Monday, September 30, 2019

Marvelous Malaysia - on the Sarawak side

Sunday, September 22, 2019
Since W is teaching in Kuching, Malaysia, I speak at the international church without him. He's doing the same in Kuching this morning. That's pretty unusual for us. Once in a while we speak alone but we are usually a team. Our scripture readers are great - we appreciate the participation of various volunteers, and love this young couple.
I have a long list of things to do after a morning Gathering. After greeting, eating, and visiting, I'm off to a new "office." I have to get some things out of the way before heading home to normal distractions.

With #Nara staff permission and their hurried swipe at an already-clean table, I'm seated in a room by myself. It's a quiet spot off the kitchen and parking lot. After browsing the menu and placing an order, I work for an hour. The staff and managers keep coming over to assure themselves that I'm okay. It's an ideal office away from the office. And the food is good. The teh poci (pot of tea) hits the spot.
Done! I walk home, start to pack up for Malaysia, and clear emails. I still don't know what job they have for me in Kuching; I asked 3 weeks ago and haven't gotten a response. We'll see when we get there.

It's a full day of meetings from 7 until 5. Regular Monday, then? I browse beautiful pics by micro-photographer Don Komarechka from Barrie, Ontario (Canada). What amazing work!
When I get home, I check my luggage, make sure that the team meeting agenda is posted, and confirm that the helpers know what to do while I'm gone. Head on the pillow. And 8 hrs of sleep. Yay.

I have to wait for the yardman to show up at 7am. I unlock the gate and get back to work. I'm up to my elbows in flour paste, slathering the wire armatures from previous Community Dinners with sticky newspaper strips. I do some repairs on the existing ones. By the time I finish a dozen, I'm on a roll. "Please don't touch them!" I warn the helper, who normally mops the porch when she arrives. The goopy newspapers are fragile and some of the shapes are quite complex.

Before I know it, the alarm rings. It's time to open my small suitcase one more time and throw in 2 pairs of shoes. ("But your suitcase is so empty! say the helpers).

Not so for others at the airport. It always surprises me who hauls what, when every bag has to be paid for. Check-in is often amusing - and slow.
We put the suitcase and a carry-on into the back of the car and head to the office. Eric is speaking Sunday, so he does a preview at our team meeting. His talk is wonderful! I was looking forward to hearing him speak at BIC. With an unexpected trip this weekend, I'm glad to hear him in advance. Excellent.
With luggage in the car, the driver takes me straight to the airport. The flight allows only a 1.5 hr connection in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). From Bandung, it takes off over an hour late. We get loaded in time; they're fiddling with fuel, cleanup, baggage, or maybe it was a delay due to military touch-and-goes (they have priority at this shared passenger and military airport.) So we sit.

"Don't worry, we'll get you to your connection on time," says the flight attendant. (Way to get me to relax. I sleep and read.)

But as I exit the gate, an agent holds a sign: To Kuching, this way. That's me. And the news is: "Go see the transfer desk." So I do.

The bad news? "We don't want to hold the plane, so we'll pay your dinner, hotel, and breakfast in the airport. You're not leaving until 8:45 tomorrow." I have to pretend I'm on holiday, not delayed by Malindo Air. I walk laps around the airport, eat supper, and read until late. Vacation, remember?

I'm up by 4 but read a novel, eat breakfast, and watch the BBC news. I start thinking: don't I need to go through immigration? "No need. No need," said the help desk. But what if I land on Sarawak (formerly Borneo, where I have to go through a second immigration) and I'm not yet legally in Malaysia?

"No worries. second immigration is at Kuching." I'm not so sure. I wake up an attendant snoozing at the locker room in the terminal. I leave my bag in the locker.

"No worries, your flight leaves from here, not another place," said the help desk. Why should I go through security twice?

I have an hour and a half left and decide to make sure about immigration.  I wait to get to the front of the immigration line. I keep my hand on my passport as I talk to the officer. Luckily, Malaysians mostly speak good English, in addition to 2-5 other languages.

He says, "Oh Kuching. You need domestic immigration. This is not the right one. Go to the other side. First, you must take the train, go down the escalator, and around the bottom ... (blah blah)..." so I do.

Before handing off my passport, I once again say, "May I ask a question before I go through? This is the immigration counter for Kuching?" Yes it is. The officers are very polite. And the flight leaves from this terminal, not the first one, as I was assured.

