Vancouver: Chinese Tour – Part 4 (Bee Factory)

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This is Part 4 in a series about my recent tour in Canada.  Click the links if you’d like to catch up on Part 1Part 2, and Part 3 of the series.

Generally, all Chinese bus tours work the same way.  You meet each morning between 6:30 and 8, and the bus leaves for its journey.  Every 2 hours or so, the bus stops at one of those roadside restroom areas, or some sort of small sightseeing place.

Some of these small sightseeing tours were not much more than gift shops with overpriced trinkets, which the “tour guides” (not Thomas) would try to prod you into buying with grandiose explanations.  I never bought any of these.  Thomas told the Bohemians not to.  The rest of the people on the tour were spending money like rap stars makin’ it rain.

One of these “tours” that we went on was the “bee factory” as Thomas described it.  I was excited because I like bees and have always wanted to know where they were made, although I assumed Thomas actually meant it was a honey processing plant.  Either way, I have often thought about keeping bees myself, although I doubt my bedroom would be big enough for more than one or two hives.

At the Bee Factory, we were greeted by plywood cutouts that were painted like bees, the kind with little holes that you can put your face into and take a stupid tourist picture which makes you look like a bee with some genetically engineered human face.  My one regret of the whole trip was not getting a picture with me in one of those cutouts.

The Bee Factory turned out to be the best tourist trap of the entire trip.  Inside the Factory (read that, “gift shop”), the guide stood up to give us “the exciting bee experience…and afterward you can buy some bee pollen to take home to your honey.”  His talk was filled with puns, and not much else.  Basically, it was just like bee-ing (see what I did there?) in the audience of an infomercial.  I am not sure if there was anything made in this location at all, or if it was simply a gift shop.

It is easy to think of visiting these types of places as extreme rip-offs on the tour, and if you buy things there they are.  But they do serve a couple of purposes.  First, we would only actually spend about 30 minutes there, and we only visited a couple of these places.  They gave you an opportunity to stretch your legs and use the restroom.  It was better than just using public toilets on the side of the road.

Secondly, and far more valuably, they gave the Bohemians things to laugh about back on the bus.  Bee Factories turn out to be much better stories than anything else.

When I was a kid, my family took a road trip through Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.  Along the way, we stopped at The Amazing Dinosaur Experience. Billboards had warned us about the danger of missing this “once in a lifetime opportunity” for many miles, so we stopped.  It turned out to be cave that the portly owner had “covered with plaster and painted white” with a few half-fake dinosaur bones painted glow-in-the-dark and stuck under a blacklight.  We still laugh about it to this day.

The Bee Factory was that type of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. -Ryan

Vancouver: Chinese Tour – Part 3 (Thomas)

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This is Part 3 in a series about my recent tour in Canada.  Click the links if you’d like to catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 of the series.

We got to know Thomas, our tour guide, quite well during the trip.  A slightly chubby 61 year old Chinese man with a warm and welcoming smile, he was really nice and well informed about almost any question you could ask him, including things that had absolutely nothing to do with the tour at all.  Any time there was anything of interest, he would use the bus PA to explain in detail, often in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English.

This was amazing to me, although he wasn’t completely perfect at it.  He once answered our bohemian group’s question (we were the only ones who would ask them) about rocks by telling us that we were looking at “sentimental rocks.”  We were pretty sure that was supposed to be sedimentary, but as he talked about this for 10 minutes, no one in our group had the heart to correct him.  Plus, the idea of rocks pining for the excitement of the last ice age was a thought that I enjoyed.

On occasion he would say things that didn’t quite make sense, or just couldn’t be true, but his information almost always proved to be spot on.  I suspect that he learned most of what he knew by reading the little placards they place throughout sightseeing areas.  I read a few of them and realized that he had told us all the same thing a few minutes before.

Occasionally, I would go to the front and talk with him for a few minutes.  When he wasn’t doing something else, he would often nap in the front row.  As he napped, he’d hold the little PA microphone just under his chin and against his chest.  He might have done that to keep people from trying to talk to him, as if he were just about to speak.  But I suspect that it was more likely that the mic was like holding a security blanket or teddy bear, and that gave him comfort.  At least that’s what his restful smile seemed to indicate.

He often talked about the Chinese people in Vancouver and their effects on the city and its real estate prices.  He actually didn’t seem to like Chinese people all that much.  He told me proudly early on that he was from Hong Kong.  When I asked him if people from Hong Kong didn’t like to say they were Chinese, he scrunched his nose, frowned, and said, “No, we are from Hong Kong.”

He would also tell the Bohemians little pieces of inside information, like what gift shops were a massive waste of money, from time to time.  And, he was less rigid about giving us mean looks if we were late to the bus.  We were usually late to the bus.  We were kind of the teacher’s pets.

