Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Our Common Humanity

For those of you who like picture books, I put the pictures first so you can satisfy your craving before doing the work in the reading...


the main house we were working on...there were a few though

I'm all bricked-out

Most of the team

Our team leaders, Mr. Wesely and Michael!

these three on the right became my homies. Daffney is going to become the Oprah of Africa...juat you wait and see...

Daffney couldn't freaking use the camera, she kept taking pitures while we were talking....this was the best one.


We got to go to the Chengliu school for a little bit...only 40 kids are registered there out of the 5 villages

Jae doing a magic trick but getting caught...then this happened...

they chased him around literally pointing and chanting the word that means "Deciever!!" It got a little out of control at one point...but was hilarious


I wish this picture was focused!!

Fresh raspberries the farmers picked for us....these ones weren't sketchy like the ones during Grandma's visit

some sort of alcohol with a snake...

mmmmm, fermenting maggots and bees

This place we had thought was an abandoned kareoko bar until late at night when we returned, peeked in, and it was in full swing! Unfortunately we couldn't do the kareoke because it was all in cantonese

just breathe this one in
picking "raspberries" - we don't actually know the English translation for these things..

hiking up to the plums..


Tuksu and Nioki

The famrmer who owns the farm - I made friends with him somehow and he picked the best plums for me

This is a completed HfH house in this region. With the type of design, materials and availability of experts, they take around 3 months to build around this area.

Tea and berries!!

Some Mao writings on the wall from his time (for the history buffs)

Hey oh, listen what I say oh,

Alright soo, currently I am sitting (waiting and getting antsy) once again in Hong Kong, though this time trying to keep my hands on the key-board and away from my overly flea-bitten legs. I’m trying to be good and not scratch, but no promises. I’d pull a Phoebe Buffay, but Vivian doesn’t cook ever so there are no oven mitts around…I’ll just have to control myself.

I’ve returned from the first Habitat Build on the ever-changing itinerary, which was with an English speaking highschool from Beijing, and located a few hours into some of the many, many mountains of Guangdong Province, China. I’m going to divide this entry into little sections for ya so that it breaks the blog down – that way mentally it doesn’t seem so long. But it actually is, so I’m really just trying to fool you so that you’re more likely to read.

As we were building this home so far from our own homes, and while I was surrounded by strangers from all different cultures and walks of life and let alone to my own thoughts during some of the quieter, heavier periods of mundane labour, I was trying to wrap my head around not only the appreciation I am beginning to have for my own life, home, relationships and realizing how much my little, tiny sphere is worth – and then applying it to grasp that every single other person on this earth is worth so much as well no matter what their story. It makes me dizzy to think of how many people there are in this world…and how much we don’t know about each other. How many stories are there to tell, and if each of the billions of stories being written as we speak are significant and represent a soul of value…how insane is it that we as individuals continue to be worth something when it seems that we’d so easily get lost in the multitude.

SO…that said, I want to reiterate the value of your story, your normal, your day-in-day-out lives, but now I want to emphasize the importance of realizing that each person on this massive planet has a soul and a life just as you do…they could be very similar to you, and they could be extremely different to how you do life – but their story is just as important…and we must never forget the value of the lives of people we bump into everyday, as well as the lives we’ll never meet that exist hour-by-hour on the other side of the globe.

Fortunately for me, I have had the amazing opportunity of bumping into quite a few fellow humang beings in all shorts of shapes and sizes throughout my gallivanting. I am learning little bits of what normal is for dozens of people, and this is a great adventure in and of itself.

It seems that the theme for this entry I’ve decided to group into one of grasping the beauty of the millions of normals we all have – and discovering what this means for each individual, and how we learn to interact with people.

Here’s some number crunching for you to get us started.

The Factoids…

China – 1.4 billion people
Guangdong – over 90 million (largest province)
Capitol: Guangzhou – 10.4 million
Ho Heum aka “hot spring town” – a few thousand (where we stayed in the evenings/night)
Chengliu – farming village with around 300 families (Where build site located)

China: Inventor of the wheelbarrow, which I am now very thankful for after such a build; as well as spectacles (leading to contacts – also grateful for this)

Guangdong: where many of us get our jeans from, in addition to being the inventor of Dim Sum – Yum!

Ho Heum – unfortunately we never got to experience the infamous Hot Springs that titled the Town…but I’ll survive

The Village…

Chengliu village is nestled deep into absolutely stunning territory – but as it is the place where these residents have lived their entire lives, I wonder if they see the view around them as just as beautiful as I do.

