Friday, December 31, 2010

Peek Party Palace

We love partying with Chinese friends. The brand of parties here are so different. There's no pressure to create a lavish display of gourmet food--potato chips will do. You don't have to study up on current events or pop culture in order to have something intelligent to say to your guests--in fact, just speaking Chinese at all is sure to make an instant good impression. And you certainly don't need to stress about how to entertain your friends--just bust out the games of high school youth group yesteryear and watch the good times roll.

We threw a handful of Christmas parties over the past few weeks. Though the house is still a mess from all the feet tramping through (remember, I'm sans house helper these days!), it was a blast. Our Chinese friends are all pretty curious about the American enigma called "Christmas." Is Christmas Santa's birthday? What do Americans do for Christmas?

So we do our best to give them a taste of true American Christmas.

There's a Christmas tree. (I love this ornament my friend Rachel gave me last year. I feel like it exemplifies the cross-cultural life we're attempting to live.)

There's gifts. (This box of chocolates this friend is opening was indeed something I had been given a few days prior. I feel that re-gifting is also an important part of "true American Christmas" that we're obligated to pass along to our friends here.)

There's singing Christmas carols. (In both Chinese & English! Unfortunately, at one of our parties, after I gave a demonstration of how to sing one of the carols in Chinese, a local friend said to me, "You should not sing in Chinese. Sing in English instead." Talk about an immediate confidence deflater!)

There's reading & listening to the story of the first Christmas from Luke 2.

There's Christmas cookies. (Thank you for noticing--that is indeed a Chinese character written on the cookie I made! But don't be too impressed--I think that might be one of five characters I can actually write.)

There's Christmas goodies. (And Christmas calories but who's counting?)

There's Christmas games. (Yes, I know that "Pin the Star on the Christmas Tree" isn't quite part of a "traditional" or "classic" American Christmas, but we all thought it was fun.)

And if you want to spice up the game Spoons, just try playing Chopsticks instead! Same rules, different utensils.

So don't feel sorry for us for being away from family this Christmas. While we certainly agree that there's no place like home for the holidays, being here has its fair share of fun too.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

21st Century Family Christmas

Miles away but still together. Thanks to iChat, we got to have "face-to-face" time with both sides of our families.

Kevin's on Christmas Eve:

That entire slew of people is most certainly Kevin's side of the family. And I'm not even talking cousins or distant relatives. With the addition of 4 babies this year, the Peek family Christmas was anything but quiet. We were so thankful that they took the time to include us via the web.

On Christmas morning, I wanted to make Kevin a special breakfast: homemade monkey bread. I got out of bed at 5:45 am (which is just a crime on Christmas, I'd like to add!) to put the dough in the bread machine so that he could eat at a time somewhat resembling breakfast. In my sleepy stupor, I realized I was out of eggs. Bother! Kitchen 1, Becky 0. There's certainly no where to get an egg that early in the morning, so I went back to bed with my tail between my legs. Kevin later went out in the cold to buy me some eggs but by the time the market opened and the eggs obtained, the monkey bread would have been ready after lunch. So we settled for pumpkin spice cake instead.

Don't let this picture convince you that I have any prowess in the kitchen. After cutting Kevin's monster slice, I put the rest of the cake back in the oven because the middle was still gooey. Then, in classic Becky-style, I forgot about said cake and it proceeded to burn. Bother again! Kitchen 2, Becky 0.

In the background, you can see our Charlie Brown Christmas tree--all 2 meters of it! We still couldn't get the lights on one circuit this year, so our tree is still known as the "Seizure Tree." Fading, flashing, blitzing, want it, our tree does it all at the same time!

This is one of Kev's gifts I bought for him. It may look like a boring fleece to you but in a land where nothing comes in this poor, tall man's size, it's a wardrobe jewel.

No, you will not find any Christmas pictures of me. The reason? My parents bought me a new f1.4 lens for my Rebel, which in non-camera talk means totally-amazing-but-near-impossible-for-anyone-but-me-to-use. So if you were ever disappointed in how many pictures on this blog are NOT of me, prepare yourself for further disappointment.

