Saturday, June 27, 2009


China in pictures (and some words):
Our airplane. Reminded me of a Chinese delivery truck...

Bad omen. First thing they did when we landed in Beijing, scan us for fever with this gun thing they point at your forehead. Ten minutes later, this dude shows up, escorts some guy off the plane. Reminded me of Monsters Inc when that monster got the sock stuck to his back... And apologies for my noob status at manual focus.

This is my ngay gung, Uncle Steve to make things easier. He's my grandpa's brother. He's really cool. He's always trying to convince me to become a doctor, lawyer, or businessman, reminding me that psychologists and social workers don't make any money. I keep telling him that I don't wanna do much school, that I wanna help people, and that I don't really care about being rich. He just says, "If you get rich, then you can help a lot of people! That's what Bill Gates does!" But that's just how he is, he exudes this entrepreneural mentality (which is partly why he became successful in America). A big reason my dad wanted to go to China again was because last time we went (when I was 11), we were with my grandpa, who isn't a real talkative guy. Uncle Steve, on the other hand, is filled with stories and jokes, which he always follows with an unnecessarily high pitched, almost childlike laugh.

All three of these pictures are from hotels we stayed in. Bougie much? Since Uncle Steve has money, we always stayed at these 5-star hotels. Pretty nice, but I couldn't help feeling a strong undercurrent of irony as we constantly encountered poor people in the streets.

The restaurants in Beijing were terrible. Straight up tourist treatment. What kind of self-respecting Chinese restaurant serves french fries?? Insulting.

We visited four main places: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Toisan. Our time in the first three cities were completely taken up by sightseeing. It was exhausting, just one place after another. This is a picture from a temple in Shanghai. For some reason, I just really like it. The way the monk guy is walking just makes me happy.

Another shot from some temple. Thizzin Buddha. One of my faves.

This is a picture from a famous temple in Guangzhou. A lot of people were there offering up prayers and incense. I kinda feel bad for taking a lot of pictures of them bowing and stuff, but not really. There's something beautiful about people worshipping, even if it's something you don't personally believe in.

That's my mom. We're on a boat on some river in Guangzhou. This was her first time to these parts of China. You can tell her Cantonese is getting rusty.

McDonald's in Shanghai. They have delivery! That is one cool backpack.

Antannas on an apartment building. Poor people gotta get their cable.

Real people doin real things, just trying to make ends meet. To me, this was more interesting than the sightseeing.

Toisan was different. This is where my grandparents and older grew up. Uncle Steve and my grandpa donate a lot of money to this city. Primarily, they've given funds to build a community center and a school. As a result, we get treated like celebrities. Not even exaggerating. We also got a chance to see the old house where they grew up. Again, the irony... it's kinda like when rappers get rich and then visit the hood again. Ok well I'll just show the pictures.

Finally, some real food! Toisan had the best food. Don't drink the water though.

Fikes (fake Nikes) anyone?

These are REAL Chinamen from the village. Long nails, rotting teeth, no manners--that's how we do in Toisan. This is at the community center that some of my family paid for.

This is the old house where my grandparents grew up. It's freakin small. This is the biggest of three rooms. Two families live here. There's one faucet, one lightbulb, and I didn't see any toilets. There's been a lot of development in Toisan, but this house is pretty much exactly the same as I remember it eight years ago.

This is at the elementary school Uncle Steve donated to help build. These kids went crazy when they saw our cameras. Or maybe just the boys did.

In Toisan, money talks. We had people from the school always with us, willing to do anything for us, giving us special treatment only because Uncle Steve was a big donor. I believe he wrote two checks for them on this trip--one for $20,000 and another for $50,000. Ballin.

And what happens when you give hecka money to a school? They build a statue of you. Crazy huh?

