Monday, December 30, 2013

Merry Christmas, Vietnam

'Twas the night before Christmas...or, three days, about,
when Dawna and Heidi and I planned to head out
of our homes in Beijing and in Seoul, and fly south
to a place warm for all, warm for even...a mouse.


Vietnam! To Hanoi! On 12-22
we landed without plans of what we could do,
housed in the best of the city's hostels,
humming "O Holy Night" and then - duh! - "Jingle Bells."


In Hanoi, a big church and Hoan Kiem Lake,
though the Temple of Literature sure took the cake.
Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum then let us down
'cause there the dude's body straight up couldn't be found!


I met a nice cat; I liked him, he liked me.
But he didn't come with us to sing karaoke.
Hanoi was quite nice, but we fled the next day,
fled from all that to the famed Ha Long Bay.


Chunks of rock poke their noses right out of the sea.
Our boat cruised between them; we looked joyfully.
We stopped at a cave; it was full of weird lights.
Did our Christmas hats blend in okay with the sights?


Two kayaks: young Heidi and Dawna in one,
and me with some lady from China; what fun!
The carols we sang on the bay rang out far,
a precursor for Navidad en el mar.


Heidi'd packed presents, Santa hats, and a tree
to celebrate the holiday quite normally.
That bright Christmas morning, we watched the sun rise,
Then unveiled the presents to be real surprised.


Cool stuff happened aboard, but most of the time,
we sat there and watched all those rocks look sublime.
Had good chats, and good views, and a Christmas party;
next stop was the famous Ho Chi Minh City.


In HCMC, or Saigon, if you please,
we saw what I'd say was straight up the bees knees:
puppets on water; like, fifteen whole acts!
Large wet dragons! Loud music! Wild fish attacks!


A temple of Cao Dai we also explored.
The architecture, I must say, had me floored.
The faith, though, remains a big mystery:
Buddha meets Islam meets Christianity?


Some Vietnam War sights that we couldn't miss:
the tunnels of Củ Chi, where south VC risked
their lives to fight 'mericans, and hid down below.
Did we sneak through the tunnels? Of course we did go!


The dark photos at the War Remnants Museum -
if you go to Saigon, you do need to see 'em.
Depressing for sure; they're the aftermath of
Agent Orange, U.S. landmines, and bombs from above.


We were also allowed to shoot AK-47's. Boom.


From Saigon we went south on a boat; 'twas the most
rapid way to reach Vietnam's beach-cluttered coast.
In Vũng Tàu, grabbed some scooters, and we gleefully
cruised 'round (and didn't crash!) to see what we'd see.


Sea animal snacks, rice paddies, and beaches!
Those bikes took us out to the furthest of reaches.
And choosing to go where we wanted was grand,
so free from restrictions that cities demand.


Additionally, on a hill in that town,
a gigantic Jesus gazed lovingly down.
We climbed up the hill and up the Christ's arms
and looked 'round the coastline at all of its charms.


December 29th - our group split apart.
Heidi left; I didn't cry but felt sad in my heart.
She went back to Seoul; me and Dawner flew east
into Thailand to conquer both jungle and beast.


Well done, Vietnam! You are quite a cool place.
I quite enjoyed stuffing your phở in my face.
With spring rolls, and seafood, and hard French baguettes.
Our trip is sure something I won't soon forget.


Your tours were so easy to book, and quite cheap,
and so were your lodgings; nice places to sleep!
Your karaoke...mmm...it could be improved
if you took all those hookers and had them removed.


Hey! Three cheers for Heidi! She's like Santa Claus!
Her sarcastic comments were often the cause
of oodles of laughter. The pictures she took
are ready for viewing right now on Facebook.


And three cheers for Dawna! She's got fun in tow.
She's deep in discussion and flexible, yo.
Her pink shades are famous throughout all Hanoi,
and she's quick to laugh and she's hard to annoy.


Good trip and good company...'nam was quite neat.
'Twas one of those trips that just can't be beat.
As our plane for Thailand, we yelled from our flight:
"Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"



Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Light Infestation

They are everywhere!

In my office:



Outside my apartment:




Inside my apartment:





Inside my apartment, from outside:


It's wonderful.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

I Like Church and I Don't Care Who Knows

I like my church.

I like it because today I was standing on one side of the stage behind the big curtain, and on the other side Tim the youth pastor was standing behind the big curtain, and we started making threatening gestures toward each other, and then started shooting at each other and dodging bullets, and then he pretended to throw a grenade at me, and I pretended to duck 'n' roll but then felt like a moron when I discovered three Chinese theater security personnel dudes watching us. 

