Sunday, August 25, 2013

Hong Kong is Home

Hello from the other side of the globe!

After nearly 30 hours of travel, fellow YASCer Sarah Lowery and I landed safely in Hong Kong where were met with open arms by former YASCer Grace Flint and my supervisor, the Rev. Stephen Miller. It was 11:30 pm when I arrived at my home, the Mariners' Club, and I quickly went to bed (or tried to) after Skyping with my parents. Physically, I was exhausted, however the jet lag simply refused to let my brain shut off. I finally passed out around 4 am only to wake up at 7 am without an alarm. As frustrating as it was, I took the opportunity to do some early morning exploring around my neighborhood. That's when I fell in love with the Hong Kong skyline.

The Hong Kong skyline as seen from the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui.
 I took this picture on my first morning in the city.

I live about five minutes from a place called the Avenue of Stars. It's a mix of the Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles and the battery in Charleston, South Carolina. Then add the Manhattan Skyline (on steroids). Simply put it is breathtaking, stunning, and completely unique.

My first few days here in the city have been amazing. Everything here is over the top. The skyline is massive, the streets are packed, the temperature is scorching, and the generosity and kindness is overwhelming. People are so nice here, especially the people at my work, The Mariners' Club.

A lot has happened over the last week so I will give you some highlights of my first five days:

1. I have started training for my job with the Rev. Stephen Miller and so far we have covered the basics of the seafaring industry. I have learned a lot about the demanding work of seafarers, and the loneliness and mistreatment that plagues the people in this industry. It is amazing that despite the fact that 95% of world trade takes place on the seas, I never gave one thought about the driving force behind all that trade. Every material good we have is brought to us by the shipping industry and seafarers. The laptop, tablet or phone that you are reading this blogpost on, the clothes you are currently wearing, the swanky glass of Italian red wine you are currently drinking are all courtesy of the shipping industry. All of these goods are brought to us from every corner of the earth, and done so by a few powerful shipping companies. These companies try to hire the cheapest possible crew with the intent of moving freight as fast as possible. The result? Ships of seafarers that spend 6-12 months at sea, spending only an afternoon or evening in the handful of ports that they dock into. Take into account that these seafarers often have wives and children, and very little time to communicate with them. It's a recipe for depression, but that's where my organization comes in. I am excited to start work tomorrow, and I think that over the course of the next year I will be able to make life a little easier for a lot of people.

2. Last night I rode the Star Ferry from Hong Kong to Tsim Sha Tsui instead of taking the subway under Victoria Harbour. It was definitely one of the highlights of my LIFE for a multitude of reasons. Not only was it a very powerful "God moment", but it was also a moment when I realized that I was right where I need to be - where God intended me to be so that I could both grow spiritually and give much-needed aid those working on the sea. The view of the city at night was unlike anything I had ever seen in my life, as my commute lined up perfectly with the Symphony of Lights - the nightly light show that takes place on the canvas of skyscrapers in Hong Kong and Kowloon. I took photos that don't do this event justice, however I did snap this shot from the back of the vessel that can give you a small sense of its beauty. Standing on the back of the ferry, I felt a wave of calm wash over me as I watched the lights bounce and burst across the city. I felt a part of something so much bigger than me. I felt like I was home.

The view of Hong Kong from the Star Ferry on Victoria Harbour.

3. Today, after eucharist at St. Paul's Chapel, I played basketball at a place called Southorn Playground in Wan Chai. The playground is a large set of courts tucked away in the city, surrounded by towering skyscrapers. Playing basketball has always been a release for me. I wouldn't say that I am very good at it, but it is a game that I love to play. It was really interesting to see how the game is played here in Hong Kong: a city 8,000 miles away from the place where I first picked it up. What are the differences? Not much really. The Chinese players I played against passed the ball around a lot more than most Americans. Oh, and it was 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity outside. Other than that, it was practically the same ball as back home.

Ballin' among the skyscrapers of Hong Kong.

Some things (like faith) are universal, and it turns out Basketball is one of those things. The hoop is always 10 feet high and 15 feet back from the baseline. Selfish play is always despised, while crisp passes and solid defense elicits applause. Ticky-tack foul calls are abhorred the world over.
It was comforting to find the game of my childhood alive and well in this big beautiful city. I will definitely be returning to Wan Chai soon.

