Thanks, Mom and Dad, for Immigrating.

{Angel asked if he could contribute a blog post today, one that was very important to him, so I'm stepping aside.}


I came across this article in the news recently--the story of immigrants who ended up willing their entire estate to the government of the United States of America. Their motivations aren't entirely clear, but it's suspected that these immigrants felt grateful to a country that had taken them in when their own countries had provided no home for them.

I've also recently been reading up on the background of the Rohingya, the people who seemingly no country will claim as their own, although they have searched desperately for somewhere where they can live normally.

Reading these stories brought my mind back to the immigrants in my life, my mother and father. I have come to realize that  my life is hugely influenced by the fact that I was born in America. I am grateful and thankful that I was born in a country where I was provided an education and where my family received assistance when we were living in poverty.

It is possible to get a good education in Mexico. It's possible to live comfortably and well. But it would not have been possible for me; my family is not among the rich and powerful. If it weren't for my parents individually moving to America in the years before I was born, my brothers and I wouldn't have had the kinds of opportunities that we have simply because we're American.

Everyone has some sort of immigrant story of their parents or grandparents going through great physical trials and personal sacrifice to come to America--there are so many stories that it's easy to just ignore them, or lump them all together, call it the "past", and be done with it. I know the reason that my parents came to America was that they thought the great country to the north offered them a brighter future. And it did--for them, as well as their children, and the next generation, too.

I know I could receive criticism for thanking my parents for doing something that was illegal. I know there's nothing that sets an red-blooded American's temper going like hearing that the child of a teenage undocumented immigrant was on WIC. But I can't help but be thankful--because what they did gave me the life I now get to have. As teens, my parents did something incredibly scary, leaving their families behind and moving to a country where they didn't speak the language. My mom didn't see her own mother or father for over 10 years, because if she went back to Mexico, she'd have had to stay. Neither of my parents had a high school education. My dad was homeless for a period of time when he first arrived. But they found ways to get work. As a child, I remember our family sharing a two bedroom apartment with another family so that we could afford the rent--my brother and I slept in the dining room. Dad was working in different machinery jobs, Mom was working as a CNA and going to school to get her cosmetology license.

No, my parents aren't perfect people, and they haven't always made the most strategic decisions. I hadn't learned any English by the time I was put in school, which is the dramatic story behind why I flunked kindergarten. I'm proud of them for hiring a lawyer and becoming U.S. Citizens--which they have now been for the majority of my life.

Because my parents chose to immigrate to America more than thirty years ago--today, they live in a safe neighborhood with a good school for my youngest brother. My parents may not have been able to go to high school, but I was able to get my Bachelor's Degree from a private university. My other brother served in the United States Military, and is now in the process of getting his Bachelor's Degree. Because of their choice, all three of us have had a life far easier than their own. We may speak Spanish every chance we get, and we may love homemade Mexican food, but we're American, because of choices my parents made long ago. They are a great example of parental love, to me, and I'm thankful to them for making our lives possible.

Expat Life: Getting Sick in China

I spent most of last weekend sick and in bed, feeling quite miserably ill. In the meantime, I got a vivid reminder of what catching a common human ailment in this part of the world entails.

In America, we tend to have a bit of an independent streak when it comes to handling sickness. I've gotten sick and then gotten better in Michigan plenty of times--usually without ever having to inform anyone. Minor colds and fevers and stomach flus are nothing worth alerting the troops about. At this point, it's a long-running joke that every single time that I leave Angel for an extended period of time (usually to visit my family), he manages to get himself quite ill--but he has always survived all by himself, just calling in to get his days off work and then camping out in our little farmhouse, drinking Sprite and eating crackers until he feels better (funnily enough, he never gets sick when we're together...).

There are very thoughtful people in the West who will bring dinner to their sick loved ones and check in on them regularly to make sure they're doing okay. I am not by nature one of those people, so when I hear that the flu is going around at a family member's house, I'm most likely to stay away until the germs are gone. Lots of times, one hears of communities banding together in the face of a tragic diagnosis, and I'm glad to know that the American value of living independently doesn't stretch too far, because in tough situations, the strength of community can be needed much more than total independence.

However, on this side of the world, any minor illness turns itself into a community event. Just ask my parents if they've ever had a sick child over the last decade without at the same time receiving all manner of visitors and gift baskets and remedies and inquiries for health status updates (Answer: No).

I had the bad timing to fall ill on a weekend when we had several events on the calendar--a lunch with friends and a birthday party for a coworker's child. I really wasn't feeling up to going, so I sent Angel alone with my apologies.

