Sunday, October 19, 2008


Dear Friends, Please accept my sincerest apologies for the lapse in communication over the last week. For you have faithfully read and encouraged my entries, yet I have failed you. But, if you would give me this opportunity to make it up to you, I shall recap everything from the last week. I also pledge to write faithfully until my departure from The People’s Republic of China.

Day 4

After vowing no more noodles for breakfast, I’m eating them one last time with my greens and sweet potatoes…Wait! Those sweet potatoes are really good. They’ve been steamed in their natural state with no added sugar or seasonings. After breakfast, Robert and I decided to assume the role of tourist and go to the library. Yes, the library. We’ve heard so much about the Tian Yi Library. They say if you haven’t seen the Tian Yi Library, you haven’t been to Ningbo… So we didn’t dare miss out on our “I’ve been to Ningbo” badge. Since we didn’t know where it was, we took a taxi. Turns out it was around the corner.

But the taxi ride was soooo good. We must have been in an upscale taxi because it had a touchscreen TV on the back of the passenger seat with tourist categories such as restaurants, sites, activities, etc. So we pressed “activities” and discovered Ningbo had an amusement park! But, a taxi ride in Ningbo is more exciting than any roller coaster could ever be. The Mamba at Worlds of Fun could learn a thing or two from Chinese taxis. I mean, I’ve ridden in taxis in Chicago, NY, Jamaica, almost all of Western Europe—including the Asian side of Turkey, but Chinese taxi rides teach you about the power of prayer. Whew.

Okay, so the library was a tranquil oasis in the middle of the mild urban chaos. Walking up, it’s very unassuming. You see traditional Chinese architecture. But once you go through the doors, you’ve stepped back into the 14th century. It’s filled with ancient books, artifacts, and stones. But even more amazing is the garden that traverses through it. Caves, ponds, rock structures—it’s all there! As the 3:00 sun hit (a photographer’s perfect light—as seen by the glamour shots), all the natural elements became even more vivid. While walking through, we ran into a caged parakeet saying “Ni Hao”. We even got it to say “Hi”. I had never actually met one before that was neat. But, before leaving I took the time to sit by a pond and reflect on the meaning of life and Robert worshiped on the rock—it was Sunday.

At around 5:00, we went back to the hotel for dinner and then caught the bus to the Ningbo Music Hall so we could watch Sunday night’s 7 competitors. Although the music was beautiful, I was knocked out! Tragic! So I came back to the hotel and went straight to bed!

Day 5

Robert’s Competition Day! What a peaceful day. After breakfast, Robert went out and bought a huge bottle of cold water—about a liter. What a luxury. You must not forget that the water here is not drinkable—therefore neither is the ice. And apparently refrigeration isn’t so important. So, we’ve been drinking lukewarm bottled water and some have been drinking hot Sprite and Coke. Yuck! So we were really excited to see big cold water. However, the other day, we had room service come unlock and empty our minibar so we could use it to house water.

Since we had a late breakfast (9:30 AM), we didn’t have much time before we were recruited to go to lunch. Apparently, the volunteers have been told to make sure we all eat to prevent our starvation. So, if lunch is at 11:30, and we’re not seen by 11:33, we receive a phone call from one of the Chinese girls asking us to “come to lunch and eat right away”. No, it’s not a formal meal. It’s a buffet. The competition is taking care of us very well. There are about 20 volunteers ready to assist us at all times. If you walk into the lobby and act like you’re leaving, someone will rush up to you and ask “where you are going”. You say, “shopping”. They ask, “where”?

(Sidebar: I’m still not sure where the quotes go in sentences. I feel like if the quote is a sentence, then it should go after the punctuation. But if it’s a fragment, it should go before the punctuation. Example: “Where are you going?” she said. Example: She said, “home”. Can anyone help me fix this elementary grammar problem?)

Back to the volunteers. They are all college students majoring in English. They are very sweet and warm and truly want to help you go where you’re going and do what you’re doing. After speaking with a couple of them in depth, we realize what a wonderful opportunity they have to practice their English with many native and non-native speakers. I asked one girl if she ever wanted to visit the Australia, England, or Great Britain. She explained that she used to, but now she probably won’t ever go because her parents want her to stay in Ningbo. She also wants to stay so she can take care of them as she is the only child. This is due in part to the Chinese law that only allows one child per family or else you must pay an expensive tax for any subsequent children. This is to curb the population growth which is out of control. Because of this law, many women obtain abortions if their child is a girl because many families want a male child. This also puts a lot of pressure on that only child because he or she has the sole responsibility of taking care of their parents when they’re young. Another girl said that the government does not allow many Chinese to leave the country. She said you must be rich if you want to go. So, some people will never see anything in their lifetime but China. Keeping all of this in mind, we have tried to make their experience with us as meaningful as ours has been with them.