Vancouver: Chinese Tour – Part 2 (Cast List)

bus headerThis is Part 2 of a continuing series.  If you’d like, you can catch up and read Part 1.

During the course of the tour, I only actually got to know 3 other people’s names: Thomas, our tour guide; and Sherman and Yale (more about them later).  Most other people spoke very limited English, and I had to give them nicknames to identify them.  I didn’t do this to be mean, but mainly to keep them straight in my head.

Sitting across the aisle from me was Golf Shoes.  Knowing that she would be doing some hiking in the Rockies, she must have decided that wearing golf shoes the entire time would provide her the best traction for mountain climbing adventures.  This meant that almost everywhere she went her shoes made a click-clack noise on the sidewalk.  I never did see her walking through any open fields.

Further up the aisle were Fred and Ethel.  They were both well advanced in years, but quite peppy and adventurous.  Ethel never talked much or even acknowledged me, but was a constant source of conversation as we tried to figure out whether her jet-black hair was a wig.  It turned out that it was, although I’m not going to tell how we found that out.

Fred found me to be far more interesting than the scenery.  Almost any time I looked his direction, he was looking at me.  This didn’t bother me, actually.  I was often observing him.  He was a very cute old man and a smile was permanently etched on his face.  Every day, he looked ready to wade into the river for some fly-fishing, with his khaki fisherman’s vest and Gilligan hat.  I tried to ask him once if he wanted to fish, but he thought I was asking if he liked sushi or something.

Finally, there was Angry Asian Guy.  We didn’t interact much, except for the times when he’d throw a disapproving look in my direction.  I wasn’t quite sure what I had done to upset him.  It could have been for being the only white guy on the tour, or maybe he wasn’t getting enough dietary fiber, but I can’t really speculate.

There was one time that AAG did talk to me.  I had a camera sling bag with a small collapsible tripod lashed to the side.  It wasn’t very bulky or cumbersome, but I did have to be careful when moving through the aisle.  On the second day, as I entered the bus he loudly said “Be careful, your weapon!” as I passed.  I hadn’t come even close to hitting him with it, but my fleshly side thought about being less careful in the future.

There were others on the bus, but they took more minor roles in the events of the week.

Vancouver: Chinese Tour -Part 1

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As I write this, I’m in Vancouver, Canada on a much needed 12 day vacation.  We just ended a Chinese group tour of some of the national parks.  It was incredibly beautiful, with spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains, culturally interesting, and stuffed full of amusing experiences with Chinese people.  If you have never experienced something like this, these are some of my experiences and what you might expect.

But before I get deep into my account, let me be clear about a couple of things.  Although my naturally sarcastic brain found many things to keep myself amused (some outright ridiculous, some simply culturally funny), that does not mean that I didn’t have anything less than a wonderful time.

The tour guide was an amazing man who did a great job, and said everything in both Chinese and English only for my benefit, since I was the only non-Chinese speaker there.  The people were mostly very friendly and respectful, and this type of group is a hidden travel secret to visit many places without having to drive yourself, and paying less money than you would almost any other way.

Having said that disclaimer, here’s what happened:

We met at the bus at 8 AM.  On vacation, one would expect to get to sleep in a little bit, but the 8 o’clock time was actually our latest of the whole trip.  We got on board a standard tour bus, the kind with areas to stow your carry-ons above your seat and the little fold down foot rest.  There were two more stops for others to be picked up as well.

By the time we were ready to go, the bus was full of excited and chatty Chinese people…well, except for the seats directly around the two of us.  Those sat empty as a sort of buffer zone from the white guy, apparently.  I wasn’t really offended.  This meant more space for me.

Our collective DMZ was short lived though, because the tour guide quickly announced that we had been given assigned seats.  These would change each day according to who had made him the happiest the day before (or something like that), and we would need to move to those seats after the first rest stop.

Yes, on vacation…assigned seats.  I had returned to Mrs. Zimmerman’s second grade classroom.  I was sure there would be homework later, but I looked forward to some dodgeball during recess.

Actually, it is sort of like your first day of school, or summer camp.  You are anxious about how your teacher/tour guide will act, and you know there will be certain roles each person will play.  Some people you will like, some you won’t.  There will be the popular kids, the nerds, and a group of bohemian iconoclasts who do their own thing.  I was in that group, naturally.  I was after all, the only white guy.

