wonderful place with the salty smell of home in the air. Did we ever need it! Smile all.

Perception Change

By , November 29, 2004 00:00

Heidi and I are the happy and thankful parents of a beautiful little baby!

It used to be that when I heard of a little baby being born, I would very much be excited to ask what the gender, name, and weight of the little one was because I love little babies. I would always follow this up with a question on how the Mom was doing because that was the “proper” question to be asked. Of course, the answer to the latter was always that she was doing “fine”, as was the little child.

Saturday changed all that. I have been in many difficult and challenging situations over the course of the past 28 years. For those who know me well, they would tell you that the more challenging the situation, the more I thrived. If that happened to be diving to the maximum recreational depths, snowboarding down the hardest cliffs and mountains, climbing up the most challenging rock faces, whatever. Given all these times, there is no question in my mind that the most difficult time in my life was on Saturday … and I wasn’t even the one delivering the baby.

There is no question that beautiful little babies are wonderful, precious and the gifts of God from the hand of a loving Creator. I do not want to take away from that. His purposes are loving and eternal and He “lends” us these ones to bring up for Him – as Hannah did Samual. I’ve thought about that over and over in the past nine months. But it is also true that there are millions of untold stories of difficulty and courage that lie behind those same little babies – including you. There were times in that room on Saturday with Heidi that I was praying more hard than I think I’ve ever prayed for my wonderful and special wife, Heidi. I know that I will never forget the miracle and answer to prayer as long as I live. Heidi. I’m not going to give you the story (as it is not mine to tell), but those of you who have had children or gone through the birth of a little child, whether it took 3 hours, 12 hours or more than 24 hours will know a little bit of what I mean.

It was a perfect and wonderful little baby boy. Jake Bertram. He weighs in at 8 lb even and was about 22″ long. He had a little bit of stress during delivery, but is doing very well. I’m going to put some pictures up (although I don’t have a lot yet), and you can decide who he looks like.

And yes, Heidi and Jake are not just doing “fine”, but are doing well. The Lord has truly given us cause to smile.

Sushi

By , November 15, 2004 00:00

I really did mean to send an update while I was in Japan. However, I guess I never did get around to writing this up and now I’m back in Boston. Better late than never.

If you have the opportunity to visit either China or Japan, I would definitely put my recommendation on the former. While Tokyo was interesting and fun (I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much raw fish in my life), it didn’t have the same cultural feeling as Shanghai, China. There were two chief differences in my mind: the first was the sound and the second was the architecture.

Japan was just so quiet compared to China. Every time you went out in China, you took your life in your hands and the noise level was incredible. Horns, horns and more horns. There was no such thing as lanes and turns, it was a fight with noise and size to make it anywhere. The first thing that hit me about Japan was that there were no car horns at all. (They also drive on the left, as in England and Australia.) It just seemed that the traffic flow was so quiet. It carried over into conversation as well. People spoke in low, muted tones and were very withdrawn and hushed.

The seond chief difference was the architecture. China had huge towering new architecture everywhere you looked of all shapes and sizes . To contrast this, Japan seemed to have been built in the 1960’s with little new development since then. It was just another Western style city with square block buildings. Outside of the Emporer’s palace and park, the city reminded me of any other in North America. Perhaps it was just the zip and zest that seemed to be missing.

There were many other differences as well. English seems to be spoken much better in China than in Japan where I needed an interpreter for several of my meetings. The food also seems to be more singular around sushi, tempura and raw fish (all very good). There were many more McDonald’s and Starbucks in Tokyo, but that could simply be because of the capitalist government. Another very fascinating aspect of Japanese culture was that no one shakes hands. Everyone bows to each other several times. From a sanitary perspective, I would say that this is generally a good thing.

Anyway, back to work today and catching up on a million things from last week. I forgot to take my camera with me, but I will certainly be uploading some pictures tonight or tomorrow. Smile all.

Chinese Ramblings

By , November 10, 2004 00:00

New York city, where I have worked on almost a weekly basis over the last year, can be called nothing but small. After staying in a hotel like the one in Shanghai, surrounded on all sides by 50 story buildings as far as the eye could see, there is nothing to be said except that New York is small by comparison. I’ve also come to the conclusion that service is a lost commodity in North America. In business settings, we give such lip service to service being the driving force behind Western “success”, but I have to say that both service and growth pale in comparison to what I observed in Shanghai.

