Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tell Me Tuesday #2: Black Sludge Balls, Spicy Scribble Rice, and Instant Saucy Meat

Alright! Having just returned from taking photos at the grocery store, it is now time to reveal the options for this week's Tell Me Tuesday!!

This week, I will be stepping out a little further into the unknown. Last week you helped me choose a new flavor of an old favorite: jiaoze. This week, each of the dishes below are things that I haven't tried at all yet. Since I was a little crunched for time, we will be doing frozen food yet again this week (I mean, c'mon what do you expect? I am a single guy living in a foreign land... this is what I eat), but I promise next week we will move to some new frontiers.

Choice #1

Though this picture may it look like this package is full of eggs, in fact I think that they are some form of rice ball. The real question? What is on the inside?

Though this picture a Chinese person, it does absolutely nothing to tell me what these balls are filled with. To me it looks like black grass.

I believe this close up is showing that I can expect the black grass to be more like a black sludge that will ooze out when I eat these.
Therefore, the name of this choice shall be: "Black Sludge Balls"

Choice #2
Now, our second choice is festive looking yellow package with big scribble marks.

As you can see, this is a rice based dish with maybe peppers and chicken in there for good measure. I suspect the writing to the side to actually be Korean, since usually circles and round shapes indicate Korean writing.

The blurry writing says "Kimchi Fried Rice" which confirms my Korean suspicions (not about Koreans in general, just about the writing). Kimchi is pretty much the most popular Korean dish ever, and kinda spicy I believe.

Now I could just call this "Kimchi Fried Rice" but where is the fun in that? So we will call it "Spicy Scribble Rice" instead.

Choice #3
Our final entry for this week's tell me Tuesday comes in a strikingly teal package that almost looks like my graduation gown from high school. Yes, my gown really was that color. I'm sure my mom has a picture to prove it.

The close up reveals that inside this Atlantic High School themed plastic is.... thats right, you guessed it... Mystery Meat! Could be pork spare ribs, could be beef something or other, who knows?! Regardless, it seems to come with rice and a heavy glaze of sauce.

What could make this wonderful saucy meat concoction even better you ask? Why, making it microwavable of course!
So lets call this "Instant Saucy Meat".

I took the photos. I wrote the blog entry. Now its your turn. Decide for me dear readers. Shall I eat some "Black Sludge Balls"? How bout "Spicy Scribble Rice"? Should I get the nuke-able "Instant Saucy Meat"?

Its up to you!

~J.L. Smith

Tell Me Tuesday: And the winner is....

Well the poll is finally closed, after a week of intense voting. In the quest to determine which Jiaoze I should eat this week, "Non-Descript Jiaoze" pulled out to an early lead. It looked like "NDJ" might just completely crush the other Happy Lady competitors, but then "Red Package with a Happy Lady" made a late surge to pull neck and neck with "NDJ". But, alas, it seems too many voters were drawn to the magic mystery of completely non-descript jiaoze and "NDJ" won with a grand total of 6 votes. One must assume that the happy ladies are using their smiles to hide their sorrow and shame at not being picked. Its ok happy ladies, I'm sure someone will eat you.

Since 11 people voted, that means more than half you want me to eat "Non-Descript Jiaoze"!

Having now heard, "The Will of the Readers" I will be sure to eat "NDJ" this week, take pictures, and report back here next Tuesday. In the mean time, you will be able to vote for the next Tell Me Tuesday as soon as I get it posted-- which should be quite soon!

~J.L. Smith

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Weight of Glory

I am from a cynical generation. We don't take very much seriously, and by default we don't trust anything established, ordered, or programmed. Most of us see things that are highly structured as things that aren't personal, and therefore not genuine. Traditional and ceremonial and rigidly-programmed ways of doing Christianity tend to rub us the wrong way, and we generally consider them as the least effective, honest, life-giving, and, again, genuine way of doing things. Now all of this is a sweeping generalization... but that doesn't mean it holds no truth.

