Monthly Archives: June 2014

An unforgettable journey… to Hong Kong

At the end of January, we went on holiday for Chinese New Year, so we decided to spend some time relaxing (aka recovering) in Qingdao, and then head to Hong Kong and Macau for the remaining time.

We set out for Hong Kong and had a pretty uneventful first flight.  We had a long layover in Shanghai so we went to the International Departures area and posted up for the long haul.  We had a leisurely dinner at KFC, complete with an ice cream sundae, and then began our search for electrical outlets.  After not having too much luck, an old Chinese janitor showed us some that were hidden in the floor.  Bless him.  We read for hours and other than a brief moment of fear (some old man came and sat a black duffle bag down right next to us and then walked away for about ten minutes… we were thinking… is this a bomb???  Do we report this??  But then he came back and left and it was nothing), the time dwindled down.   We decided to check-in and head for our gate.  We headed that way but the check-in counters were empty.  Uh-oh…  We milled around for a minute before heading for the information desk to ask about our flight.  After spending  a while looking at our flight confirmation e-mail, she pointed out that we were in the wrong airport.  THE WRONG AIRPORT?????  I didn’t even know Shanghai had two airports, so of course that wasn’t something I checked for on our flight plans.  So we asked how to get there.  She looked skeptically at her watch and immediately my stomach sank.  She said, “If you run down the escalator and around the corner, you can catch a taxi.  It is about an hour away but if you leave right now, you might be able to make it.”  So we took off running… relaxation time was over.  We tore down the escalator, around the corner and luckily, caught a taxi quickly.  The whole time we were in the taxi I chided myself for not looking closer, for dinking around and lazily passing the time when we should have been commuting to the appropriate airport.  I did that… and I prayed.  I prayed hard.  It seemed like our taxi driver couldn’t have been driving more slowly and I watched the airport signs show the kilometers tick down from 57 to 40…to 32… to 17… until finally we pulled up to the airport.  We hastily grabbed our bags and trucked it inside… only to find a line about a mile long.  We asked one of the airline workers directing people if we could still check in and she directed us to another counter where the workers checked their watches and exchanged skeptical looks before miraculously accepting our bag and checking us in.  They told us we’d need to hurry.  Of course our flight wasn’t leaving out of where we were, we had to take a bus to another section of the airport, but luckily we made it that far.  Finally we boarded and thought, “Phew! We made it!”  Yes we did, and we proceeded to board and sit on the tarmac for more than an hour before we finally took off.  Our day thus far had consisted of intermittent rushing and sitting, rushing and sitting. 

We were set to land in Hong Kong around 1:30 in the morning and the hostel we were going to be staying at didn’t check anyone in after midnight so we had looked for a different hotel near the airport to stay in just for that night.  We got off the plane, went through customs, grabbed our luggage, showed the lady at the taxi stand our intended address and hit the road.  We should have known something was wrong when she told us that we would have to change taxis at some point… that seemed kind of strange, but it was nearly 2 in the morning and we just wanted to get to our hotel.  We drove for about half an hour and then our driver instructed us (using a mix of Chinese and gesticulations) to get out and pointed us towards a building, so, even though we didn’t really have a clue what was happening, we got out and walked towards where he had pointed.  It turned out that the building was immigration.  We were perplexed.  We just went through immigration… why are we here again?  WELL… as it turns out, it was not wise to google “Hotels near the Hong Kong airport” because as it turned out, our hotel was located in Shenzhen… back in mainland China.  So there we were, desperate at that point to get to our hotel and get some sleep, so we went through customs again and then walked into a WAVE of people yelling “Taxi?,”  “Taxi?,”  “Taxi?.”  Ironically, right above this horde of screaming Chinese was a sign that read, “Do NOT get into any unmarked taxi for your own safety.”  So we tried to avoid these crazed people by heading down an escalator to where we thought the real taxis would be.  One very persistent lady followed us aggressively trying to get us to go with her.  When we asked if we could get a fapiao (an official government receipt), she promised that she could provide one, however, when we saw her car (clearly unmarked) we again told her no and then frantically looked around for the REAL taxis.  When we finally spotted them, we realized why all the crazies had been standing where they had… they had been blocking the actual taxi exit.  So after all that, we had to go back up the escalator and back through the horde of mad, screaming people to get down to the actual taxis.

