Since You’ve Been Gone

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November 19, 2014.  It’s been one year, Granma.  One year since you’ve been gone.

One year of Thanksgiving and Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries.  One year of joys and triumphs, of wins and losses.  And in each of these places there has been a Granma-sized hole that we haven’t been able to fill. Not sure that we want to, really.

Since you’ve been gone a lot of things have happened.  I thought maybe you’d like to know.  As you begin your eternity, I realize that in the grand scheme of things it probably doesn’t really matter.  But, I thought maybe you’d like to know anyway.

Sure, this has been the year of Ukraine, Ferguson, ISIS, and Ebola.  But, there have been a lot of good things, too.

Since you’ve been gone, everybody is doing fine.  Dad is in Ethiopia right now, continuing to do what he does best.  Aside from traveling the world training ministry leaders, his favorite place to be is still out in the backyard during the fall season clearing leaves and picking up acorns.  He finally got his grass, Granma!  And Mom got her circular driveway.  He’s pretty excited about that.

Since you’ve been gone, Madelyn Grace got a new swing set, which seems to be more thrilling for her right now than the very soon arrival of a little sister.  She’s about to be upstaged for a little bit.  I think I can relate to the kid.  Aside from her mommy and daddy, her favorite person right now is Grandma Sessoms.  We are a lot alike, she and I.

Since you’ve been gone, I dug through some boxes.  I was on a mission and at last I found your famous carrot cake recipe on a teeny tiny piece of paper.  Granma, why did you keep your most famous of recipes on a teeny tiny piece of paper?  It should be framed or something.  Perhaps you were going to make time for that, but you were called home before you could get to it, I don’t know. Richey, Ashley and I made your carrot cake for Dad’s birthday.  It wasn’t quite the same, but I think it meant a lot to Dad.  He’s 60 now, you know.  We still eat your waffles for Christmas.  Perhaps I’d get around to making your cookies this time, but I just couldn’t do it last year.  It was too close.

Since you’ve been gone, know that Sophie and Nala, Zorro and Cali- they all made it another year.  The Annandale house is really “Zorro’s house” now since he, in fact, is the real head of that household.

Since you’ve been gone, Aunt Toni is still up in Michigan trying to change the world through politics.  I don’t really get why people choose to live in the frozen tundra of Michigan, but she loves it there.  I’ll visit when its warmer.

And me?  Well, first, I have a confession, Granma.  I must confess that since you’ve been gone I broke your duck.  You know that ceramic duck I admired for as long as my memory holds?  Fell off the shelf and shattered in several pieces.  Kind of like my heart.  As I tried gluing the duck back together I cried buckets of tears.  I care more about that stupid duck than any of the other items I “inherited.”  He’s still in pieces as I can’t bear to part from him.  Pieces of duck reminds me of pieces of life.  Stretch of analogy, I know, but you get it, don’t you, Granma?  Perhaps I’ll write about the broken duck someday.

Since you’ve been gone I moved into a big girl apartment.  Sure, the living in China thing was a big girl thing, I guess, but it was easier there.  I know that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I think you get it. You always did get it.  This whole figuring out the thermostat thing has been a cultural adjustment.  Thermostats, who knew?!  This apartment has reminders of you every day since I got much of your furniture.  Yet, all I really cared about was that stupid duck.

Since you’ve been gone I started attending a new church.  I still love my other church and try to stay involved as much as possible.  I guess you can say I have my feet planted in both worlds.  My old church, (your church, too, really) are those roots that you gave me.  Roots that meant so much throughout a childhood that was decorated with constant transition.  It’s a huge part of my heritage and some of the dearest people in the world are rooted there.  And, well, this new church still has some kinks to work out, but I’m learning what it means “to fit in my own skin.”  From the time I was a young child you would constantly say that I needed to learn how to do that, fit in my own skin.  But one of the best things about my new church is that it sits directly across the street from your Walnut Street house.  The house in which you raised my father.  Each time I turn into the church’s entrance I gaze at your house, pause a second, and smile.

