It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails daring greatly.
The following are first reflections from the first few hours of my current excursion: a 3-week tour of China!
I’m the jet-lagged “round-eye” in the bright pink, San Francisco logo jacket, wandering the streets of Beijing. Goofy-touristy is my style, and I wear color whenever possible to stand out. Yes, looking like a tourist might make me a “target” but since there’s no hiding touristy, why be anonymous? Here’s my strategy: I imagine that the many faces I smile into might remember me if in disappear in some unfortunate encounter. Strange to think about perhaps, but it’s my way of being practical while venturing out on my own.
My tour group was still en route and we weren’t scheduled to gather until the evening of my 4:30a.m. arrival, so I had the day to explore on my own. Starving! after 20 hours of transit from Israel (2 flights, with layover in Moscow), I set out in search for authenticity.
For a while, it looked like this vegetarian could starve amidst genuine “Chinese food”! Without the language skills or an active sim card to Google how to ask for vegetables only, and being unsuccessful finding any restaurant employees who had that much English vocabulary, I returned in the rain to the hotel lobby, and waited as the reception manager used a translater on her phone to understand what I’d written: “I don’t eat meat.” She wrote the Chinese characters, and I returned to the restaurant I’d selected among so many.
My restaurant criteria? Locals, dressed like workers, preferably on a side street that would frighten away tourists.
My goal? Great vegetables washed or at least cooked enough on plates clean enough to not leave me with the dreaded “digestive problems” of the bad water about which I’d been warned.
DON’T drink the water! The day before I left, a dear friend warned me emphatically to not drink the water or use it with a toothbrush, and to beware of potentially unwashed and uncooked fruits and veggies. Yipes!! How will I eat?? I’m embarrassed to say I’d not researched the issue of water in preparing for this trip.
Thanks to my friend’s warning, when no water fountains were to be found during my layover in the Moscow airport, I was cued-in and bought water rather than refill my bottle from the ladies bathroom tap.
Then, waiting for the flight to Beijing, I met a woman from Texas who’s lived in China for several years teaching English. Casually, she described the severe (digestive)symptoms and warned that “everyone” gets it somehow. Swell.
I don’t fret about cooked insects or questionable animal parts in vegetables-only dishes , and eating unknown veggies doesn’t frighten me as it does some of you! Three weeks of (overly)cooked veggies is doable, so we’ll see how it goes traveling with this group who has scheduled us in some private homes as well as many meals of “traditional regional cuisine.”
The men gathered at the door of the restaurant recognized me when I returned, note in hand, like a child. One of them seemed to know everyone and had the aura of owner / manager. He glanced at my note, nodded, and showed me the well-worn, sticky, one-sided printed menu. A simple English word or two was below the longer Chinese descriptions of the 20 or so items. He pointed to something labeled “vegetable”. Other options were “mushroom”, “eggplant”, and assorted meat dishes.
“Vegetable” seemed safe to try, so he motioned me to one of 3 empty tables in the busy, noisy restaurant with a typical mix of ages and people for 1:00 on a workday.
Each table had a hot coal-pot in its center and the hustle-bustle non-touristy feel was empowering. “Vegetable” turned out to be a huge pile of fresh green-leafy-something (judging by the photos online, it was probably fresh water spinach) stirfried/prepared at my table by the man who’d taken me on as his project. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leaf_vegetable#/media/File:Ong_choy_water_spinach.png
The oil and seasoning were perfect, but not enough food, so I ordered a second dish, this time taking his recommendation for “mushrooms” and was delighted with another huge portion, also prepared by my caretaker, of lovely clean-looking Enoki’s
Sans rice or soup or fortune cookie, I was delighted with the adventure of authentic and yummy – exactly what I’d hoped for.
I walked on to explore on this first day, rainy day in Beijing. One entire block were tiny specialty shops of musical instruments: Guitars, drums, strings (violins, cellos, etc), pianos and keyboards, and most of the others on this website: http://www.chinawhisper.com/top-10-chinese-musical-instruments/
I got shy about asking to take pictures inside the shops, but this musician playing the erhu enchantingly, consented. It’s sound was full and easy to imagine in an orchestra, not “screetchy” like most I heard years ago in NYC subways.
Later that day I met with the group of 14 others from the U.S. for introductions and dinner, and began touring the following day.
More on China in future blogs.
Who’s safer? Resident in Israel or in the U.S.? Israel ranked 11th of all nations for longevity.
Also, there’s more violence in U.S., per http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/cause-of-death/violence/by-country/
There are surely statistics that contradict… there always are, it seems. But still, I thought you’d be interested.