Finally we were in a taxi and on our way to our hotel.  We drove for a while and then I noticed… our taxi driver was FALLING ASLEEP at the wheel.  Literally I watched his heavy eyelids open for a short time and then fall closed for longer and longer periods of time.  It didn’t take long before I nudged him and asked (in English), “Are you okay?”  “You’re falling asleep…”  He probably didn’t understand a word I was saying but he continued falling asleep.  I ended up nudging him about once every 20-30 seconds just to keep him awake.  Finally we got to an intersection and he turned around and asked, “Yi zhi zou?” (which means, Do I go straight?).  I started laughing because of how ridiculous this whole day had been.  In my brain I was telling him, “I have no freaking idea!!!  You are the driver, you are from here; I am the tourist. It’s 3 o’clock in the morning and all I have is the dang address!”  So he went to the only other place that was open at that ungodly hour and asked people if they knew where it was.  They didn’t know either, so we just kept driving around and whenever he saw someone, he would ask them if they knew where the hotel was.  Finally someone was able to direct him and we made it safely there.  The doors were locked and it was dark inside, so we knocked and knocked until finally someone woke up and came to let us in. We checked in and went to our room, thankful to have finally arrived at our destination (despite the fact that it was far from where we thought we’d be).

The adventure BACK to Hong Kong will be our next post… to be continued…

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Posted by on June 30, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Great Wall Marathon

Great Wall Marathon

For the record, this is one of many, many blog posts that went unpublished because of well… China.  Being there, all blog sites, social media, etc are blocked by the government, so in order to get onto them (or post to them), we had to use a VPN (a Virtual Private Network).  Needless to say, this wasn’t always successful.  I remember MANY times where it frustrated me nearly to tears.  Signing on was a challenge as you had to choose many locations before you could get in, STAYING on was an even greater challenge as it would often kick you off mid-way through whatever we were working on.  Uploading photos was a whole ‘notha issue… So, nearly four years later, here is this post!

Way back in August, after first moving to China, we were talking about running with some friends.  We had gotten into some good habits here before moving abroad and we had the earnest desire to keep it up while living in Qingdao.  We would be living 15 minutes away from the beach and from a boardwalk there that is something like 40 km long.  We were excited about the opportunities and had grandeur dreams of running along the beach every day…

Enter reality.

School started and along with that, life as we knew it ended.  For the first month of living in China we had no internet access (which makes your job very difficult if your entire curriculum is online) so we basically lived at school.  That and the fact that we were completely overwhelmed by the changes that moving to another country brings: learning survival language, moving into an apartment, getting things we needed, and learning how and where to get things.  It was madness.  We thought that the initial whirlwind would subside and leave us with free time eventually, but when you work at an international school, there is no end in sight (until you get to the vacations).

Anyways, we had some close friends who ran a half-marathon along the Great Wall of China the year prior and so, early on, they planted a seed in our minds.  It sounded like it would be a memorable race and so we decided to do it.  …Fast forward about half way through the year…  We aren’t running, the pollution is so thick that no person in their right mind wants to venture outside, and we are still busy as can be.  The entry cut-off date for this race is now coming, looming, and then passed.  The price tag of this particular race was also discouraging as it is, by far, the most expensive race we’ve ever run.  So there came for us a crux… do we do this or not?  Eventually we decided that if we could, we would.  I e-mailed the people in charge of setting things up and although they only have a limited number of slots for expat runners, they informed me that there was indeed still space.  So Trent and I went for it.  We signed up, we paid the 300 dollars a person (plus a late charge since we missed the original cut-off date), and paid for plane tickets to Beijing and a hostel for the race.  *Cringe*  We were doing this!

Our training was intermittent.  We hit some roadblocks early on… sickness, different school functions and particularly hectic weeks, slight injuries, etc.  It made our training schedule erratic and inconsistent and as the race date grew closer, we got more and more nervous.  For our previous half-marathons, we had been very serious about training and kept to a strict running schedule, but for this race, the most we had been able to run (for various reasons) was 6 miles (less than half of what we would be required to run for the race).  From what we had read and from what people told us, this wasn’t a race to try to PR in, rather it was a race run for the experience, so this is the mindset we brought with us on race day.

Trent and I with our good friend Justin running a 10K on the beach of Qingdao- our only prep!

