The Tiger Park in Harbin, China

I gotta warn you, this next story goes down as one of the more disturbing moments of my life.

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My lovely wife, Jenn, spent two years teaching in Harbin, China which is in the far northeast corner of China. It’s home to frigid winters, beautiful Russian architecture, and the Tiger Park.  At the tiger park, you pay an entrance fee which gets you on a van or caged car for a ride through the park to see the hundreds of tigers. Or, you can pay more money and buy a variety of animals to feed the tigers.  I don’t remember the exact prices, but for a small fee you can feed the tigers a pheasant.  Or for a little larger fee you can feed them a goat. Or for a bigger fee you can even feed them a cow.  These animals are alive when they come out of the truck and dead seconds later.  It’s actually quite sad to watch.  A pick up truck slowly drives into the center of the field where a dozen or so tigers are hanging out.  The back of the truck lifts up and dumps the live goat onto the field. That moment where the tigers surround the truck and wait for their lunch is extremely sad and disturbing. Then, within seconds, they pounce on the live goat and fight over it until one of the tigers wins the battle and runs off with its prize.  Everyone in the van is either screaming, cheering, or crying.  It was at that moment where i noticed that Jenn was uncontrollably weeping. We were only dating at the time so i actually didn’t know her all that well.  I did find the grotesque devouring of an innocent animal for human entertainment quite disgusting, but i couldn’t help but laugh at Jenn’s sobs.  We shot some photos and recorded a video of the goat execution (which i will not show you).

Of all the things i saw and experienced in China, this was one that will stick with me for a lifetime.  At the time, i thought this was a normal thing to pay money for and experience. I think i had been living in China too long.  Now, i can’t imagine being okay with paying to execute an innocent goat and i hate to admit that a couple of years ago i found it entertaining.

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The Stranger Within Our Gates

I know i’ve posted this in the past, but i ran across this image on my computer today and i still love it so much i had to repost it.  I don’t recall the hotel chain that began doing this, but one night while on the road i returned to my room to find this little notecard propped up on my pillow.

This morning, as i read it again, i’m struck with the thought that i hope each visitor to our home feels this same way. If you come here to rest, Jenn and i hope you leave feeling rejuvenated and refueled. If you stay with us as you travel for business, our hope is that the business you’ve come to do would prosper and that you would be blessed with new ideas, new creativity, and new favor among those you work with.

Without further ado, here it is:

“The Stranger Within Our Gates”

Because this hotel is a human institution to serve people,
and not solely a money making organization,
we hope that God will grant you peace and rest
while you are under our roof.

May this room and hotel be your “second” home.
May those you love be near you in thoughts and dreams.
Even though we may not get to know you,
we hope that you will be comfortable and happy
as if you were in your own house.

May the business that brought you our way prosper.
May every call you make and every message you receive add to
your joy. When you leave, may your journey be safe.

We are all travelers.
From “birth til death” we travel between eternities.
May these days be pleasant for you, profitable for society,
helpful for those you meet, and a joy to those
who know and love you best.

Click for the full image

Click for the full image

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The Difference Laos Makes

This is an iconic building in the center of Vientiane, Laos.

This is an iconic building in the center of Vientiane, Laos.

On my flight from Beijing to Vientiane, Laos i made sure to watch Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” episode on Laos. I wanted to at least gather some semblance of expectation for this trip.  Laos was a mysterious place. I remember a few years prior i was in a cross-cultural training class just days before moving to China and one person in my group was moving to Laos.  I have to confess that up until that point i had never heard of this country.  Less than a year later i found myself on an airplane headed for this land of mystery.  As we made our final approach to the airport i leaned over and looked out the window. As far as i could see were dirt roads and farmland. I wondered if we would be landing on a paved runway. As we got closer i didn’t see cars and buildings, but rather dirt and chickens pecking at the ground.  At this point, i was certain we would be landing on a dirt strip.  But sure enough, at the last moment before touchdown, the dirt turned to pavement and we landed on pavement (full of deep potholes that made for a rough landing, but still pavement nonetheless).