Competition night for Robert! Yay! He is so handsome in his tux! He is first on the program and I’m so nervous for him! He comes out, sings beautifully, and then I exhale. This is the last night of the preliminaries and tonight they will announce those that are going on to the semifinals. After the competition, we wait almost 3 hours for the results. But before the announcements, the competitors must take pictures. And the judges must take pictures. And the competitors must take pictures with the judges. And the judges must give inspirational speeches. Finally, an hour later—the announcement… and Robert didn’t make it. In this blog, I shall be a gracious wife and say, “Everyone was wonderful. It must have been a difficult decision.”

Good night.

Day 6

Good morning. Well, 1 American made it into the competition (Lis) and it was well deserved. But now, the rest of us (our clique) must figure out what to do next. We decide we’re going to stay in Ningbo until Friday. That way, we can enjoy all the city has to offer and hear Lis sing in the semifinals.

That afternoon, Robert invited several singers to come to our room for his school project. He is studying to see if vocal timbre is connected to ethnicity. So basically, is there an African-American sound? Is there a Chinese sound? Is there a Turkish sound? Etc… It was so interesting to hear his 10 volunteers come and sing the same song while listening to their timbre. I can’t wait to read the results from my Dr. Husband.

Later on, we take a trip to the Drum Tower. It’s really not a tower at all, but a huge pedestrian tunnel where you find lots of shops and bargains. Don’t worry. Those of you who’ve written in my blog are taken care of. And well, as for everyone else…

I’m sorry everyone. But, after all of this traditional Chinese food and shopping, about 68% of us are desperate for some meat. So I find the Brazilian steak house and ummm… I don’t think I should tell you what happened there. But, we all slept very well that night.

Sweet Dreams…

Day 7

We’ve been wanting to see some of the other cities, so after breakfast, Robert, Irena, Aundi and I took a 2 hour bus ride to the city of Hangzhou. It’s one of the biggest tourist spots in China. It’s famous for its silk factory, tea factory and lakes. The bus ride was smooth until the last 5 minutes when the roach began crawling up the seat in between us. We would have killed it except we couldn’t find it anymore. Needless to say, I stood for the rest of the ride. When we arrived, we were hustled into a 40 yuan taxi (about $5.88) that should have been no more than 10 yuan. At least we split it 4 ways. Our first stop was the silk factory. But Aundi and I had to use the restroom so badly that we were forced to go while in the factory. Up until now, I had avoided the experience I anticipated forward to the least: the squat toilet. You literally stand up and squat. There’s no stool. And, there’s no toilet paper. And there’s pee on the floor already. So, while Aundi waited, I ran throughout the store begging the salesclerks for tissue. Then it was my turn. Wow. Aim is crucial. I passed the test. Okay. That’s way too much info about my squat toilet experience, but you’ve gotta take the peaceful gardens with the squat toilets. So, the silk factory was much too expensive, so we made our way to a shopping area recommended by the taxi driver. There were floors and floors and halls and halls of stores. It was never ending and ridiculously overwhelming. Eventually, we had to use the restroom again so we walked all the way down the street to the McDonalds in search of a Western toilet. While there, Robert and Irena ordered pies. I was expecting apple and cherry, but they actually had Pineapple and Taro. Hmmm… Speaking of foods, check out the snake on a stick!

After shopping, we made our way to West Lake. What a beautiful area. (You should double click the photos to see them in a larger window.)There were weeping willow trees, pagodas, and boats everywhere. We really didn’t have much time to spare so we negotiated a 20 minute boat ride and Robert and I took romantic pics. When we got off the boat, we took more pictures with the Chinese tourists. Many wanted to pose with “the black ones”. They had never seen a black person in person. Once we took a picture with one group, a queue actually began to form to take pictures with us. At one point, we were a bigger tourist attraction than the water. Everyone was very respectful and it turned out to be fun. This however made us grossly late catching our 5:00 PM bus back to Ningbo. We didn’t actually leave until 6:00 PM.

Back at the Ningbo bus station, we caught a cab to the hotel and then made our way to the Concert Hall to hear Lis sing in the semifinal. As it turns out, we got there just in time with time to spare. Go Lis!

Long day. Good night again. (See, this is why I’m late on the blog. I’m pooped.)

Day 8

Our last day in Ningbo… What did we do? We shopped. Seriously. All day long. Hours and hours and hours of shopping. No time for pictures. Oh wait. Yes there was. We went to a local food store and took pictures of the jerky sea horse and frogs. It’s real. Really, it is. And common. Yep. Not unusual at all. Nope. Let me know if you want me to bring you some back. And don’t forget to sign your name.

After the hours of shopping, we had dinner at Nancy’s Thai Restaurant! It was excellent. Nancy knows she can cook.