We took that Friday off of school and flew into Beijing.  The race had then arranged for a bus to bring us to Tianjin, near the race’s starting line.  We boarded the small bus along with about 15 others and started out the 3 hour trip to the city slightly southeast of Beijing.  We made quick friends with the people in the van… ironically the guy sitting in front of us was from Shoreview, MN, where I lived during my college days (so we had plenty to talk about).  By the time we arrived in Tianjin, it was dark and getting late.  We checked in with the marathon crew and they walked us to our hostel where we would be staying for the night.  After thanking them and checking into our rooms, we ventured downstairs for dinner.

At this point we were the only people in this hostel and the owners only spoke Chinese, so trying to order food for dinner turned into a painfully long and pretty hilarious game of charades (they were shocked that we couldn’t read their Chinese menu…).   But the family was very nice and we ended up laughing and taking lots of pictures together.  They really liked that I run (not a lot of women in China do) and they laughed at Trent when he told them that I run faster than he does (which isn’t necessarily true).  After we had eaten our fill of tea, eggs and some sort of noodle soup, we bought a bottle of milk (for our morning cereal) and we headed to bed!

Our gracious hosts

Having some fun, taking pictures of ourselves in the reflection of the teapot

Our alarms sounded at 4:00 when we woke up to eat our breakfast.  We poured our cereal into makeshift bowls and poured on the milk… and took a big, horrendous bite.  GROSS!!!  One thing I will never get used to in China is expecting things to be what I think they are.  We had apparently bought strawberry flavored milk (which might be good as a standalone drink, but is disgusting on cereal).  I spat out the sickeningly sweet bite and had to ditch the rest of my bowl.  Trent and I ate our cereal dry and put down some fruit before trying to sleep for another hour or two before we would actually have to get up for the race.

Race time.  We geared up, put on our racing bibs, laced up our running shoes and headed out!  We had prayed long and hard for a beautiful day (Beijing is notorious for its heavily polluted air) and God delivered!  It was clearer than we’ve ever seen it!  We walked the quarter mile or so to where the race was going to begin in the quiet of the morning, admiring the beautiful scenery around us.

We enjoyed those few minutes of solitude before arriving to the hustle and bustle of the race!  There were rows and rows of tour buses and vendors, racers and spectators were everywhere!!!

We decided to snap a few fun pictures before we got all sweaty and gross!

As we arrived at the starting line, there was pomp and circumstance all around us.  They had a Chinese band performing, lots of speakers and more foreigners than we had seen since arriving in China!  Of course, Trent and I had to represent for Texas!!!


We arrived to the starting line feeling a mix of nerves and anticipation.  But I love the energy of races.  Everyone is so excited!  We waited for our heat  and then all counted down until the start.  We were off!

Drone footage of the race

We ran along the city streets, past animals and locals up until the base of the mountain, then it was uphill from there.

This part of the race we had already decided to walk, and we found a friend to walk it with: Adrian from, none other than Houston, Texas!  Practically a neighbor!  She was a fan favorite because of her awesome stars and stripes leggings… she was representing for sure!  We really enjoyed her company!


We ran for a while and then walked the mile and a half up the mountain to the entry to the Great Wall of China.  3.1 miles in and we were there! However, when we got on the wall, there wasn’t so much running… or walking… just climbing.  If you’ve never been to the Great Wall of China, you may not understand that these stairs were all hand-laid and that means that they are not all the same exact height, nor are they evenly laid.  Climbing the wall, even if you’re not racing, takes intense concentration and careful maneuvering.  We climbed up and down, up and down, up and down along the two and half mile stretch of the wall.  We posed for pictures and took in the scenery- the ever expansive wall amid the gorgeous mountainous backdrop.

Hopefully this picture gives you an idea of how steep parts of the wall are!

Running right behind my Minnesota friend!

Approaching the entrance to the Great Wall of China!

We hit points along the wall where people had to proceed in single-file lines because it was too dangerous to do otherwise.  We saw old men playing games and laying in hammocks while their mules milled about, and we even saw a massive snake!

When we finished with the wall, it was another mile downhill.  This was another stretch that it was nearly impossible to run… and also was very hard on the knees.  I can’t tell you how happy I was when we finally got done with that section!  As we descended, we could see the village below.

Where we started and where we would ultimately finish!

The rest of the marathon was through small rural villages.  We ran along city streets and small gravel roads, we passed by many Chinese people taking pictures and videos with their ipads and phones and we high-fived lots of little kids who enthusiastically cheered us on.   This was by far the best part of this race!  There were smiling faces literally everywhere we went!