Since you’ve been gone, I still get lost on ordinary streets.  You’d find that funny.  Mostly because you’d be getting lost right there with me.  I’ve even started avoiding left-hand turns just like you used to do.  You know what else you’d find funny?  This month I lost my phone and wallet in the same two-week period.  Give it another month and I might find it funny, too.  If I listen really closely I can still hear your laugh.  You know, that unique whistle thing you do between your teeth?

Since you’ve been gone, the car still smells like you.  I can’t really explain it.  It’s not a bad smell.  It’s a “You” smell.  And then there’s another smell: whenever I get a whiff of your White Shoulders perfume I find myself naturally gravitating towards its source.

Since you’ve been gone, I’ve made a few friends.  This friend making business is not easy at this stage in life.  But you’d be proud that I’m trying.   And there’s a boy that I like, Granma.  You’d like him.

Since you’ve been gone I tried to take over your role in finances for Freedom to Lead.  But, those are tough tough shoes to fill.  Working for Dad continues to be equally amazing and challenging, and when we celebrated five years last August you were there in the pages of FTL’s history.  “Despite how hard it is, there’s something really special about being part of a pioneering work,” you once said.  Yes, Granma, there really is.

When our family is driving me bonkers, I still imagine myself sitting in the den and talking it out with you.  I imagine you sitting there and patting my head like we used to joke about.  I’d pat your head, you’d pat mine.  There’s a new movie out that you’d enjoy.  Normally we’d read the book together and then go see it.  We’d spend hours dissecting how the movie and book are similar.  The last movie I saw in the theater had me in buckets of tears because you weren’t there and you should have been.

Buckets of tears seems to be a recurring theme.  Grief is unpredictable, really.  It hits you at the least expected moments.  They say it gets easier over time.  Perhaps.

I visited your resting place today.  Today, the coldest of days.  And while I know you’re not really there, I also know you’re somehow with all of us, still.

A lot has happened since you’ve been gone

I miss you, Granma.  Every single day.  But, today I choose joy.   Today I choose to remember the good times.  Today I choose to thank God for the life you lived…and are living still.IMG_1591

Michelle’s Favorite China Moments #10 (Divinely Ordained Encounters)

This month I am doing a series on my favorite China moments over the past decade.  This is the last one from the list.  

Previously I said that these were in no particular order.  However, I can say that this one is my favorite 🙂

Divinely Ordained Encounters

There are just moments when you realize that the Father knows EXACTLY where you are.  And these moments can only come from Him.  Vincent , one of our student leaders in our family group, graduated from Beijing Institute of Technology in June and then went to get his Masters in Chicago.  I was on a short break in the States visiting friends in northern California just before Christmas.  My plane was cancelled and then delayed and then cancelled again.  Rather than be stuck in the airport waiting for my next plane, I made my way into San Francisco city for a few hours.  I meandered my way through the streets with no destination or agenda in mind.  And there during one of the busiest seasons of the year, in a city that neither of us called home, in the most random of souvenir shops, there was my brother Vincent!  Words cannot express my joy in seeing him.

You can read the complete story in a previous post here.


A few years later I was in Beijing at one of the subway stops, one I don’t normally frequent.  And there in the middle of one of the most populous cities in the world in a random subway stop was my teacher from Kashgar—three years after and two thousand miles away from where we last parted!


Divine appointments that only the Father could arrange.  That could leave me smiling for days and weeks on end!

Michelle’s Favorite China Moments #9 (Retreat to the Mountains)

This month I am doing a series of blog posts highlighting my favorite China Moments over the past decade.  There are ten total, which means there are only two more left to the series!

Michelle’s Favorite China Moments #9!  Retreat to the Mountains.


We often joke in China that whenever you go on any kind of retreat with anybody in China it always involves climbing a mountain. When I look back at all the retreats I’ve taken with teams, students, Chinese friends, expat friends, and Chinese family- almost all of them involve a mountain of some sort.  Some of the “mountains” are paved roads up a mountain where girls are spotted wearing dresses and heels, since appearance and the photo opportunities are of what’s most important in things like this.  Some involve climbing man-made steps up a mountain, going along with the masses.  Others are off the beaten path through the rough terrain that have you come back proudly with some serious scrapes and bruises after grasping on branches and sliding down rocks and sleeping on the hard ground.  I have already told you stories of my Great Wall Camping experience here and here.