On Saturday alone, several friends offered to take me to the hospital (I didn't think I was feeling quite as bad as that!), and I was sent a salad, rice, cabbage, bananas, tomatoes, cake, and buns so that I would have all the nutrition I needed. The mother of the 10 year old birthday boy left her son's party to come to our apartment and check on me to make sure I was okay, and brought a traditional Chinese remedy with her to dose me with. She also made me swear to drink only hot water and not cold or iced water.

My invalid personality is one that prefers to recover in isolation. My cure for any random illness is a day or two of staying in and moaning on the couch, taking whatever over-the-counter medicines seem most appropriate. Usually I feel much better at the end of two days and am back to taking on the world. If I had a choice, I wouldn't ask for or encourage visitors because I don't want to be seen in my frumpy, sickly state.

But, man, how good these people are to us. We've only been here since August. We're totally the new guys. The outsiders. And yet, in a time of what was truly minor discomfort and very temporary helplessness, they show themselves instantly ready to take care of us in a way that to me seems to extend beyond the call of duty.

There's a lot I like about the way communities work in this part of the world. Here--they don't usually consider the option of just leaving someone alone for a couple days to recover from a common ailment. That whole independence, take care of yourself thing? It's a tad overrated. I think there can be a great deal of value in making a point to care for and help people even when, in all honesty, they are still perfectly capable of helping themselves. I was only a little sick, after all.

Next time, I hope I get a chance to at least comb my hair before someone drops by my sickbed, but I must say, it's a pretty cool thing to be loved this way. It's not because of anything that I am or have done, either. It's just that it's who they are.That's a powerful kind of love.

Jealousy? Not in My Marriage.

Back in February, when we were visiting my family, at the breakfast table, Angel told a story about a dream that had disturbed him. In his dream, I had met a guy, and started dating him. At first, Angel wasn't bothered by this at all. He described how, in the dream, I'd come home from each date and excitedly told him all about the guy and everything we did and how fun it was. Angel said he felt totally fine with the 1st date, and the 2nd, too, but when it came to the 3rd, that was going just a little too far. The takeaway from this dream, he said to all of us listening to his story, was that he's going to draw a hard line--his wife isn't allowed to go on 3 consecutive dates with the same guy, because that's just too much commitment.

We nearly fell out of our seats with laughter at his shocking tale.

That anecdote should not be taken to mean that I, as a married woman, run around dating other men a maximum of two times apiece. But, after hearing that tale, you probably won't be overly surprised when I say that jealousy has no place in our marriage.

I feel as if no sooner did we become a couple than mentions of jealousy began popping up. Angel told me once, during those early weeks of phone calls, "I'm a nurse. You know that means I'll be working with mostly women for the rest of my life. Are you really okay with that?"

My coy response was: "I think you're smart enough to know the difference between a wife and a coworker, so yeah, that's no problem for me."

He just laughed. "Wife...coworker....wife...coworker...hmmm, I think I see what you mean."

We understood each other perfectly.

When I was in beauty school, a client saw the picture of Angel I kept on my mirror and asked me about him. "He's Mexican, isn't he?" she said, "Mexican men are known for their jealousy--I'd be careful if I were you."

I laughed then, because my husband is not, and has never been, jealous. When I told him the story of how (3 years post-marriage) I was infamously asked out on a date by a very sweet 19 year old at a New Year's Eve Dance, he thought it was the funniest thing ever and wished he had been there to see the awkward look on my face when I was trying to figure out how to respond.

I had a few moments of jealousy on my part very early on in our relationship (mostly jealousy of the past, which, we should all know, is the most useless and ridiculous form jealousy can take), but as years have passed, I've grown up enough to know that one thing I will fight for is to keep jealousy out of my marriage.

Both of us have traditional "till death do we part" views toward our own marriage. It's not that we're so modern that we think it doesn't matter if our spouse falls in love with someone else. It's simply that we believe that a jealous attitude will poison our marriage faster than any innocent contact/conversation/relationship with someone of the opposite gender ever could.

The fact that each of us has a free will and is responsible for our own actions is a key point of my theology. Any married person can choose to be faithful to their spouse or can choose to be unfaithful, and their lives will bear the consequences of their choice either way. No, I don't want my husband to cheat on me. But I believe that if he is determined to cheat on me, no boundary that I set up is going to stop him. If my husband is unfaithful to me, it is not my fault, and it is not the other woman's fault, it is the result of his own choice and his own actions. In my view, it is impossible for a married person to accidentally fall in love with someone they're not married to--and because of that impossibility, it would be silly for me to life my life in fear of this happening.

