Sunday, December 30, 2007

End of year reflection: the Heart of the Father, take 2

It's good to be given second chances. I had the chance to revise and give this message to the people at the Bridge toward the end of 2007. If you have been following my blog, you will know I gave an abridged version of the same message to some of the youth in Reading.

Having a second chance is neat. It has helped me to rethink some of the points and to better describe in words, what I believe God has been teaching me.

You can read it here, or listen to it here.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas 2007

Rib-eye Roast Beef with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. Yummy.

Family dinner. Three generations here.

Lots of presents. Small living room.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Saskatoon in the winter

OK, so in case you ever wondered what I do for a living, I work in the IT department of a small agricultural trading company. About half of my job involves Java programming (doing front-end UI design for a new business system) and the other half involves system and network administration. I enjoy both aspects of my job very much.

This winter (as seems to be the running trend now for two years in a row...) I had the honour of visiting Saskatoon again to install our new server room closet for our new office. It was fun! ...and tiring! Though at one point the thought did cross my mind, as I was bolting in server lockers, as to where exactly this was listed on my original job description. :-) Things evolve I guess...!

Anyhow, the real adventure didn't start until I was due to fly home. The flight out of Saskatoon (to Calgary) was due at 9:30pm. My flight was delayed until nearly 12:30am when of course all Calgary -> Vancouver flights were done for the night. It wasn't all bad though - it is quite interesting how events like this can bring the most unusual people together. I had quite an engaging conversation with a young, intelligent university student and a very old grandmother! It was also fascinating to observe the optimists and the pessimists in the room. It certainly made for some interesting conversation. Most of all, it was hilarious (though not helpful) to hear WestJet's (the other airline) constant jabs at Air Canada.

"For the information of those passengers traveling on WestJet flight 136, we are not currently affected by the weather [unlike Air Canada's flight] as we fly jets, not turbo props."

Probably the thing that worried me the most though was getting home in time for Erich's 2nd birthday, which, though delayed by one night, did happen. He was so happy to see me, and that is always a joy.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Erichxercise: Get in shape! (and way too funny not to post)

Karen has an interesting nighttime regiment before she goes to bed. Out come the 3 pound dumbbells and the sit-ups.... not that I'm complaining of course - it helps to maintain her beautiful looks :-)

Anyhow, Erich decided one day that he must have dumbbells too. So I fashioned some out of his LEGO, and this was the result.

video

Friday, December 21, 2007

Erich turns TWO!

A little taller. A little wiser. And a lot more talkative. Erich turns two today. As promised, we took a photo of him and his past portraits.

Happy Birthday little Erich!








Thursday, December 20, 2007

More on Eddie's trip

Karen and I have had the privilege of knowing Eddie over the past year. We met through the Bridge Church. In addition to being his small group leader, we have come to know him as a friend. We have seen him grow in his faith, and walk with Christ.

This year, he embarks on an incredible adventure to Liberia where he will be serving aboard one of the Mercy Ships - the African Mercy. This ship is a hospital ship and serves the people where she is docked by performing well needed surgeries. Eddie, who comes from an engineering / IT background, underwent a major career change at the beginning of last year to pursue what he has always loved. As a result of that change, he also saw opportunity where he can serve the Lord with his newfound skills.

Eddie -- we will miss you, but we are also incredibly encouraged by what God has been doing in your life. May your mission to Africa be fruitful, and may you remember that the Lord God is faithful all the time, even when the going gets tough. Since you will be baking lots and lots of bread, I thought it would appropriate to encourage you with this verse (okay okay, I just couldn't help it... :-)):

Deuteronomy 8:3 - He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

The context is that the Lord God led the Israelites out of Egypt and provided for them. Here, in Deuteronomy, the Israelites are being reminded of God's faithfulness. Jesus uses part of this verse to rebuke Satan in Matthew 4:4 while he is tempted.

The application here is that we are not to forget the Lord and particularly his promise that He will be faithful to His people. Therefore, when tough times come you may be tempted to be solely focused on doing your work (i.e. baking bread) - but do not forget that this trip is also about spiritual growth. Feed others (physically), but also let God feed you spiritually.

To the people of the African mercy -- you've got an incredibly dedicated baker coming your way. Fasten your seatbelts!

You can follow Eddie's adventure on his blog at http://tuborgx.blogspot.com/.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A very special birthday cake!

Our friend Eddie Wong (former IT consultant, turned pastry chef) is about to embark on an incredible adventure to Africa where he will be baking and serving aboard a hospital Mercy ship. More on this in a later post.

Anyway, before Eddie left, he wanted to make something very special for Erich. In line with Erich's passion for trains, and our taste for good dark chocolate, Eddie made a chocolate-almond mousse cake for Erich's 1 359/365th birthday. It was delicious!

Erich called it the eisenbahn cake. (German for railway cake). We took some photos of the cake, then when Eddie went to cut it, Erich was so upset! He didn't want his locomotive cut in half. Oh well. He stopped complaining soon after we gave him some. :-)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Oregon: a trip Erich won't soon forget!

Toward the end of November, we took a family road trip down to the Oregon Coast. We had gotten some inexpensive accommodations in Seaside, Oregon so we decided to make a short trip out of it. It just so happened to be American Thanksgiving (and black Friday), and it also so happened that the Canadian dollar was flying at an all time high (about $1.10). That meant that while I was taking Erich to see lots of museums, Karen got to do some early Christmas shopping.


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We started Thursday evening, stopped by Seattle Premium Outlets, then proceeded to South Seattle where we stayed the night. Little did Erich know what his Daddy had in store the next day.