Days 9-10

Time to board the bus back to Shanghai. I didn’t take the time to adequately choose a hotel before we left so our plan was to ride back to airport with everyone, spend some money to get on its wireless network and search for a hotel, and catch a 140 yuan ($20) taxi to the hotel. But, the volunteers offered to drive us to the center of the city and help us find a hotel. This was the longest day ever. We ran all of their errands with them and saw a great deal of Shanghai before finally being dropped off at our 3 star hotel in a 2 star location. The pillows were mildewy, the batteries required to open the door were hanging out of the door, the bathroom was full of rust, the whole room stank, and it was all around scary. Leslye, you would have had a fit. Pas, you wouldn't have been there more than 2 minute 45 seconds. But because it was so late, we stayed the night and planned to check out in the morning. In the morning we skipped the showers (I think we were cleaner without them) and decided to check out breakfast. But even it looked like warmed 3 day old leftovers. So, we discerned that God was calling us to a fast. We found a great hotel in an area called the Bund. It overlooks water. But, it was kind of like staying in Corporate Woods in Overland Park—great rooms, but nowhere to go. We would have had to take a taxi everywhere. We were so secluded and nothing was in walking distance. So we moved one more time to a hotel not quite as nice as the former, but in a fabulous location—like the Country Club plaza mixed with a little Westport. Shanghai is beautiful by the way. I need to take some photos… They call it the Paris of the East and I concur. There’s an area similar to the Champs Elysees in Paris except it’s lined with historic mansions of the city’s wealthiest. We didn’t get settled into our 3rd and last hotel until about 4:00 PM and we were starving. We went out and walked a block north to Nanjing Lu—the pedestrian street. There we found every shop and restaurant we could want. Our plan for the evening was to go see the Chinese acrobats, but on our way, we were told it was a 2 hour commute. So we looked up another acrobatic theatre close to our hotel. As we rushed to the ticket counter (10 minutes late) we were told that tonight’s show was in a different location across town. Sooooooo… we went home. And I thought to myself, “What a perfect opportunity to repent and catch up on my blog…

Good night!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Escape from the Hotel

Day 2

So we’ve finally overcome our jet lag and we’re ready to venture out into this great city of Ningbo. But first, we must eat breakfast. This morning, Robert and I went back to the appointed hotel restaurant for our “western” breakfast. We had a chance to meet more competitors—Janet from Canada and Peter Robert Simon Maximillion Charlesworth-Kelly from Ireland. (That’s his legal name. Isn’t it grand?) Breakfast was pretty tame—or at least what I chose was tame. I had corn on the cob, noodles, melon, and pound cake. (Don’t worry Uncle Ed, it didn’t even come close to yours.) Today, Robert had an appointment to meet his accompanist, so he left breakfast early, got on the competition bus for a short run through.

While he was gone, Aundi and I decided to take the 45 minutes we had before lunch and explore the surrounding neighborhood. Finally! It felt so good to leave the hotel and see something else! We decided to take the hotel business card with us just in case we got lost and needed help getting back home. Now, we were told people would stare at us, but I had no idea it would be as dramatic as it was. With over 5 million people in the city of Ningbo, almost no one has ever seen an African American in person. As we walked the streets, many people would stop dead in their tracks and stare. Several drivers, bike riders, and pedestrians almost caused accidents as we walked by. It was like something from a movie. We took the opportunity to smile and wave at those who were most enamored. That always triggered a smile and laugh in return. However, we were able to get a candid picture of some school joyful children being escorted down the street. On our way back to the hotel, we observed some typical apartments—representing inhabitants of all economic backgrounds.

Later on this evening, all the competitors had to draw lots to determine their order in the competition. I thought they were going to go into a plain room and draw numbers out of a hat. But no! It was a big deal. They bussed us all over to the Ningbo Concert Hall. On the way there, there were several signs and posters advertising the competition. You know the Chinese models that were always seen during the Olympic medal ceremonies? Well, 6 of them were at the Hall escorting the singers to the stage. Once there, they would walk up to the rotating table, pick a scarf, unwrap it in front of the crowd and facilitators, and reveal their number. Robert was 43 of 47. Thank you Jesus. This means he’s going on the last day, in the last group. He won’t sing until Monday! Woohoo! Afterwards, all the competitors took paparazzi pics. Can you find Robert? I also took pics of our clique (that’s for you Tamara): members of the American, Canadian, Irish, Hungarian, and Slovenian contingent.
After the drawing ceremony, the relatives and friends were separated from the competitors and taken back to the hotel while everyone else went to the opening ceremony. There they enjoyed several traditional Chinese opera performances and lots of food. Robert had chicken feet and octopus. I hear it was great… I went back to the hotel and had dinner with a mother from Thailand. The competitors came back a few hours later and we all went to bed.