To Be Continued…

Thoughts from Taiwan -part 5

Peichi's AmmaIn Tainan, I met Peichi’s grandmother for the second time.  “Amma” is “grandma” in Taiwanese, which is exclusively spoken in most of southern Taiwan.  It is far different than Mandarin Chinese, sounding a lot like Thai would if it weren’t nasal.  Short staccato sounds punctuate each word.  Peichi and her immediate family of origin speak both languages fluently.  I don’t.  I barely speak some Mandarin, but know only a couple of Taiwanese words.  I have very few occasions to speak it at all.  Amma speaks no English and very little Mandarin.  This means that we cannot communicate at all without someone interpreting.  I often say, “Two people can always communicate if they want to badly enough.”  Amma is a slightly different story.  In some ways it doesn’t seem that she recognizes that I am not developmentally disabled, but just speak a different language.  I’m not saying she isn’t bright.  She is Peichi’s stock.  She must be.  She is just from a world that is much smaller than mine in some ways, and the idea of what happens so far away must be unimaginable to her.

The occasion of our first meeting was at Peichi’s and my engagement party in Taipei.  She came in and sat down at our head table as part of the bride’s family.  She is an adorable old lady.  She is only slightly above four feet tall, if even that much, and she looks exactly like you would picture an Asian “amma” should look like.  Just looking at her makes me want to simultaneously bear-hug her and show her great, gentle reverence.

She plopped down right next to me, with her purse set behind her on the chair, the way some Asian ladies do, both to prevent someone from stealing it and so as to not forget it is there.  It seemed to me at the time, that was probably not quite the most appropriate for the situation, and thought I would endear myself to her by being helpful.  Big mistake.

I patted her on the shoulder, smiled, and reached for her purse to hang it from the trestle on the chair back.  Her eyes grew wide and she reached for it as well, holding it in a death grip.  We played a brief game of tug-of-war as I tried to calm her.  I lost.  The purse was returned to its location.

It was a busy evening, and I was never able to revisit the situation with her.  But somehow I am sure that she was convinced I was trying to steal her, Peichi’s Amma’s purse at my own engagement party.  She must have been thinking that all of the rumors about these Americans must be true.  We are all uncouth charlatans and thieves.

Thoughts from Taiwan -part 3

Shinto TempleIn Tokyo, I got lost at a major Shinto temple at closing time.  Peichi ended up at the exit we were supposed to be at, and I ended up on the opposite side.  It is easier to do than one might think, with surrounding tall trees, and darkness encroaching.  The guards would not let me go back in to find Peichi, and made me wait while they chattered into the walkie-talkie. They finally did give me directions to the other side of the park from outside streets.

By the time that I got the security guard to let me go, it was 20 minutes after closing.  He said that it was a 20 minute walk.  I was worried.  Both Peichi and I knew how to get back to the hostel where we were staying, so I wasn’t worried that one of us would be scared and lost.  But we did have many plans for the rest of the night that did not include 30 minute trips back to our room.  So, I ran.

My legs were already tired from walking all over Tokyo.  My knee had been recovering from some strange pain that I acquired weeks ago, and I was generally exhausted from the trip.  I ran anyway, not wanting to worry Peichi, or miss her.  I arrived out of breath, to a generally unhappy wife, but relieved that tragedy had been averted, or so I thought.

As I regained my composure and we began to walk down the stairs into the subway at Harajuku station, I felt a strange clicking in my knee, and Harajuku stationa wonderful explosion of pain with every step.  Walking hurt, climbing stairs was excruciating, but I grinned and bared it.

The next day (the day of our afternoon flight to Taipei) my knee felt the same.  I was beginning to get worried, but I was determined not to let this cause too much disruption to our trip.  I did my best to keep it to myself, although of course Peichi knew.  All of this is important back-story to events in Tainan.

P.S. To alleviate anyone’s fears, while the clicking remains, and there is still some pain, I am confident that I will get over it in time.

Some Videos from Asia

Here are just some of the videos that Peichi and I made in Asia.  We made them mostly for our youth group in Texas.  I hope you enjoy watching even close to as much as we did making them.  Several places, crowds gathered as we made the videos and asked me afterward if I was someone famous.  Of course, I am.

2009 American Religous Identification Survery Analysis

I promised a day ago that I would pour through the ARIS 2008 (Published March, 2009) survey that forms the basis for Jon Meacham’s article in Newsweek, “The End of Christian America.”  I have spent hours looking through the survey, highlighting, commenting, and reading the original article that first lead me to this survey.  It is the cover story for the magazine.  The cover reads, “The Decline and Fall of Christian America.”  I will do my best to summarize the basic findings of the survey and interact with them.

First, while I am not a professional statistician.  I will say that anyone who immediately finds fault in the survey itself has probably not read it.  The survey is quiet airtight.  It asks only open ended questions.  There is no “Do you think Christianity is A-Evil; B-Bad; C-just OK; D-A lie.”  Nothing of the sort.  Further, they did a good job of polling large numbers of people around the country in a random sample, that appears unbiased to any outcome.  In fact, the survey effort seems quite impressive.

Meacham’s article seems quite fair to the outcome of the survey itself, with a couple of areas that were significantly unmentioned, in my eyes.  Meacham did his job, and I am not criticising him at all.  But his article did leave me with some impressions that analysing the survey modified in some ways.