Museum of Flight

Cashing in on the success of our previous trip to the Canadian Museum of flight, I decided I would take him to the Museum of Flight at Boeing. His face lit up as he saw the numerous planes parked on the lawn and he could not believe that I was bringing him to see another airplane museum. (or as he says: "daddy bring me to the airplane musemum")

One of the major showpieces of the exhibit was the Concorde. Karen and I had the privilege of seeing the Concorde back in 2003 when it was still flying. It would sonic boom just over Reading, UK each morning, so the sound was unmistakable. Now, Erich was able to see this piece of history first hand. We stepped onto the plane and observed the rather small but comfortable seats.

Erich also had lots of fun sitting and playing with the various children's exhibits designed to demonstrate the various controls of an airplane.

Woodburn, Oregon

After we took in a few acres of exhibits, we fetched Karen from the mall and proceeded to drive down through Portland to Woodburn. Woodburn is the outlet shopper's paradise: with the high dollar, no sales tax in Oregon, and the enormous selection at the Woodburn Company Stores, we stocked up on dress shirts and trousers that I seem to wear out almost like candy.

Seaside, Oregon

After staying the night in Woodburn, we proceeded to drive to the Oregon Coast and stayed at a coastal town called Seaside. Here, we mostly stayed, taking in the beautiful scenery and the unique sights. We took Erich to the Carousel Mall where they have an old fashion carousel.


We also took Erich down to Tillamook where we visited the cheese factory and saw yet another airplane museum - this time of old World War II planes housed in former blimp hanger. Erich thoroughly enjoyed both. I find it so interesting how he is fascinated at these big marvels of machinery at such an early age, and I wonder what the influence it will have on him. I still remember that some of things I became most fascinated about as a young adult stemmed from my experiences as a child.

The Weather!

Part of the reason why our accommodation rates were so inexpensive was because we were going off season. The weather played a huge role in helping to deter tourists, but as Vancouverites who are used to the rain, it wasn't so bad. Besides, I often find that just after a rainstorm is the best time to take beautiful pictures!

The only really scary part of the trip was driving along Highway 101 (the coastal highway) one night in pitch darkness with the rain pouring down in droves. I mean the rain was BAD! Visibility was next to none, and the locals were still tailgating me expecting me to go the speed limit (of 50mph). In hindsight though, it could have been a lot worse - in fact a week after we got back to Vancouver, the area was flooded and Oregon and Washington declared temporary states of emergency.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Future pilot?

Remembrance Day fell on a Sunday this year, so Monday was declared a statutory holiday in lieu. This worked out well as most places were open to visit. We took advantage of the day off and went down to the Canadian Museum of Flight in Langley, BC.

Erich was so eagar to be able to see airplanes again, he could hardly contain his excitement. He particularly enjoyed looking at all of the model airplanes they had on display.

We were lucky that most of the exhibits were indoors. We had pouring rain and wind gusts up to 90km/h that day. We did manage to get this picture outdoors with the Snowbird. With all the wind, it kinda looks like they were scrambling to the jets. :-)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Happy Birthday Nathan!

My friend Nathan got a year older so I decided to send him a little gift along the lines of his hobby. Here is a custom birthday card painted entirely of light.

Darkened room, ISO 100, f/22, 30 second exposure. Handheld flashlight.

It took quite a few practice runs to be able to get all the letters in a straight line, facing the right way all in 30 seconds!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Day 15: Home, Sweet Home

Flying home was not nearly as difficult as flying there. We arrived at the airport early and bumped into some familiar faces (Mandy and Hannah from our trip there) as well as meeting some new ones. There were a total of 5 couples with (small) kids on board, so Erich definitely had some playmates. It was also the first time since the beginning of the trip that we once again saw Canadians so we were happy to converse with them in English.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Day 13, 14: Life in Germany

We spent the remainder of our vacation in Germany with extended family. We wanted to give them opportunity to fall in love with get to know Erich (and he them). We had some endearing chats over the dinner table and got to eat a lot of sausages, bread and cheese (German staple diet).

Much of this time was spent on the sofa sipping glasses of wine or bottles of beer (yes, it is really cheaper than water in Germany). Erich must have picked up on this too because soon after we got back, he began jokingly referring to his milk as "bier". When asked "was ist das?" (what is that) he would say "ein bier! ein milch bier!".

Great-grandpa and great grandma were delighted to have the chance to know Erich and are even thinking of visiting next year. We can't wait. :-)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Day 12: An old old castle

A visit to Germany, and indeed Europe would not be complete without at least one visit to a castle. For our visit, we decided to visit the castle Geilbahn Burg. It took us almost 2 hours by transit to get there, but it was worth it. For the most part, simply admiring the age of the castle was awe-inspiring enough. From what I could tell (and I am no expert), the castle was built during the middle ages and many of the period's relics adorned the place.

Erich had fun looking at the various exhibits, but soon grew too tired from all the traveling to appreciate the full magnitude of what he was seeing. He did, however have lots of fun running around the various hallways of the castle.

I had considerably more fun practicing photographic skills. After visiting the torture and execution chambers, I decided I could do some interesting "scary" pictures at the castle with off-camera flash. I experimented with the flash set at 1/4 power shot from a low angle at camera right.

I also shot this photo atop the castle's tall lookout. Flash set to 1/8 or 1/4 power from subject right. It was a bit risky: I set my camera on self-timer, placed it on a wooden ledge (hundreds of feet above ground level), took a few steps back with my flash and waited for the shutter to click. Had a big gust of wind come along, my camera would have been toast, but hey at least I got the shot! I love how the light from the flash falls off nicely just in front of the camera and reveals subtle texture of the surrounding wood.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Day 11: Jaded Cuisine

We stayed near our grandparents place on Wednesday. Some out of town relatives were in town to have dinner with us. We went out to the local Chinese restaurant (Jade Garden) in Bochum-Linden. This was a most interesting experience.