We met some other cool people along the way.  At one point later in the race where we were pretty tired, a girl stopped to take a picture for us and she noticed Trent’s cross necklace.  She asked us “Oh!  Do you love Jesus?!?”  When we said yes, she was so thrilled!  It was awesome.  We made our introductions and before she started back out running, she prayed for us right then and there.  It was a sweet moment for us.  We got lucky enough to find each other after the race as well to snap a quick photo.

We continued along the hilly course and finally headed for the home stretch.

We crossed the finish line victorious but exhausted at 3 hours, 51 minutes.  Normally I wouldn’t be too proud to share that time, but as we’ve been told, this is not a race that you can compare to any other.  It can only be compared to itself.  It was well over an hour past any other half-marathon time we’ve ever had, but what an experience!  It was exhilarating at the end (plus we got some pretty sweet medals)!

We cheered some more friends across the finish line, including our Texas friend Adrian, our Jesus-loving friend Lindsay, a tiny old Mexican man who was a total encouragement because he never stopped running (and he was adorable all decked out for Mexico), and some of our friends from the trip to Tianjin.  All in all, it was a very memorable experience!  I would recommend it to anyone!

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Posted by on June 24, 2014 in Uncategorized


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The “R” word

Gasp!  I said it, the “R” word… rest.  

Treated almost as a curse word intoday’s society, rest is something we all desire, strive for and work hard to attain, yet it is fleeting and seemingly remains out of our reach… until it is required.  Dun, dun, dun…

In much of today’s society, and yes, even in China, we are programmed to be busy… all the time. There are a million trillion things on my “to- do” list which hardly even gets looked at.  School keeps us occupied into the wee hours of the night and on the weekends, due dates constantly looming.  For us, rest is not something that comes easily. 

Which brings me to now. Two weekends ago, Trent and I ran the Great Wall Half Marathon in Tianjin, China.  We took a three day weekend and had a delightful time, but the toil that the race took on my body and the stress at school leading up to our absence left my immune system vulnerable to attack.  Sadly, on the Monday following the race, I wasn’t worried about my sore muscles (which miraculously were spared) but I was left worrying about a super sore throat… which turned into a brutal cold… which morphed into allergies teaming up with the remnants of that cold… which left me here: tired, sick and exhausted.

You see, if we’re kept busy then we don’t have time to rest, we also don’t have time to self-reflect. Today’s society tends to keep us so distracted and busy that we don’t have time to think deeply, to dream big, or to contemplate life’s truths.  So as I was stuck in bed this weekend, I was unable to touch my mile long “to-do” list, unable to start packing and unable to do anything but think and reflect.  And so, laid up in bed, I quickly bored of scrolling through endless news feeds on Facebook and there, in the silence, when the noise around me finally stopped, came a still small voice reminding me, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

You see, a few days prior I had been reading a few blogs about the Sabbath, and now, in this quiet time, the Lord spoke to my heart: “man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man.” God knew in his infinite wisdom that we were going to get tired.  God also knew that we would need a day to recharge and reflect on the many blessings that are so often overlooked or overshadowed by our busyness.  And so there, on my sofa, I repented of my unrestful heart.  I repented that for this entire school year every Saturday or Sunday has been spent at school… preparing for the next week, updating Atlas, putting things on my website, staying organized, or bringing anxiety about the week to come.  I reflected that God, in his goodness, had to get my attention through sickness in order for me to hear his voice and simply be still. 

A verse from Isaiah came to mind that I remember reading a few years ago. It had struck me profoundly then, and it seems to have done the same this time.  It says this: “… if you call the Sabbath a delight… and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.  The mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  (Isaiah 58:13-14)

The Lord intended for the Sabbath to be to us a delight! A time to fill us with joy as we look to him to thank him for the blessings of the past week and ask for the strength for the next.  It was to truly meant to be a day of rest, of relationship, of renewal.  And so, in the midst of all my mucus and phlegm, in between coughing fits and nose blows, I was filled with gratefulness.  Thankful that my God gives me strength, thankful that he gives me rest.  Not just rest from the physical labors, but deep, spiritual rest: rest for my soul.  And he doesn’t stop there.  No, if we will take time out to rest in the Lord, he will also fill us with joy!  Joy is something that we have lacked this past year.  I know deep down that true joy is not determined by our circumstances and although this grueling year has not stolen our deep joy, it sure has made things difficult.  We spent far too much of this year dwelling in anxiety and in a state of nearly constant stress.  This sickness, as brutal as it has been, has brought me back to a good place, a place where I am able to see things more clearly.  A place that is dedicated to honoring the Sabbath, to leaving that day for people, for fun, for reflection and prayer, for gratefulness. 

