God’s Magic Palette

8 05 2018

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Yunnan is well-known for its beauty and the diversity of people and places. We took a trip in May to experience the Dongchuan Redlands, famous for it’s high altitude and abundance of colors, nicknamed “God’s Magic Palette”. Due to unpredictable but high temperatures and lots of rain, the soil has been oxidized over many years, giving the soil and crops a unique red shade. It was a beautiful trip with a reminder of how big our Maker is. This area took us an entire day just to drive around, and we met a number of local people, as well as a 1000-year old tree that gushed wordless music to us in the wind like a waterfall. No wonder the people believe it to be sacred.


Chinglish Rocks.

21 01 2018
Chinglish Rocks

The poster for our music night.

Our team and two musically-gifted friends—Li and Jean—formed an impromptu band named “Chinglish Rocks” (we mainly played Christmas songs). We were invited to play at our friend’s restaurant and brewery and it ended up being a really fun night. Our band even did a few of our own songs.

Chinglish Rocks

From L to R: Li, Kayla, Micah, me, Megan, Jean


The name of our band even inspired me to put together many of the Chinglish pictures I’ve collected over the years into a book named 3-Q: The Never-Complete Guide to Chinglish and It’s Wonderful Influence on China. (Let me know if you’re interested in purchasing .)

Oops, I forgot. #1-5

15 01 2018

Countries have different customs, cultures, and rules. The following are five things that are easy to forget when coming back from China to America:

1. Waste basket or toilet?

Two Toilets

Found at an elementary school.

In China, facilities don’t often supply toilet paper for their patrons (in fact, many countries operate in this same way). And after using your compact tissue packet, you can’t throw it in the toilet–it goes in the waste basket. When I first came to China, no one warned me that the drains can’t handle toilet paper, and my toilet was plugged within a week. So when I come back to America, I have to think twice about where to put the paper. Half the time, it still automatically ends up in the waste basket.

2. Honking and weaving in traffic.

Traffic in Kunming

Light traffic in my city.

It’s a normal part of life in China to hear horns and watch people weave through lanes of cars to “get there” first. Because if you don’t take the initiative, you’ll never arrive. And if you don’t honk to tell someone you’re behind, how will they know? I find that returning back to America makes me second-guess when I should honk and when I shouldn’t . . . or if it’s rude to pull into that empty lane without blinking or not.

3. Commenting and Language.

If we don’t speak the same language, it’s easy to feel like I have freedom to comment about life around me. “Wow, that bag looks heavy,” “Um, yes, that is my back you are touching,” “Do you see what his shirt says in English???” But when you’re in America, everyone can understand English . . . and they understand it well. Sometimes that’s hard to remember.

It’s also difficult to remember that, in America, I can’t speak half in Chinese and half in English.  Often, I find it hard to find the correct ways to tell you how “mafan” (a pain) that was, remember that questions don’t end in “ma”, and that I’m supposed to say “right?”, not “shi bu shi?”

4. How do I get there?

In China:

  • Going to the grocery store and bringing back six bags of groceries? Bike. Fill your backpack, balance four bags on your handlebars, and strap the 10-pack of toilet paper to the back. Carry them up at least three flights of stairs.
  • Going to school or work? Bus on rainy days or bike through bumper-to-bumper buses, cars, construction workers, and thousands of potholes on the way.


    Standing in line for a fast train.

  • Going to travel? Rent a public bike or walk to the subway, ride 40 minutes to the slow train, and take a 8-hour sleeper train to the next province over.
  • Going to play a sport? Bike forty minutes (around 8 km) to the nearest open grass field, play for two hours, then bike another forty minutes back in the dark. Good exercise!
  • Visit a friend down the road? Walk. Visit a few of your shop owner friends along the way.

In America:

  • Going to the grocery store and bringing back six bags of groceries? Take the car. Find the closest parking spot to avoid carrying the groceries too far and bring them inside via the cool, covered garage that attaches to the house.
  • Going to school or work? Thaw the car out for ten minutes while you shovel the driveway, then drive on the highway for fifteen minutes. The car will be warm by the time you arrive . . .
  • Going to travel? Ten-hour road trip coming up! Or jump in your car, park, and hop on a plane.
  • Going to play a sport? If there’s not an open field down the road, drive to one and drive back with the music and air-conditioning blasting.
  • Visit a friend down the road? Just take the car! It’ll take, like, ten minutes to walk.