Through bible college I have heard lots of talk about just getting to the core of Christianity or ministry or evangelism, and how its all about just loving each other and being for Christ and being salt/light. Exasperated with some recent Church experience or the American Church in general, people will exclaim, “We just need to get rid of all this baggage! We make Christianity this huge complicated thing, and the Christ we show people is stupid bumper stickers, flashy lights, wannabe hipster preachers and corny billboards. We got all these programs for reaching people and programs for being the church and programs for worshipping-- we just need to get rid of all the programs and love God, love each other, and love the world. If we could just be Salt and Light in the world rather than corny-christians we would all be better off!”Now you may or not agree with all of that, but it is nonetheless the atmosphere of my generation's spirituality.

JUST love people.
JUST love God.
JUST be salt and light.

JUST is the catchword of my generation.

Why do I bring this up?

Because I have realized the arrogance of my generation's rally cry.
Because I have realized the haughtiness of the “JUST” version of Christian life.
Because I have realized I can't do it.

I CAN'T do it. Up until now I always thought you just went out and did it. Yeah, simplifying down to being JUST Salt and Light, that was the key. If you made that step, and just DID it, well there you go. But now I feel the crushing weight of it on me. How on earth am I supposed to be salt and light? How am I supposed to be the light--when I am so dark?

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16
“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us...”
– 2 Corinthians 5:20

How do the weight of these words not crush us? How can we say “Oh ya, just be salt and light. That's the ticket. Then you will be living the real effective Christian life!”

Just be salt and light? JUST?

I feel the weight of the glory that I represent falling on my shoulders. It is not my job to represent a crucified pitiful God. It is not my job to be nice. It is not my job to stay out of trouble or spout Christian platitudes. It is not my job to represent a man, a good moral teacher, or even a sacrificial martyr. It is my job to show people the power of the risen resurrected King of the universe. It is my job to represent this beautiful King in heaven, who reigns in glory over creation. It is my job to represent an exalted Prince or Peace whose eyes burn like fire and whose clothes shine like lightning and whose word never fails. It is my job to somehow integrate his Reign and being with my life, thoughts and actions in such a way that I actually have an effect on people. In my life people are supposed to see not Christ the man, but Christ the King. In my life people are supposed to see God reconciling the world to himself and restoring all of creation and healing the world. In my life people are supposed to see Christ in all of His Glory. And the weight of it is crushing. Yeah, I'll just go out and bring the kingdom. I'll just go out and be a blessing. I'll just go out and be salt and light in the world. I'll just do that? How am I supposed to do that?

I can't. I can't. I can't!

I thought before that my foolishness was in trying to do too many things. I thought my vanity was in the idea that I needed to be everywhere solving all the problems, instead of just being exactly where I was stewarding what God has given me. I thought the hard part was simplifying and curbing my desire to do something other than what God placed me to do. I was wrong. I now see that my foolishness was just as equally that I thought it would be easy.

That wasn't the hard part. The hard part is doing it. How can we take it so lightly? How does the weight of His Glory not crush us? I am not enough for this. I can't do it. And thats the key to the whole thing. I can't represent Christ in all of His Glory--and I am not supposed to.

We aren't the ones who represent Christ. It is the Spirit of Christ who dwells in us that is supposed to lead us and guide us and transform us. It isn't up to US, it is up to the Spirit working through us. The beautiful truth of Christian living is that we aren't supposed to be the ones who do it. The working of the Spirit of resurrection in our hearts and minds lets us conform to Christ. We let go of ourselves and Christ sanctifies us and he uses us. I am not enough for this. I can't do it. But Christ in me? He certainly can.

But even that is hard!

How do I become the sort of person that lets him use me? How do I become the sort of person who lets go enough that the Spirit can fill me to the brim, fill me to overflowing, fill me into a channel of grace?
Even the prospect of letting go is daunting. Just the idea of becoming less so that Jesus himself can be the salt and light...that alone will take everything I have.