We filed into the restaurant one by one, each saying "Guten Tag" to the host, except Karen and I who decided we'd use our more natural tongue and said "Knei ho" in Cantonese. The host, rather surprised, answered back in Cantonese but then had a rather distressed look on his face. Perhaps he was worried that we might overhear conversations in the kitchen or perhaps he was worried we might have undue expectations on his restaurant.

Actually it didn't take long to figure out what he was worried about. It was quickly exemplified when I tried to order Chrysanthemum tea. The look on the waiter's face was priceless. It was one of "what do you think this is, a chinese restaurant?!" To my tea request, he replied in Chinese, "we only have the stuff the white man orders". So I said, "fine" and received Chamomile tea.

Well tea mix ups aside, it was quite amusing to watch as we ordered what we considered more traditional Chinese dishes, and most of the other guests ordered what it seems most Germans liked to eat. In hindsight, perhaps we should have caved and ordered the popular dishes too as ours looked like it was a bit out of practice.

In all fairness though, restaurant owners really do have to cater to their guests tastes. This case is no different even if it does mean changing the meaning of "chinese cuisine". We did have a fun time getting to know the staff (as the only other chinese in town) and Erich got to know his great granduncle and aunt (seen in photo).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Wii: Get off the couch!

My father-in-law is a funny character. Sometimes he comes up with the most hair brained ideas, we wonder whether we ought to take him seriously. So when he suggested he get his parents a Wii, we thought he had gone completely mad.

(You need to understand that Erich's great-grandparents usually sit around the table after dinner and play Uno... sans TV on.)

Anyhow, after much coaxing, we managed to get them to try it. Off the couch they went and into the virtual bowling alley. They had so much fun that Nintendo should have been there to film a commercial. :-)

Day 11: Hello Mr. Beethoven, may I please come in?

We traveled to Bonn, Germany on our 11th day of our trip. Those of you who are musically inclined will know that Bonn is famous because it is the birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven. It also has some of the best shopping in the Westphalia area of Germany, so you can guess who did what. Since shopping isn't terribly interesting to blog about, I will share briefly about my run-in with Mr. Beethoven.

We went to the house where he was born. Erich was especially keen and knocked promptly on the door (as shown in the photo). Once inside, I explored the various rooms. Though I had actually been here briefly once before (on tour with the VYSO), I finally had the chance to see the museum in detail. I found particularly fascinating the collection of Beethoven's actual instruments that had been amassed. To hear actual pieces as they would have been played on Beethoven's own instrument is certainly a rare occasion.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Day 10: Off to the zoo!

Germany is known for is its abundance of world-class zoos. We went one nearby called ZOOM Erlebniswelt Gelsenkirchen where they had a "real" African Safari. (We put "real" in quotations because they also had a section on the Pacific Northwest where some claims of authenticity were somewhat questionable...)

Nevertheless, we had a lot of fun touring the landscape and seeing animals not normally seen in North America. We saw hippopotamuses, giraffes, lions, tigers and even zebras. Erich especially liked the pink flamingos. :-) What fun it is to actually see animals we previously only identified in books!

Of the many stories that came out of this trip, one animal encounter was particularly memorable. Midway through our African safari tour, we were taken on a 'boat ride' through a man made canal. Just as we rounded the bend, a flock of birds decided they would use our (open) boat as a potty... you can guess the rest.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Day 9B: The Evangelical Church in town

One thing I forgot to mention in my previous post was that it was a Sunday. Being a Sunday, and realizing that we were going to be staying mostly in town that day (going to the eisenbahnmuseum), we decided to attend a church service that morning at the local evangelical state church. Grandma seemed pleased that we desired to go to church, and grandpa promptly asked his neighbours when the service times were.

Although they did not attend with us (to my knowledge, they are not believers), we had an enjoyable time nonetheless. Three things struck me about the church:

1. It is very much about community: unlike North America, German towns for the most part still close shops on Sundays. Therefore, at church service, you meet the local baker, the local shoe repairman, even local chinese food restaurant owners.

2. Though there are language barriers, Christians worship the same God, read the same Bible and believe in the same Saviour. At its most basic form, worship can be understood regardless of language. At this particular service, there was confirmation and an entire trumpet band perched secretly on the balcony to announce it! One's heart was overjoyed at the sound of the trumpets blasting throughout the sanctuary.

3. State churches create an interesting (though not necessarily healthy) dynamic. Toward the end of the service, some kids (who had obviously not been around earlier), came in, sat down and kindly asked if I was going to keep my bulletin. Puzzled at why they would want my bulletin, I said they could have it, and the boy thanked me profusely. It was only after did I realize that the kids went to get their bulletins stamped by the pastor. I wonder if it allowed them some sort of thing (free transit perhaps?) in return?

Comments regarding state funding of the churches also came up a few times in conversation with grandpa. In particular, there was some bewilderment as to why they still take offerings and donations in light of (big) state funding. As I said, it creates an interesting dynamic.

Day 9: Full steam ahead!

We took Erich to the Eisenbahnmuseum in Bochum-Dahlhausen today where he drove a locomotive German workers have turned a former industrial rail yard into a modern museum about trains. In stark contrast to our visit to the Bluebell Railway in the UK, much of the museum was devoted to the area's industrial roots - particularly that of coal mining. As such, much of the machinery was industrial sized.

We saw numerous steam locomotives - many of which were so big that Erich dwarfed in comparison. There were locomotives from as early as 1920, to more modern things from the 80s. Surprisingly, many of the earlier locomotives (i.e. those built in 1920) were in production until the early 90s in East Germany. Now that is German Engineering!