Questions some of you have asked about life in Israel:
- How is Christmas celebrated? As the only democracy in the middle east, freedom of religion is a protected right in Israel. For example, Nazareth and Bethlehem are full of Christian holiday symbols/events and enjoy dramatic celebrations, as do other small, predominately Christian communities. Christian merchandise can be found most everywhere tourists visit. There was no marketing or music or parades for the Christian holidays in the areas of Jerusalem’s center that I frequented. I’m told Christmas trees can be purchased somewhere in Jerusalem, although never saw any in windows of homes. This is one of the reasons I’ve launched into this current prolonged months of short term living all over the country – to learn more about the culture in the different areas, and find friends in the various regions.
- What about New Year’s Eve? New Year’s Eve was undiscernible to me in Jerusalem, but I’m told it “happens” in Tel Aviv among those immigrants who are party-inclined. Sorry, I have no stories on that one.
- Who do I spend time with? I am intentional to meet people, always. I offer eye-contact, smile, “good morning” or other, ask for help, comment on something we both see or need… Some of my English speaking friends are Israeli’s and others are immigrants. I’m always hoping to make more Israeli friends, although have been warned that it will be most difficult to cross the cultural divide to bond in the kind of share-your-heart sort of friendships I embrace. Nonetheless, I try, and deeply appreciate those Israelis who have embraced me with love and patience, willing to explain culture and tradition. I yearn for open-hearted relationships with them and hope in time to develop the language skills for friendships that include discussing our lives, cultures, values, etc.
- What about movies? Each month in Jerusalem I attended an Israeli movie with other immigrants – yes, movies made here! They were the caliber of film-festival award winners, although a few too sexual or dark for my inclinations. Still, I gleaned insights into the culture in an evening of listening to Hebrew with English subtitles. Discussion groups followed for Advanced, Intermediate, or Beginner Hebrew, or English only (aka: Coward). The discussions sometimes rendered me frustrated and discouraged, as my self-expectations would collide with the reality of my skills (improving, but still so very far to go!).
It seems most U.S. movies are shown here with Hebrew subtitles. I’m not much of a movie goer and prefer live performances – plays, music, dancing, etc or a good book that allows my imagination to fly. That said, the (Hollywood)movie I’ve seen here, Bridges of Spies, with Tom Hanks, was brilliant.
Last Spring I met Ruth, a resident of Kibbutz Sasa, who was gracious give me a spontaneous, private tour of their tiny museum. Ruth described assorted relics from 100-200 BCE, their use as water pots, spice containers, etc and how they were initially unearthed by Kibbutz members and then how that area of the Kibbutz became a “dig” for the Government’s archaeological researchers. There were photos of the Kibbutz’ history, which I learned was also her history as a long term(forever!!) resident.
At one point, I’d commented on how remarkably handsome was a young man’s photograph, but she left me puzzled by only redirecting my attention. I remember wondering why and thought perhaps I’d crossed some cultural boundary, or been misunderstood, but didn’t feel the freedom to ask her.
Afterwards, we shared bits of our personal histories in Sasa’s very own ice cream parlor. Over rich, brilliantly flavored Kibbutz-made ice cream, she told me that her first husband was killed in the 1967 War, that he was the handsome young man in the photo about which I’d asked. After many years alone, she married again only to be widowed some years later, through illness (internal, rather than external violence!).
While staying in the northern region in September, not far from Sasa, I reached out to visit Ruth and she invited me to coffee and then to go to a wedding on the Kibbutz. The visit was lovely and ½ in Hebrew, to my delight. She teaches Hebrew to children of immigrants and had the patience and wherewithal to speak slowly and simply with me. I appreciated the opportunity for success.
An even greater treat was the wedding of a young couple I’d never met. Sitting and standing on a grassy knoll, 150 of us enjoyed a birds-eye perspective of the “stage” below us, 35 folding chairs had been set-up on both sides of the aisle. I sat with these Savta’s (grandmothers) of the Kibbutz, the closeness of their many decades’ friendship dramatically obvious; we were surrounded by chattering and greeting of young adults, hand-holding sweethearts, and playing children. After some commotion lining up all the “cast”, the casually-traditional seating of family members, attendants and bridal procession began. That done, the Rabbi officiated in an aura of relaxed, unofficial-ness. The video below is some of the dancing of the attendants. Later in the evening, the young people danced riotously both traditional Jewish folkdances and freestyle.
The crux of the experience for me was the vibe of the communal celebration, the familiarity and still-friendships of these people who’d lived and worked and played, endured wars and victories and losses on this Kibbutz together for 60+ years. Amazing.
Next door to the ice skating rink mentioned in last blog was an arena with a Russia vs Israel Fencing Competition! It was not clear whether a ticket was required, so I stood tall and entered with the attitude of belonging, and sat amidst the parents/spectators to bring you along as well.
In August, several of my Ireland tour buddies had learned of the Jewish Museum in Dublin, and while we didn’t coordinate arrival, found ourselves there on the same morning. I never go to museums with others because I’m the one who reads every description, watches every movie, listens to every…. You get it, and now you know better than to invite me to go to a museum with you.