And this last picture kinda just sums up the irony of the trip. At the end of our stay in Toisan, Uncle Steve held a banquet for a bunch of people from the village. This old lady sat at our table and took all the leftovers back in plastic bags (they don't have boxes in Toisan haha). She was thrilled when she found out she could take home the scraps, but I wasn't sure whether it was a happy sight or a kinda sad and pathetic one. But I couldn't get over the idea that in this big banquet there were a lot of poor people who probably didn't get meals like this, well, ever. And when we left the restaurant, it began to rain really hard. We headed to our air-conditioned van to go back to our bougie hotel while all the people from the village walked back to their houses in the rain.
On another note, my aunt, uncle, and two cousins got swine flu, which kinda put a damper on the trip. So they've been stuck in Beijing for the past two weeks. Two of them got released yesterday I heard, but two of them are still quarantined, so please pray for them. Scary stuff.
In the end, I guess it was a pretty good trip. I was trying to imagine what it would have been like growing up there, but it's too different. Less opportunity, less money, less comfort... I think we're all spoiled here in America. Maybe one day I'll go back, maybe I'll give some money so I can get a statue of myself too. Either way, I'm pretty sure my kids aren't gonna see much of this culture as they grow up. So sad. Maybe I'll take that Cantonese class...

How much of your culture do you still hold on to?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Questions and Answers

There comes a point in faith where you begin to question, criticize, and rethink the things you have taken for granted for so long. To summarize a year of craziness, fun, learning, doubt, and struggle, this is what it has boiled down to: The Jesus that I have known for the past 5 years will not suffice.

At our church daycamp, we sing a song creatively named "The Box Song." I really used to like this song. It goes something like: "If I had a little white box to put my Jesus in, I'd take him out and *kisskisskiss* and share him with a friend" And then there was a very violent second verse that went "But if I had a little black box to put the Devil in, I'd take him out and SMASH HIS HEAD and put him back again" of course, including smashing hand motions (which was my favorite part). But when I look at that song now, I see more and more how Jesus has broken out of that box that I've put him in, how my understanding of God has expanded to such an extent that he no longer fits within church walls, emotional retreats, or even myself.

Which leads me to revisit an old topic. I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday and we got to the topic of church. He's a pastor's kid who currently isn't sure if he believes in God. He doesn't go to church anymore and he does stuff that good Christian kids aren't supposed to do. Which led me to a question I've been asking for a long time now, What's wrong with church? Or more specifically, What's wrong with San Francisco Asian American churches? Or even more specifically, What's wrong with my church?

This past Christmas break, I made it a goal to come home for church more. Not because I grow more there, not because I like going home, not because I can pick up a green onion bun at the store down the street, but more as a symbolic statement that yes, I, Nathan Lee, still want to be a part of this community in spite of the problems that I see in it and that I am not leaving this church behind even though I disagree with some of the things they do. And I'm glad I made that commitment. However, a symbolic step will not produce change. What, then, is the next step?

Well, the first step I think is to become a church member. I was getting pissy about this earlier on in the year because I was like, "Oh why do I have to become a member since I've been going to this church for like 5 years, blah blah" and yes, I still feel this way. But if it is the first tangible step to getting into the meetings and actually being heard, then I will sit through the classes and jump through the hoops to get there. Ugh.

But how do you change minds? What is my goal? I know something is wrong, but do I know what the solution is? ... I think it would be naive to think I can change a church. I think it would arrogant to say I want a church to see things the way I see them.

What I believe to be the biggest problem at FCBC and other SF AznAmerican churches is the lack of questioning, the lack of independent thinking, the lack of criticizing. Jesus never called us to blindly accept things, he never told us to remain silent, he never told us to be complacent. The problem with church is that it tries to provide answers to everything, but Christianity was never about answers. Jesus' answers were always questions because questions bring freedom and point to God, as in, we don't have to know everything. Not as a cop-out, but as in, this Christianity thing is a process, and we gotta learn and make mistakes and grow together. Church makes the solution to be "read your bible more" or "come to church more," which are not bad things, but which are wrong. We shouldn't read our bibles more, we should practice our bibles more. We know what's in there, we've been learning it since we were doing fractions and trading Pokemon cards. But the bible means nothing to us until we see it in action and see promises being fulfilled. And we shouldn't come to church more, we should be the church more. We shouldn't talk about how we come, but how we go. The church gotta be on the move, or else it's just useless.

When we begin to learn how to question, we will grow. We gotta find our voice! This is how I hope change will happen. Ok this post was too long. Sincerest apologies. Happy summer!