by Jason and Jessica Wilde
We had only been in Beijing for a few hours. Our kids were jet lagged and ready for bed. We stepped off the crowded subway, walked through a lush green park filled with cherry blossoms and into the hutong - a traditional Chinese neighborhood that has, over the past 50 or so years, degraded into poor living conditions for many lower class workers in China’s biggest cities. Weaving through the tight labyrinth of streets that are only wide enough for one car and yet convey a constant stream of various types of motorized traffic zipping by our left shoulders, we were amazed at the multitude of odd jobs that residents of these hutongs would do for what was apparently a poverty income level.
As the day was ending, we became scared. Here we were with our 3 babies (7, 5, and 3 years old at the time), and it was getting dark and cold. This bed & breakfast was elusive for these tired non-Chinese speakers, and we only had a poorly marked map showing about 1 of every 3 alleys in this hutong. The sun set and we started to panic. Were we safe? Did this place exist, or were we swindled? How long before our kids fall apart into one giant tantrum? And then, we noticed a small flashing neon sign at the far end of the street - one that stood out from the otherwise greyness around us, and more importantly, had English words on it matching the name on our map.
Over the next 5 days, we slept, ate and shopped in the hutongs. Our personal space was invaded. People would reach out to touch our kids’ hair and grab them for a picture. If we were in a hurry, we had to tuck the kids’ hair into their jacket to avoid being noticed. In one renovated and particularly trendy alley, we found a counter serving fish pizza in the shape of an ice cream cone. As Jason was taking care of our order, a large crowd of people formed a circle around the kids, taking pictures of them eating their fish pizza cones. We were both physically separated from them, and my heart started to pound. But this was all part of our journey, and it created the exciting stories our kids still share. It was here that we found a vibrance that still sticks in our memories as a characteristic of Beijing.
Sadly, few hutongs still exist as housing in Beijing, since most of the them were torn down and the poor pushed out of the city in the name of commercialization. Because of this, hutong tourism is ‘a thing’ for tourists. I’ll never forget seeing them, on their one hour pedicab hutong tour. The tourists were being carted around, wide-eyed, sipping on juju juice and taking pictures. It was as if they were on a safari and the poor were the antelope.
Why are guided tours and ‘all-inclusive’ vacationing so popular? I’m sure there are many reasons, dating back to when the first guided ‘expeditions’ into wild territory were advertised to the elite and adventurous. Convenience definitely is a factor, and many are willing to outsource planning to save them time. But, even at a more basic level, why does there even need to be a plan? Why can’t we just go out like a freelance adventurer, without a plan or a care in the world?
We’re afraid that without a plan, something will ‘go wrong’. And by ‘go wrong’, I mean, it will make you uncomfortable in some way. We’re afraid that we might get lost, might not see the most picturesque street, can’t order a pad thai from the street vendor, or see something that makes us uncomfortable. We are so afraid of our own instincts that we will even outsource planning to a ‘guided’ or ‘all-inclusive’ service - one which assumes all risk, or at least makes us feel like there isn’t any.
Fear can be a good thing - it is an innate sense that alerts us when something isn’t right. But the time in which we must be fearful of everything new and different is a relic of a time when, in order to survive, we lived in small tribes and villages. In this way, fear also prevents us from experiencing anything new and different - and this severely limits our ability to live a Christian life, one in which Jesus calls us to be the good Samaritan and love all of humanity - even those who are new and different.
Going on ‘resort’ vacations is like dropping a $100 bill in the collection basket and doing nothing else - it gives you the high of feeling like you are doing your part, helping a good cause, and making you feel good. It is the safe thing to do. But, it also deliberately isolates you from the real world, a world in which there are no orderly lines, or well paid attendants, or high fences to protect you from the outside - and protect you from seeing the outside, lest you feel uncomfortable. It allows you to disconnect yourself from that which you are trying to help - real people, and real problems. In fact, many destinations intentionally isolate you from the real world, surrounding you with their synthetic, sanitized version that gives you a feeling of euphoria (and helps loosen your grip on the wallet a little).
Fear is not a Christian attitude (Pope Francis)
In order to overcome evil, we must put ourselves at risk. We must be able to remove fear from the equation not by avoiding it, but by confronting it. If we want to help the poor, we must meet the poor. You can’t serve God in Disney World. Now, you may say "If I help make lunches for the homeless or give to the Food Bank or Goodwill, then aren’t I helping the poor?" Absolutely yes. There always needs to be financial contributors, just as there needs to be resorts for people to disconnect - but these should be an integral part of a well rounded view of the world, one in which you can also be so comfortable with those whom you are helping that you feel connected with them, and only in this state will you truly love and care for your neighbor. It’s not that “It’s a small world” is a bad idea, but it is the absence of reality which makes one think that the only thing we need to solve world hunger, poverty, violence, and inequalities is to smile and sing a annoyingly catchy song (and wave at the tourists floating by).