So, for the remainder of this school year (even though there are only two weeks left), we have vowed not to go in on Sunday.  We have decided that Sunday is to be a day set apart to worship and spend time in fellowship with others.  Sunday will be our day of rest.

***Ironically I wrote this blog a few weeks ago and although it was all about rest and getting away from the busyness of life, I got so busy again that I’m only posting this blog now.  :/  However, that being said, we have been keeping our Sundays for us!  Here’s to keeping the Sabbath!***


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Posted by on June 22, 2014 in Uncategorized



After nearly a year of living and travelling outside of the US, it is time… for a return visit. Initially we had contemplated not coming home at all until our two years in China were up, but after a year away, we are ready to see our friends and loved ones and share in some special moments we’ve been missing.

So, what will it be like coming home? Truthfully, we have no idea what to expect.  When I returned from Costa Rica and my travels throughout Latin America many years ago, reverse-culture-shock hit me really hard.  My time abroad had been such a life-changing experience, full of questioning, soul-searching, and revamping my world view.  I came back more aware, more understanding, and more resolute to make changes in my life and subsequently, in the world.  But China… China has been different.  I loved Latin America; I could speak the language, I loved the food, the music, the culture.  I can’t necessarily say the same for China.  Although things there are getting much easier, everyday life can still be a struggle. 

So… what are we looking forward to the most? We cannot wait to see our families, and by families, I don’t just mean those who we are related to by blood; rather, those people who we love and who love us back unconditionally.  We cannot wait to reconnect with family and friends, see new babies, hug old friends, talk, share stories, and laugh.  We look forward to going back to our old church(es)- Revolution Church, St. Paul and St. Marks UCC- and seeing people there, being able to freely worship without fear of reprisal.  Another thing we are excited about… MEXICAN food!  Oh, Qingdao does not know what it’s missing!  Nearly a year without Tex-Mex… my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

What will be strangest for us? Well, judging by the difference we’ve already seen just from going from China to South Korea, we would say that it is pretty strange to see people actually form a line and wait in it (like for stairs, elevators, trains, Starbucks…).  Clothing and style will be very different.  We may actually see people wearing patterns and colors that go together and we can probably say goodbye to matching couples outfits (as much as we may have been tempted, we have yet to succumb to this fashion statement).  Understanding conversations around us has been strange, and although it may sound bad to admit, I don’t miss it so much.  So much of what we hear is so insignificant in the scheme of things, and, quite frankly, sounds pretty ignorant.  We are also ready to see some… diversity.  Outside of our little expat group in Qingdao, we are two white people in a constant sea of Asians… I miss seeing color in my everyday existence; I really look forward to seeing people of all tribes and nations, tongues and languages back in the melting pot we call America.  Another thing we cannot wait to do is breathe… CLEAN AIR!!!  The air quality is so poor in China and although the spring brought better air, we’ve still had some bad days in the past week or two.  We look forward to clear skies, high visibility and breathing unpolluted air.  Getting behind the wheel again to drive will be an experience.  After a year of watching absolute chaos and disregard for rules along the streets of Qingdao, it will be a challenge to remember the rules of the road.  But I sure do miss the independence of driving!  Having to find and take taxis or the bus everywhere sure has reminded us how blessed we are to have a car of our own, and with it, the freedom to go where we want, when we want.  Another thing we are anticipating is getting on the internet… without using a VPN (Virtual Private Network).  We can’t wait to have a normal speed, reliable internet connection to be able to do all the things that we like to do… Google, Gmail, Facebook, YouTube, or any of our favorite blog websites.  Lastly, I was just reminded… we look forward to going to public places and using REAL toilets (no more “squatty potties”) and being able to throw our TP… IN the toilet!  Ah… the little things we take for granted…

All that being said, we’d like to see as many of you as we possibly can while we’re back this summer. We’ll be in San Antonio from June 20-28 and again from July 11-17, and we’ll be in MN from June 28- July 11.  Hope to see you soon!

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Posted by on June 22, 2014 in Uncategorized