Later on Christmas night, we spread three time zones to bring the Corbin clan together:

Well, I guess you can't technically say it was Christmas night because actually it was 9 am on Christmas morning in New York where my brother lives and 8 am in Texas where my parents & aunt were. We all made sure that our family mascots--the dachshunds--were also in attendance. I guess they're like dog cousins of something weird like that.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Merry Christmas from us to you!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Reminders of Home

These are some thoughts I had during a layover on the way to Nepal... If you find them fascinating, praise the vast depths of my cultural observation skills. If you find them trite and unentertaining, blame it on boredom and jet lag.


There’s a sinking feeling in your gut when you arrive at a layover airport only to find that your next flight hasn’t even been posted on the board yet because it’s still six hours away. If there’s a choice in the matter of layover location, however, it is in fact possible to assuage that restlessness and boredom inherent to waiting. My top choice is this place—Hong Kong International Terminal—because within it are reminders of all the places I call home.

My most obvious home, my lao jia—America. Nestled among the rows of high priced shops like Prade and Louis Vitton, I found a bookstore. A pretty standard airport installment to keep bored travelers at bay, but this one is different from the one I’ve frequented during the past two years of international life: it has books and magazines I can read. Books and magazines I recognize. Books and magazines in English. For once, I can pass over the coffee table books featuring a pictorial tour of the 56 minority groups of China and the National Geographic global photo shoots (my only choices due to the unfortunate reality of my illiteracy here). In this treasure of a bookstore, I even found a rare jewel in a copy of Runner’s World magazine. So what if it’s the British version whose articles use strange language like jog prams instead of jog strollers and PB (personal best) instead of PR (personal record)? I can easily overlook these bizarre choices in vernacular for the simple, glorious fact that these odd words use letters instead of characters. America—home of the alphabet.

My next Western surprise came at lunchtime when my stomach sent me on a quest to quell its rumbles. And I’m using the word “quest” in the literal sense—this place is a two story expanse of 530 gates where you can easily get lost looking for Starbucks (I would know, I did in fact get lost). But when I finally did happen across it, guess what else I found? Chai latte, the only Starbucks fare that I consider worthy of my money (not that it really matters how much my drink costs because these Hong Kong dollars are still like Monopoly money to me, considering that fact that in my whirlwind of itinerary changes, I forgot to check the exchange rate). While it is true that China boasts thousands of Starbucks stores, my favorite chai latte didn’t make the menu cut at any of them, and I haven’t yet developed an affinity for red bean frappuccino or green tea latte. And what’s more is that I got to drink my hot, spicy goodness from a festive Christmas cup. America—home of lattes & disposable holiday cups.

Then there are reminders of China, the new place that is slowing working its way into my heart as home. Reminders that even though I passed through customs and received yet another exit stamp in my passport, I’m not that far from the mainland. I can still spot quirks that used to be annoying but are now just a part life (and on good culture days, even an endearing part of life): the gentleman that spit up a loogy in the middle of the food court (at least he aimed into a trash can) and another man who decided the 15 person deep line at Starbucks didn’t apply to him and went straight to the front (at least the cashier sent him to the back instead of taking his order). And even though English is widely spoken in Hong Kong & Cantonese is more prominent that my second tongue of Mandarin, I can still overhear familiar, comforting traces of it hear and there. There’s also the safety of knowing that I’ve got two languages that can come to my defense should trouble arise (and I’ve certainly learned my lessons now that trouble most certainly can arise!). China—home of…well, Chinese people and Chinese language.

Finally, there are reminders here of my long-awaited home: heaven. I’ve been reading recently though the Old Testament book of Daniel where King Nebuchadnezzar calls all people, nations, and languages to bow down to him in worship. How much more will it be when God gathers His own from all people, nations, and languages to worship him in spirit & in truth. Just like this airport terminal, heaven will be international. A beautiful blend of colors & shapes, tongues & tribes. Heaven—the home where all things different come together with one common confession: the eternal enjoyment of Jesus Christ.