I’m going to copy the HfH document for this one; “Chengliu village contains
approximately 1800 residents in 300 families, most of whom are subsistence farmers relying upon rice and various fruits for survival, with tangerines grown as a cash crop. Some villagers work in shops and factories in nearby towns to find more permanent work elsewhere. Annual per capita income in the village is roughly US $370 (for the math whizzes out there, I’ll let you do the daily income calculation), and the residents are considered to live below the absolute poverty line according to the Chinese Government’s standards.

Most houses of Changliu are constructed of mud-brick and tile-roofs, which have no sanitation and ventilation systems and they are often too close to livestock pens or simply have families and animals living together, they are uncomfortable, unhygienic and unsafe. They average 70m2 in size, with tile roofs and few windows and no sanitary facilities. They are dark, damp, dirty, and crowded, the ceilings are often quite leaky, and the walls often have cracks or holes. As such they are considerable health and safety hazards to their inhabitants.”

The document then goes on to explain the partnership of Habitat with the Chinese government and residents including the subsidies details, HfH’s process of selection and requirements of the recipients, etc. Essentially they have done a lot of work in the area and are continuing over the next few years within the same town to improve housing and public infrastructure such as roads, sewage and drainage systems, as well as drinking water supply. They are also putting in a major effort to separate people and animal living space and increasing hygiene and thus decreasing illness. And if I do say so myself, the houses seem very legit, and our financial contribution to joining the team mostly goes primarily towards the building materials and transportation to and from the site; we pay for the accommodation on top of that, and much of the organization runs on subsidy. So as far as I can tell, HfH doesn’t seem too bad.

“Show me the meaning of being lonely”
The Team…

I had to introduce this description of the highschool class of 12 students from a Beijing English speaking school with a quote from a boy band because literally the asian guys on this build lived up to their stereotypes to a T. We sang dozens of songs asian-style by n*sync, Backstreet Boys, Jonas Brothers, Chris Brown, Avril Lavigne – even Vitamin C because they are graduating this year, etc… and they knew all the lyrics and harmonies to boot. I’m not even lying to you when I say that none of the team singing were girls except the one black girl and myself…those brick stacking sessions were epic with the Pop singing. Canadian boys need to step up their variety in music.

Although being around a group of students who have known each other for years and have a million inside jokes was fun in it’s own right, a lot of the time it just reminded me that I was still a stranger, a foreigner, and though I haven’t been alone or even too lonely most of the time…I miss my own friends to kick around or belt out random songs with (Ezra, Lydia)…so much of my thoughts during the strenuous and mundane tasks were focused on you, you all who are in my life. Although I love you each so much and try to appreciate you when at home…being away truly has given me a greater appreciation for just how much you mean to me, and how much I love hearing about your lives and stories, and being close and doing life with you. Don’t worry, I’m not crying a river or anything over here – really, the trip is still incredible and most of the time I’m not lonely which has been amazing…but those times, as well as the distance…have sharpened my longing to be in Canada again, and to be near those of you who are in my life and I’m excited about what this distance is doing. This year is going to be wicked, I know it. Trust.

…Three Strands of Chord are not Easily Broken…

Back to the team. I wish the build had of been longer than five days because it seemed I only really started to know some of them during the last couple of days. However, short as the build was, I began to grasp yet again, even more stories if our human similarities, and our many differences – our own normal’s. These kinds of experiences are more personal so it’s not easy for me to communicate what I mean with a lot of this stuff…but I think the idea is that you all are doing this and realizing similar conclusions in your own lives…

The nationalities of the students ranged from Mongolian, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, to South African, and then the teachers were from Canada, Glasgow, and London. Although globalization is such a hot discussion topic right now and how much the west has truly pervaded and spanned throughout cultures and lives (I always knew it…but now I really fully am grasping the blurred concept of globalization. Join me, won’t you?). it’s very interesting to see how the western ideals have tied us all together….yes some ways are positive and many are negative…BUT…I realized that our human desires and what we value on this earth crosses cultures, west or no west – and how we are bread to value certain characteristics, goals and life styles above those of humility or working for someone other than yourself is not just western, but many asian cultures struggle with this, in some ways more than the west (though we have our own set of issues, don’t we, Canada?) (I know all this is pretty obvious to most; yes, Carolyn, all humans are selfish – just humour me here, I’m internalizing). I’ve also learned that my distaste for certain mentalities in the world in regards to how individualism has its grip – has grown exponentially as I see it in these students. Some of them were amazing and embraced the chance to build, help others, and learn about their own lives, and some literally were complaining and moping the entire trip, brick by brick by brick by brick…I now know why I couldn’t be a teacher – I wanted so many times to tell some of these students off - these students who are about to enter into university and carry this selfish thinking with them into the working and academic world and beyond. It’s crazy how much I can’t stand people who just do not appreciate and think about something other than themselves – and then deal with it and make the best of situations. But maybe I’m asking too much, I know we can’t be like that all the time, and I know that I’m not like that much of the time – but honestly guys, am I asking too much in wanting people to just give a little and be happy to do so every so often?? It’s a work in progress…

C’mon people, let’s learn the art of love.