I like it because when I play bass there with the worship team, we don't have to stop and talk about whether we are going to make this part get heavy and intense or make that part quiet and ambient or make these parts here anticipatory or drop out during those parts; we just know, if not by the jiggle of Ben the worship leader's foot, or by the slight lift of his guitar, then by the unique knowledge of how the band always plays music together. 

I like it because Pete, Scott, and Sam simultaneously compliment and tease me about my beard, pressure me into eating more burgers than a grown man should at 9:45 p.m. on a weeknight, openly mock the stories I tell, and know not only many of the coworker friends - people equally important to me - that they've met but also the names of certain students who have come up in conversation. It's good and fattening. 

Oh, and: because I feel closer to God there. 


I grew up in a church, and I did stuff there, but I have never felt as involved as I have this fall at BICF. It has been the opposite of my first year in Beijing, when I literally only knew four people there and never talked to another soul at the church. Show up ten minutes before the service started, sing and listen and pray, and then go eat at Fatburger (there is no other) with the aforementioned four: Dawna, Dan, Dave, and Dangela. Was I fed? Did I grow? Did I look forward to church then? Can't say I did. 


Things started to change the second year, when I approached both the worship leader and the youth leader and got my fingers in both of those pies. Good pies, though a bit draining, and I still didn't feel connected for quite some time. I recognized faces now, and exchanged more meaningful pleasantries, but still, after church, it was back home for me, or just eating with Dawna. 


But at some point last spring - I think it...yes, yes...it involved a girl...I started hanging out. Said girl - Karina - had quite a few pretty cool friends, and so as I hung out with her more, I hung out with them more, and she played on the worship team, so we spent some time with those folks, and, well, Dawna was working with the youth and the worship teams as well, and my boss April from school was in the mix, and...it's all connected. 


Sadly, Karina left, but that didn't stop me from maintaining all the friendships that stemmed from our relationship. I found myself playing bass guitar nearly every week, eating with different folks from church after practices and services, conjuring up dramas at BICF youth camps, letting other youth leaders live with me from time to time, celebrating Thanksgiving (burgers, not bird...) with congregation members, checking out beautiful women whom I would never dare to talk to, renting cars with drummers from the church, joining (and then bailing on) an upstart small group in my part of town, getting texts when I missed weekly hangouts, accidentally wearing matching red flannel-pattern shirts with other guitarists, joking about different ministers' inappropriate quips from the pulpit, winning Christmas carol-singing contests, tubing down snow hills at youth leader retreats, getting into really expensive conferences for free to play bass, frequenting different eateries owned and run by friends in the fellowship, and, most recently playing Joseph in a drama at the highly-acclaimed BICF Christmas banquet. 


Hell - I mean, heck - the head pastor recently even made a point before one service of saying, "Now, I know you play every week, and I think I have met you once, but...I can't remember your name. What is it again?" 


What I am taking away from this is not, "Wow, I have gotten in on many wonderful opportunities and events the past couple years!" nor is it, "I must be awesome." No. What strikes me is the prominent role of people in my church experience here. It is about knowing people; not in order to move up some ladder or to grab more opportunities, but to love and be loved. Which is the way God wanted it, I think. Incredibly fulfilling is walking into church - a church where I used to know basically no one - and be able to smile and greet friends that I have seen throughout the week. A smile stays on my face when I see someone I know from BICF out in the greater Beijing community (like the first-grade daughter of this Korean couple whose small group I attended for two months a year ago; we wave "hi" to each other almost every morning). My insides feel warm when I share a glance with Scott, the drummer, in the middle of "In Tenderness," right before we get to the heavy part. It's community. I like it.


During the church's "Fall Push," there was a major campaign to get people to participate more in church, whether it be through volunteering or something else. There were sermons given on the reasons to do so and all that, some of it humorous, some of it a bit over the top. One point that the minister made, however, stuck with me: the church doesn't need you to be involved; you need to be involved in the church. Isn't that how any community works? The community rarely needs a certain individual (you). But, we need that community; so many of a person's needs are met by being in community. 


I need community. I want community. And my current church - the Beijing International Christian Fellowship - is God's way of fulfilling the need that I have in my life for quality people. It has been an answer to prayer, it continues to be a bright spot(s) of my week, and it will leave me with many a merry memory when my time in Beijing comes to a close, whenever that is.