I am not a jealous person, because I fundamentally believe that if a man and a woman are left alone in a room at the same time, they do not spontaneously combust into flames of love. That's a myth. People who are unfaithful to their spouses actively choose that route--for many different reasons, possibly, but they choose it.

In some cases, for some people, actively choosing to be faithful to their spouses in complicated situations might be a daily battle. In our case, it's more comparable to autopilot.

Our experience in marriage has not given either one of us any reason to view the other jealously, and I'm determined to never let the vicious weed of jealousy attempt to sneak in and destroy the peaceful relationship we have.

What does a marriage not characterized by jealousy look like in real life?

- We leave ourselves signed in to most social media and email accounts as a matter of convenience, and occasionally check the other's accounts for important messages, but have no rules banning contacting friends via email or social media, regardless of gender.

- I hug people whenever they hug me first (not a hugger). Angel hugs almost everybody. I do not feel insecure or jealous when he hugs people, even when they are strangers to me.

- All of our professional interactions (whether in the hospital or school) are governed by adherence to the policies set in place by our workplace, and we don't have any of our own additional workplace rules above and beyond normal ethical and professional behavior when it comes to interactions between genders.

- I have traveled to visit family and left Angel home alone many times, with the longest trip I've ever gone on lasting 3 weeks. He plays sports and leaves me home alone for the evening regularly.

- I feel proud of how likeable my husband is and how easily he makes friends wherever he goes.

- I do scold Angel when he takes off his wedding ring and spins in on the table like a top when we're at a night market waiting for our dinners. I always tell him that if he drops it in a drain someday, it'll have to be replaced with a cheap steel or silver ring instead of a gold one. Both of us wear our wedding rings most of the time, but not all the time, and not wearing our rings is not viewed as a threat to our marriage or a signal of impending doom.

- He encourages me to dress "attractively." I respond by dressing "like a rainbow" but maybe try to make it an "attractive" rainbow. We have different ideas on the fundamentals of a great outfit, but I appreciate that he doesn't feel the need to squash my sense of style.

- We're each happy when good things happen to the other. Angel has always said that he hopes I someday become a famous author and make millions of dollars--since that would obviously improve his own lifestyle.

Tung Ping Chau: The Gilligan's Island of Hong Kong

Let's just get this out of the way. I have an extreme and inexplicable love for the TV show Gilligan's Island. Think of all the normal TV shows that normal people obsess over, multiply that obsession a handful of times and apply it to a semi-obscure campy comedy from half a century ago, and that's the situation we're talking about. I discovered it existed when I was 10 years old, and at this point I have every episode of all 3 seasons memorized and i own the reunion movie where they actually escape the island. Gilligan's Island and me, we're tight.

I first learned of the existence of Tung Ping Chau back in January, and immediately decided that we needed to make a trip out to this remote island before we moved away. Something about the island caught my interest. Maybe it was the fact that it's not attached to Hong Kong's electricity and water providers (the restaurants use generators and the bathrooms are outhouses). Maybe it was the fact that once you're there, you're stuck there for at least the day--the ferry arrives Saturday morning, and doesn't return until late Saturday afternoon. To me, this island sounded just about as close to Gilligan's Island as it's possible for me to get.

I was determined that I was going to finally get the Gilligan's Island-esque stranded on a tropical island experience. Since my mom and dad were visiting, and cousin Shannon was meeting up with us, I decided to drag my nearest and dearest along for the adventure.

That's right. My parents and Shannon were in Hong Kong for a few days only and instead of doing The Peak Tram or Lantau Island or anything a normal tourist might do, I told them that we were headed out on a 1.5 hour ferry ride to a remote island and didn't give them much choice in the matter. If I would have given them a choice, they probably would have rebelled. This is how good tour guides behave.

Ma Liu Shui Ferry Pier
View from the ferry pier
We were up bright and early Saturday, took the metro to University Station, and walked from there to the Ma Liu Shui ferry pier. We lined up to buy tickets, which started being sold half an hour before the boat left, and as soon as we bought our tickets, we grabbed some good seats on the top level of the boat. We had packed along one big backpack filled with about a dozen bottles to drink, along with packages of peanuts and crackers and other things we thought would help us survive our day in the wilderness (you don't necessarily want to trust your hydration to whatever supplies the island's restaurants might have on hand, although LOTS of water bottles, Coca-cola, and beer were loaded onto the ferry that we rode on and delivered to the island).