Day 3

Breakfast again. Okay. I don’t think I can eat any more noodles. They’re cooked in heavy grease…a little too much for breakfast. When I get back home, it will be a long time before I order lo mein again…

Time to hit the city! Today, we decided to visit Tian Yi square. It’s the main square of Ningbo—and resembles a suburban version of Times Square in NY. There were lots of very expensive shops. We passed and decided to find a place to eat lunch and after passing up KFC, Outback Steakhouse, and a couple other chains, we settled on a place called Coffee CafĂ©, or something like that. It won out because it looked the most authentically Chinese. It was the longest ordering experience of my life. Robert ordered rice and fried fish. I ordered rice with corn and fish. Probably won’t go back there again. We should’ve stopped at the street wok near our hotel. It smelled so good… Mmmm…

So Joy, no we have not gone to any underground churches or sung in front of the liquor stores! Although Christianity is legal in China, it is still tightly controlled by the government. But because of the tight reigns, many still choose to meet underground and in home churches which are considered illegal. Those are the ones that are persecuted. Even so, non-Chinese visitors can set up fellowships in hotels and public places for Bible study and service. But, you cannot join in if you possess a Chinese passport. I haven’t seen any Buddhist temples yet, but I have seen 2 gorgeous Catholic churches. One could even be seen outside the restaurant from the middle of the square.

After walking around a little bit more, we decided it was time grab a taxi and get back to the hotel. But, we, being as smart as we are, chose to leave during rush hour… big mistake. We flagged down taxi cars for about30 minutes, but no one stopped. We were finally able to get a taxi truck to stop. 4 of us squeezed in like sardines and made our way back to the hotel. The driver laughed at us the whole time. Now it’s time for the first night of competition at the Concert Hall. (Sorry! No pics allowed!) It was filled with local residents and national media. The international panel of judges processed to their seats with polite applause. Then Group 1 was up! All 7 singers gave 3 selections. Whew! What an evening… Then back to the hotel… 3 more days until Robert sings…

Good night!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ni Hao! (Hello!)

This first blog entry is dedicated to my dear friends at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church who inspired me to write this blog by saying, "If you write it, they will come."

We’re finally here in the People’s Republic of China in the city of Ningbo! It’s been a long journey, but we’ve made it halfway around the world.

You realize when you travel to Shanghai on a Tuesday morning that almost no one is traveling for business. Our American Airlines flight was full of professional looking Chinese and a few American passengers. Thankfully, our flight was uneventful, but even if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have noticed. After pulling an all-nighter, Robert and I were more than happy to catch a few zzzzs on the plane. But that didn’t keep us from watching a few in-flight movies on our 14 ½ hour flight from Chicago to Shanghai. I watched Sex and the City (fell asleep at all the good parts), Swing Vote, Baby Mama (I know, I know), and Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (they cut it off about halfway through because we were about to land.) During our flight, we had some beautiful views—especially as we flew over the snow capped plains of Siberia—breathtakingly gorgeous. It was a clear picture of God's majesty.

Most of you know, I’m a huge fan of airplane food. This time it was just okay. We had our standard chicken or beef option. Then we had a salami sandwich—yuck! (Had to tap into my supply of almonds and raisins.) We wrapped up our meals with a pizza or Chinese noodle option. Robert had the pizza. I inhaled the noodles.

After landing, it took us about 30 minutes to make it through customs. We then met up with our party and met 2 of the other 3 American singers (Aundi and Lis) as well as Il Hun, a Korean singer living in Munich. While we waited on some other singers to arrive, our escorts took us to the food court to get something to eat. Here’s my confession: our first meals in the great land of China were…KFC, and Pizza Hut!!! I’m so ashamed!!!

About an hour later, we boarded our bus to take our 3 hour ride south of Shanghai to the city of Ningbo--kind of like Omaha. By the time we reached our hotel, we had been traveling for almost 24 hours and were quite pooped. Unfortunately, it was only about 6:30 PM in China (13 hours ahead of Kansas City) and we had to stay up so we could get our bodies on schedule. So, we checked in and went to dinner in the dining room. Dinner was buffet style with an assortment of items to try. Attention Newsome family: they had cushaw! It was served cold and in cubes. It's the stuff that looks like sweet potatoes. I loved it! We were also informed that we would never be offered a cold drink with our meals because the Chinese believe your food digests better with warm drinks. So we had hot water and tea.

After dinner, we went to the room and unpacked. One really cool gadget in the room is what I refer to as the motherboard—it controls everything. It’s a little table in the middle of the bed that controls every light in the room as well as the television. It even has a button that turns on a “Do Not Disturb” light outside the room. It was so convenient! After watching a little CCTV, the English Chinese news station (no news of the debate—can someone give us a summary?), we basically went to sleep—in our two single beds…
I'll send Day 2 later on today.
Love you all!
P.S. Robert says hi!