Monday, August 19, 2013

I Am Not Alone

It's finally here. I leave for Hong Kong tomorrow morning at 10:30 am! 

The past few days have been bittersweet as I've gotten to see nearly all of my close friends and eat all of my favorite foods for the last time (at least for a while). It has been sad, but I am SO excited to start this new chapter. 

One question I have been asked frequently over the past few days has been, "What are you most excited about?" This has been a hard question to answer, and I think the answer has been different with every response. However, now that I have thought it over, I am most excited to grow. 

What do I mean by growing? Culturally, mentally, spiritually - this mission is going change me. I've never lived in such a massive city. I've never been so far from home. I've never been in a better position to wrestle with my faith. 

But I'm nervous. A little scared, but mostly excited. This emotional state is just too big for words. But that's when I find prayer most useful, and the following prayer by Thomas Merton has made the past few weeks a little easier.

"My Lord God,

I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me. 
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does 
not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that my desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. 

Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone."

I remember I first read this prayer in high school, however it didn't really speak to me. I imagine my 17-year-old dumbass self must have thought I had it all figured out. Typical. But nearly a decade later, with the uncertainty of moving to China looming over my head, these words mean so much more to me. It's just not the power of the words of this prayer that moves me. It's also the idea that there others reading this prayer, or have read this prayer, to overcome doubt and uncertainty.

I know that this prayer sustained my friend and fellow YASCer Jared during his time in Lesotho, Africa. And that is also supported my priest and former YASCer Thomas Murphy during his mission in Honduras. It may sound silly and ridiculous, but I feel stronger and more confident after reciting the words above. The words make me realize that I am not alone. I feel this way because I know this prayer has a history. It has played a large part in the lives of the people who have come before me, and continues to play a part in the lives of people currently discerning their own callings. I'm sure it will also play a huge role in the lives of people who have not yet read it. Who knows? Perhaps someone reading this blog will find some solace in these words and become a part of the story. 

I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me. 

But I am not alone. 

See you on the other side!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Traveling, Training and Tying Up Loose Ends Pt. 2

Welp! It's here, ya'll! 10 days from today I leave for Hong Kong. Have I started to freak out a little? Yes. But in a good way. I am so excited to get going on this mission.

A lot has happened since I returned home from training and traveling. In the past few weeks I have been trying to say goodbye to all of my close friends and family here in Asheville. Last weekend, I said goodbye to one of my best friends, Helen Lindau, as she embarks on her journey to work with the Episcopal Service Corps in New Orleans. I also got to share a tasty Asheville brew with fellow YASCer Alan Yarborough before he departed for Cange, Haiti. I am so proud of my fellow Ashevillians Episcopalians for doing such meaningful work with their lives. Such inspiration.

I also knocked two items off of my America bucket list by attending an Asheville Tourist baseball game and going for a hike in my beloved Blue Ridge Mountains. The pictures speaks for themselves: both activities were a blast.

Young Adult Episcopalians taking in some Asheville baseball. 

The view from atop one of Sam's Knob. One of my favorite hikes. 

This past week I was also quite productive! Since last Sunday I have received all my vaccinations for my upcoming trip, written all of my thank-you notes to my wonderful donors and received my visa for Hong Kong. On top of all of that good stuff, I also finished fundraising for my trip!

On Sunday, August 4, I spoke at St. Luke's Church in Asheville where I received just enough to finish fundraising. I was not aware of this going into it but St. Luke's is a historic chapel built in the late 1800s. It is a very small sanctuary but it is very beautiful and intimate. I was so nervous going into speak because I was not accustomed to speaking to so many in such a small space, however I was quickly comforted by kindness of the people inside. Never before I have received such a warm welcome from a congregation.  What St. Luke's lacks in size, they make up with generosity and love. It was a great way to wrap up a long five months of fundraising and preparation for this mission.

St. Luke's on Chunn's Cove Road in Asheville.
It has been a long and difficult journey raising the money needed for this trip, however it has been so rewarding to travel to churches in the diocese of Western North Carolina and talk about YASC and my mission. I want to send a HUGE "thank you" to everyone who has supported me through this process. I promise I will do my best to make you proud, and pay forward the kindness you have all shown to me. Y'all are the best.

10 days until I leave for Hong Kong! You will be hearing from me at least one more time before I leave. Until then, be good.