Some of my favorite China memories involve retreats upon a mountain, which I find very appropriate since Jesus often retreated with his followers up to a mountain.  Recently I went on a leadership retreat.  We went up our mountain and about halfway up there was a ridge that we could gaze over.  And as we stood there catching our breath on our “mountain” we could see the city of Beijing.  We went up to a quiet place and gazed out on the city that we had been called to, prayed specifically for our city, and reflected on the words of the Great Master.  But at the end of the day, we had to go back to the masses of people.  A holiday weekend in China provides new meaning to “masses of people.”  But we couldn’t just stay on that mountain, much as we might have wanted to.  Because each time Jesus had one of his mountaintop experiences he always went right back down to the masses to meet the needs of the people there.  What a picture we were given that day!

Screen shot 2012-09-19 at 10.24.15 PMFamily Retreat.  How do you find a quiet place in Beijing, a city of 19 million people?  That year (2009-2010) was quite a fruitful year on our campus.  At the end of the year, just before many of our family group of students were to graduate and venture to places all over the world, we took them on a retreat.  One of the students knew somebody who knew somebody (love how that works in China) who knew a like-minded family that had a retreat center away from the center of Beijing (but still in Beijing).  I had no idea such a place existed in such a bustling metropolis!  Three hours of public transportation got us there and we spent two days together in that place.  Introducing these students to a bonfire and s’mores was the greatest delight I had in a long time.  We focused on what it means to be attached to the vine and bearing fruit.  We played games and worked on team building to demonstrate that we were indeed a Body and needed to learn to walk this road together.  We spent time together before we would each disperse to the places that the Father had for us.  What a precious community of people! DSC_2178


A year later I went on a retreat with some of the leaders at the large Chinese fellowship I attend in Beijing.   For the first time in a long time I just sat at the feet of the people.  I didn’t have to plan anything or be in charge of anything.  I could just simply come and BE with my Chinese brothers and sisters.  The teacher became the student.  The cross-cultural worker just stopped and humbly learned from the people she had come to “reach”.  I sat at their feet and received wisdom from them.  An older grandmother figure talked of God’s faithfulness as we prayed over her weak body.  We sang Chinese hymns with a simple guitar.  A young couple dispensed wisdom on the young peoplein the group of what it means to follow hard after God in their marriage.  One sister gave a testimony of trusting God in her singleness.  At 35 years of age and single in China is a big deal for these people!– What joy it was six months later to be able to attend her wedding, a beautiful ceremony that put Christ in the center!  What a glorious gift from the Father who takes care of those who trust in Him. And what a glorious gift that I can learn so much from my Chinese family.


On my last Sunday (my last day, really) in China I went back to my Chinese fellowship again.  Itwas the Sunday after our American Thanksgiving holiday, and the fellowship decided to make Thanksgiving the focus of their morning.  They displayed a slideshow of pictures over the past several years- pictures of my Chinese family and the way they are reaching their community…in China!  All along with the music of “Our God is An Awesome God.”  I was doing fine with leaving China until that very moment.  Because in that very moment I just lost it.  I became most keenly aware of what I was leaving behind.  I felt the tears come down, flowing in thankfulness that the Father allowed me to come and be here for awhile.  Knowing that someday we’d all meet again- if not in this world, then most certainly in the next.  Of that I have no doubt.


Stay tuned for the final post of “Michelle’s Favorite China Moments” (#10!) coming soon!

Michelle’s Favorite China Moments (#8- Christmas in the Hospital)

This month I am doing a series on my top favorite China moments over the past decade.  This particular one is very special to me.

One of our closest Chinese sisters, a junior student, was experiencing pain in her abdomen.  When she went to the doctor they discovered a 4-inch tumor in her stomach!  The doctors said that they had to operate as soon as possible.  During the surgery they would determine if the tumor was cancerous.

Her parents lived in the far south and were trying their best to get to her in time for the surgery.  Her mother had never once left her hometown and now was traveling 8 hours north by train into a foreign place.

