prose, The China Chapter, travel

आत्मा की उदारता: Enough to Go Around

An hour’s drive from India’s busy city of Jodhpur takes you to the dusty streets of Chandelao.

I was only there for a few nights, but even in such a short amount of time was able to lay witness to the extreme generosity of the families I met.  Each evening, I would walk the streets, kicking up dust and avoiding the cows in the road.  It wouldn’t take long, before children were everywhere, pulling me into a small temple or dragging me to their house to meet their parents.

The houses were all the same: concrete shells with very little inside.  A few girls, who dragged me to their home, were so excited for me to meet their mother.  They ripped off my sandals at the door and pushed me inside.

The bottom floor of the two story house had 4 rooms; a small main room with a house altar, a small kitchen where their father was squatting while preparing a potted dinner, a storage room, and a small room that was empty, save for a 1980s style television that did not work.

Printed pictures of the families five children were glued to the concrete walls.  There was no paint, no carpet, just cold, hard concrete everywhere you looked and walked.  The children invited me up concrete stairs to see their bedroom, but I felt I had intruded enough.

The family offered me water, then chai, then dinner, but having already eaten, I just opted for a few more minutes of conversation.  Then I profusely thanked the family for inviting me in before heading back to the guesthouse for the night.

To say the house was small was an understatement.  My apartment feels palatial by comparison.  But I never have people over.  I do not drag in strangers for dinner.  I do not think I have ever been as giving as that Indian family in my entire life.

And that’s what I found, time and again, in Chandelao.  One day, Susan–a fellow traveler–and I wandered, quite by accident, into a family’s backyard.  In the US, I might hear screams of “Get off my property,” been chased by a dog, or–worse case scenario–been shot.  In Chandelao, the family pulled chairs out from the house, invited us to relax, and made us chai tea.

What was going on?  Such generosity in such extreme poverty?

It reminded me of a line in The Prince of Egypt: “And that’s why we share all we have with you, though there’s little to be found; when all you’ve got is nothing, there’s a lot to go around.”

Clearly, having more just means you have more to lose.


prose, The China Chapter, travel

केवल यह: Only This

India is prose. Dunked in the complete chaos of a city of earthen walls, steaming chai, and tuk-tuks battling bulls for street space, the poetry falls away. There is no turn of phrase, no photograph, no video that can incapsulate the taste of turmeric, the intense incense scent, and the cheerful battle of sounds taking place right now between the fire crackling to my left, the fountain flowing to my right, and the music streaming from the bar in front of me. In a world of such cacophony of the senses, poetry falls utterly away and only this–only prose–remains.

China, prose, The China Chapter

닭 튀김 – Korean Fried Chicken

This post today was brought to you by a guest blogger: The ever so kind, ever so inimitable Lucy.  Lucy lived abroad when younger and, as a wife and parent of three, decide to bring her family overseas to live.  They moved to Kazakhstan and, for the past four years, have been living in Chengdu.  Lucy enjoys everything music, being a good mom, and the occasional margarita.  She is also so kind as to grace us with her work this week.  So, without further ado:

Korean Fried Chicken
by Lucy

Korean Fried Chicken?! How can that be any different than American fried chicken…or any friend chicken for that matter? I am not for sure if I can tell you or describe to you how it isdifferent, but it is! And not only is it different, it is amazingly different. Incredibly different.  Addictingly different. I really should not even try to describe (for you need to come here and try it for yourself…Katie Hannifin’s family!) it except that it is crispy yet tender, sweet yet spicy and chock full of flavor bursting all over your mouth. Everyone has a favorite type so it is more fun to eat with a large crowd so you can try all the different flavors of Korean Fried Chicken.


The first time I was introduced to Korean Fried Chicken, my friend, Joyce, ordered it for me for lunch. Joyce was my teaching assistant and she made it her mission my first year to introduce me to all the wonderful culinary delights of Chengdu. In four years, she has yet to steer me wrong!