5. Money.

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At first, money from other countries looks like Monopoly money. Then you use it long enough, and money from America starts to look a bit weird. After a while, there are certain things you can’t remember the normal American prices for.

Um, so how much would that be in RMB?

Why are dollars all the same size and color?

Why does America use so many coins?

Wait a second, did I just give you yi kuai (1 RMB) or a quarter?



Red Riders

8 01 2018


This year, I happened to be on a soccer team with a guy whose family was from Mongolia. This man’s business friend flew in a famous singing/dancing group to Kunming to perform for three days. I went to both the more-relaxed meal (where the Mongols honored the guests with blue scarfs and very strong droughts of alcohol and we talked in Chinese and danced together) as well as the more professional performance, which was amazing but not quite as intriguing.

The story I heard about this group is extremely interesting, though I have since found that what I was told cannot be corroborated for thus far. Therefore, you’ll have to decide for yourself if you think evidence can support the following story:

These people are one of the few remaining “Red Rider” troupes, groups formed by Mao during the Cultural Revolution. The main purpose of the Red Riders was to travel around Mongolia, spreading propaganda through song and dance. Today, the groups have little political significance and most have disbanded, but there are still a few who sing songs of national praise for cultural purposes. This group is one of them.


Two particular features the Red Riders display are their distinctive “horse head fiddles”, or morin khuur, and their ability to “throat sing”. Horses are a huge part of Mongol culture, and, when played together, the fiddles can create an upbeat song not unlike a horse neigh or horse race, or a slow, mournful tune. Throat singing is unique to only a few cultures, where singers use circular breathing to create guttural sounds and whistle-like harmonies at the same time. You can listen to a sample of it here.

People of Kunming: Rebeca

18 12 2017

This is Rebeca. She is from a city in southern China and teaches English to twelve- and thirteen-year-old students. Here is a taste of our conversation together:

“Everyday, I’m a little busy. I have class [from 7am to 5pm], and then I correct some homework [until 7pm]. It’s very routine; afterward, I eat, then I sleep.

“The first most important thing in my life is work. The second most important thing is when I get do fun things, like meeting new friends, making foods I like to eat, and doing sports I like, which is any sport besides running long distances. I like playing ball sports. The third most important thing in my life is my family. Besides myself, my parents are the most important to me, and I hope they can have the best health possible.

“If I could change one thing about my life, I would change my work. But changing it is impossible now. I would not want to be a teacher, I would want to be a policeman . . . When I was young, I thought policemen were heroes and were very cool because they had guns. Even though you can’t have guns in China, I have a dream! I admire policemen because they enforce justice.

“[The worst thing in the world is] age. At my age, I am pressured to marry. My family members will all stress that I need to look for a boyfriend.”

People of Kunming: A Series

13 12 2017

Ever since moving to Kunming, I’ve been hoping to share a little about the lives in this city. Thus begins “People of Kunming.” Each month, I hope to give a snapshot (literally) of the people who have touched our lives: their hopes and dreams, goals, and beliefs. Although this culture is very different from us, we are still connected in the most fundamental ways under the sun. Enjoy!


Wonders of a Chinese Wedding

5 04 2017

One of the most universal events around the world (not surprising, since the God of the universe instituted it), weddings seek to unite two individuals in the presence of their Maker. Yet, throughout time, our cultures influence the styles, traditions, and even the ceremonies into diverse and unique customs. Along with passing the college entrance exam and the birth of a child, marriage ranks very high in the life of a Chinese individual.

I Love You

Here is a list of eight interesting and unique thing you may not know about contemporary Chinese dating and weddings:


1. Finding Your “True Love”

“A man who chases two rabbits catches neither.” –Chinese Proverb

In the current times, being well-educated is an essential part of Chinese culture, stemming from the Cultural Revolution’s push for higher education. Many parents stress the importance of studying and doing well on tests and insist that it leaves little time to entertain the thought of a boyfriend or girlfriend. Yet, immediately after college, family members start asking–and even setting up blind dates (xiang qin 相亲)–for their recent college graduate.