So, the next time you decide to take some time off, or even have a free weekend, I challenge you to do something that makes you afraid. Instead of calling a taxi at the airport or driving to the park downtown, take a bus or subway. Roll down your window and hand a bottle of water to the man on the street corner. Buy some extra snacks to give to the homeless woman on the way to your hotel. Do your own research and try to cut out a guided tour or two. Let faith guide you to others' lives on your travels. We must open our doors, our fingerprint encoded security gates, and our high walls and allow ourselves to be uncomfortable in order to see the neighbors who really need our help.
by Brecklyn Wilde
You see a panda at the Beijing Zoo in China. It came right towards you and is analyzing you. Awesome! That was my experience when I went the zoo. I think that you know what pandas are, and probably you have seen pictures of them, but have you ever wondered about the facts about pandas? Have you ever seen a real panda?
Hi, it’s me again, Brecklyn. I am going to talk about pandas. Pandas seem so cute and cuddly. Pandas are one of the most popular animals in the world! Pandas live in the cold, mountainous bamboo forests in China. The Panda’s thick fur helps them keep warm in the cold snowy mountains. The panda’s fur actually has three layers. The first layer is the black and white pattern that you can see. The second is pink, the inside one. The third one is the skin. Have you ever heard of pink fur!?
Pandas were endangered until last week. There were only 2060 pandas left. Pandas were endangered because their habitat, bamboo forests, were cut down by people. They were also endangered because people used to shoot them for their fur. China said that it is illegal for people to keep hurting the pandas. Zoos are trying to increase the population of the pandas. Humans found the first panda on November 9, 1927. Ming-Ming was the first panda born in captivity. She was born in the Beijing Zoo in China.
Scientists are still trying to figure out about pandas so that they can save the pandas. It is hard to find out about pandas because of their habitat and what people did to the pandas. Pandas are still a mystery to the world.
Pandas eat about 10-20 kg (20-40 lb) of bamboo in one day. That is a lot! Pandas spend more of their time eating than playing. Even though pandas seem to be carnivores, pandas only eat bamboo. The only way pandas eat meat is if they are in captivity. In zoos, pandas are fed yams and ham.
Pandas have babies at 4-8 years old. When Panda cubs are newborns, they are very tiny, hairless, and weigh 85-140 grams. When a panda is 7 months old, they weigh 20 pounds and can already climb trees. Also, when cubs are born, the father leaves the mother panda with the cubs. Pandas give birth mostly to twins. Usually, only one will survive in the wild. Panda mothers choose the stronger of the twins, leaving the younger one alone thinking that she does not have enough milk to feed both of her cubs.
Panda in Chinese is dà xióng maõ, which means “big bear cat”. There are more pandas being born at the Beijing zoo than in the wild. I remember when I went to the Beijing Zoo in China. I remember seeing the cute rolly-poly pandas in the zoo. The pandas were my favorite part of the zoo.
In the past, pandas have been thought of as rare and noble creatures. The red panda was actually the first panda found. The giant panda was discovered 48 years later. The Empress Dowagner Bo had a panda skull in her vault when she died. Sima Xiangru wrote that the panda was the most treasured animal in the Emperor's garden of exotic animals. The grandson of Emperor Taizong of Tang gave Japan two pandas and panda skin as a sign of goodwill. Even today pandas are popular creatures. Panda toys are one of the most popular toys.
Do you want to hear a panda legend now? Here it is: Zouou is a creature, a righteous animal. These were thought of as fierce as a tiger but vegetarian. It is described in some books as “white tiger with black stripes”. I guess that this is a panda. What do you think?
Adult pandas are 1.2 to 1.9 m in length. Pandas have black fur on its ears, around its eyes, nose, legs, arms, and shoulders. The rest is white. Pandas seem to be gentle even though it has been caught to be attacking people. The panda probably does not mean to be aggressive. It probably just does it because it thinks that it is going to get hurt. In zoos when people give the pandas toys, even the strongest toys are no match for the panda.
To help pandas eat bamboo they have “thumbs”. The panda’s “thumb” is not really a thumb at all! It is really just a large wrist bone called a radial sesamoid. A panda does not wrap its thumb around the bamboo like we hold a pencil. It actually wraps its five fingers around the bamboo. It puts the radial sesamoid forward to jam the fingers across the bamboo. It is very hard to break bamboo even with an ax! Pandas can break and eat bamboo because they have very wide, tall, and thick teeth. Pandas also get two sets of teeth like humans: the baby teeth and the adult teeth. Unlike humans, pandas have 42 teeth.
Pandas, just like cats, have slits in their eyes to protect them from the sun. Do you remember me talking about Mr. Lover having the slits in his eyes?
I want to be a vet when I grow up. I want to invent the I.A.C. which means International Animal Center. I am going to help animals all over the world. I am going to put centers everywhere in the world. I am also going to volunteer at places that are already there. I think that the first animal that I am going to help is the pandas in China. Some of the animals will be in cages, and some of them will be in the place where the animals are going to exercise. Each animal will have what they need, and some things that they want.
Pandas are smart, fun, creative, and beautiful animals. I just love pandas. I love how they act and play. I hope you learned a lot that time, and I hope you will see the pandas in one of the zoos in China. That is all for now!
On a Mission
Two passionate parents and their four children are excited to bring His Word to everyone in need while living a life of Gospel poverty as missionaries. They invite you to join them on a journey to encounter our global neighbors that Jesus commands us to love through works of charity and service.