Perhaps what was most interesting (to me at least) was to see the various political and historical remnants on each train. Some of the trains still had "Deutsch Reichsbahn" from the pre-World War II era printed on them. It is a bit eerie staring at these magnificent machines and imagining the kinds of cargo they saw over the years.

To Erich of course, even being near trains brings a huge smile to his face, and being able to see a rail house JUST like that of the Thomas the tank engine rail house must have been a real treat for him.

We ended our day with a little bit of "eis" (ice cream) from a local Italian shop. Evidently, Erich remembered this very well too, as every time I show him this picture, he says "ou-oma give me ice cream". :-)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Day 8: Hats off to Hattingen (and other very old cities)

Day 8 was spent shopping and strolling in the nearby old town of Hattingen. Resembling much like a textbook middle-aged city (complete with city walls, square, hall and church), Hattingen offers some unique looks into the past. Of particular fascination is how modern life has integrated into these old buildings. Adjacent to where the above photo was taken is a bar, complete with modern beer-branded lamps adorning its side. It too is in a very old building built around the same era.

What is also interesting is how long these ordinary buildings have survived. ~500 years is an awful long time for a building (especially compared to North American standards) and makes for some interesting comparisons in workmanship. (Think leaky condos vs. 1576 A.D. building...)

Apart from the stroll, I also had some interesting fun with off-camera, strobist style flash. (This was much to the chagrin of my travel mates of course.) Thanks to my father-in-law who reluctantly acted as a light stand, and to Karen and Erich for being my guinea pigs models.

Strobist Info: "Daylight effect by overpowering daylight". Camera set at 1/50, f7.1 to capture ambient at ~ ev -1/3 stop. Flash at 1/2 power, to the top left of my subjects to overpower ambient sunlight. Fired using Cactus (eBay) triggers.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Day 7: Willkommen in Deutschland!

1 plane, 1 shuttle bus, 1 ICE train, 2 S-trains, and 1 city bus later, we finally arrived at Karen's grandparents home in Bochum , Germany. With all the traveling behind us, we took comfort in the fact that we were going to be staying here for the next ten days. The full weight of what we had just gone through on Day 6 was finally starting to set in. The irony was that all German train workers were actually supposed to be on strike the day we were arriving, yet postponed their job action at the last minute. Had they actually been on strike that day, I'm sure our travels from Cologne to Bochum would have been even more adventurous!

Nevertheless, by Day 7, none of us were anxious to travel anywhere far, so we mostly stayed put. Unfortunately, I was nursing a cold by now also, so resting was a good thing. In the afternoon, grandpa took us for a short stroll in the neighbourhood (Linden) and we went to have coffee and cake.

Before long Erich was settling in too. Here, in this photo, Erich Guenther looks up at his namesake (his great-grandpa Guenther) as the family takes a stroll down Ax Strasse (Ax Street).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Day 6: Blessings in disguise

We arose early on Day 6 to board the tube train back to London Heathrow. It was mostly uneventful. We had made all the tube connections Stephanie had printed for us, and even arrived early. At Heathrow, we picked up our bags from Left luggage and proceeded to line up at the Lufthansa check-in desk. We waited in line with dozens of other travellers. Thirty-five minutes later, we were in front of the Lufthansa agent. We presented our itinerary to her when things started to go wrong.

She asked us rather agitatedly, "Are you sure you are on this flight?".

I replied, "of course we are on this flight - it says right there on our itinerary!" (In actual fact, we had even checked our flight the day before at the Lufthansa ticket office.)

We were then told in no uncertain terms that our flight had been canceled due to fog and that indeed we were in the wrong line-up. Yes, I did say wrong. It was further implied to us that we should have heard the announcement broadcast over the PA system an hour ago, and that we were otherwise wasting her time. Apart from the fact that we weren't there an hour ago, attempting to hear an announcement in a crowded airport like Heathrow is a bit like trying to hear the take-out window clerk at a drive through intercom.

In short, we needed to stand in another 45 minute line-up and rebook our flight at the Lufthansa Ticket counter at the other side of the terminal. This presented a further logistics problem as my father-in-law who was still mid-flight from Vancouver to Düsseldorf had no means to know how to meet us now.

This was shaping up to be quite a travel nightmare, but instead of throwing up our hands in frustration, for some strange reason we began to see a number of blessings in disguise.

Blessing #1: Thank God for Sam!

One of the youth we had connected with back in 2003 was a fellow named Sam Leung. He is quite an interesting guy from Taunton. Because we did not know that he was now studying in London, we had not made plans to see him. He, however, upon hearing that we had arrived in London suggested that he could meet us for breakfast at Heathrow. We thought - what a great idea and consented. Our original plan was to pick up our luggage, check in, then have a nice sit-down breakfast with Sam before going through security.

However, when our plans took a turn, Sam happily blessed us. He helped us to remain calm through the ordeal. He looked after Erich for us. He helped us carry our numerous pieces of luggage as we snaked from one queue to another. Thanks to Karen, we even got to have breakfast after all, albeit take-away breakfast standing in a queue. All the while, we were still able to chat about how his life was going now.

In the end, Lufthansa decided to rebook us on an already full and very late flight to Cologne, Germany (we were due to arrive at Düsseldorf). It was so late in fact that after we had received our tickets we were told we were supposed to have checked our bags in 10 minutes ago! But Sam again went to the rescue taking our bags for us and standing in the check-in queue so as to expedite our check-in.

Both Karen and I remember thinking how God, in His infinite wisdom and timing had sent Sam to help us remember that God was in control.

