Monday, 2 March 2009

My Memories of India (Part II- a confession)

"Very few of us are what we seem." Agatha Christie

Who would have thought that by living in Indonesia last year, I would be a step closer to India?

In Indonesia was where I met Ms. Lalit. (Not her real name. The name I chose for her in this story is a Tamil word for beautiful. ) She was my teaching colleague from Chennai, India and was the most wonderful and kind-hearted person I've ever met. It only took me five months to see that and two weeks for me to make amends for what I did.

No, I'm not about to tell you a comforting story or a mysterious tale from a distant land. It's more about my dark side that came out while living in Indonesia. The story revolves around something that you may be familiar with but may not feel comfortable admitting. It's about prejudice. And it is also about redemption. I had wanted to write about her for more than a year but couldn't bring myself to do it until now. Sometimes, a difficult story needs years to make its debut.

I didn't like her when we first met. She had dark skin and long coarse, curly hair. When I sat next to her on a school bus, her hair would poke my arm like needles. I could smell her from miles away. She'd often wear a sari to school and her "v" sounds like a "w." The word water , for instance, was always pronounced vater. And she would shake her head when she meant yes. It hurt my ears trying to comprehend what she said. Her English sounded like a foreign language. She didn't know how to use Word or Excel or a cell phone and couldn't navigate the city on her own. And what did I do? Nothing noble really. I never once offered to help her because I felt uncomfortable being around her. I kept my conversations with her to the minimum. Also she couldn't seem to get along with most colleagues. We gossiped about her. And she was the scapegoat of our frustration and the butt of our jokes oftentimes. Oh, did I forget to mention that she was a Christian who went to the same church as I did.

Ms. Lalit had a hard time both at work and at home. She came to Indonesia with two daughters. They were 6 and 8. One day when I told the kids that I'd stop by their apartment and go swimming with them, their eyes got really big. But for five months, it was one empty promise after another. Until one day, they said I probably would never go.

I'd like to say that as someone who tries to follow Christ, I'm a goody two-shoes. Well, I'm not. Like you, I have my dark side. Nine years as a Christian, I'm still wrestling with my dark side and will be... for the rest of my life.

In the back of my mind, I knew that what I did was wrong and was, somehow, slowly finding ways to make things better. I had so much pride and couldn't bring myself to apologize for my attitude and actions toward her. One day, after fives months of suffering in Indonesia, Ms. Lalit told me that she was going back to India in two weeks... for good. It was the first time I saw a twinkle in her eyes.

As far as I could remember, that was the day I cried.

It was an uncomfortable experience when the brightness in her touched a dark spot in my heart. I wasn't ready, but I had no time to wait. I couldn't bear the thought of her being gone forever from my life and I did nothing about it.

I confessed to God and asked for his forgiveness. I confessed to my trusted friend. I cried until my eyes were burning with hot tears. But my friend helped me to understand that that was why Jesus went to the cross: to die for whatever I did that was wrong and hurt other people. He paid the price. In all honesty, I'd heard that before and understood it in my head, but not really in my heart.

I spent the next two weeks trying to make it up to her and the kids. I felt like I had much to pay for. I needed to be punished. Punishment never came. However something she said while we were having lunch hit me: she had prayed for so long that one day she could eat and talk to me like friends...

Isn't this what Jesus calls mercy? I'd read about it a thousand times before but never quite understood it till then. I'm such a slow learner. It's not something you can read about at church on Sundays. You won't understand it during the good times either. When life is hard and uncomfortable, it may just be God's way of teaching us something so precious like mercy, and the best kind of vessel to receive it is not a good or happy heart, but broken.

In two weeks, I did more than I should have done in five months. I went swimming with the kids. I went over to Ms. Lalit's apartment and she made chicken curry for me from scratch. I brought over juice. We ate and talked like friends. We went shopping together. Please allow me to tell you some more of how beautiful this woman's heart was. During five difficult months, she continued to share Christ with anyone who came across her path. She brought many visitors to church as well as an Indian couple who were also from Chennai. She had all the excuses in the world to be into herself. But she chose a different path. The path that affected eternity.