Oh oh. My luggage is still in the other terminal. "I'll be back. See you soon." I put my passport and boarding pass back in my purse and hop the train back to the first terminal to retrieve my luggage. I get back on the train, guzzling my big bottle of water. I go through domestic immigration for real. But I forget about my full thermos of tea and put it through the scan. No worries - I'm though with a half-hour to spare.

I'm in Kuching by noon, to be met by Nora and W. He's just been to the doc to check on his inflamed throat. He's been speaking through the Indonesian fire haze blowing across the city. The Malaysian government seeded the clouds for rain last week. The downpours clear the air before I get there. The meds help W's throat and we're happily reunited - and get a great lunch, thanks to Nora. She's lined up hosts - oh my.

Thursday, Friday
More food! Every meal, someone takes us out to the most delicious places. "You're getting the best of Kuching," says one of our hosts when he finds out where we've been eating. W warned me about this the last time he came back from Kuching: "The food is amazing." Yes it is.
In the old district, hosted by a young couple, we stroll past a shop where people are hand-forming aluminum sheets into cake pans. There's a big mural outside to spotlight their work.
We eat a few versions of laksa, the noodle specialty. I love it. What's not to love about a country where you eat noodles for breakfast?!
W teaches in the evenings so we do a bit of shopping and wandering during the day. Though the city is small (700,000), the retail variety is large. I find several things we don't have in Bandung - and soon the "extra luggage capacity" is full.
 Kuching is the word for "cat" so there are cat posters, cat statues, and cat topiaries. Since it's Climate Awareness Day (or whatever it was called,) one of the cats is masked with an air filter.

I spend $4 on artificial flowers and $8 on a 12" vase for the nightstand next to our bed. The simple focal point makes me smile.
Thursday, I find out what I can do here. Would I speak Saturday morning to 80 kindergarten teachers (who teach 600 kids)? I have 40 minutes to present a topic.

I have no focus until Friday night - so much eating! but I keep asking questions until what they want gets clearer in my mind. It takes a few hours Friday night before the talk and the PPT are ready. At 9pm, I send it and a handout sheet be printed. Nora delivers it within minutes. Awesome! W lets me borrow his USB stick to transfer the PPT.

The center of Old Town is quite beautiful, with historical and new buildings alike. A scow buzzes past with 2 garbage-collectors who keep the river litter picked up. The streets are also much cleaner here. And cars drive mostly in their own lane. Amazing.
There are many old hotels and heritage buildings. We eat one day at the foodcourt outside a historical Chinese Opera House.

W's teaching 8:30-12:30, 2-5. He walks me over to the school building first. I speak at 8am for 40 minutes - and stroll back to the flat. More writing.

W's stomach is upset so he comes across the hall at break to lie down for a few minutes. I had plain toast for breakfast, so I'm fine. (I also have a cast-iron stomach most of the time, which helps on travels.) But the food ... oh the delicious food! He's fine at 12:30 when the class breaks for ... another lunch!

W keeps talking about salted egg pumpkin, so our hosts take us to lunch at Sweet Happiness. At each meal, W asks me aloud what my favorite dish is. I keep forgetting to tell him not to ask publicly. How can I choose one taste? His best taste is pumpkin today.

He teaches until 6 to allow his class to take time tomorrow to do their assignments rather than being in the classroom for an extra afternoon.

Two young couples take us out for supper to a food court. Delicious. And obviously bigger appetites ... so the table is groaning with food.

We speak together. Marilyn takes use to her "Cutest-EVER!" shop, full of paper designs and bags. Then we go to lunch. Steamboat - totally yummy. I have one of these pots in my cabinet and am re-inspired to use it.

There are colonial British buildings all around town.
 The bronze crocodile has apparently put his coffee cup down to roar at the river.
Downtown is filled with handcrafts - I find two little traditional handwoven baskets.
 We walk across the bridge toward the state building.
Nora takes us to the tourist shops near the riverfront for the last of our souvenirs - and drops us off for supper with a family who wraps up this week of "best-of-Kuching" eateries. I forget to take pics.

Read more:
*Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live. Deuteronomy 16:20

*Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace.

So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego,  and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”

They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”

He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”

So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.

Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.  Therefore I decree that the people any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”

Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon. Daniel 3:16-30 NIV
*Continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. Colossians 1:23 
Moravian Prayer: Lord, help us to hold steadfast and sure to our faith and hope in your promises of salvation for each of us. Draw us ever nearer to you, so that we may never waver from our promise to follow you. Amen.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Fountains, food, and a great book club

I'm hungry. I'm trying to eat during limited hours to shed some of the extra pounds from sitting in the car and writing at home. Sometimes (like today when I get moving at 5am,) the hours before lunch seem to take forever!