In China you have to pay for things like this up front.  There really isn’t any such thing as a co-pay or a deductible.  You pay for it before the surgery can take place and you pay it with wads of cash.  Our sister needed this surgery and her parents were still a ways off.  Our team was able to get together enough cash from here and there to make the payment.  Upon arriving, her dad, not a believer himself, was deeply moved by what we just assumed was the obvious thing to do.

She went into surgery.  The localized the anesthesia around her stomach, but she was awake for the entire four hours of the surgery!  She said she couldn’t feel the pain of the knife, but she could feel her body jerking.

It was Christmas Day.  My team humored me by getting up to have pancakes on Christmas morning, because that is a tradition in my house.  Of course we anticipated a dinner later and between the three of us we were down to one burner and a few toaster ovens.  :).  We decided to leave our dishes behind and head to the hospital to spend time with our sister.

She was in incredible spirits for someone who had been through such a major ordeal.  The hospital didn’t have any heat, but it was warm from the visitors she received.  And fruit!  So much fruit!  The poor girl just had major surgery on her stomach and people kept bringing her food.  “Take it away!” she laughed.  But as I sat next to her on the bed, she started to cry.  Not realizing why this was happening to her, scared, and homesick.  So, we spent time interceding with her, reading from the Good Book, and encouraging each other on this Christmas day.  It was a Christmas I won’t forget.

Her parents arrived a few hours later.  In the days that followed we hosted them in our homes because they were truly in a foreign place, where the people didn’t even speak the same language.  This girl was able to share the Story with her father for the first time.  And he listened!  She said he was incredibly moved by her testimony.

The tumor turned out not to be cancerous.  We rejoiced with that news!  However, a few years later it did return.  And then a little while later it returned again.  This dear sister had to face this all over again.  Luckily they were able to reduce it with medicine and exercise, but the anxiousness of having to go through another surgery like that weighed heavily on this girl.  Yet she continued to trust the Great Physician to heal her and to provide peace during those hard times.  Recently she went back and the tumor was completely gone, never to return again.

A few years ago I was in Beijing after a time of being away.  On that first Sunday back at my large Chinese fellowship, completely unsuspecting of the way things would transpire, I walked into the building and heard my name.  A familiar voice I’ve known for years.  Walking towards me was one of the student leaders for the service—and my closest Chinese sister!!  She had just moved to Beijing a few months before!  What a gift that was to me!

She was one of the very first students that I worked with and studied with in my first couple of years in China.  I have seen her grow and struggle and experience trials no girl her age should ever have to experience.  I can’t tell you how many hours we have poured over the Word together.  I have seen her develop into a real leader and someday she’s going to impact her world in some great ways.  This is a girl that knew me from my first days in China and continues to know me still.  It’s nice to have a real friend here in this city who knows that part of me that people here just don’t.  She knows me for me and that is so refreshing!  We were able to hang out a lot and remember the good times.  I’ve heard from her about some of the students in our world from back then, their journeys, and how some of them have since come to embrace Life.  And this girl has been a catalyst in that- all because someone once invested in her.

She would move away from Beijing some time later and go back to living in her hometown of Guangzhou in the south.  Just a few weeks ago I was able to travel down south and see her one last time before I depart China.  In many ways it was like we never parted.

We have no idea the expanding effect of the seeds that are planted and the watering and nurturing that follows, but I tell you, it’s a real joy when you sometimes do get to see the budding fruit.  And I thought to myself- as futile as this work seems sometimes, like a drop in the ocean- if I can sum up my whole decade in China to this one girl then that would have been enough.  It simply would have been enough.

Michelle’s Favorite China Moments (#8- Favorite Holidays and Celebrations)

This month I am doing a series on my favorite China moments over the past decade.  These are in no particular order.  However, this one is kind of a hodge podge of favorite holidays and celebrations from over the years.  You don’t have to read this all in one setting, but perhaps sitting with a pumpkin spice latte as you are reading will provide a comfy atmosphere.  I do this in honor of our own American holiday coming up in just two days.  Much to be thankful for as we look back and are reminded.

the cast of the Christmas pageant

Christmas Pageant and Movie

We had a script and tryouts and rehearsals.  For three months our students practiced for this Christmas production.  The guy main character, Tony, wore my dress.  In the play he was running from the police- and during his disguise and hiding he heard from someone the Christmas story, which was acted out on the side stage as it was being told.   Around Christmas over 300 students and department teachers packed into the auditorium to see the production acted out by their classmates and produced by their foreign teachers.  A couple years later we made it into a movie.  “Hark!”