Blessing #2: The two English gentlemen on the plane

After we rushed our bags through check-in, and rushed through security (we felt like we were on the Amazing Race), we finally breathed a sigh of relief as we walked onto the airplane and took our seats. An inspection of our assigned seats however indicated that we weren't seated together. Not wanting to subject too many of our fellow passengers to the restlessness of Erich, we decided we would ask if one of our seat mates would be willing to switch seats with us. Our immediate seat mate rudely told us no. However, the other seat mate decided he would bless us and kindly rearranged himself AND his colleague so that we could all sit together as a family. Now THAT is courteous!

Blessing in disguise #3: We lost our car seat

We arrived in Cologne as planned, and a shuttle bus took us into a secured building where we entered through German customs and immigration and collected our luggage. It seemed however that our car seat did not make it with us on the plane. We were dismayed at first, but then we realized this was yet another blessing in disguise. Not only would we not have to carry this on all the trains (we didn't really need it for the Germany leg of our trip), we would get it hand delivered to our destination in Bochum, Germany. As if this wasn't enough of a relief, losing the luggage also meant we got to visit Luthansa's lost baggage desk where the very nice lady filed our claim and allowed us to use her phone to contact my father in law. Had we not have 'lost' the car seat, we would have had to find our own way to the train station, and scrounge up enough cash to make a very expensive pay phone call.

Blessing #4: The two German girls at the train station

Our final blessing was in the form of good Samaritans who helped us in our train journey to Bochum. Because Hans, my father in law, was not there to greet us, we were forced to find our own way to Essen, a nearby city of Bochum. We used our very limited knowledge of the German language to try to find our way around. I got very used to saying: "Guten Tag, meine Deutches ist nicht gute. Ich mochte nach Essen gehen." or "Guten Tag, sprechen sie Englische?"


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The latter question was mostly met with either rehearsed and heavily accented answers or very polite "Nein". That is, until we met a pair of traveling German girls who just said "follow us!". I must admit that had these two girls been two menacing looking men, I might have had second thoughts about just blindly following them, but they seemed innocent enough and willing to help. They directed us to the nearest Hbf (main station) where we were able to find our way.

All in all, the lesson I learned this day was that all is not always as it seems when we choose to look for the blessings rather than the bad circumstances.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Day 5D: Visiting cousins

We ended our one day in London with an evening with Karen's cousin and his fiancee. Michael Ling, an accomplished (and very busy) London attorney took time out of his busy schedule to take us out to dinner as well as to let us stay the night in London. We enjoyed some very delicious Italian food at a local restaurant.

Stephanie (Michael's fiance) was also very kind to show us around the transport system so that we would be able to find our way back to Heathrow in the morning.

We were very grateful for their hospitality and particularly for hosting us that evening. Being able to stay in London that night helped us to get to Heathrow quickly in the morning.

Erich still remembers very well this evening, because every time I show the picture above (of the outside of their flat), he says "Michael's house".

Day 5C: Prime Mark of London

One of our UK friends suggested we take a look at Primark, a bargain clothing store, whilst in England. Karen has a knack for finding great deals on clothing, so she jumped at the chance to bargain hunt in the UK. Therefore, on our second half of our tour through London, Caroline took us to the nearest tube station where we would be able to get to Primark on Oxford Street.

By this time I had gotten quite tired from all the walking, and carrying the stroller + Erich + bags up and down the tube stairs. I decided I would hang out with Erich near the front of the store while Karen did her shopping. Now this store, being rather big, has several entrances. At each entrance was a security guard checking for shoplifters and kindly asking passerbys not to eat in the store.

The first few minutes of my stay near the front door were rather uneventful. Customers strolled by, guards checked bags, and the sounds of people elated with the low prices filled the air. Then, just as I was settling into my spot, an alarm went off. A few of the security guards congregated and discussed about "the situation", decided it was nothing and life went on. Most shoppers even handily ignored the alarm!

But the alarm kept on ringing and as the alarm rang, so did my nerves. I wonder what the alarm is for, I thought. I don't see anyone shoplifting! It didn't help that the security guards looked nervous too. Then the tension was finally broken when suddenly, a voice over the PA system advised customers to please evacuate the store immediately.

"What in good heavens is going on?", I thought.
Of course, being in London, unfortunately, the worst crossed my mind first - what if this was a bomb threat or some other sort of terror related incident? I mean after all, the person on the PA definitely had a sense of urgency about him.

I rushed out with Erich, and stepped aside as a crowd of several hundred people piled out of the store. I watched nervously as security guards hustled people out, and told them to drop whatever they had picked out on the floor and closed the doors behind everybody. I waited for Karen to emerge from the crowd. No sign of her. It was heart wrenching not knowing what happened to her.

Finally, amidst lots of shouting, we finally found each other. I decided that we would not visit the store again.

In the end, it turns out that the alarm was caused just because of one malfunctioning sprinkler head.

Day 5B: Good ol' friends in London

Back in 2003, Ether and Caroline were still doing their GCSEs in secondary school. Now, they are young university students at some of the most respected colleges in London. They were kind enough to take time out of their busy schedules to meet us, and to have lunch with us. They took us on a tour of some of the museums in the neighbourhood.

Among the places we visited was the Natural History Museum of London where we met some really, really old friends. Erich was particularly fascinated at the various animals on display.

Day 5A: London Madness

Our fifth day in England was spent mostly in London. I got up early again, and went into Reading town centre as Pastor Sam dropped of E-yan for school - this time to return the rental vehicle. Then it was off to Heathrow Airport where we dropped off two big bags of luggage and Erich's car seat at Left Luggage. This was a suggestion that our british expat friends Nick and Becky back home had given us. Brilliant suggestion. The thought of roaming around London's underground all day with two giant pieces of luggage.... We decided to travel 'light' instead - carrying only our carry-on backpacks with us.