Why is this? If nothing else, it raises some interesting questions about western culture. On both the way over here and several times in Shanghai, I’ve had very interesting discussions with people regarding the recent elections and the morality (if I may call it that) of America. It raises some interesting thought lines. I believe that to a large degree, we have purposely discarded the Christian foundation on which both Canada and the United States were founded. We are on the path to becoming more and more like the European union, which purposely excluded all reference to God or Christianity in its constitution only a few weeks ago. The loss of this foundation, leads to a secularism exclusive of any Christian principles. It means that people do not want to see a Christian in the Whitehouse, nor do they want morals guiding the country. Individuals fight for their rights. They do not wish to be submissive to anyone, and certainly not one who is openly a God-fearing man.

What a contrast here in China! We tend to think of Tiananman Square only 15 short years ago, and maybe it isn’t all that far back. While here, we spent considerable time with our very genial and friendly hosts. They were more than a little hospitable with their description of local customs, sights and culture. However, when a single question about politics came up, they immediately averted their eyes and said quietly that they could not talk about that. There was no question in their mind that they were to be submissive to the government and not question its ultimate authority. But is this worse than our “progressive” society? We assume that certain “rights” belong to us and we can question any and all authority. It means that small things like service simply disappear. Why should we be subservient to someone else? It is little wonder to me that the mountain will be cast into the sea?

I had a very interesting discussion with two colleagues today about how the Lord must look down from heaven and be so grieved with how much we have “progressed”. We fight against terrorism around the world, while we fight for the “right” to kill 4000 unborn children each day in America. While our conversation was more on the lines of churches and division, the differences in culture just seemed to be accentuated in my mind. Service in business and family seem more of a reality in Chinese culture than in America.

Anyway, I know that to lapse into political commentary is not a profitable exercise. The Bible shows that things will only get worse. It just seemed striking to me that a communist culture could teach us so much.

To catch up a little on last night, I went to a restaurant which is considered to be “the” restaurant in Shanghai. It’s called the M on the Bund and was written up in the New York Times just a few weeks ago. I was disappointed in that the food was Western in taste, but the rhubarb crumble was more than worth coming back for. Actually … forget the food. The view from the restaurant was as spectacular as anything I have ever seen within a city. The restaurant was directly on the Bund with a rooftop patio that looked directly across at the Pearl Tower and the Jinmai building. It was SPECTACULAR. There was no other words to describe it.

One of the more interesting things of note were the hundreds to thousands of barges, freightors, and local Chinese boats that somehow managed to keep from ramming each other as a traffic jam of water traffic flowed both ways through the canal. They ranged from being lit up like a Christmas tree, to no lights at all. It was truly a mix of old and new.

Speaking with locals, they said that Shanghai was changing so rapidly that it seemed completely different from month to month. They showed me a building which was designated as the highest building in the city only 16 years ago. By comparison to the hundreds (and I don’t use that word lightly) of buildings / skyscrapers that I could see all over the place, it was tiny. The growth is exponential. In fact, it has been so explosive, that the Chinese government is restricting incoming investment dollars to slow the economy. While it may profit some, I read in the newspaper that the average salary of a Shanghainese person was $USD 2500. The funny thing is that the pace of life seemed slower and general happiness higher than America. All very interesting to observe. Smile!

Shanghai Guide

By , November 8, 2004 00:00

So I’ve spent the day wondering about Shanghai, and I have some tips for you…

On what to visit

There is absolutely no question on this. I spent most of the day visiting many of the major attractions including the People’s Park, Jinmao Tower, the Huaihai shopping district, Taiking Plaza, MaoMing road, Jing’an Temple, Nanjing Road and a million other places. If you only have one day to do the city, head for the Old City. I only spent about 2 hours wandering through the Old City streets, but you could easily spend a week. It is absolutely everything and more that you would expect of “old” China. A cacophany of sounds, smells and visuals assail you from start to finish. Looking up, every square foot of view is blocked with clothesline criss-crossing the street as high as the buildings. Below, you can buy everything, and I mean everything, from the small shops. If you could imagine every food from fish to dog to pigeon to vegetables and fruit, you would pretty much have it. Buying from meat shops that hang the meat like these places was a little more than I could handle, but I did find some absolutely incredible little booths with pancake-like breads. One place to go? Old City. Don’t miss it.