The winning group!

Easter Scavenger Hunt

Our family of students invited their friends to this Easter party.  Everyone was divided into groups and was sent out on a scavenger hunt.  They had to find things like a nail and rope and dice and an empty jar.  Then they were brought back and while eating snacks they were told the significance of each of the objects they found as related to the Easter story.  But, it wasn’t the foreign teachers who told them the story, but their peers and Chinese friends who told the story.  Really cool.

Hawaiian Luau

In the spring we had an outreach for students in which each of our friends brought at least two of their friends that they were being intentional about sharing life with.  They wrote down their  three friends’ names on cards weeks previous and would lift them up on a regular basis beforehand.  Then they were all invited to a party.  We hosted a Hawaiian luau and introducing Mexican dancing and pineapple bowling.  Because Mexico and Hawaii have everything to do with each other 🙂 🙂

Cardboard Chimneys

Every Christmas involves some kind of performance by the foreign teachers.  The Chinese idea of a “party” is to invited everyone to sit in an auditorium, and performance after performance is displayed.  Students and teachers will spend hours upon hours preparing for these performances- both with routines and music, as well as with props and costumes and backgrounds.

The foreign teachers were compelled to also participate.  Because we don’t really have any dancing talent (looks more like bumbling around on the stage looking like fools), we always opt for something else.   At least we always gained points because we had cute kids, but that was about it.

This particular year we decided to act our “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and then singing some carols.  (In the spring for the graduation party we decided to sing “Friends Are Friends Forever”- mostly as a joke to ourselves).  Of course I was in charge of making the props.  Reindeer antlers were easy, bells for the sleigh were relatively simple to find.  However, then I decided to make a chimney.  Because what story is complete without Santa coming down the chimney?  At that time a certain teammate and I weren’t particularly close.  We liked each other okay, but because it was such a large team we really hadn’t gotten to know each other all that well.  She came by my apartment while I was attempting to make this darn chimney out of cardboard.  We finagled with the prop and tried to make it stand upright.  But, the poor chimney kept falling over.  Our pathetic attempt at a chimney suddenly had us laughing like I hadn’t laughed in a very long time.  Tears were streaming down our faces at our pathetic chimney.  I don’t remember much about the actual performance, but I do remember that Kat and I bonded that day.

Christmas with the Orphans

Spending Christmas with orphans of northeast China.  Enough said.  🙂

 For the Love of a Turkey

Our city didn’t have much western products.  We did have a KFC, but we didn’t have things like peanut butter and margarine.  We certainly didn’t have turkeys.  But, there was something about having a turkey at Christmas that would be extra special for us.  So, my team leader- bless his heart- traveled three hours north by train to the provincial capital.  He then bought a turkey at the large import store and then basically sat with a frozen turkey in his lap on the three hour train back.  When was the last time it took you a full eight hours (six hours roundtrip, and then the trek to the store) to get a turkey?

We also didn’t have ovens.  Not in the traditional way that most Americans think of as ovens.  We basically had glorified toaster ovens.  We hacked that turkey in four pieces, and cooked one piece in each of the apartments’ toaster ovens.  And that was our meal.  Turkey was never more appreciated as it was then.

The next year we opted to go to the local supermarket and just get a chicken.

Thanksgiving Carnival

In 2009 we had a Thanksgiving “Carnival” with students.  We had an awesome group of American teachers who were in a one-year teaching program who came just for that weekend.  Some of them were thinking of staying in China for the long term and wanted to come to our campus to see the impact that was happening there.  These girls were rock stars, because the carnival could not have happened without them.  There were different booths- bobbing for apples, learning some western dancing, turkey hand crafts, etc.  We even acted out a goofy rendition of the story of the Mayflower followed by a more serious section on what we were sincerely thankful for (giving the Father honor that was His).  Of course, we made a prop of a large ship and pilgrim hats.  A people-sized turkey was cut so that students could put their faces through the head for a photo-op.  We certainly had a lot to be thankful for.