However, as we soon discovered, roaming around London's underground system with a toddler, a baby stroller, and three heavy backpacks is quite a feat in itself. For one thing, almost none of the underground stations have lifts (elevators) which makes pushing a stroller around quite difficult. So we are left with the option of folding up the stroller, and carrying everything (toddler, bags, stroller) or having the stroller go to places where it shouldn't.

We decided mostly for the latter. Gone were previous apprehensions about using the stroller on escalators and pushing bumping it down stairs. All I can say in the end is that:

1. MacLaren makes the best strollers. British made, takes a pounding and keeps on ticking.

2. There are a lot of very courteous people in London, despite what some tourist guides would have you believe. (I have always been paranoid about being pick pocketed after my brother in law caught one red-handed last time on the London underground...) More than once, people without hesitation offered to help carry our stroller up the stairs.

3. We lived the "Mind the gap" experience. Yes, one definitely knows there is a gap there when you're trying to push a stroller on and off a train.

The ironic thing in hindsight? Many of London's underground stations (many built before the Second World War) actually HAD lifts once upon a time, but were taken out in favour of escalators.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

UK: Right hand drive and other oddities

Driving in the UK was certainly a fun and fascinating experience. Here I am posing next to the Vauxhaul/Opel Corsa that we had hired in Reading. It is quite a nifty little car, and the sad part is that you can't get stuff like this here in North America.

I got to observing the distinct things that I noticed were different. Here are my top 10:

10. People drive on the left hand side of the road and the right hand side of the car. (Duh, but I had to start with the obvious! :))

9. Driving on the other side of the car of course means that my usual habit of turning right to look behind me when I am in reverse doesn't work. This one took a bit of getting used to.

8. Roundabouts are everywhere. I have grown to love these things: why stop at a four-way stop or a traffic light when you can just merge into a roundabout and exit just as efficiently? Think of all those left turn accidents that this avoids.

7. Speed limits are reasonable. On country roads and dual-carriageways, speed limit can be up to 50mph. Considering the width of these roads, there would be a media circus if this were the speeds in Vancouver.

6. Cars are much smaller. This could be purely because things are just generally so much more expensive in the UK, but cars are much smaller, compact and practical than the bloatware you often find roaming the streets in Vancouver. The Opel/Vauxhaull is affiliated with GM by the way. Why does GM have this obsession that North Americans like big cars? If only they sold their European cars in Canada, I might actually use some of my GM points I've racked up over the years...

5. Petrol (gasoline) is very expensive. Think same price except in pounds per litre.

4. Everybody knows how to drive standard. Had I not had the chance to practice driving a standard transmission, right hand drive, 12 passenger mini-bus back in 2003, I think I might have freaked at this one, but this is old hat now. That and driving a manual transmission Mazda5 back home helps.

3. Standardized road signs. They were a bit difficult to figure out at first, but once you had them figured out, it was easy to navigate with them. Of course the hardest one for me to figure out was the white circle with the slash through it - I didn't know it meant "National Speed Limit" until I was told.

2. People know how to drive. In general, drivers are alert, aware and observe fast/slow lane rules. On the motorway, the slow lane really is the slow lane, and the fast lane is really the fast lane. You don't have people who drive in the 'fast' lane just because they feel like being on that side of the road.

And the number one thing I found was different...?

1. Drivers are much more courteous. I guess it has to do with knowing how to drive well. When you drive well and are aware, letting someone else go ahead of you means you'll know they'll be paying attention and you'll be making traffic flow more efficiently. Compare this to the "me-first" or the deadlock "you first, no you first" situations one often finds in Vancouver.

Day 4: Bekonscot Model Village and Oxford, UK

We took the car we hired to Beaconsfield on day four of trip in search of the world's oldest model village (The Bekonscot Model Village). Our visit would have been much nicer had it not been pouring rain, but nevertheless, it was quite enchanting. The museum itself is located near the centre of town, but on an otherwise residential street. If the signs were not there, you would think it was just another house. We parked, as instructed, at the Catholic church across from the model village and made our way through the driveway of what appeared to be just another house around to the back. What looked like an ordinary driveway now turned into an amazing display of multiple villages all interconnected by trains.

Erich enjoyed looking at each display and proudly shouted out the names of each thing that he saw. At one point in our walk through the village we heard a choir singing. The sound was so realistic that I was actually fooled into thinking that it came from the Catholic church we had parked at. It was only upon further inspection, I realized that the sound was actualy coming from the model Anglican church in one of the villages. (We got a kick out of name of the 'rector').

[It was raining so hard that day I didn't dare take out my camera. Here is a photo of the church taken by Andy P. Be sure to visit his other Bekonscot pictures.]

Some of the other displays were pretty incredible too. Along with the model train system that runs across the entire display (outdoors no less!), there was a house on fire with model firemen putting the fire out. The display came complete with "fire", and smoke. It was quite incredible.

After lunch, we headed for Oxford on the M40. We had never been to Oxford in any of our previous visits so I was glad we got the chance to do so this time. Although the interest was mostly academic (haha), we enjoyed being in the same places where many famous scholars had once been. Here's a photo of a future scholar (though I think his Mom seems more enthused than he does about the prospect...)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Day 3B: The Bluebell Railway, UK

If you were to ask Erich what his favourite toy is right now, he would undoubtedly point to his box of wooden railway tracks and trains and say "die eisenbahn" (german for railway). Ever since he was young, Karen would often bring him to the Chapters store below where I work. At that store, there is a Thomas the tank engine demonstration table. He can spend hours on end playing with Thomas and his favourite character Bertie the bus.

As a behavioral reward on our trips this year, we started to give him parts of his own wooden railway set from Thomas. He was overjoyed to receive them. So imagine the awe on his face when we told him where we were going to bring him in England. We were going to go see a REAL steam train with real observation cars.