So while I still have three hours left before my flight, instead of dreading how long this day is stretching on, I think instead I’ll choose to enjoy the busyness & bustle, the faces & places, the eastern & western contained here. I think instead I’ll choose to enjoy the traces of

America—the home I left,

China—the home I love,

and Heaven—the home for which I long.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The End of an Era

Now I know that the majority of Americans do their own grocery shopping, sweep & mop their own floors, prepare their own meals, and maybe even wash their own dishes (f they don't have a dish washer that is). So if I told you that I now do those things too, I wouldn't exactly expect you to fall out of your chair in shock nor offer me any sympathy for manning up (or I suppose woman-ing up is more appropriate?) to the responsibility. But if the reacquisition of said chores meant the departure of a dear friend, I would at least expect a little pity.

Yes, it's true. After 18 months of being my go-to gal on the ins and outs of China life, our dear JJ has left her job of being our house helper. Her family decided to rent a small store front near her house, so she's gone from domestic extraordinaire to denim entrepreneur.

One her last day a few weeks ago, she made us all of our favorite things for lunch: stir-fried eggplant, stir-fried carrot & hot pepper, stir-fried tofu, and the salty version sweet & sour pork (and let me just say it's waaaaaay better than the Side Wok Cafe at the mall).

This is our usual lunch posse, Kevin, JJ, and our tutor Frankie (my spot is next to Kevin on the bench). Gone are the days when we'd eat yummy food and discuss an assortment of random things: her 9 year-old son's recent shenanigans, the cabbage shortage in South Korea, the progress of our adoption, and why in the world Americans feel the need to bathe so often. Returned are the days when peanut butter & jelly sandwiches are so frequent a meal at our house, they deserve their own segment on the food pyramid.


At this point, we're probably not going to hire another house helper. We're trying to cut back our expenses to save for the adoption, but it's hard to eliminate an expense when it's attached to a person and their livelihood. It's not like most people have a deep relationship with cable TV or their credit cards. So her quitting has opened up another opportunity to store away some cash that we'll be able to use to go bring home our boys.

Though she's only a 30 minute bus ride away and I can technically go see her whenever I want, she will be sorely missed at our house. She will not just be missed for the fact that she can make a pile of dishes disappear in a snap and that she mastered all dough-related food items in my recipe collection that were the sticky bane of my housewifely existence (cinnamon rolls, tortillas, crescent rolls, english muffins, bagels--not to mention the oh-so complex Chinese dumpling).

No, it's that she's been here by our side since nearly the beginning. She has been with us through the evolution of our language skills, most likely making extreme effort not to laugh at some of the ridiculous things we've said. She brought Kevin rice mush at the hospital when he got his appendix taken out and watched dumb magic shows on TV with me during his long hospital stay. She not only patiently tolerated Beans' constant companionship in the kitchen, but I think that secretly she actually liked the dog. In fact, she even took Beans home with her while we were out of town for the weekend. She sat by my side at a number of hospital visits, and she is the one person to whom I never have to explain that day. She laughed with us, listened to us, fed us, made our life more sane, helped us be more Chinese. She was part of our family, and it is those things that will be missed more than made beds and laundered clothes.

(Though I'd be lying if I didn't admit to missing those things too...)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

God's Smiling Face

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
~William Cowper

I know I've already shared this picture I took in Nepal. Before it was just a shot of an impressively blue sky and radiant sun. But after what has transpired in our lives the past week, it's an expression of our God's mysterious plans to bring tangible hope to a dark situation. (If you're not sure what exactly I mean by a dark situation, you can read here.) We thought that on December 11 we would be welcoming our biological baby in our family; instead on December 9 we were given the opportunity to welcome two little guys into our family.

Our Afri-kids.

Our sons.

Since they are not legally ours yet, I can't post full pictures or give much information about them. But seeing just a little bit is better than not seeing anything at all, right?

This is our Little Guy. And I do mean little. At his last weigh-in, he was a whopping 6 pounds. Most American babies NEVER weigh that much in their life! Because he's so small, his eyes look especially big. And he's definitely sporting some interesting hair.