On another team we did a similar thing for Halloween.  Carnival booths were set up and students participated in games surrounding pumpkins and fall festivals.  Students were mesmerized while one of our teachers showed them how to carve a pumpkin.  A lot can be said of the darkness and the gunk in our lives that He pulls out and places a light inside.

Stones of Remembrance in Kashgar

The Lord said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”…and Joshua set up at Gilgal twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan and said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers ‘what do these stones mean?’ tell them ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground…the Lord your God did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” (Joshua 4).

So, there in Kashgar in 2008, a small gathering of faithful laborers took up stones and placed it on our “Gilgal altar”.  And we remembered one by one the things God had done for us there in that desert place.

Christmas in the Hospital

The year our team spent Christmas in the hospital with a student.  Stay tuned for the next blog to hear more about this story.  You won’t want to miss the story of the amazing way God intervened!

Michelle’s Favorite China Moments (#7- And Don’t Forget About Earthquakes)

This month I am doing a series on my favorite China moments over the past decade.  This particular post is a continuation from the last one.

Earthquake!   My teammate and I, along with our Japanese neighbor (another foreign student), lived on floors directly on top of each other.  We lived in an old, decrepit building that was next in line to be torn down.  It looked nice on the outside, but looks can be deceiving.  We made it up the best we could, but it left much to be desired.  For six weeks I took ice cold showers, and that was on days we had water.  We’re in the middle of the desert (the farthest place…on earth…from any large body of water, one book told us) and it felt like I was constantly sweeping up the inches of dust that would blow in.  But, it was home and we loved our little spot in Kashgar.

One night we were hanging out in one of the apartments having some deep philosophical discussion about life and culture and people and language.  Or some such thing.  Then we felt movement.  A bit of a shake.  Did this whole building move?  We really didn’t think much of it, because like I said, the building left much to be desired.  Maybe it was just a window pane rattling against the wind?  No, no– that bookcase just moved.  And now it’s swaying.  Hmmm…perhaps it’s an earthquake.

So, we did what any person should do.  We made our way down the apartment stairwell and outside.  On the way down and outside my teammate gave me a long lecture about civil engineers and structures and the effect of earthquakes on different structures.   Basically he was saying that if this was a serious earthquake, then standing under the doorframes as we learned in elementary school would be about as effective as holding an umbrella in a hurricane. We could see through the window other people in other apartments heading outside.  After all, it was almost the one-year anniversary of the 2008 devastating earthquake in Sichuan province, southwest China, and tensions were high about this kind of thing.

the kitchen

When we got to the bottom of the stairwell, we tried to open the door to the outside.  Jiggle, jiggle, rattle, bang- the darn door is locked!  You see, in the name of “protecting” the foreigners from would-be nightly intruders the landlord would lock us in our apartments at night with a giant padlock and chain locking the door to the stairwell.  We were each given a small key to open it, especially if we had to leave before 7:30 in the morning or arrive after 10:00 pm at night.  But, when you’re trying to get out quickly due to…oh, I don’t know…an EARTHQUAKE…you’re not thinking about the keys.

Someone had to run back upstairs to get the keys because neither of us thought to grab them.  The building is still visibly swaying and we’re stuck in this darn stairwell. We get the keys, but now we can’t see anything in the pitch black stairwell, so we had to run back up again and grab a flashlight.  Oh for the love!

the bathroom

There was nothing else to do but find the whole situation absolutely hilarious.  We’d already been through a flood.  Man, if a fire came next we’d just tie a sheet to a bed post and shimmy down the side of the building.  Both of us being visual people we laughed at that image for a long time.

We finally got out and breathed in the cool night air.  It was over as quickly as it began.  Friends from afar called and wrote emails later asking if we were okay.

“Oh, do we have a story for you!” we would answer.

Michelle’s Favorite China Moments (#6 Of Tornados, Fires, and Floods)

This month I am doing a series on my favorite China moments over the past decade.  These are in no particular order.

