top of page


(From "YEAR ONE: Crash Course In Culture Shock")


Dear Journal,

Everyone in China works pretty hard during the day - even old ladies - and since houses here are kind of small and everyone lives in an apartment building with no backyard, people spend a lot of time outside. And since it is hot during the days, but cool at night, everyone - and I mean everyone - goes to hang out in a local plaza near their neighborhood. Plazas are everywhere! Big plazas, small plazas, high plazas, low plazas, real plazas, fake plazas (like a parking lot or a sidewalk that turns into a plaza at night because there are so many people). We have 4-5 plazas all around our house.

No one loves plazas as much as Chinese grandmas! Every night after dinner, the grandmas come out and take over the whole city to do one thing and one thing only: DANCE! And not just dance around for fun. We're talking about serious dancing. Hundreds of them line up side by side and dance the same dance together and if you're picturing a bunch of smiling ladies moving slowly and gracefully to slow and peaceful music then GET THAT OUT OF YOUR HEAD! These grandmas are serious. Serious faces. Serious moves. Serious speed!

Here is what happens: Groups of 10 or 50 or 500 grandmas (like an army) show up to the plaza when the sun goes down and claim their territory. Each group has a leader, this is the most serious grandma wearing an outfit that screams "I'm the leader" (picture a headband, fancy clothes that sparkle or light up and maybe even a microphone headset so they can bark orders) and this leader will set up their own mini sound system in one corner of the plaza which is usually a big boombox (I didn't know what a boombox was until dad told me). When he first said boombox, I pictured something exploding. Then dad explained that they play music really loud. Apparently, he had a few of them growing up (I want one!). As soon as the boombox starts playing and the leader steps up then all the grandmas run into place, lining up side by side, row by row. Here's the crazy thing, ONE plaza might have FIVE different armies of dancing grandmas performing at the same time. It's like a battlefield! And the loudest boombox wins! Serious leaders bring big speakers that they somehow mount on stands. These speakers blow the regular boombox grandmas out of the plaza. If you step in just the right spot in the middle of the plaza, you can actually hear all FIVE different sound systems crashing together...I'm pretty sure if you stand there long enough your head will explode! Maybe it's happened before...

Two detectives at a crime scene, staring down at a chalk outline...

Detective #1: Another boomhead?

Detective #2: Yep.

Amazingly, in the midst of all this noise, all 5 different grandma armies will follow their own leader and dance their own routine to their own music. No doubt about it, in K-Town, grandmas rule the night.

In second place behind the grandmas are the kids! Woohoo! Parents all over our city bring their kids outside so they can run around and play and probably to get us tired for bed. So EVERYONE goes outside to the plazas which also become miniature carnivals for kids. That's right. In the middle of the plazas or out on the edges you can do all kinds of fun stuff like drive electric cars and bikes, statue painting, and inflatable sandboxes. The bigger plazas will have even bigger games like trampolines, merry-go-rounds and enormous bounce houses. During the day these plazas are empty, but at night they come alive.

Near our house, right across the street from our apartment building is one of K-Town's biggest plazas which means within minutes we can be in the middle of all the action. On nights when mom and dad say we're going to the plaza, Lucas and I eat quick, grab our change, put on our light up shoes, and off we go to the plaza for some family fun. Usually, we get in trouble with a few grandmas because we accidentally walk or run through their lines, but tonight we made enemies with a whole army of them.

Here's what happened:

DISASTER ONE: After crossing the street together. Lucas and I saw the balloon guy in his usual spot. We walked over and pulled out our 2 Chinese dollars (liang Kuai Qian) and picked our favorites. I got a Pikachu balloon and Lucas got a Boonie Bear (more about these guys later). We paid, said "Xie Xie Ni" (Thank you!) and took off running toward the electric cars with our balloons bouncing at our sides and with mom and dad following behind. The night was unusually cool with a slight breeze blowing across the plaza and already 3 boom boxes were blaring music for 3 big groups of dancing old ladies. I immediately noticed the biggest group was right next to the cars. The electric car laoban (owner) had placed cones in a wide circle for kids to drive around in, but the grandmas were dancing right up to them. I was already thinking this was going to be problematic when I heard Lucas shout "Come back!" I turned around to see him take off running, chasing after his balloon. I was about to help him, but quickly decided to let mom and dad handle this one. The balloon flew right into grandma group #1I Lucas was laser-focused on one thing only, getting his balloon back so he didn't notice or care that his balloon was bouncing off of grandmas, messing up their perfectly choreographed routine and Lucas bouncing off of them too. I couldn't see the balloon or Lucas, but I could see grandmas falling to the left and right and I could hear the shouts of angry old women spreading through the crowd. A minute later, mom and dad came walking up. Dad was carrying Lucas and mom was carrying his balloon. They both had red, unhappy faces. I knew the question that was coming before they even said it:

"WHY do you boys always buy balloons right when we get here?!"