This is our chubby guy. We absolutely cannot wait until we get to pinch those ginormously cute cheeks. Kevin is also looking forward to getting him out of the pink cat outfit. Camouflage, trains & dump trucks, super heros, ambiguous alligator-dinosaurs driving race cars...anything but pink cats!

So now we are waiting on our paperwork to be processed through the Ethiopian court system to assign us a court date. Most likely we will fly to Africa in March/April 2011 to meet our boys for the first time and appear in court to legally become their parents. Then we will return home to China, wait 6-8 weeks for more paperwork to be processed until we can again go to them and bring them home to us for good.

We love the fact that though these boys look so incredibly different from us, we can still love them so deeply and consider them as ours. We look forward to our new bedtime routine of pulling up every picture we've received of them and studying each tiny feature. We love how much we're learning about Jesus and his pursuit and adoption of us as his children. Like he told us in John 14:18, Jesus will not leave is as orphans; He will come to us.

We will not leave you as orphans, little babies. We will come to you!

Saturday, December 11, 2010


This is not "supposed" to be what I was doing right now. I wasn't "supposed" to eat turkey with my American "family" here or put up our Christmas tree or sing Christmas carols with our local friends. No, instead I was "supposed" to leave for Thailand in the middle of November in order to give birth there. Today was "supposed" to my due date, the day Kevin & I welcomed this sweet little one into our lives.

But I'm not in Thailand. I ate turkey on Thanksgiving, strung lights through our pathetic little Christmas tree, and sung Ping An Ye (Silent Night) with dear friends on Tuesday. Because our baby died last summer, there is no due date today.

But even though there is no baby in my arms, there is still hope. Even though I'm not doing what I thought I was "supposed" to be doing at this time, God's good plan for our life hasn't changed. Even though the emotions are still strong, even after all this time, and this little one is no more than a thought away, my God's keeping power over my life is stronger and, though I've struggled, I haven't fallen.

During one of my sleepless nights last June after our second miscarriage was confirmed, I wrote this little poem. I wanted to share it to memorialize this little life that never got to join us and to rejoice in the fact that God's kindness and love, though somewhat veiled for a season, is always there for those who cling to Jesus.

I prayed a prayer for you, baby
that the Gracious Giver above
would grant our pleas for a little one,
a manifestation of His love.

I shed a tear for you, baby
when I learned it was finally true.
My longing womb, vacant no more
A special home just for you.

I dreamed a dream of you, baby
The life that we would share.
The stories we'd read, the memories we'd make
You & mama--the happy pair.

I prayed a prayer for you, baby
that God would preserve your life.
Though the doctors said you were just too small,
that something wasn't right.

I shed a tear for you, baby
when your life ended in haste.
Even before it truly began
Was it just a waste?

A waste of love, of hope, of joy
To end like this?
A mother empty, a father grieving
Could this be God's gift?

It is.

God dreams a dream for us, baby
Only His dreams never fail
That the suffering of life, the heartache, the pain
would forge a steadfast trail.

A trail that leads to His throne of grace,
my hope and my peace still.
He welcomes me with compassion true
and comforts me in His will.

A trail that recounts His own suffering
Evidenced by scarred feet and hands.
Now suffering I bear, though through sadness and strain,
so that in His likeness I may stand.

You were a gift from above, baby
in life and in death.
He gives & He takes from His beloved
From our lips, may His name be blessed.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Seven Years NOT in Tibet

I had a phone date with a good friend back at the end of October. When I shared with her my plans to travel to Nepal the next week to attend a language learning workshop, her response was, "International travel? By yourself? Really?" Perhaps a little too confident in my globe-trotting skills (after all, I felt my passport, with all its stamps and visas, was proof enough that I knew what I was doing), I replied, "No problem. What could go wrong?

And this, my blog-reading friends, is a story of just what can go wrong...

The ticket I had decided to purchase back in September I thought was a great deal at nearly $400 cheaper than any other ticket I had found online. It left from a different city from where I live, but I figured I had friends there I could visit and surely I could find a domestic flight that would still keep the final price lower. So I booked it, flew out from our city, had a wonderful few days with a dear friend (full of turkey sandwiches and 10k runs!), and then prepared to head off to my training.