“He must become greater; I must become less.”-- John 3:30

May we all take these words to heart as we feel the weight of Glory.

~J.L. Smith

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Complexity of Simplicity

Strap yourselves in folks, this could be a long one.

So I had this problem in college. I think it is a pretty common problem. Let's call it Futureitis. It is a pretty serious sickness. You see once you catch the Futureitis bug, you become almost irrevocably and unwaveringly obsessed with...no not Justin Bieber...you guessed it: the future. I had a Plan in college. I have written about "The Plan" before (here and here), so there is no need to rehash old ground, but as good as my plan was... it still had holes. I didn't know where I would go to Seminary, and the longer I was in college the more I questioned where I should teach, if I should work in a church, blah, blah blah.

So like a good little Christian boy, I prayed about it. Some. Mostly I thought about it on my own. And talked to other people about it. We would get together and have Futureitis pow wows. The deal was that I would listen to you obsess over the details of your future and how God was going to pretty much change the world through you (as long as you could figure out the details ahead of time), and then you would listen to me obsess over the future and wonder where God would put me so that I could down to the business of changing the world. It was a good deal, and it worked pretty well.

About halfway through my junior year at FCC I kind of realized I was an idiot. For two and a half years I was at FCC wondering where God was going to put me so that I could start having an impact. And in all that thinking about how God was going to use me later, I completely missed how he wanted to use me right where I was! So for my last year and a half I scrambled to do all the ministry at FCC that I could, jamming what should have been 4 years of conscious present-minded ministry into 18 months.

So I vowed "I will never make that mistake again! Forget the future, let God take care of it, I am going to simply steward the present."

Well it turns out there is more than one way to make the same mistake.

I have done really well about avoiding the Futureitis bug. It is an extremely contagious little spiritual virus, but with discipline and regular hand sanitizer I have stayed away from it. But the whole stewarding the present thing... well I have found a way to mess that up in a whole NEW way!

It's called busyness. Busyness is the death word to effective Christian living.

You see I kind of wrote a story for myself before I came to China. Consciously or unconsciously, I wrote a story for myself about what my time here would be like, who I would be around, how things would go, and the kind of things God would give me to steward. Turns out God had some different ideas. He has given me different things to steward and influence than I thought he would. But me, being the busy-hungry American Christian I am, wasn't quite satisfied with that.

My life here is incredibly simple. But it is a hugely complex task to keep it that way. God has basically given me four areas of relationship to steward, and it takes everything I have to do it well. And the stewardship of those relationships he has not made overly complicated on me. He has simply called me to be as Salty and as Light-bringing an influence as I can. Yet, there is this little voracious part of my soul that acts like the plant from little shop of horrors, and crying out for "More! More! More! Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!" I plague myself with questions, "Why aren't you doing this? Wouldn't this other thing be useful? Why hasn't God given me that to steward?"

Then the Holy Spirit reminds me that all that uneasiness I feel is from my busy hungry soul that is so keen to miss the present. The Holy Spirit reminds me that my busy hungry soul wants me to run myself into the ground chasing something other than the beautiful simple Present that God has actually given me. He says,"Wait. Be patient. Be Salt and Light. Be Simple."

When everything in my culturally conditioned self cries out for busyness, being Simple is an incredibly complex thing.

~J.L. Smith

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tell Me Tuesday #1

Ok, time to get the ball rolling on you guys telling me what to do.

This first week is going to be very simple. Remember the whole point of this is for you all to help me with my everyday decisions. And what is my most common everyday decision? Why, what to have for dinner of course! Now I have a pretty good routine down for where/what I eat for dinner, and one standard choice here is Jiaoze.

Most of you have never heard of jiaoze. Unless you already read this post. But in China they are common as dirt. Luckily, they don't taste like dirt though: they are a traditional Chinese dumpling that is actually quite delicious. The problem I have is that there are SO many different kinds of jiaoze to try! I have already discovered that I like the pork and cabbage filled jiaoze, so that is pretty much all I buy. Well, its time to change that!