Both of these stories teach me a valuable lesson: Our possessions are temporal, but the things that really matter are the things of the heart and the legacy that we leave.  Nice and philosophical, yes?  Either that or this valuable less-than-philosophical lesson: Laugh.  Just laugh.  Because sometimes that’s all you can really do.

Apartment on fire and a tornado.  In 2004 our team was on a retreat somewhere.  Maybe we were visiting Chairman Mao’s hometown or climbing a mountain somewhere, I don’t remember.  All I remember is getting a phone call from the school saying my apartment had caught on fire.  Wait, what?!?   Then somewhere in the translation there was something about a tornado.  Wait, what??  Tornadoes just don’t happen often (or at all) in China- but of course it happened in my area when we were out of town.   However, not much more was said in that phone call.  Realizing I had absolutely no control over a situation that already happened I just waited until we returned to see what I would find.  And then I went back to my weekend.

The first view I had when I returned to my apartment the next day was the picture you see here.  Oh dear.  They weren’t kidding.  The electric box in my stairwell had exploded.  Be still, my anxious heart.  They are just things.  Then a peace that passes all understanding enveloped me and I found myself actually grinning.  I suddenly found the whole thing rather amusing, actually.

I learned later that the 75-year-old apartment gatekeeper (see picture below) apparently ran to my apartment in his pajamas attempting to rescue me from the fire.  Pounding on my door, he didn’t realize I wasn’t home.  Poor guy.  Luckily the things inside the apartment weren’t harmed, other than having this horrible black soot on the walls and the smell of smoke in everything for many days afterwards.  I lived with my teammates for the next week until the electrician could restore some kind of order back to my life.

You know the icebreaker/warmup exercise often used?  The one that says, “if your house was on fire, what three things would you save as you’re running out the door?”  Students just don’t understand why I start giggling every time I use that one.

Gatekeeper and family

Apartment with a flood.  Years later I was in Kashgar.  A teammate and I were in my living room watching a movie.  I lived on the second floor and it was close to 11 pm in the middle of November- no heat, and quite chilly.  Suddenly we heard a loud rushing sound coming from the front of the apartment.  Please tell me that sound is from the movie.  “Um, Michelle, you might want to come see this.”

I walked timidly in the direction of my teammates’ voice.  I peeked around the corner and had no words.  The water radiator in my bathroom had exploded and water was gushing out (not trickling, not streaming, gushing with the force of a fire hose).  There suddenly comes this sinking feeling when there is absolutely nothing…absolutely nothing…you can do until the water recedes.  I rushed to put as much of my things on top of my couch and bed as I could.  My mother is convinced that if it happened in the middle of the night I would be dining with the angels this evening, since all my wires were on my floor and I would have been electrocuted.  My teammates ran outside into the dark night (sprinted more like it) to some mysterious place and brought back three men.  “Where did you find these people at 11 pm?  You know what- doesn’t matter.”  But then they just kind of stared at the gushing water, rather helplessly I might add.  They tinkered with something, but basically said that we’d just have to wait until the water stopped and they’d come back in the morning.  Good luck.  Really!?!   That’s all you got?!?  Then they left.  What just happened?

Rolling up our pants, we got to work.  My teammate and I spent a better part of the night cleaning it up.  My entire apartment was covered with three inches of water.  The linoleum covering my floor was now floating.  Suddenly a giggle came bubbling up.  Pretty soon we were laughing.  We laughed until tears came down our faces.  Together we were a working machine!  However, as we pushed the water out from my second floor, the water eventually made its way to the first floor and we had to help my poor Japanese neighbor with her flood as well.

Sounds like the beginning of a bar joke with no punch line.  “So, in a desert in China an American knocks on the door of her Japanese neighbor and says in Uighur, ‘so, you see this water flowing into your apartment- yeah, that’s my fault.’  I mean, who needs neighborhood block parties and barbecues if you can bond with your neighbors over a flood?  Let’s just say she wasn’t nearly as amused.


Stay tuned for my next Favorite China Moments #7 blog: “And Don’t Forget About Earthquakes”