2. Buying the Necessities

“Dig the well before you are thirsty.” –Chinese Proverb

In China, a male that wants to ask for a woman’s hand needs a few things that money can buy. He is generally required to first have bought a house and a car (and possibly pay something like a dowry fee to the female’s family) before he asks for her hand. Additionally, his future family will want to know how much money he earns to make sure that his job is suitable to support the family.


3. Choosing a Lucky Day

“To succeed, consult three old people.” –Chinese Proverb

Fortune Teller

Match makers and fortune tellers predict if a female and male will be compatible. They also decide on a “lucky date” for the ceremony. Photo Source

It’s not only important to find someone suitable, but also to get the blessing of the matchmaker. If the matchmaker does not find the birth dates of the two individuals to be compatible according to the Chinese zodiac, they would be unwise (traditionally) to go forth in the process. Additionally, the fortune teller is needed to select a lucky date for the couple to wed.


4. Hong Bao 红包: Wedding Gifts

“If you want happiness for a month — get married. If you want happiness for a year — inherit a fortune.” –Chinese Proverb


“Hong bao” means “red packet” and is usually filled with a large sum of money, something related to the number 8 being preferable.

Money is an especially coveted concept in China, so not only are Chinese weddings elaborate, but the wedding guests do not usually give gifts like westerners. Instead, they give a “red packet” called hong bao, filled with money. It is important to give enough money and to give the right amount of money at a wedding. For example, giving 800¥ ($116) would be acceptable, as the number 8 signifies prosperity or success; where as 250¥ ($36) would be insulting, given that the numbers represent a “stupid person.” Hong bao are also given on birthdays and during Spring Festival.


5. Importance of Colors

“An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break.” — Chinese Proverb

The color red has always been an important symbol for China, and this is no less true during weddings. In fact, the colors white and black are often used during funerals, so it is usually inappropriate to wear those colors. However, white dresses in China are becoming increasingly popular due to western influence.


6. Making Noise

“To be heard afar, bang your gong on a hilltop.” –Chinese Proverb

Weddings around the world tend to be noisy and joyful. In China, it is common to hear fireworks going off during the day as a sign someone just got married. The purpose of the fireworks is to scare away any monsters or ghosts that would seek to bring bad luck to the newlyweds. Most weddings also hire a middle-aged brass band that will play a slightly-out-of-tune melody in front of the house or the hotel.


7. Seeking Her Han: Before the Wedding

“All things are difficult before they are easy.” –Chinese Proverb

One of the most important parts of a Chinese wedding ceremony actually happens the morning of the wedding. Traditionally, family and friends will gather inside and outside the house, munching on snacks, waiting for the bride to get ready, and anticipating the groom and groomsmen’s arrival. Once everything is ready, the bride waits for the groom on her bed (which is usually covered with a symbolic red comforter), while the groomsmen go through a series of tasks that the bridesmaids have set up, ultimately stalling the groom from entering the bedroom. Some possible tasks the groomsmen might face include biting bread into the letters “LOVE”, doing push ups, “breaking down” the door, singing a song, and finding the bride’s red slippers. If they fail, the have to pay the bridesmaids in hong bao. If they succeed . . . they might still have to pay the bridesmaids in hong bao.


8. Gan Bei! The Party

“With true friends… even water drunk together is sweet enough.” –Chinese Proverb

And finally, the most anticipated part of the whole process–the meal! You may have thought that Chinese weddings were similar to western weddings, where the ceremony and reception holds the highest importance, but actually, the ceremony is much more private and comparatively insignificant compared to eating and celebrating together (unless it is a Christian wedding, where there will usually be a more public ceremony).

The food is served at the home or a hotel, and is generally lavish and plentiful (think whole fish, lobster, crabs, chicken, and a whole host of fruits and vegetable dishes). While guests are eating, the bride and groom will go around to each table, pouring alcoholic drinks and toasting the guests with the words “gan bei!” which means “cheers!” and signifies that the person will drink the whole glass of alcohol. It is also common to see performances by the bride and groom or close friends, and people don’t always dress up in their “Sunday best” for these events as they do in the west.