So, check out the three kinds of frozen jiaoze below and tell me which one to eat!

Jiaoze # 1
Jiaoze numero uno, is made by what I will call "The Red Package with the Happy Lady" company.

As you can see, it supposedly contains shrimp, egg?, and some other meat.

This is what the inside of the Jiaoze will look like. Theres enough meat packed in there to kind of give it the look of chopped up fish guts. Hopefully it doesn't tast like chopped up fish guts.

Jiaoze #2
This Jiaoze is made by the "Yellow Package with Significantly Smaller Happy Lady" company (her face is smiling right at the very top center).

It apparently has corn and... meat. Could be pork. We'll go with that. So pork and corn! It is like a barbecue in a dumpling! They should put that on the packaging, I think.

Here is the essential inside look at the Jiaoze.

Mmmmmm, corn.

Jiaoze # 3
Last but not least we have Jiaoze number 3.

I am just going to call this the "Non-Descript Jiaoze" option. There is a noticeable lack of happy lady, that might not bode well.

I honestly have no idea what is in this Jiaoze. Apparently this bowl full of mushrooms(?) and... stuff represents what is inside the jiaoze. There is no inside shot, so I guess we just have to trust that it is actually full of food and not just air.

Those are the options! Use the poll to the side and Tell Me What to Eat!

~J.L. Smith

Tell Me Tuesdays!

Are you excited? Are you on the edge of your seat? Are you bristling with so much anticipation that you can hardly contain it?

You should be!

I would like to introduce, dear blog readers, a new weekly event to be held right here on my blog: Tell Me Tuesday!

The idea is pretty simple. There are lots of things to do/eat/explore here in China, but moving to a foreign country has revealed to me that I am somewhat of a home body. I like routine. I like knowing exactly what I am getting and exactly where I am going. Oh sure, I am adventurous enough to eat duck head, scorpion, and Cho-dofu (smelly tofu) when the opportunity arises, but as far as branching out from my routine in the day to day...not so much. I need someone to tell me which flavor of noodle to try next, which snack to try from the corner store, which of the myriad of restaurants to dine in, which sight in Qingdao I should visit.

So that is where you come in! Every week I will use all you wise and thoughtful and ever so smart readers to tell me what to do via a poll, and every Tuesday I will close the voting and find out what "The Will Of The Readers" is. I will then have a week to go out and perform "The Will Of The Readers" and report back every Tuesday. I get some virtual decision making, you all get to see the everyday of a foreign land (plus you get to, you know, tell me what to do) and we all win! :D

So what do you say? Ready to tell me what to do?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Random Photos from the everyday (#1)

My first Starbucks drink with the recently rolled out logo. Of course I wasn't focused on the logo as much as I was that wonderful whipcream!

Apparently this Starbucks still has a stock of cups with the old logo on them.

Most mornings I grab a bottle of water from the corner store. You know, being healthy (ish) and all that. Laoshan is a mountain right here in Qingdao, and the bottle only costs me about 32 cents.

Welcome to my morning office! This Starbucks is a 10 minute walk from my apartment. Since I live in the apartment that micMAC also uses for office space, I sometimes get rather tired of being there. So I work from Starbucks in the mornings in order to get a little bit of thinking space. Internet at Starbucks in China is conveniently free.

Finally, here are the hashbrowns I made in my apartment last week. They were splendidly good, if I do say so myself.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Is that a sink? Or a urinal?

I have been to a lot of summer camps. A LOT. Doing the math in my head right now, it comes out to about 56 individual weeks of summer camp. That means that I have spent a little over a year of my life at camp.

So naturally, I have seen some things. Boy, have I ever seen some things! Something about camp, be it the water, the air, or the high concentration of non-parentally advised kids, just brings out a special kind of crazy in even the most mild mannered Christian youth.