Lucas and I shrugged our shoulders. I was trying not to smile since dad sounded so serious but it didn't matter to Lucas. He had a big grin on his face (sometimes when dad or mom are talking seriously and I see Lucas smiling, I almost explode in laughter. It takes all of my strength to keep from losing it. Sometimes I think my face might cramp up from the strain of holding it together). Dad wasn't done with his lecture:

"Now WE get to hold your balloons for an hour. Next time, wait until we're leaving to buy your balloons, okay?"

We both nodded our heads. Lucas looked at me and smiled so big that I had to bend over and pretend to tie my shoes and laugh at the ground. My whole body was shaking. When I stood up, I noticed the back row of grandmas scowling at us. My smile disappeared.

DISASTER TWO: I know exactly which electric car I want. After weeks of test-driving each one, I know their top speeds, braking distances and overall handling ability. No vehicle on the lot can beat the green four-wheeler and for that reason, I'm willing to wait for it. Lucas climbs in his favorite Transformers Army Tank and the clerk hands dad the remote control. I'm not sure if Lucas realizes it or not that dad is actually the one controlling his vehicle, but he probably doesn't care. He just likes the fact that his vehicle is the biggest one out there, it moves slow, but it towers over all the others and could crush them if dad would let him. He drives away as I wait patiently for the boy on the green four-wheeler to finish his turn. By the time I climb onto the 4-wheeler Lucas has already been driving around for 10 minutes and his turn is over. Before I peel away I see him run over to another vehicle and climb in. I do a few laps with my 4-wheeler inside the cones, but I'm planning my route for going all over the plaza. That's when mom waves me over and asks me to please follow Lucas because he's going to be driving on his own for the first time. I could tell that he had been begging and crying and mom and dad finally gave in. BIG MISTAKE! So much for my speed laps around the plaza.

Lucas was smiling in a miniature black Hummer. He pulled on the throttle and lunged forward, giggling in delight. I followed along beside him at exactly .05 miles per hour, moving like a sick turtle. Lucas did a few circles with me behind him and then he said "Race!". Ha! The kid was delusional. I pulled up beside him, ready to let him eat my dust. Dad walked over and whispered the words I had come to hate most in life "Let him win, okay?"

Lucas shouted "Go!" and yanked his throttle and shot forward like a sloth. I moved in behind him and immediately started bumping into his bumper. This made him laugh all the more. I bumped him again and again. Now we were both cracking up. I pulled back on my throttle for one final bump. He looked back in anticipation, taking his eyes off the road in front of him (rookie mistake)...he didn't see the cones coming straight at him. He didn't see the grandmas running to the left and right. He didn't see or feel the bump of the boom box under his tires as he climbed up and over it like a monster truck. The grandma dance leader was swatting at him with her fan, screaming Chinese words that we were happy not to understand. Well, at least everyone but dad. Speaking of dad (mom sat this one out), he finally caught up to Lucas who was STILL looking back at me laughing hysterically. I had stopped right at the end of the cones that were now scattered on the ground. The laoban was right behind dad. Dad grabbed Lucas out of his vehicle and the laoban (owner) grabbed the Hummer. All three were showered with verbal abuse and swats from a horde of angry grandmas.

Dad quickly paid the laoban for our rides and we headed for home. I did notice a lot of people smiling and giving us thumbs up as we walked away. Maybe they were secretly against the dancing grandmas, but they would never say it.

At bedtime, dad talked to me about how I always compete with Lucas. He pointed out how I got mad when he asked me to let Lucas win and how that anger led me to bump Lucas' car, causing him to get distracted and...well, you know the rest. Dad said there's another way, a better way, and then he read these verses from the Bible:

Philippians 2:5-8 (ERV) "Think the way Christ Jesus thought. He was like God in every way, but he did not think that his being equal with God was something to use for his own benefit. Instead, he gave up everything, even his place with God. He accepted the role of a servant, appearing in human form. During his life as a man, he humbled himself by being fully obedient to God, even when that caused his death—death on a cross."

Hello God. I'm sorry we caused so much trouble for so many grandmas tonight. I know I wouldn't want to make my own grandmas so angry (I've never seen my grandma get angry). Thank you for grandma and grandpa and Ita and Tata. Help me to be more careful, especially when I'm playing with Lucas. I really don't like it when dad tells me to let him win. But why do I always want to win? It seems like Jesus really did an amazing thing when he came down from heaven and didn't just show off His power and set up a big castle with a big throne and order everyone around. Dad says Jesus knew He was Your son and so He didn't have to prove it. Jesus was happy to let You have all the attention. That's how he could wash his disciple's feet and die on the cross for everyone...he lived for others and not himself. That seems really hard to do. Dad says since I'm bigger than Lucas, I know I'm faster than him so I don't have to prove it. Instead, I should want to help him be better and faster. I should let him get the attention sometimes. I'm gonna try. Please help me. One thing's for sure, we better go to a new plaza for a while. Good night, God.

16 views0 comments
bottom of page