There wasn’t a jet bridge that takes you from the airplane door to the terminal. There was a staircase that takes you down to the runway where you walk inside a small room to collect bags and go through immigration.  It was tiny. And i was the only American.  I remember walking down those stairs and stepping onto the runway. I turned to look around me to take in this new place. I didn’t see any buildings in the distance, only trees and forest and the dirt ground.  It was a bright sunny day with only a few fluffy clouds in the sky.  As i looked around i distinctly remember an eery feeling coming over my body and mind.  I don’t know how to describe this feeling other than to use the word “dark.”  It just felt dark.  Dark spiritually and dark emotionally.  I had no idea what i was in for.

I had no idea that in the coming days i would meet the most amazing people and experience this new land in ways i never would have imagined.  In many ways, it felt like we went back in time to simpler days. The people walked slower and smiled more. They ate and enjoyed the company of others rather than rushing to the next meeting. “Busy” didn’t seem to be in their vocabulary the way it is in America.  As i walked through the city and sat with strangers who quickly became friends i had to consciously slow my mind down and try to enjoy the moment and be in the moment the way the Lao people are.  They seem so present. They were present in the way we all want to be.

Laos left a massive impression on me and was formative in the way i view people and cultures.  I hope these fond memories and thoughts stay with me forever and i look forward to my next trip.

If ever anyone says, “Do you want to go to Laos?” Say yes!

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The Sweet Nectar of Vietnam

Vietnamese CoffeeOur everyday routine: roll out of bed, find some shorts, find a clean-ish tshirt and stumble down the stairs and find my flip flops near the door. Then walk out through the gated driveway into the street.  I wipe my eyes and squint into the bright morning sunshine and stumble my way directly across the street to the very local cafe. In reality, it appears to be some lady’s house who puts out some chairs in the morning and serves coffee to the neighbors.  It’s always the same thing: a cup of iced Vietnamese coffee which also comes with complimentary tea.  We sit on small plastic chairs and watch the neighbor’s young puppies run around. I’m now wide awake with that first sip of motor oil mixed with sweetened condensed milk. It’s one of the more delicious beverages that can cross your lips at six in the morning.  My friends and i smile at each other. We’re all awake now. And the conversation begins.  And the day begins.

Each day begins like this when i’m in Vietnam. I absolutely love it. Authentic Vietnamese coffee is a unique delicacy that seems to be very difficult to find on American soil, which is part of what i love about it. It makes me eager to get back to Vietnam because i can’t just find it on every corner in America.

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(pictured are my friends, Nate, on the left and, Jeremy, on the right)

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A Pack Mule to Asia

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On a recent trip to Thailand i felt much like a pack mule.  In the days leading up to my trip more and more emails started coming in with requests for me to bring over goods that are not easily accessible to those living in Asia.  I’ve been in their shoes. I get it. When you get a craving for some double fudge brownies then you do whatever it takes it to find it.  Or, when you’ve been sick and can’t shake that head cold then all you can think about is how to get your hands on some Nyquil.  I totally get it and am more than happy to pack my suitcase down with stuff that people need or want.  My two personal favorites were the 3 big packs of tortillas and the big jar of real maple syrup.  It’s a lot cheaper to pack my suitcase with goodies than it is to ask someone to mail it to you, so i’m more than happy to carry over the goods!

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My Very Worst Asian Habit

When you live in Asia, or abroad anywhere, it’s natural that you might pick up a few habits after watching the locals.  There’s nothing wrong with these habits while living in a foreign country, but once you return to your home country it can seem a bit odd that you do this thing or that thing.  The readers who have lived abroad know exactly what i’m talking about and i don’t even need to make a list.  You’ve already thought of 3-4 funny habits that you picked up while living in another country.  But for simple amusement, here are a couple of small habits or tendencies that i picked up while living in China (but none of these are the very worst!) 