Before she left, she asked me for a favor. She wanted me to continue the friendship she'd built with her neighbor. She wanted me to help her neighbor to know Christ. I promised her that I'd be a friend to Jenni, and I'm keeping that promise still, even though I'm no longer in Indonesia. I'm doing what I can to share Christ's love, and I hope that one day Jenni will come to know Christ as Ms. Lalit did

My Memories of India (Part I)

I have never been to India.

But the story of how I'm about to go there this April is worth noting. It started somewhere long, long ago.

My mom graduated from India. She was one of the few women in her class to graduate with a pharmaceutical degree. This was back in the 60's. As I flipped through my mom's photo album, I saw a black and white photo of her in a sari. She was the only woman with straight hair. Also the first time I saw the Taj Mahal, it was with my mom posing in the foreground. The Taj is no doubt beautiful and thousands of men give praise to its beauty, but to a child, her mother was the more important focus. Years later, I put this black and white photo next to a colored one that had me posing in front of the Eiffle Tower. We had the same pose.

Mom would talk about the smell that she never quite got used to. And that she almost fell for this guy who was like an angel to her because he helped her with all her classes. But in the end she turned him down because he was Indian. The guy ended up writing my mom a birthday card every year for the next twenty something years. Poor guy got his heart broken by my mom, but he's now doing very well as a doctor somewhere in America. I wish I could talk to him to find out more what my mom was like then. But then Mom said, if she ended up with him, I wouldn't have been born. Or that I'd be a mixed kid with really long eyelashes and an Indian last name. Anyway, my mom can speak good English , but she's never quite used to my accent, and she'd ask me to repeat certain words or slow down when I talk. She also doesn't like that fact that I'm so Americanized. Bollywood doesn't bother her but Hollywood does.

When I went to America, the thought of India somewhat faded away.

Later in college, I got a chance to read E.M. Forster's A Passage to India. It was the first time in a long awhile that India drifted back into my consciousness. I threw out many books from college when I left America, but I've kept this one. Something about it just tells me to hold on to it.

In a strange way, I feel like India was a part of my childhood. A part of my mother that made her who she is today. I somehow feel like India is calling me there. And the voice got louder and louder over the past recent years.

Finally Cambodia...

So I had this conversation with two guy friends from different corners of the world, one in the US and the other in OZ. It's funny how they mentioned the same thing to me on the same day, just seconds apart from the other. (Is this some kind of conspiracy theory?) That maybe I should consider settling down and stop being a global nomad. The first friend is married. The second is a single man who had traveled a lot in his twenties and feels the need to settle down. (Don't worry, I'm keeping you guys' identity protected.) I appreciate the two friends sharing their opinions. Opinions are interesting and I love listening to them.

I also agree that traveling can be exhausting, uncomfortable, and unpredictable. You're not in total control of your surroundings like you would on a normal day in your hometown. You don't know where you'll get your next cup of coffee, or that you'll end up at an open-air shop owned by a Chinese Malaysian drinking Te Tarik and having naan for breakfast with a local friend you just met yesterday who is now letting you stay in her house and giving you a tour around the city, and whom you are speaking with in a language you can barely understand. You may not like the fact that you have to count the money in a new currency like a child learning to count coins and bills in grade school. Or worse yet, you ask a total stranger to dig into your wallet just to count the correct amount cos you get so overwhelmed by so many zeros. Or the distinct smell of some people that makes you hold your breath when they walk by. Or crossing the streets, not knowing whether to look left or right, so you do both. You may hate the thought of saying goodbye without knowing whether you'll see your new friends again. Of course, their lives go on but you mourn them like you would someone dying because you really don't know if you'll see them again. Then you wish that you had all the money in the world, so you can fly back and see them as you wish. But then you work out these feelings: the passion and the pain. That's why people call and write to each other years after they last saw one another. The smiles and the tears they shed when they knew you were leaving. The longing. The waiting. But if you ask me, is it worth going through it all just to meet them and have to endure these uncomfortable feelings. I think you know my answer.