After hiring a car in Reading, we drove an hour an a half from Reading to Sussex where the Bluebell Railway operates. We boarded the train (a genuine restored observation car from 1913, being hauled by a restored steam engine from the same era) and began a 1.5 hour tour from Sheffield Park station to Horsted Keyes. Most of our fellow passengers were more elderly people from the era who were on the train reminiscing about a bygone era. However, there were also a few families on board with kids just like Erich who were Thomas fanatics.

So imagine the reaction of the kids when the tour guide introduced the steam engine that was towing us today. Her name was Stepney and is actually one of Thomas' friends. (In fact the Stepney in the Thomas story is actually inspired by this very engine.) Needless to say, the kids on board just about went crazy when they heard this!

All in all, Erich had a grand time on the Bluebell railway as is evident in his facial expressions on these pictures I took.

Day 3A: Learning from a mentor

We stayed with our friends and missionary pastors in Reading (England). Pastor Sam and Teresa are an incredible couple for which I have an enormous amount of respect. They minister primarily to the Chinese speaking in Reading (primarily restaurant owners and professionals) through the COCM. Theirs is truly long term work - planting churches and building relationships with those in the community in order to bring them to Christ. Ours, incidentally, (and those of the CCM short term teams) is to minister to the British born Chinese youth who often are caught between two cultures and one faith.

I said that I have tremendous respect for this couple because, at least from what I have observed, this couple just oozes with the attitude of Christ. It is humbling and a privilege living with them even for a few days. Their practical, down to earth attitude, faith-based living and genuine love for people is always a joy to observe. Their daily habits remind me of what is truly important.

This is not to elevate them to anything more than a fellow brother and sister saved by grace, but I am humbled because I realize each time I interact with this family that there is much for me to learn.

Monday morning: I wake up early along with E-yan, their daughter. I want to catch a ride with them into town (where E-yan attends school) so that I can hire a car. Karen and I had planned several places to take Erich, and since many of those places would involve many trains and buses to get to, we decided it would be more convenient (and fun!) to hire (rent) a car.

As I sit, wide-eyed and bushy tailed (I am not a morning person...) on their couch awaiting their departure, I observe their morning routine: Auntie Teresa is in the kitchen busily preparing the meals she will need to cook that day. The BBC radio is blaring and the announcer in the oh-so-british voice announces the news. Pastor is seated on the couch doing his devotions and planning his day. E-yan sits at the coffee table perusing a magazine dedicated to prayer items of missionaries abroad all the while eating her breakfast. Few words are exchanged, but it is obvious that the Shams' day begins with the Lord in mind.

Teresa walks into the room when the news finishes. She announces that they are going to have family prayer time, and asks if I wish to join in. I nod. We pray. Quickly, one-by-one, they pray giving thanks for the day and asking for God's grace to lead them in their activities that day. They pray for us (even so we are on vacation) and pray that God would grant us an enjoyable time that day and that God would grant us safety as we drive. The three of them (and me in spirit) finish, and we are off to town.

As we are driving into town, thoughts running through my head are: how often do I wake up, and rush out of the house without so much as acknowledging God? How much more unified as a family would it be if I were to pray with my wife and son each morning? What I observed was more than simple ritual - it was practicing the presence of God each morning, and it was keeping one's attitude in check.

More on the actual trip we took this day in the next post. But when we came back that day, Auntie Teresa had prepared dinner for us to eat. It was a delicious meal! What astounded us the most was the number of dishes she had put out and the relative ease in which they all came flying out of the kitchen. We had protested mildly that she really shouldn't fuss over us, but in actual fact she really wasn't - making meals and serving others in this manner was second nature to her. In fact, the previous day, she had made a meal for her bible study group, as if it were effortless. How many times have I struggled to make meals for people coming over? It never ceases to amaze me how they have placed their home in God's hands and let God use their home for His glory.

We feel privileged to have stayed in their home and to have grown as a result. I have made a pledge to practice more of these habits. Though I am still only half awake in the morning, like a determined runner who is out of shape, I am pledging (by God's grace) to pray with my wife and son every morning. I am pledging to make my home as hospitable and open for ministry. My goal is to do these things so that they become so habitual that they become part of my practice of the presence of God.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Day 2: Sermon from the heart of a father

I had the opportunity to speak to the Reading CCF youth group on the Sunday after we arrived. I had a little bit of prep from Kim Tsang, the current youth coordinator. I wanted something that would encourage both her (and the other youth coordinators), and the youth, but also something close to my heart. I decided I would speak about being a father and how learning to be a new father has taught me much about our Heavenly Father.

Sermon and Testimony to the youth at Reading CCF
October 7th, 2007
Jonathan Ng

(I have moved the text to a separate page - click on above link to read.)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Day 1 & 2: Reading, UK

Our first few days in England were spent mostly visiting people with whom we had developed friendships during our 2003 short term missions trip to the UK. Back in 2003, we had spent a month living with many of the folks in Reading. Not only did we all grow as a result, we developed friendships with many of the youth and their families.

For this reason, we have tended to stop by the UK whenever we can whilst visiting Europe. We visited briefly in 2004, and were excited to be visiting again this year. We have found that these visits end up benefiting all and is a testament of the greater work at play in the Kingdom.

From a missionary's perspective, keeping up these relationships enables us to better minister and better pray for those we are helping. For the local church in Reading (our particular 'mission field'), meeting people who pray for them and support them face to face gives encouragement. For all, it is always an eye-opener to experience different culture: to see how culture affects the manner in which we relate to and worship God; but at the same time how we all can worship God in unity as brothers and sisters in Christ.

For me personally, it is most encouraging (and humbling!) to see so many we had once helped grow to be strong young men and women who are fervent in their walk with Jesus. (More correctly, it has been a testament to God's faithfulness in their lives.)