First of all, the survey was not a 2 part survey taken in 1990 and 2008.  It was a three part survey taken in 1990, 2001, and 2008.  the numbers can be compared between 1990 and 2008, and they should.  But leaving out the middle survey leads to one significant false impression.

When I read the Newsweek article, I was alarmed to the growing crisis of faith our country is now having.  When I read the ARIS survey, I realized that even though the numbers are striking, the real striking change did not take place between 2001 and 2008.  the really big change mostly took place between 1990 and 2001!  In almost every case, the change between the first and second survey is striking, and the change between the second and third is a slowed continuation of that trend.

Take for example, the biggest statistic quote of the article, that the numbers of Christians have decreased from 86.2% in 1990 to 76% in 2008.  That is true, but the 2001 number was 76.6%.  This means that in the 11 years of the first survey, the number of Christians decreased 9.6% in America.  That is .87% a year.  Between 2001 and 2008, the number decreased .7%.  That is a decrease of .1% per year.  This means that the Christian slide has been decreasing as of late, not rapidly increasing.  The increase in those with “no religion” also has followed a similar pattern.

Of course, this doesn’t make the survey good news.  It is bad news…very bad news.  It does mean that this is not a sudden and new trend.

Another thing that is worth noting is that the Christian slide is not across the board.  The article interviews a Baptist leader, and the Baptists have a whole lot to be worried about.  They are in steady decline.  There is no real slowing of the curve between 2001 and 2008 for them.  The “Mainline Christian” group (which includes Methodist, U. Meth, AME, Lutheran, Presbyterian Episcopal/Anglican, U Church of Christ, Reformed, DoC, Moravian, Quaker, and all of the Orthodox groups) have fared even worse, with their numbers declining even more in the 2001-2008 leg than the one before.

But, the “Christian Generic” group (containing those who would only answer that they were “Christian,” “Non Denom Christian,” “Protestant,” “Evangelical,” “Born Again,” and those who said that they were Pentecostal or Charismatic) actually increased in each survey period across the board.  Some of these numbers were striking.  Non Denominational Christians almost tripled between 2001 and 2008.  They increased by almost 6 million adherents in that time period.  that is amazing, compared with all of the other trends.

Those that list no religion have outgrown every other group in every single category, though.  Their geographical and demographic information is very interesting as well.  The Pacific Northwest is no longer the center of irreligion in the US.  That title is now held by the Northeast.  Vermont is particularly noteworthy, where No Religion is now the largest religious group, when catholics and protestants are separated.  They have  a population of 34% who claim to have no religion.

The No Relgion group has the largest disparity of any group between the sexes, as well.  Twenty percent more men than women (60-40) claim this category.  Every other religious group has more women adherents than men (Baptists with the biggest disparity that way at 14%), except for Muslims, Eastern religions, and the off-brand religions (wiener-dog worship, etc) who have more male adherents.

A lot has been said about rapid growth of Islam.  Statistically, it appears to be largely from immigration, and it is almost solely from unmarried men.

The biggest thing I noticed about the survey though, was how stratified it was according to race.  When race is factored in, black people are holding to their faith largely, and Hispanics are mostly shifting from one Christian group to another.  But Asians, and even more markedly whites, are leaving faith for agnosticism/atheism at huge rates.  While Asians (it must be noted that Asian includes any group from the continent of Asia—something that we need to stop doing—there is no way a Chinese person has that much in common with an Iranian, or Indian) are the largest group with no religion at 27%, the whites without faith doubled between 1990 and 2008, with the vast majority of that growth between the first and second surveys.

The numbers in these surveys are very bleak for Christianity, on the one hand.  It might be good for Christianity on the other, though.  This might force American Christians to re-examine the orthopraxy, one they realize that their orthodoxy doesn’t need to be changed.  Further, the old mainline denominations are rapidly deteriorating, while the more outside the box non-denominational groups are actually growing.  It must be noted that throughout the 90’s and 2000’s the mainlines were characterized by large theological battles over liberalization of theology, while the charismatics and non-denominationals did not have these struggles.  I do not think there is much doubt that these struggles factor in significantly to the trends shown in this survey.  It appears to me that theological and social appeasement has not led to increased adherents, but large exodus to other Christian groups.  –Ryan Shinn

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What is Communication

I had an interesting day at church today.
One of the things that I don’t like as much about being in church ministry is that I go to the same church every single Sunday. Not that I want to be one of those people who church-hop, in any way. But I would occasionally like the freedom to go elsewhere when I have a friend invite me, when I know of a worship team that I am interested in listening to, or when there is a speaker that I want to hear. In reality, I have that freedom more than I think, but I don’t feel quite right leaving my church on a Sunday many times. Continue reading “What is Communication”