Back to my first experience….it was a beautiful, sunny day with clear blue skies in Chengdu. For some reason it was a half day. This was back when we  still had the old playground with the basketball court and the big shade tree and the picnic tables, perfect for eating lunch outside. I should have known just by the fact that the other foodies at our school were flocking to eat lunch with us and our Korean Fried Chicken that my take on fried chicken would be forever changed.

Joyce ordered us two types of fried chicken: “Sweet and Spicy” and “Garlic Original.” If you know Joyce, you know she  is all about presentation of food. When the food arrived, she made sure we all had our plates, chopsticks,  and plastic gloves.

Plastic gloves? What? That is so silly!

I scoffed at the idea of wearing gloves and ate my chicken the old fashion way, the “Finger Lickin’ Good” way! However, one thing that was not in the paper bag that the food was brought in was any kind of napkins or wet wipes….So, when Joyce and the others were done eating their chicken, they took off their gloves and had nice, clean, non-sticky fingers.  Me? I was a mess! The Chinese often have great ideas, and this is one of them. In a land where you are not for certain that you will be near a restroom with soap and water to wash your hands before or after eating, when eating finger foods, plastic gloves are ingenious. This time, thank goodness, we were on campus and there was running water in the building. Otherwise, my arrogance would have landed me in deep trouble.

Unfortunately, the restaurant doesn’t deliver to our area of town anymore. However, throughout my years here, we try to make it to the restaurant as often as we can. When someone gets a hankering for Korean Fried Chicken, the rest of us are always game to get on the bus and go to the restaurant. Along with taking the new teachers to our favorite noodle or dumpling restaurants, we try to make sure we get them to the Korean Fried Chicken restaurant as well. Last month, for my birthday, we were having coffee and Singaporean toast for breakfast. We were having such a great time all together laughing and talking that before we knew it, it was time for lunch. We had planned on going across the street to the Malaysian restaurant for lunch, but it was closed. However, we were lucky…we were next door to a Korean Fried Chicken Restaurant that we didn’t know was in that part of town. My birthday lunch was eating finger licking good chicken, with great friends in a wonderful city…..but with the gloves on.  I have learned my lesson!

creative writing, prose, teaching, The China Chapter

“Falling with Style”

Cleaning for China, I’m found a lot of papers I had forgotten about.  I hate throwing any writing away, even the terrible bits.  I love looking back, years after writing something, and thinking either, “How did I phrase that so poetically?” or, more often, “Ugh, what on earth was I thinking when I wrote this?”  Because I had little physical room in the luggage I was dragging across the world, I discarded much of the prose I’d written.  But first, I catalogued it.

This particular, unfinished piece was written when I was teaching in Virginia and trying to show fifth graders how sketching out a story (actually creating little drawings) could help you recall details of a story that you might otherwise forget to include.  We were also practicing brainstorming.  The assignment was to think of a person dear to you and come up with three or four memories you had of that person.  Choosing one, we then mapped out our stories and started writing.  What follows is my roughest of drafts that I never did finish nor edit…

My Dad 

I was flying down Eisenhower Lane.  This was the first time I had been on a bike without training wheels and I had not fallen yet.  “Don’t worry,” my dad shouted, “I’m right behind you.”  He grabbed the seat of my bright red bike and steadied it so I would not wobble.

I rounded the corner from Eisenhower, bearing right onto Rutherford Drive.  I was almost all the way home!  I felt like I was racing.  How was my dad keeping up?  I turned my head to see how hard he was running.  But when I looked back, I noticed he was way behind me.  Oh no!  How could I stay upright without his hand guiding my bike?  I felt myself teeter as I downed the final hill.  “I’m out of control,” I thought, forgetting how to slow down.  I was still flying, but now, I was terrified.

“Help,” I tried to scream, but my shout was cut short by a loud crash.  I had hit a neighbor’s black metal mailbox and fell, headlong, into a pile of gravel.  Small rocks buried themselves into my palms and kneecaps.

I tearfully looked back at my dad again and, through blurry eyes, I saw him anxiously running towards me.  Blinking to stop from crying, I sorely stood up, gazing down at the blood dripping from my fresh cuts.