Open House Week in Kunming

May has arrived in Korea and the sneezing has begun. My sneezing, that is. Either pollen or some sort of airborne particles from the construction site next door have triggered sneezing and itching eyes in me. Ah, the joys of allergies! I can hear the construction workers banging away in the background. It doesn't matter that it is early on a Saturday morning and people are trying to sleep. The work must be done.

I haven't blogged recently because I was in China. Yes, China. Again. This trip was not to attend a conference, but to investigate the possibility of starting an international school there. I left on a Saturday morning from Uijeongbu on the limousine bus that took me to the airport in Incheon.

I drank coconut milk beside this mailbox as I waited for the bus.

There I converted some cash into dollars to give to someone who would give it to someone living in China. It was like I was a courier on a mission, only my primary mission was school related. I made it to my gate where I was surrounded by many Chinese people returning to their homeland. Many Chinese people come to Korea to visit and go shopping. The market areas of Seoul teem with Chinese tourists looking for bargains and leave lots of money here. Their carry-on baggage often consists of bulging duty-free white and red shopping bags. My boarding gate area was noisy, filled with the loud, excited chatter of a group of Chinese travelers excited to return home with their plunder.

I flew to Guangzhou, China from Korea on the first leg of my trip and ended up with a seafood meal since the other option had run out. Yuck. I found a Subway during my layover and ate a sandwich while I waited for my flight to Kunming. I couldn't stomach the meal on the next flight either. I thank God that I had Chinese money leftover from my previous trips that bought my Subway meal. The flight to Kunming arrived early, and my bag was one of the first off the belt, so I plunged into the crowd streaming out the exit into the terminal not knowing who would be there looking for me. It turned out to be two people, one Chinese and one American. The Chinese man was the owner of an English language training school who had invited us to partner with him in opening an international school using his existing school facilities during the day. The American was a friend of mine from when I lived in Massachusetts in the 1980s who is living and working in Kunming with his wife and family. He and his wife would be helping me throughout the week since they speak Chinese and know the lay of the land, having lived there for several years. We were to help organize an open house for the following Saturday evening at the Chinese businessman's school site.

My two companions drove me to the apartment of a Chinese family that I knew from a previous visit to China. I wasn't expecting to see them in Kunming because they last time I saw them they were living in the north of China. Such a pleasant surprise it was to be greeted by friendly faces in this place and to be given a room to stay in with their family. After some refreshments, my welcoming party departed and we all retired for some sleep.

The next morning I woke early, my body still running on Korea time, so I waited until I heard others up and about. We ate a good breakfast and prepared to attend a gathering of believers. I spoke at this gathering where I saw many familiar faces from previous travels. I shared about how good and pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to live in unity, thoughts gleaned from the Preparation for Team Life class I've been taking in Korea. A bunch of us went out to eat after our meeting and feasted on Chinese fare, gathered around an enormous round table laden with many Chinese dishes to sample. The only American things on the table were bottles of Coke and Sprite. It seemed that the meal had only just ended when I was handed off to our Chinese businessman friend to go with him and his family and friends to a dinner outside of the city.

Off we rode, up a mountain, past a reservoir, deeper into the rolling countryside with its trees and fresh, scented air.

We had to stop to allow cows and goats to cross the road.

We took a wrong turn at a fork in the road and after several miles figured it out, turned around, and took the correct turn and ended up in a little village in a valley where it looked like the only businesses open were a little grocery store and a restaurant.  Children and stray puppy dogs were playing in the street as we went inside to eat. I wasn't all that hungry and when I saw a pile of dark, chopped up goat meat being put into the bubbling hot pot, I was even less hungry. Fortunately for me, there was a strong, spice and herb dipping sauce that I could use to mask the gamey taste of the meat, and my Chinese host carefully selected portions that he knew would be palatable. I saw things floating in the pot that I was hoping and praying nobody would offer to me. After eating all I could, I went outside to take some pictures before the sun set. Mothers brought their children to meet me and I posed with some of them for pictures. Here are some pictures I took.







The next few days involved me working with my Chinese-speaking American friends, visiting the site of the proposed school, planning the open house with the Chinese owner, meeting with prospective parents from the Chinese and international community in their homes, places of business, and restaurants.

Samuel, the boy on the right, called me Pops the moment I came in the door of this Engish family's home. I was told he must have thought I was his grandfather and that it was a high compliment since he loves his Pops dearly. He called me Pops all through our visit.

Every day, I communicated my progress, thoughts, and impressions to my colleagues back in America who had flown me to China to be their eyes and ears, their hands and feet, and sometimes their mouth. What wonderful tools Skype and Facetime are! To hear voices and see faces, to communicate in real time from opposite sides of the globe is fantastic. All the while I was in China, I prayed for wisdom and discernment and objectivity. I didn't want my love for school and my desire to see a new school planted in China to blind me to anything that would make this venture something outside of God's plan. I also didn't want sight and feelings to interfere with faith and facts, feelings, so I struggled sometimes, begging God for His mind.