The Build…

As is often the case with humanitarian work, the personal lessons taken away seem to be the more unexpected result of the initial intent and impact of helping others – yet you would hope that we would grow expect to learn something from such situations, as we are thrown into new environments and forced out of our comfort zone – it would be a waste not to apply the strength and patience that was hopefully worked on to the rest of our lives. The team may just have been moving some dirt and bricks around, but the dirty, wild side seemed to be oddly cleansing…in a very raw way.

For the build, I learned to embrace dirty because it just could not be helped, and as great as the villagers are, I’m not exactly trying to woo them – so I’ve let the primal come forth for a few days. The lack of internet helped too I think.

The Mountains…

I couldn’t get enough. On the bus rides to and from Chengliu all you’d want to do is nap – but we had the awe-inspiring view to take in as the bus wrapped around the sides of the endless hills.

One morning we had the honour of hiking up to the top of one farmer’s mountain to pick raspberries and plums. Honestly, the best scenery of my entire life…surrounded by the strange forest and mountains as far as the eye could see with nothing man made even close to the horizon…I’d never experienced that before. The flavour of the fresh bitter-sweet plums matched the experience of standing on top of a cash-crop farmer’s mountain eating them, as they emphasized the reality that they were the only gift this man had to give – and he gave abundantly and happily…though he could not afford too.

How blessed I am to meet so many people …how many there are. How lucky am I to experience so many people’s everyday life, and step in to watch from the side lines as a foreigner. The weight of applying the worth that we as individuals place upon our own existence and then applying it to the numbers of souls that have lived – is so impossible to wrap your head around… it’s beautiful, scary, sad, and truly awesome.

The Normal…

Just trying to grasp life in Chengliu..this teeny, tiny village in the middle of no where…where most of the residents spend their entire lives. The are born and raised there, marry someone they’ve known since they were born – probably one of only a handful of options…and work till old age in these cramped little mud huts. It’s crazy different - I can’t even begin to think of what it’s like.

But I love learning how strangers can be so warm too. A few times we were really touched by the families we were building for… at one point there was the seventeen of us, cramped into and sitting in the dirt hut of the grandma’s hut who will eventually move into one of the houses we were building, and drinking scolding tea while it’s already a hundered degrees outside and eating questionable raspberries – we were beginning to grasp the tremendous gratitude of what this new house will bring to her 7 children and their families. I know people have done much greater things than shovel and move dirt around…but feeling her warmth in the non-sticky, non-humid way we were feeling it physically – made us know we were doing something right.

Another man that I took more notice of was Mr. Liang – 67 years old. He was too poor when he was young so later in life he married a woman with mental and physical disabilities as she was the only option, had five children, and is finally getting a house. He was kind of awesome… so incredibly skinny and hunched over, wearing an old army t shirt and smoking up… something…but he worked harder than we did and would make fun of us to our faces at how out of shape we all were and how fat all foreigners are…like seriously, his calf muscles are skinnier than mine. Anyway – mad respect for the guy; I don’t know how many people would have lasted through what he has and still smile the whole time, hunched over, and endlessly working.

Learning what is everyday for other’s – teaches you a lot about what you consider normal for yourself…it’s pretty cool once you start paying attention.

The Random…

Okay so the kids in this village have next to no prospects. And even though I have studied and will continue to study facts about the importance of education or childhood development, seeing how it is necessary first hand, and what happens to children who don’t receive proper attention, really puts the importance of school into focus.
I know we’ve been told since grade 5 – but truly know the value; it is giving me a truly greater value and look at my studies – not only university…but even my basic child hood education and development, and what a difference basic learning makes in a persons life.

Once again, to those of you who are of the opinion, or have had the discussion with me arguing that anyone can make as much money and be as successful as they want depending on how hard they work/want it – I would like to give a gentle reminder that this is absolute BS, and you need to understand that that’s not how the world operates. I’ll repeat our mother’s words; we need to appreciate the location we’ve been born into and what we have been given. We the West have multitudes of issues – however, many of the reasons we fall can be tools to bless others with (money, influence, certain freedoms, etc.) so please, please put these things to good use because they are in your hands, but they are not yours.

I know that entry was a little all over the place…I’m pretty tired ….getting ready for Chengdu - !

Needless to say, I’ve begun to expect the unexpected.

Your fellow human,


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