At the camp I went to growing up, we had one dorm for boys and one dorm for girls. That meant that one (relatively large) bathroom had to serve some 50-60 individuals in each dorm. By and large, this wasn’t too much of a hassle--except for those rare occasions when it seemed everyone and their mother needed to use the bathroom at the same time. This was one of those times.

I don’t remember what we had been doing. I don’t remember why ALL of the boys HAD to pee as if their bladders were holding up the hoover dam. Its really not important. What I do remember was that 50 boys in line for 5 stalls leads to a rather uncomfortable wait. I also remember one precocious youth(who we will call, lets say... Austin) who decided waiting in line was a dumb idea. Austin, being the outside-the-box-problem-solver that he is, saw what the rest of us didn’t: there were not 5 stalls, but 10! We had just inconveniently labelled these other 5 stalls as “showers” or some such nonsense. So he walks over, throws aside the curtain and proudly pees into the shower, gloating in his witty rebellion.

Then the dorm dad showed up and saw him in firing position above the shower. So he got a talking to. And he had to clean the shower. And the other showers. And all the stalls. And... pretty much every other square inch of the bathroom.

What the heck does this have to do with China?

I was in McDonalds the other morning, just catching some coffee and some breakfast, as I watched a mother lead her 2 or 3 year old son to the bathroom. Unfortunately for her, the bathroom was locked. Fortunately for her, many bathrooms in China have their washing areas outside the actual bathrooms themselves. So after waiting a couple minutes, she propped her boy up on the counter, unzipped his pants, and had him pee right in the sink.

Similarly, I was walking home the other day and saw a father teaching his 3 year old to pee in the bushes along the walkway.

What’s my point in all these stories? It is simply this: it would be really easy to look at children being taught to pee in the sink or in the bushes,if need be, and say “Ewwww!”, but then I remember Austin--and I remember that the only reason we think that its gross is because we were taught that growing up. Just like they are taught the opposite. It’s not wrong. It’s different.

Maybe Austin was on to something all those years ago. I mean who wants to pee their pants waiting in line?

So here’s to you Austin, may your Chinese-like problem solving skills never die!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Concerning Green Hats

This is my green hat:

Now you may be thinking, "That hat isn't really green. It is more of a blue/green."

No. Its not. It is green in all the ways that count, as you will soon see.

You may also be thinking,"That hat is nothing special. Why is Jeremy showing us a picture of his dumb hat?"

Well, I'll tell you.

I am from Florida. It is not cold in Florida, in case all the post cards of beaches and swimming pools didn't tip you off. So naturally, I didn't have a large supply of cold weather clothes when I moved to Qingdao. This become slightly problematic when winter came and it was fiendishly cold. And windy.

The beanie that I packed wasn't quite cutting it, so I went out and bought this nice warm, fuzzy, green hat. I was quite proud. I touted my green hat around the city, triumphing in my resiliently warm little ears.

Fast forward a month later and I am having a conversation with Flight about what colors mean in China. Red means wealth, vibrancy, and success. White symbolizes purity, but is also used for mourning. Green can mean life and growth. Ok cool.

Me: "So thats why people in China wear red a lot."

Flight: "Yeah"

Me: "Is it ok to wear white if you are not mourning?"

Flight: "Ya, it is ok. Just maybe not all white."

Me: "What about green? Is it popular for clothes?"

Flight: "Uhhh, somewhat. Wearing green is ok."

Me: "Does it mean anything specific? To wear green?"

Flight: "Not really. No meaning. Well, except men wearing green hats."

Me: "What does that mean?"

Flight: "It means the man is sad because there is trouble at home."

Me: "Like his kids are misbehaving?"

Flight: "No.... It means he has problems with his wife. Like maybe the wife is with another man..."

Me: "So it means he is troubled because his wife is sleeping with someone else!"

Flight: "Ya."

I run to my room and get my hat.

Me: "Flight, what color is this hat?!"

Flight (laughing): "Green!"

~J.L. Smith