  • I tend to drive more aggressively and use the horn more liberally.  
  • I’d often rather eat with chopsticks than a fork.  
  • I don’t typically honor the standard American’s personal space requirements.  
  • I have a hard time standing in lines. 
  • I have a tendency to think that walking long distances (to the store or to a restaurant) is not really a big deal.
  • When I’m alone in my car i think about my next conversation and start translating it into Chinese.  For example, if i’m on my way to order food at a drive-thru, i’ll start planning ahead to know how to make my order in Chinese.  

So there are a few little habits i picked up in China, but again, these are not the worst.  What i mean by the worst, is that my very worst habit is the most embarrassing.  It’s also the one i can’t seem to kick no matter how hard i try.  I will mentally prepare for it in advance, but i still get suckered in to the same ol’ actions every single time.  So what is my very worst Asian habit? 

When the elevator door opens i will always start trying to force my way on before everyone has a chance to get off.  

In China, this is accepted as totally normal.  Everyone’s pushing and shoving and the people who are waiting to get on will force themselves into the elevator while those who need to get off will be shoving their way past those who just got on.  It’s a mess. 

In America, this habit tends to create very awkward moments where i’m always saying, “Oh i’m sorry, after you.” or, “Oops, i didn’t think anyone was in the elevator. I’m sorry.”  

So what was the spark the made me think to write this blog post?  I just spent the last few days living in a hotel and this habit manifested itself almost every single time i used the elevator to go to my room.  

Okay, your turn.  If you’ve lived abroad, what’s the worst habit you’ve picked up?  

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Six Very Crazy Months

While driving from Atlanta to Colorado the other day i had a moment to reflect on the past six months.  For the first time, it finally occurred to me how absolutely insane my life has been.  When you’re in the middle of just living life it’s hard to truly realize how much is actually going on and how much your mind and body are going through. 

From February – July (six months) this is where i’ve been and what i’ve done:

I went to Thailand. 
I got married.
I went to Mexico.
I went to Vietnam. 
I went to Colorado. Twice.
I went to Hong Kong & Beijing.
I packed up our entire apartment.
I drove from Atlanta to Colorado.
I moved to Colorado to start a new chapter of life. 

That’s all in just six months.  

I feel incredibly blessed and overjoyed with all that i’ve been able to experience.  Marriage has been beyond amazing.  Traveling the world always leaves me feeling like i should pinch myself to make sure i’m not dreaming.  I wouldn’t trade any of this.  It’s just a strange feeling when things slow down for a minute and i have time to reflect and i realize just how crazy all this sounds.

I hope for an equally incredible next six months!

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A Long Overdue Update (of sorts)

The other day i said to Jenn (my wife) that i want to start blogging again, and her response was, “i wish you would.”  I wish i would too.  It’s just a matter of what exactly to write about.  I think the days of personal blogs to update people on your life or latest happenings are long over. That’s what Twitter and Instagram are for.  Nobody wants 2-3 paragraphs about how i went swimming, ate some watermelon, took a shower, and went to a party (and that’s on the most exciting of days).  A simple tweet about how i’m sitting in a thunderstorm will suffice, there’s no need to send blog updates on how i’m doing.  The only people on the planet who would care about that are my parents, and that’s because my blog is their homepage on their browser.  

So, all of that to say, i’m going to write a personal update.  Mostly it’s just an exercise to get my fingers moving across the keyboard to see if i can generate some thoughts on what i actually want this blog to be about (i’ll put a few ideas toward the bottom and maybe we’ll have a vote).  

Here’s the update:

Jenn and i just spent about 18 days in Hong Kong and Beijing.  We were a small part of a week of training for college students who are now all over Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Vietnam teaching English for the summer.  Then the rest of our time in Asia was spent hosting two friends who were there to observe what we do in Asia in terms of sending English teachers so that they could be a part of sending more teachers in the future.  To sum up the trip in just a few words would be impossible.  It was fun, yet exhausting.  And as Jenn and i were talking today, we think she got a mild case of West Nile while we were there (she’s over it now).  