On the day I was supposed to head off to Nepal, I woke up with the usual potpourri of travel emotions: delirium from the early alarm clock, angst from the tight travel schedule ahead, exhilaration over the adventure to come. These are the exact emotions that make Kevin hate travel days; these are the exact emotions that make me love them. So I set off to the airport before the sun had even spread its morning rays through the smog of China, happily informing my cab driver of all my exciting travel details (well, they were exciting enough to me. Not 100% sure he felt the same way!)

Upon arrival at the airport, I took my place in line amidst the Western backpackers strapped into their high-tec trekking gear and the Buddhist monks clad in maroon & mustard robes and wooden prayer bead necklaces, Nike Airs peeking out from under their flowing layers. When I finally reached the front of the line, I proudly announced my destination to the man behind the desk: "Kathmandu! (With an hour layover in Lhasa)." Not impressed by my enthusiasm, he routinely replied, "Where's your Tibetan travel pass?"

And that is when things started to derail.

"Travel pass? For a layover? But I'm not going to Tibet. I'm just going to the airport," I argued in Chinese as I tried to maintain my composure and suppress all the worst case scenarios flying through my mind.

"Doesn't matter. Still need a travel pass. Next in line!"

In my defense, I was aware that the travel pass existed. Knowing that foreign relations with China & Tibet aren't that great, I had researched it before I had left. When my internet searches turned up nothing that said I needed a travel pass for a layover, I just assumed that for transit travelers like me, it wasn't necessary. Well, you know what they say about assumptions...

I spent the next five hours bouncing between the domestic terminal, the international terminal, and airport security, dragging my 20 kilo suitcase behind me and sharing my sob story with anyone who would listen. I even called a backpackers hostel in town to see what was needed to get the elusive travel pass (3 days processing time and the purchase of a Tibetan travel thank you!) The wheels and cogs of my brain were in overload as I was having to negotiate, explain, and navigate the entire situation in a foreign language.

To make matter worse, my cell phone wasn't working. All the cell phones here are pre-paid, and it was on that inconvenient day that I discovered I was out of money on my phone. The machine at the airport which was supposed to enable me to add minutes guessed it...broken! In the end, the kind souls at the international terminal let me use their phone to get a hold of Kevin so he could go add money to my phone.

As a great (and somewhat abnormal) testimony to customer service in China, a good 95% of the people I talked with were helpful. But the answers all came back the same: get a travel pass or re-book a flight that doesn't go through Tibet. It seemed the latter was my only option. So in the end, I had a new ticket booked for the following day with a new itinerary that sent me two hours east to Hong Kong for a six hour layover there, then 5 hours west to Kathmandu with an hour not-allowed-to-get-off-the-plane layover in Bangladesh. The most important thing was that I arrived in the end. A little bit harried and haggled but I made it!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Faces of Nepal

the beauty of man is to be created in the image of god.

jesus said, “let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

(It has to be said that I didn't take the following pictures. A friend of mine attending the same workshop did. But they are too amazing not to be included.)

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Travel Diary

I just got back last week from a two week stay in Nepal. I was attending a workshop about the language method Kevin & I have been using for the past year. While the workshop was certainly helpful, I have to say that the highlight was being in a place as exotic as Nepal. In fact, to my shame, I spent a few too many sessions gazing out the classroom window at blue skies, puffy clouds, and terraced hills like these:

I mean, seriously, is that sky even real?

One of my favorite aspects of traveling abroad is the everyday things that seem so new and interesting to my foreign eye. A window, a bus, a door frame...all so colorful and exotic!

But my favorite thing by far about traveling abroad is the beauty of the people. I love seeing God's creativity expressed through the faces of the world. That's why the majority of my pictures are of people and why my next blog will just be the faces of Nepal. So you'll just have to stay tuned for more Nepal pictures & stories to come, including my travel woes ("Seven Years NOT in Tibet") and some deep thoughts during a six hour layover ("Reminders of Home").

(Best yet is that all these posts have already been written & post-dated so you won't have to worry about my empty promises to be a consistent blogger...)