The ferry trip was largely uneventful, we napped and chatted about how best to escape in case disaster struck the ferry and we had to abandon ship (what can I say? We were in a Gilligan's Island frame of mind). When we hit an open bay, two rather large swells rocked the boat a bit and gave us a little roller coaster-like experience--making me glad that none of us are prone to seasickness.

Tung Ping Chau Pier

When we arrived on the pier and everyone got off the ferry, I was initially somewhat dismayed--my Gilligan's Island had so many people on it! There was something majorly wrong with this picture. But my worry was needless. While the pier was crowded, it turned out that, yes, the 1.6 sq. kilometer island was indeed big enough for all of us, and during most of the day we had a very serene experience of wandering on our own, only occasionally bumping into our fellow island explorers, none of whom were loud or disruptive in any way. Serene and largely people-free isn't necessarily the first thing you think of when you think of Hong Kong, but Tung Ping Chau is a bit of an anomaly.

Tung Ping Chau Pier

Tung Ping Chau
Tung Ping Chau Map

We immediately set off to circumnavigate the island on foot (fun fact: no cars on Tung Ping Chau). The island's trail is in remarkably good condition in comparison to most hiking trails I've encountered in this part of the globe.

At one time, there was a thriving village with approximately 1,500 inhabitants on Tung Ping Chau, but at this point it is thought that there are no permanent residents on the island, although there are rustic campsites for tourists who want to spend the whole weekend on the island, and I believe that the families who own the restaurants that serve tourists also stay on the island on the weekends.

Tung Ping Chau

We discovered an abandoned, falling down church near the crumbling village, and we just had to take a peek inside.

Tung Ping Chau

Tung Ping Chau

This particular building had bars on all the windows--I imagine to discourage robbers, but since there is no longer any door or roof, it's not exactly like I was breaking and entering.

When we got to the rocky beach, we were in awe of the broken bits of coral and rocks that were everywhere. Angel stopped to examine an interesting one, declaring, "This rock is so special!" About 5 seconds later, when he'd realized that the rock he held was merely the average sort of rock that the beach held, he exclaimed, "Every rock is special!"

"Every rock is special!" became the slogan of our trip.

Tung Ping Chau

There was this little nook in the cliffs along the shore that just happened to have a tunnel going all the way through, and we couldn't help but climb inside. It was a very narrow tunnel--we were all laying on our stomachs to get this picture, and getting  out by shimmying backward and trying not to bump our heads on the roof took a great deal of care. The tunnel was actually about 10 feet above the level of the beach--Angel had jumped up to a little ledge right outside the opening, so this photo is a mite deceiving.

Tung Ping Chau

The following series of photos might be titled: "Rachel happily dances around Tung Ping Chau because it is, indeed, the next best thing to Gilligan's Island." I was so thrilled to be there.

Tung Ping Chau

Tung Ping Chau

Tung Ping Chau

Tung Ping Chau
Tung Ping Chau

Tung Ping Chau

See my arms all akimbo in every. single. photo? That's my non-official sign language for, "Look at this! This is awesome! I can't believe I'm really here! Ahh! So much coolness!"

With rests and picnic stops, it took us a little over 3 hours to circumnavigate the island, at which point we parked ourselves on the beach and just took in the view.

Tung Ping Chau

Tung Ping Chau

Tung Ping Chau

But then! We'd enjoyed steamy sunny weather all day. So hot that while on the trail, Dad was making up songs about how hot it was, which the rest of us did not find funny. As we sat and simply enjoyed the passing of time, we began to see menacing clouds rolling in.

Tung Ping Chau

It didn't start raining quite as soon as the crowds arrived, so we took our time as we headed towards the restaurants and the shelter they provided, stopping to explore a cemetery along the way.

We made it to the restaurant shortly before a torrential downpour broke out, and feasted on rice, noodles, and tea as the tarp above our heads drooped scarily lower and lower as it filled up with water. Then the restaurant owner came out and temporarily untied one of the corners of the tarp, let all the water come gushing down, and tied it back up, so we were safe from being drenched once more.

It's important to note that we were never actually stranded on Hong Kong's Gilligan's Island, though I think all day we entertained the idea that we might be. The ferry arrived promptly at 5, and we were headed back to civilization by 5:15.

The downpour had affected civilization too. When we took the pedestrian walkway back to the metro stop, we found that one of the tunnels was flooded! Shannon and I were wearing Chacos and walked through unfazed, while Mom, Dad, and Angel opted to take their shoes and socks off and walk through barefoot so as not to have to deal with soggy feet for the rest of the trip. Others who were similarly trapped in the tunnel used the plastic shopping bag approach. This was actually  a heartwarming display of community togetherness--one person had the shopping bags, and the bags kept being passed from one person to the next person who needed them in order to cross with dry feet.