By Thursday night, I was looking for a way to take a break from the school project. I had been busy morning, noon, and night for days traveling by bus, subway, foot, and motorbike, talking, taking pictures, eating out, writing reports, staying up late to finish things, and wrestling in my soul with where all this information was taking me. I wanted a day off, and I wanted to do something fun. Not that there hadn't been fun moments along the way throughout those days. There had been a sort of housewarming party thrown at the place where I was staying with lots of good food and a mixture of Chinese, American, and European friends, another gathering of believers midway through the week, good times of fellowship at Dairy Queen, Burger King, Starbucks, and McDonald's, and breakfasts with my Chinese hosts. But I wanted to be a tourist for a day and see something interesting about this city of blue skies and to get my host family's teenage son out of the house. He had only been living there for less than two weeks and seemed to spend a lot of time on his computer doing online schoolwork and such. I invited him to go to the zoo with me, and he accepted.

Friday morning, I slept in a bit later, ate breakfast a bit later, and then headed out to the zoo with Frank. We stopped at an ATM to get out some cash, ate KFC for an early lunch, since we figured the zoo food would be expensive, and then caught the 150 bus which brought us to the bottom of the mountain where the zoo is located. Up the steep slope we hiked, bought our tickets, one for the park entrance and one for the electric tram that would carry us to the far flung reaches of the zoo exhibits up the mountainside.


What a lovely day it was, and the aroma of the forest was refreshing. We started with some baby animals.




Then we moved on to monkeys and birds.








We were accosted by llamas as we rode through the area where deer, antelope, zebras, camels, and ostriches played.



We watched a pampered panda eat his bamboo lunch.



And we had an adventure with tigers. A seemingly passive tiger swiftly swiped his huge paw toward Frank's face while he was photographing it. The noise of the big paw smashing into the cage scared Frank and me, and he leaped back in fear. It was funny afterward.


We walked along a boardwalk up the mountain and saw some lions and white tigers, before heading down to the peacock garden.





Here, Frank enticed a hungry peacock to check to see if he had any food to offer in his hand.



Nope. No food.

A little further on we met up with some rhinos eating peacefully. We were able to reach out and touch their hard, sun-warmed hides.




Just before leaving the zoo, I saw this statue and snapped a photo of it. I saw other odd things in Kunming and took pictures of them. One odd thing took a picture of itself...






Saturday arrived and we had the open house. There was a good turnout considering that it was a rainy night with lots of traffic. I presented a slideshow I had put together for the school and answered questions at the end. Our Chinese partner took us out to dinner afterward at a frog-leg restaurant, where we skipped the frog appendages. The next day I spent time with a gathering of believers again and met up with my friend Tain who had arrived in town on his way to Beijing and beyond. We had dinner at a Cantonese restaurant where he charmed the staff into giving him a sharp knife and some plates so he could prepare the sticky rice with fresh mango he had brought from Thailand. YUM!

Monday and Tuesday were spent looking over the data collected from the open house attendees and having a Thai lunch in my host family's apartment that Tain came and prepared on Monday and a tasty Chinese lunch with our Chinese partner on Tuesday. Tuesday evening, I went out with foreign friends and my Chinese friend Peter for a last dinner together. I told everyone how I had ended up moving to Korea in the first place, and God's chicanery blessed them.

Wednesday, our Chinese partner graciously drove me to the airport where I learned that the first leg of my return flight to Korea had been canceled. I stood in line enduring the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune being launched all around me at the poor airline staff members by irate Chinese customers, got a ticket for a later flight, flew, landed, discovered my connecting flight was long gone, and that  I would not be able to leave Guangzhou until 9:30 AM the next day. I thought I ought to be angry and upset, and I attempted to be since it seemed to get results for the Chinese people around me, but whenever I tried to, I had to stop, because it seemed so foolish. I was experiencing peace and a sort of amusement about the entire situation. The only thing that really bothered me was that I would miss my time at Yeomyung School the next day and the mild intestinal distress I had been experiencing during my visit was turning into major urgent bathroom visits. I was booked into a nice hotel with the most comfortable bed I'd slept in since leaving America last July, but I spent much of my overnight stay reigning on the porcelain throne in the other room. Thursday morning arrived, and I flew home to Korea where I'm still experiencing some intestinal aftereffects of my time in China.

Yesterday, I was informed that based upon the information we collected in China, the international school project will be placed on hold for at least a year. We learned that under the right conditions, we could have a school there and that a school is much desired there, especially by believers of all nationalities. I look forward to the day when we revisit this project. I was blessed to be a part of this mission.

Now I am about three weeks away from coming back to America to visit the people I know and love in the churches in Maine and Baltimore. I'll be in Baltimore visiting GGCA the first week of June and attending the convention later that month. I will be in Maine the remainder of the time with my family and going to see folks that attend Pastor White's and Pastor Vreeland's churches that have been supporting me, and probably visiting the sweet folks a the State Street nursing home in Portland who have been praying for me. I'll also be going to a Bible study in Dresden, Maine that I've never been to before. It's supposed to be a humdinger!

My plan is to return to Korea in July a week before our East Asia Conference July 17-21 out in the great outdoors of Korea at a campground. We hope to make it special for the children who attend this year with VBS and activities. YOU SHOULD COME!

Koreans are friendly people. Korean star actor Kim Soo Hyun was waiting dressed in a striped tie and green pants to sell me some Pizza Hut pizza when I got to Kunming. What a guy!

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