Case in point #1: being able to meet-up once again with Raymond (youth at the centre of the picture in sunglasses) was really encouraging. Back at youth camp in 2003, I had the opportunity to talk with someone about a relationship with Christ. Little did I know that God was using this opportunity to touch the heart of someone nearby. Raymond was listening intently in the background as I talked to this other person and he made a decision for Christ. When we visited in 2004, he was already off to university. Can you imagine how affirming to my faith it was to see him still engaged in his relationship with Christ in 2007?

Case in point #2: back in 2003, in addition to running a youth camp, we also helped organise a week long kid's "vacation bible school" for younger kids. This visit, I had an opportunity to visit with and speak to the youth group. Can you imagine the excitement it was to see many of those kids are now in youth group worshiping God? (Compare the kids in this 2003 photo with the youth in the front few rows of the top picture) It is amazing to see them now having grown so much both physically and spiritually, and I am in awe once again of God's faithfulness to His people.

Rekindling friendships and seeing how God has been working in each of our lives was a recurring theme of our time in England. Many youth and their parents also met Erich for the first time. As new parents, Karen and I found ourselves relating to the parents of the youth in a whole new way. Scary when that happens isn't it? :) Well as it turns out, gaining new perspective on life as a new parent is what I talked about with the youth.

Friday, October 05, 2007

And we're off! The great two seats for three deal.

Shortly after Erich was born, Karen and I came up with this idea of visiting Erich's great grandparents in Bochum, Germany. Erich is afterall named after his great grandfather so we thought it would be an incredible honour for him to meet Erich. So we devised a plan to take Erich just before he turns two on a trip to Germany. The before-two part is because airlines don't charge for infants under two, and thus would be a much more economical way to travel. Catch is though, under twos don't get a seat. So one has to either hope for extra empty seats (which ended up happening on parts of our trip) or come up with creative ways to make two seats seat three. :)

Here we are anxiously awaiting to board our LTU flight at YVR to Dusseldorf, Germany. From Dusseldorf, we will change planes and board a Luftansa flight to London, UK where we will stop by for a few days to visit some friends (STM 2003) in Reading before heading back to Germany to visit o-opa and o-oma.

Sitting next to us in the same waiting lounge is a mother (Mandy), her mother, and her 11-month old daughter (Hannah). They are doing a similar trip as us - going to visit Hannah's great grandparents in Germany. What a coincidence! We chat, and discover that they will be returning on the same return flight. I feel better already: at least we're not the only ones crazy enough to bring a baby on a long-haul flight. Besides, Erich now has a playmate.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Congratulations Renee and David Yang!

Congratulations to the newly wed couple Renee and David. Renee (nee Cheng) is Karen's cousin. Over the past ten or so years, we have gotten to know her well through visits to LA and her visits to Vancouver. We are so happy to see her finally get married to the love of her life!

The wedding took place in Santa Monica at Shutters on the Beach - a beautiful and romantic hotel set at the beach. The ceremony, set atop the balcony overlooked the water during sunset. It was extremely picturesque. Three photographers stood by to capture the moments. Several of us family photogs also tried to get in on the action, but at the same time trying to be courteous to the professionals. 'Twas most definitely a difficult balance!

As with many of such gatherings, it was also a time of reunion with Karen's side of the family. Aunt Mabel and Uncle Michael hosted us at their house. We were grateful for their wonderful hospitality. It was also great meeting some of Karen's uncles, aunts and cousins for the first time - particularly those that live in such far away lands as Australia.

Among some of the highlights of the ceremony was watching my niece (Emily) be one of the flower girls. She is the middle one in this photo. The first time I met Emily was shortly after she was born, so it was quite amazing watching her grow up so fast. She is talking so much now and with such eloquence. It was quite the funny conversation we had one night while I was rather tired: she had actually managed to convince me that she was in Grade 2! I had myself second guessing how old I was! In actual fact, she's only 4 of course....

Erich had a great time with all of his cousins. He took particular affection to Emily who took him around like a younger brother. That was very cute to watch. Here he is posing with the girls. Check out the immense smile on his face! :-)


A few other notable pictures from the wedding:

The three flower girls sprinkle the aisle with flowers.

Renee's father escorts her down the aisle to be
greeted by an eagerly awaiting groom.

The wedding ceremony as seen from the back.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Santa Monica Boulevard

I could just hear that song in my head as we drove down the Santa Monica Boulevard not far from where we were staying in LA.

As the Ngs got ready for the Saturday evening wedding, we had a chance to stroll around a few places in town. For Erich, the highlight was visiting the Santa Monica Pier where he was able to explore the many sights and sounds of the bustling pier. His favourite of course was the arcade where a number of adventure vehicles awaited him out front. Most notable was a train named "Elias", and a safari car that matched his jacket. Erich enjoyed driving both!



The next day, we met up with some former neighbours of ours here in Kitsilano. Though they normally live in LA (they are in the movie/TV industry), during the summer months of 2006/2007, they all attended the Bridge Church while filming in Vancouver. I had taken a few photos of them during our recent child dedication ceremony that I wanted to give them. After trying to figure out how to navigate around Beverley Hills (one does pass by all those familiar street names you often hear on E.T.) we were able to meet briefly with them. Erich particularly enjoyed his reunion with Parker, their 3 year old daughter.

Perhaps the most encouraging part of our meeting was the realization that God, through his call for us to minister to our own community, has placed us within reach of people from all walks of life and all parts of the world. They had shared with me how they were encouraged by a recent sermon I had preached at the Bridge. To think that God would use the likes of us to encourage others even though we are so far from perfect, is indeed a humbling experience. It makes me in awe of what He is capable of doing, and in awe of the enormity of God's grace. To God be all the glory.