On how to get there

You’re going to be walking a lot, so you better be prepared with the right shoes. Oh wait, walking … You’re going to need some tips about the rules of walking here. If you’re standing at an intersection about to cross and you hear a whistle, throw yourself backwards, you’re about to be run over by about 100 bicycles, mopeds and scooters. That whistle would be the traffic assistant. They let you know when you should stop by whistling. They let you know you should go by whistling. In fact, it might be better to ignore the whistle. If you’re standing at a crosswalk and the light shows “Stop”, you better obey, you’re about to be run over by about 100 bicycles, mopeds and scooters. If you’re standing at the crosswalk and the light shows “Walk”, throw yourself backward, you’re about to be run over by about 100 bicycles, mopeds and scooters. If you’re walking down the sidewalk, and you hear the sound of a motor, throw yourself against a tree, you’re about to be run over by about 100 bicycles, mopeds and scooters. I’m pretty sure the safest method of getting from point A to point B is to take a helicopter.

On prices to pay

When you get up in the morning, you could be like me and walk into the bank, put your ATM card into the machine, and have absolutely no idea how many dollars (Juan) you should be taking out. Instead, you cancel your transaction, walk next door, look at a small piece of jewelry, estimate what it’s worth, and head back to the bank knowing that you need X amount of dollars. Or, alternatively, you could do what I didn’t do, and check ahead of time and know the appropriate amount to withdraw. Having this in mind, don’t do an equal comparison of prices from US to Chinese dollars when you’re shopping. They might tell you that the orange is worth 15 Juan, but the person after you is only going to pay one. Everything is negotiable.

On languages to speak

Actually, english will be suffient. In fact, every individual on the road knows perfect english and is most eager to try it out on you. “Clothing, Watches, DVDs? Clothes, Watches, DVDs? Very good.” Everyone knows it. You should have no problems here. And you know what? You can get Omegas and Rolex watches for less than $5. The prices are truly incredible.

On understanding what people do

I’m pretty sure that every man over the age of 65 is sitting in the park playing cards or some board game. I wanted to get pictures of them, but I feel kind of weird taking pictures of people in their “everyday” life, so I didn’t take many at all. All mothers, grandmothers and children under five can be found in the Old City markets. If you close your eyes and listen carefully, you might even be able to hear them bickering and haggling over prices. (That’s just for the deaf people, I don’t think the rest of us should have any problems.) From here, job descriptions split. There are the tens of thousands of “traffic assistants” (which assist the traffic in helping run over pedestrians) and city jobs of everything from mopping sidewalks to scrubbing light poles. (I’m not kidding, I saw both today.) How many men does it take to plant a single bush? Well, it took the 12 men I saw today at least 20 minutes to get the job done. One man to direct 10 other men how to smoke, and one man to actually plant the bush. There is no question that this is a communist country. But then the road splits because there is a high-powered section of town that seems to be business and banking. It’s still not Boston. The pace of life seems to be slower.

On foods to eat

Go with the locals. The food will come and come and come. Dishes and dishes of “things” that you have no idea what it is. And it’s like a tap, except you can’t turn it off. Hairy crab soup. Hot & sour soup. Squid. Hairy crab. Fried eel. Non-fried eel. Shrimp. Prawns. Abalones. Mandarin fish. Fish that you have no idea what it is. More fish. Beef. Wrapped beef things. Tofu. Bean curd strips. Beans. Cucumbers. Mushrooms. Local spinich-type stuff. Ummm … and those are just the things I could tell what they were. That was just supper tonight. You just need to be in for the adventure. And drink lots of tea. They say that helps. I’m not sure about that, but the way they pour it is really cool. They hold the pot about two feed back from the cup and with a long, thin spout it shoots straight forward about 24 inches and lands in the cup without spilling a drop.

On what I plan to do now

Go to bed! Smile.