Now – back in Atlanta – i’m in our apartment, watching a severe thunderstorm roll through while stealing internet from our neighbor because i had ours cut off while we were in Asia.  Why did i have our internet cut off?  That leads me to the next part of the update…

We’re moving to Fort Collins, CO in just a few days.  We’ve been packing up our house since returning from Asia and will be driving a Uhaul across the country on Tuesday.  My job so graciously invited me to work from our international headquarters, which means a relocation across the country.  Since living in Beijing and now in Atlanta i have worked from home with periodic international travel and to Colorado for meetings.  This wasn’t a “you have to move or else” demand from my work, but a fantastic offer for new opportunities, camaraderie in the office, and great fly fishing.  Jenn is a pre-griever so she’s currently struggling with the idea of leaving Atlanta, but i’m a post-griever so i’m excited to pack and hit the road (i’ll be sad about leaving Atlanta once i get to Colorado).  

And that’s my update. We went to Asia. And now we’re moving to the Rocky Mountains. As you may imagine, life is full, but we are very grateful for this season and have huge expectations for what may lie ahead of us in Colorado.  

Now to some ideas for what to blog about since i’m anti-personal updates. 

Here are some thoughts that come to mind of what i could try to write about on a more consistent basis: 

1. The hilarious stories of the things that make Jenn cry.  I’ve never witnessed someone cry so easily or at the silliest of things.  I’ve joked with her several times about how i’m going to start blogging about all the things she cries about.  I shouldn’t be the only one who gets to enjoy these hilarious moments. 

2. Commentary on the social, political, and other generally interesting things going on in China.  I say commentary because i don’t want to just be a news outlet, but i want to tell you what i think based on my knowledge, observations and experiences in China. 

3. Travel, Tech, Entrepreneurship and other nerdy stuff. 

Lemme know your thoughts. 

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27 Million is Ridiculous

You’re right, what’s the point? … there’s still 27 million slaves in the world … there’s no way we’re going to rescue 27 million slaves … 

But don’t stop there.  This is a must-watch video.  Don’t forget Sarah. Or John. Or Anna.  They aren’t thinking about the 27 million. They are free today because of people like my friends at The Exodus Road

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Marriage Has Begun

I’ve been married for a week, but i already feel like i’m learning so much.  A door to a whole new world seems to have opened up.  Every single day when i put on my ring i’m reminded that this isn’t a cute piece of jewelry, but a lifelong commitment.  Every time i sit on the couch with my wife, i’m reminded that this isn’t just date night, it’s date life.  


After a beautiful wedding and a glorious honeymoon, here are a couple of specific things i’ve learned:


1. Making our home a home is priority #1 for my wife.  


I had the house professionally cleaned before we got back, so now it feels like all we do is organize, organize, organize.  She’s a nonstop busy bee running around the house moving things and rearranging things.  


2. Women do not get ready quickly. 

 

It took me one day on the honeymoon to realize that i can get ready for dinner 100 times faster than my wife.  So this became my new plan: After showering i would put on sweatpants and a t-shirt and turn on a movie.  I would then say, “Let me know when you’re ready to go and i’ll turn off the movie and get ready.”  This worked out great.  When she said she was ready i would get up, get dressed, brush my teeth and do all the other stuff and we’d both be ready to walk out the door at the exact same time.  This prevented me from getting impatient while she did all the girl stuff that they do to get ready.  

 

In conclusion, i’m thinking that i could easily turn this blog into a blog on “husbanding” with the plethora of things i’m learning already.  As my friend, Tyler, says, “Marriage isn’t something to simply be survived … marriage is our most valuable asset and is worthy of endless investment.”  (Download Ty’s free e-book on marriage)

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