But come to think of it, in many ways, I didn't choose to go to these places. They chose me. Here's why. I didn't originally plan to go to Australia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, or live in Thailand, but they kind of came along my path as I continued on my journey. I guess the idea of being on a journey stays the same, but God fills in the details, not me. Guess I'm not exactly the author of my life afterall.

The plan to go back to Cambodia was supposed to be done a year and a half ago. But I finally booked the ticket to go there this Friday. It's funny how things often don't turn out as planned, but I think through God's eyes, things turn out better than I could imagine.

Going to Cambodia this time makes me feel a bit nervous, like seeing my long lost love for the first time in years.

I appreciate my two guy friends and think they're right. At some point, I need to settle down. But I hope that I won't have to stop traveling. It's like a love affair of some sort, so mystical, mysterious, and magical. At least for now anyway...

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Listen to Your Heart

"Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself," the alchemist replies.
"And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity."

Two and a Half Years of My Life

Never thought I'd live in Thailand again, now I am.

Never thought I could love the country where I was born, now I do.

Haven't exactly got everything I want, but I'm a lucky, lucky lass indeed.

Two and a half years on my journey and I haven't regretted a single thing.

Haven't figured out everything , but I've figured out a few things: loving God, others and following my heart.

Never imagined how God had prepared me all these years--thru every laughter, heartache and tear, in 3 different countries, 3 diferent continents--to serve Him here in Thailand, yes He did.

Today I went on a field trip with my students to the science museum and we gazed at the universe in the planetarium. It was overwhelming. Too much to take in. What God has prepared for those who love him. (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

Two and a Half Years of My Life
I'm glad to have spent it as I did.

Monday, 19 January 2009

'09 Janurary Blues

I've been feeling rather funky this January. I hit a few highs during New Year and my birthday, then now it's the low. My good intentions to do something incredible were met with the cynicism and criticism of some who said it can't be done (Sorry, can't get into detail here.) Why can't they catch on to the new Obama spirit of "yes, we can!"? I think they missed the presidential victory speech. Or that Americans, as a people, are generally more possitive and optimistic about the future, otherwise, we wouldn't have come thus far. That's a total stereotype, I know. There are millions of depressed people in America, but anyway. I'm trying to understand the cause of my blues here.

Maybe it's the Age we're in. Or that some people no matter what happens will always see the glass half empty. But I certainly don't wanna be like them. So below is an excerpt that cheered me up. And anyone that ever comes across this blog, I hope the excerpt will give you a little lift also.

The lion chaser's manifesto:

Quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death. Set God-sized goals. Pursue God-ordained passions. Go after a dream that is destined to fail without divine intervention. Keep asking questions. Keep making mistakes. Keep seeking God. Stop pointing out problems and become part of the solution. Stop repeating the past and start creating the future. Stop playing it safe and start taking risks. Expand your horizons. Accumulate experiences. Consider the lilies. Enjoy the journey. Find every excuse you can to celebrate everything you can. Live like today is the first day and last day of your life. Don't let what's wrong with you keep you from worshipping what's right with God.Burn sinful bridges. Blaze a new trail. Criticize by creating. Worry less about what people think and more about what God thinks. Don't try to be who you're not. Be yourself. Laugh at yourself. Quit holding out. Quit holding back. Quit running away. Chase the lion!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

My Japanese Education (Part I)

Every now and then, I'm always amazed at the things I learn from my students. Every time that happens, I get really excited. Little do most people know, being a teacher means being forever a student.

Today my Japanese students taught me about "gratin," of which I didn't know what it was but my colleague did me a favor and googled the word. Gratin is a type of casserole. Well, the word alone is nothing to be excited about, but let me explain. Last week I was getting disheartened about the subject I'm teaching, ESL or English as a Second Language. I felt unmotivated that I'm teaching something so, so basic. Last year I was spouting Shakespeare sonnets. This year, I'm doing apples and oranges.

I miss doing gymnastics in my mind and having intellectual discussions with my students. My skills have been reduced to asking the simplest questions like "What's this?" or "What's that?" Never mind the whole higher level thinking. Picture word recognition is the key. Spelling. Ummm... That's another story when you try to explain the difference between "rice" and "lice," of which you may have to mime picking something out of your hair with your thumb and forefinger, make a disgusted face, and eventually flick it in the air, although some of my colleagues may opt to put it in their mouth for entertainment purposes.