Thursday, September19, 2019
We go to the hills - the hills of our neighborhood, that is. The dogs are happy to be out as we walk through the villages. The small homes have been expanded, more houses added, and it's all grown together into neighborhoods that make up our city. There are many houses for sale and lease.
It's hot out. After 2 hours of chatting and 5 km of steep up-and-down through some new paved trails between houses, my face is flushed. We find a cafe and get a drink to cool off. Oh well, let's just have an early lunch.
The little restaurant courtyards are a sliver of paradise. 

First, I make a few passes through the lecture for Sunday. Before long, the handyman arrives to give an estimate for our roof repair. The end boards that hold the tiles on the roof have begun to lean. A few tiles have already slid off. Termites have created big holes in the third storey eaves. If the landlord lets us renew our lease at a fair price (what we're paying now), we'd gladly front the money for repairs.
 Three years ago (our last lease negotiation), our rent almost doubled, so we can't do that again, even though we like the place and use it all. If the landlord isn't willing to fix the roof (or let us pay toward a reasonable lease), the roofs over the second and the third stories will begin to fall down when rainy season starts. And it will be harder to fix. The tiles are heavy - a few pounds each, which is a hazard for anyone walking nearby. Recently, 2 tiles fell at night, smashing onto the driveway. (See the edge boards leaning away from the house? And the missing tiles? Yikes)
We've been here five years. It's a great house, almost 50 years old. In the tropics, that means it's probably time for structural work. We've repainted and replastered inside, we've sprayed against bugs and stopped up holes. Besides fixing plumbing, upgrading the electrical, and a few other things, we haven't done major renovations. W sends the estimate to the landlord. As long as the rains hold off, we can wait. Those are already almost a month overdue...

Mid-morning, four American interns show up. They're helping with Community Dinners, learning environmental farming and teaching English.They're great young people, part of the global migration of students to learn culture and language, explore new places, and volunteer their skills. We have tea and talk together. Before they leave, Ibu Sumi puts together a box of cookies for them to take along.

After a quick lunch, Dr Hanna and I drive to the Bandung Book Club. If the roads were open, we could go straight but many streets have one-ways for a few blocks as "traffic calming" measures. We often have to take long detours. (Here's an example from earlier in the week: instead of a half-kilometer straight street, we had to turn left onto a 2.3 km circuit to get to the same place.)
The book club members take turns hosting. It was my turn last month. We present a book we love the next month.

So this month, I prepped the discussion for A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. I recommend it for anyone who loves a good story - and commend the fabulous research and writing. Everyone loves the book and interacts with comments. Usually at the end, several people hand in their books for our Little Free Library or for us to pass on - but for this book, no one is willing to give up their copy. Yes, it's that good. I've read it twice and will read it once more before handing my copy to my dad.
There's always wonderful food and the company is warm. What a delight to have good friends who get together over interesting books.
We even continue messaging about the book afterward. Someone looks up the Metropol hotel in Moscow. That's where the main character of the novel lives on house arrest for 32 years. The hotel is still standing, an old, proud historical building right across from the Kremlin.

On the way home, we stop to buy a few mangoes from a sidewalk seller. I'm back in time to check ahead on the weekend and connect several people with upcoming events. A good day.

Oh! I slept so well - from 9pm-5am. That's a rare long stretch of rest.

I start writing the PowerPoint, checking the talk and synchronizing it a few more times. Revisions. Revisions. The hardest part of speaking or writing isn't coming up with ideas or a script. But the edits and fine-tuning that make the thing sing? Those take longest and the most energy and focus.

W's mom is having hip surgery today in Canada: she fell and broke her hip last week. Her kids and grandkids are praying together that all goes well. Our daughter had both hips replaced due to arthritis, so we understand her pain will be great - as will be the stresses on the caregivers. Since we're far away, W's sister and her family will express their love to GrandmaK on our behalf.

In the morning, the driver arrives but I don't want to go anywhere yet. He walks the dogs and wants to water the garden. Except that water pressure is so low that he has to wait for hours until the water comes on.
I clear out a tub of miscellaneous water plants on the porch. After scrubbing the little black tub, it gets filled with fresh water and a solar fountain. As long as the sun shines on the surface, the water gurgles happily. As the sun moves around, the shade comes and the whole thing is still.

Lunch is at Alice and Dr. Hanna's. Alice loves cooking but also loves people - so she gets us together.
The food is delicious: Thai-style chicken wings, German mashed potatoes and sauerkraut, Korean kimchi, Medanese cakes ... and more. We finish with mango sticky rice.
We celebrate Kaleb's birthday before I head home at 3.
My meeting doesn't happen so I return to preparing tomorrow's talk for an hour or two. Then I'm off work until the morning.