I was curious to know whether there had been any Jewish community life in the land of long-standing Catholic and Protestant / political conflicts, and particularly what Ireland did during WWII. Did they hide Jews? Send them back to Germany? Was there an underground rescue effort? A Corrie Ten Boom of Ireland? Anything?
The Museum is housed in what appears to be a home on a residential street, minimally marked, and easily missed. Entrance is gained via ringing a doorbell, followed by kind scrutiny by the Security Guard, and then a warm explanation from volunteer hostess/manager, Margaret, that the facility operates by donations exclusively and the only paid employee is the Security Guard. Margaret is not Jewish, but I found her to be passionately committed to the Museum and a patient knower of all things pertaining to Ireland’s Jewish population. She excused herself repeatedly from my endless questions about attitudes, treatment, the war, faith conflicts, etc to offer the same gracious welcome and orientation to each new visitor, then returned to our conversation.
Here’s some of what I found interesting from Margaret and the material in the museum:
- Ireland’s Jewish community has ebbed and flowed. One example of influx is thanks to Ireland providing refuge to Jews escaping the Spanish-Portuguese expulsions/ forced conversions of the 1500s.
- In the first half of the 20th Century, Lithuanian Jews fleeing persecution found safe haven in Ireland. Many had dreams of reaching America but some actually left the ship by mistake, hearing “Cork” and thinking they were in New York. My grandfather’s family came from Lithuania, but I’m not certain whether the ship stopped at Cork. How different our lives would be had he settled in Ireland, rather than Southern California!
- Over the decades of Ireland’s agriculture (famines) and financial hardships, waves of Jews left as did Irish youth for work or education opportunities and dreams elsewhere.
- Before WWII, Ireland’s Jewish community peaked at 5,000+ residents. The community grew and the neighborhood that now houses the Museum was called “Little Jerusalem”.
- Ireland could not align with Great Britain because of their ongoing conflict, so therefore was “neutral”. (What DOES “neutral” mean in the context of WWII?! I understand “neutral” is the term to designate status, not passion, and yet passion propels me to want more of mankind, of myself! To courageously stand, and fight for what’s right.
- Margaret told me that amidst the chaos of the early 1940s, a German Jewish professor was recruited to a prestigious position in Ireland, and negotiated to come only if his entire family came, which apparently increased Ireland’s Jewish community by 35 souls. I love that story!
- Officially, in 1988, the Emerald Island apologized for not rescuing Jews aggressively… noting that Ireland would have benefited greatly from the professional expertise of many who perished in death camps. I’ll say!
On the lighter side of Ireland . . . Irish dancing and music
These teens performed for us one evening in Ireland. While their animation leaves much to be desired, they’re clearly skilled and serious about their music and dance. With impressive clarity, they told stories of learning to play multiple instruments, sing, dance, and even story-telling as family tradition from extended and immediate family members.
I’m beginning to read menu’s and signs when I’m alone and can take the time! On menus, my scope is usually narrowed to the salads, but still it takes me too many minutes to read the Hebrew if I’m with someone. I’m only beginning to “sight read”. Otherwise, most places have English menus.
Did you know that there’s a Curves women’s gym in Ma’alot-Tarshika for the area’s 30,000 residents, in Israel’s northern hills?! It is just 7 miles south of Lebanon’s border. Their website lists only the two Curves in the center of the country, near Tel Aviv.
I happened upon these posted announcements for the members in Ma’alot-Tarshika, and stood 10 minutes to read about changes in schedules and restricting small children the gym area. I actually READ and understood them, looking up only one word in Google Translate. While it took way too long, I was very proud of myself. Like a child!
P.S. I joined the local larger, coed-gym while staying in that area through September, instead of Curves. The classes were more varied, there’s more equipment, and the male body builders, although sometimes distracted by themselves in the mirrors, bring a certain seriousness to a gym. An added plus was the overt friendliness of the members. My overtures of smiles and introducing myself were embraced with invitations to their homes for the Rosh Hashana holiday, coffee, evening walks, etc. Making friends as a long-term visitor seems off to a good start in that first region, and we’ll see how it goes in the places I’ll be staying in November, December, and on.
An Oasis in the desert! is northern Israel. It is not unusual for my adventure to begin with trying to arrive at the target destination – this time a hike around the crest of Mt Meron – using a combination of Google Maps, paper map, and directions in Hebrew from a soldier and sort-of-English speaking hikers I stopped along the way. It was worth it…always is! Hiking these hills, I’m often reminded of hiking the Rockies… surrounded by green gorgeous, surprised by spectacular views, the quiet… with each step my heart settles into the beauty and holy silence, and pours out surrender and worship to God.