On the flip side, I'm speaking a new language. I can now confidently say "sit down" and "be quiet" in Japanese. Counting from one to six, I've mastered that too.

Today a fifth grader made me laugh. This whole week, I've been teaching the same lesson on food. Most students would come up with typical food like rice, chicken, and salad on their menu. But not Yuki. He kept asking me non-stop how to spell red wine, beer, lobster, caviar, king salmon, shark fin soup, and fondue. Things that actually made me salivate.

I've also noticed the difference in attitude between Japanese and Indonesians. Indonesians put so much value in learning English. They gobbled up everything I taught, whether in a proper school or in an after school program. But not here at the Japanese school in Thailand. English is an add-on subject. Many students don't seem to care if they don't speak a lick of English, especially at the junior high level. Knowing English isn't considered a form of superiority to the Japanese. That is the first time I've encountered such a culture. So much pride and love for their own culture and language. It's not surprising that Japan is one of the world's leading countries. You can see it in their people. The discipline in how they eat is also mind blowing. I remember getting told off for chewing gum, during my free time. It's like gum and every kind of candy are forbidden on the premises. In other first world countries, kids struggle with the problem of obesity. Oh, not the Japanese. They don't even allow the kids here to eat snacks during the day. No other drinks except water and tea, which makes some of their teeth yellow. There's no canteen in the school. Every student brings their own food or order it through a Japanese catering service. They also don't drink soda. It's just not their habit! No wonder why Japan could recover so well financially after two nuclear bombs--by reducing their people's diets to the bare minimum. In all honesty, their level of discipline is not something to be trifled with, of which has led me to have much respect for my Japanese colleagues regarding work ethics. Sometimes I wonder if their bodies were made of machine.

Once again, I'm adjusting, the practice that seems to be the pattern of my life, and making the most of my opportunities. Learning from what I see and seeing them in new ways.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

On Matters of Talents & Dating Practices

I don't consider myself as someone with exceptional talents, but I've got some. Having been part of big churches like the OC or the Jakarta church, I only had offered one or two talents at most to serve others. Things like encouraging or serving others. I'm quite good at washing dishes by the way. When we had parties back in the US, I'd be the one to wash dishes. Strange to say, but I love washing dishes. I find it therapeutic since my job involves a considerable amount of brain work, I prefer to do things without having to think once in a while.

At this point I have to go off on a tangent and link the topic of washing dishes to dating. In our church, tradition has it that when disciples go on dates in the US, whoever asks the other out takes care of everything. For instance, if you ask somebody out and decide to prepare a meal at home, then you'll be doing both the cooking and cleaning. Fair enough since your date gets to feel like a prince or princess for the night. But in Australia, the rules are if you prepare the meal, your date washes the dishes. I was surprised when that first happened to me. By the time I made it down under, I was so conditioned to cook and clean on a date for my prince like a good Cinderella that I am. But soon I realized that when in Australia, do as the Australians do, as my modified version of the saying goes. That way we both can share the Cinderella experience together. Oh, so romantic!

Oh ya. Back on the whole talent thing.

I've been back in Thailand about two months now and I have done more for the Bangkok church than I probably did eight years in big churches. I got to share my life/preach for the first time to the single sisters at midweek. That was a nerve-wracking but worthwhile experience. All of it, the preparation, butterflies on stage, and cleaning up afterwards since I asked them to write down their anxieties on a piece of paper and physically cast them on the floor as a reminder of how Christ wants us to cast our anxieties on him. I'm also designated the interpreter now for the church. Sometimes, I get to joke around with my audience if I know who are listening. In addition, I'll begin translating sections of a book from English to Thai. That'd be interesting and daunting at the same time since I haven't written anything properly in Thai for fourteen years. But a friend told me not to worry because she'll ask somebody to translate my Thai into the normal Thai.

Yes, my Thai is still rusty and I still use wrong words here and there and mix some English words in my Thai. But I'm getting much better now.

All in all, I'm glad God has blessed me with talents and there's nothing better than using them to glorify him and to benefit his kingdom.