Read more:
*The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah 29:19
*The Pharisees said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Matthew 9:11
*Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet. Hebrews 12:12-13
Moravian Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, we are comforted and filled with joy and gratitude to know that you came to save all sinners, no matter what our station or situation in life might be. We need only call your name. 
O God, you have assured us that you are with us even when the way is rocky and unknown. Help us not to be afraid, but to lean on your strength and to say with Jacob, “Surely the Lord is in this place.” Amen.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Retreat and refresh

W hits "Click" and my first book is uploaded on Amazon Kindle. "What Made Them Think They Could: Vol 1." Just like that. So glad. He's had to mess with the formatting - I couldn't have figured it out but he can be a serious hacker when needed. It will show up in a few days.

Sunday, September 15, 2019
W and I speak together in the morning At long last, we are in the New Testament, after going through the OT from Beginnings (January); Abraham's family (February); the Promised Land (March); Judges - and Easter (April); Kings and Prophets (May to August) ... and now we're in the rest of the story. Today we talk about the final prophet, John the Baptist, beloved by all monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He's a relative of Jesus and announces his coming.

We head to the shuttle after the Gathering is over - and it's a long drive to Bogor and a staff retreat. We hop off and board the charter bus filled with friends in Bogor and head into the hills.

Oh wow - our bus squeezes through streets that are 1-1.5 lanes wide. There are houses, shops and little carts on each side. Pedestrians criss-cross the streets, motorcycles cut in and out, and buses somehow pass each other. Sometimes the bystanders, sitting within a foot of traffic, point and laugh as we squeeze by. (See the army trucks passing our bus, just missing the mirror?) All done with smiles and casual focus.
We've been included in a getaway with IES Jakarta, a great group of English-speakers who do relief work, work with refugees, and meet weekly. There's time to sing, play games, and just hang out. It's wonderful.
This really happened. When I look at the picture, I can't believe it. A family "car" (motorcycle) carefully negotiates the 2/3 meter (2 feet) of pavement between our bus and the edge of the street. "Hang on, baby!"
 Somehow, it works.
We have a wonderful time with our friends.

Tuesday, we're headed home by noon. W has figured out where to catch the shuttle after we get off the Jakarta charter bus. We take a Grab taxi to the shuttle terminal. Then it's a long trip with detours around traffic at a stand-still on the toll road (the freeway).

People dressed in animal costumes entertain the passengers, running between lanes of cars. Not sure what that's about, but it wouldn't get by any safety standard we know of. We're home by 8pm.

We have a morning meeting before date day. We get a call that one of our parents is unwell, which weighs on our hearts all day.
There was a stunning 6'X3' (2mX1m) painting at the retreat center - every part of the fishes was filled with a batik pattern. I'm still thinking about it. When I get stressed, good art soothes me. (Memory: I put a magazine page with a beautifully decorated room inside the cover of my binder when I had to be in a university course that drained me. Worked like a charm - I'd flip over to the room and sit in it for a while to unwind, then check my mind back to the classroom lecture.)

In town, we look around a bit. We need some groceries. The helper says they're running out of spice packets.
For $1.50 each, we buy some pillows for the BIC hall. The kids have loved sitting on the old stage as they listen and participate. We have movie night and other events where flexible bodies perch on them. We've used the pillows at the Gathering for the past month. It time to bring home all 20 pillows. We've missed the toss pillow, sitting on our deep-seated sofas and chairs, inside the house and on the porch.

Before we go home, we check out some fabrics for pillow slipcovers. What an assortment! Maybe I'll ask friends for their scraps. The pillows aren't very big and it would be easy to sew removable cases.
On another note, I can't figure out how women match their clothing here. There seems to be no color relationship between tops and bottoms, shoes or accessories. It's just "wear what's pretty" all on the same person. Maybe there's a secret in how the patterns go together?

Read more:
*The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:17

*I love you, O Lord, my strength. Psalm 18:1 

*Elijah prayed, “Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” 1 Kings 18:37
*And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best. Philippians 1:9-10
Moravian Prayer: Lord, you are our refuge and our strength—our salvation. May we show our gratitude and our love for you as freely and as sincerely as the one who bathed your feet with her tears.
Lord, sometimes we are distracted by earthly pain or pleasure. We ask that you turn our hearts back to you in love and worship. Help us to study your word with discernment, so that we will know what you would have us do. Amen.