Tung Ping Chau was an amazing adventure, and is now right up there with Disneyland as my favorite part of Hong Kong. Seeing as the trip is about 1/5th the cost of Disneyland, that probably edges it up a little higher. I'm so glad I got to visit my very own Gilligan's Island!

Americans Abroad Eating at McDonald's

Many a snide comment has been made about Americans who, while abroad, choose to eat at McDonald's.

So it's not without some slight trepidation that I announce: I'm American, I live abroad, and occasionally, I eat at McDonald's or other fast food chain restaurants.

Eating at McDonald's Abroad

Please note, that, on the whole, I intensely dislike McDonald's, and when I'm in America or Malaysia I absolutely refuse to eat there because there is always a better option.

I choose to confess my obvious lack of class in visiting McDonald's while abroad in order to explain what may motivate some of the Americans who choose to eat in McDonald's while overseas.

These reasons apply to my situation:

1) I do not have an extremely strong stomach. I live in a region of the world known for delicious local foods as well as occasional high-profile cases concerning lack of food safety. Have you ever heard of the rat meat, bleached tofu, fried food coated in melted plastic, and gutter oil phenomenons? That's all real. The usual way to find out which restaurants to avoid and which to try is to get food recommendations from the locals, and even in our own neighborhood, there are a number of street stalls and food shops that our local friends caution us to stay away from. When we're traveling, or working, or otherwise far from home, I will often choose the "safest" foods I can find, because I don't have the opinions of locals to advise me, and I don't want to deal with stomach ailments instead of enjoying my time and getting my work done. Sometimes, even with as much as I know about McDonald's shady food prep practices, I perceive it as a relatively 'safe' option, given that the company extends certain food safety practices to all of its franchises.

Kung Pao Chicken and Green Beans with Minced Pork
2) Good food is expensive. We were in Hong Kong last weekend. Hong Kong is famous for its seafood and its dim sum, and as well as its high prices. Many a decent meal at a reasonably nice restaurant is in the 200-400 HKD range--while a double cheeseburger combo at McDonald's costs 22 HKD. Personally, I have a lifelong dislike of both dim sum and seafood, and I like to keep my vacation budget small, so paying big bucks for a local specialty dim sum meal when I've had dim sum countless times over the last decade and have never developed a taste for it doesn't make sense to me. Restaurant food is generally not a huge priority to me, so if it's up to me, I won't ever choose a fancy expensive restaurant--if I want an expensive meal, I'll cook it at home. I'm the kind of girl who is very content to go to the grocery store on vacation to grab oatmeal, bananas,  and  sandwich supplies and survive on those for the duration of vacation. My favorite food in the entire world is Indian flatbreads with curry--a meal which usually costs less than $2 (USD) when purchased in Malaysia. A kid's hamburger or a small fry (the only two things I'll typically eat on the McDonald's menu) are cheap and will stave off the hunger pangs for a few more hours so that I can do the next thing on my list. I'd rather be able to go on vacations that are affordable for me than to wait forever to save up money so that I can buy extravagant meals on vacation. That's one area where it's fairly easy for us to cut costs.

Pan-fried vegetable egg roll
3) When you live abroad, sometimes the thought of Western food is bizarrely enticing! Our usual weekly diet involves eating noodles or rice with delicious add-ons about 5 days a week, whether home-cooked or from our favorite shops, with the other two days being something like tacos, soup, fried chicken, or eggs. When you live just down the street from an amazingly delicious noodle shop, somehow, when you're on vacation, that exotic-looking Subway sign (there are no Subway restaurants in ShenZhen) and the thought of bread and an actual sub sandwich simply sounds more appealing than experimenting with visiting yet another noodle shop.

 Fruit on a stick

4) Eating at an overseas McDonald's can still be an exotic experience. From the seasonal "Prosperity Burger" available during Chinese New Year, to red bean and green lentil flavored sundaes, to chicken porridge, to burgers topped with mashed potato--you don't actually know what's being served in McDonald's restaurants around the world, so it can be fun to walk in and find out!


Also, by the way, my hometown is widely considered the best place to eat in all of South East Asia, so I can get get plenty of fabulous, inexpensive food whenever I visit home--perhaps that skews my perspective about eating in unfamiliar places.

What about you? Have you ever gone for some familiar fast food when traveling outside of your home country, or are you a far braver person than I?