4 dollar day

I can feel the ground trembling beneath my feet when I walk to work each day.

Chinatown is a loud place.

I quietly pass through, keeping my head tilted down as I weave between pedestrians and rowdy vegetable sellers.

My boss is a loud woman.

“Yelling” in half-Cantonese as she takes orders, and half-Mandarin as she gives me orders.

I’ve been getting quieter and quieter at work lately. Mixing up ingredients, forgetting a topping, confusing one tone for another.

Overall, making more mistakes. Overall, getting scolded more.

“I’m sorry.”

I leave work feeling let down, having let down someone.

I walk out the door and head towards a shady parking lot tucked in beneath an underpass. I see the guy.

“How much?”

“Mm… 4 dollars.”

Parking usually costs 3 dollars a day but I’m starting to suspect the guy sort of just makes up his mind on the spot, depending on his mood.

I take out my meager tip money earnings of the day and hand it all to him.

I can feel the ground trembling beneath my feet.

On this side of town, the BART runs underground so I figure it must be the trains. It’s funny because normally, people would complain about the disturbance it causes. But this is the city, so no one complains.

Life on the surface is loud enough as it is.

I move briskly, weaving my way through the Chinatown labyrinthine and picking up syllables and words here and there. Catching fragments of meaning in passing.

One of the telltale signs that I’m emotionally shutting down is silence. I won’t always respond to you, even if I hear you loud and clear.

I keep my head down and work harder.

I have to get good.

I’m starting to understand a little more Cantonese now, enough to use context clues to fill in the blanks. There is just enough overlap with Mandarin to make close guesses, but also enough overlap to make embarrassing mistakes. Confusing one tone for another, and such.

“Sorry about that. I can make another drink for you.”

I only get 3 dollars in tips today. Seems about right.

I pray to the parking gods as I work my way through Chinatown and back to the underpass.

“How much?”

“Mm… 3 dollars.”

Whew. Close one.

I am Taiwanese. Or, a child of Taiwanese immigrants. Taiwanese-American? Something in between.

Traditional Taiwanese folk are a hearty and rambunctious bunch, so family gatherings are loud and rowdy. Sometimes, it’s real easy for me to just keep quiet and slip into the blurry peripherals of family photos.

I’m not like them,
yet I am,
just enough, to blend in.

I weave my way through the Chinatown labyrinthine, being careful not to get in the way of elderly Chinese people and their grocery shopping spree. Keeping my head tilted down, I quietly pass through and get to work.

I’ve been kinda sorta getting better at my job. I still don’t know how to make half the menu but hey.

I’m getting the hang of this customer service thing. You know, like making small talk and faking smiles. That sort of thing.

When my boss yells at me,
I am able to piece together the syllables, the words, the fragments of meaning,
to make the right drinks,
to do the job well,
to understand that yelling doesn’t necessarily mean she’s mad at me,

– at least most of the time.

If culture is a labyrinthine, I’m starting to draft a rough sketch of something that resembles a map.

Parking usually costs 3 dollars a day. But today was a 4 dollar day.

I can feel the ground trembling beneath my feet.

I could tell it was building up throughout the day,
no, throughout the week,
that something inside me was shutting down.

“I’m sorry I don’t speak Cantonese. I can take your order in Mandarin or English.”

So I get quieter and quieter.

I’m not responding to everything she’s saying. I keep my head tilted down, and work harder.

But she is very particular this day, because depending on her mood, she adjusts her expectations of me.

Today was a 4 dollar day.

The yelling grows louder and louder, only this time, she is definitely mad. This isn’t just yelling, this is scolding.

And the scolding leads to other things,
like mixing up ingredients,
forgetting a topping,
confusing one tone for another,

– overall, making more mistakes.

Which only leads to more scolding, and more mistakes, and more scolding. I get quieter and quieter, trying to shrink and retreat inside of myself where no one can hurt me and I can’t hear them yelling at me.

Then finally, a customer loses her temper and I set off her age-old, well-rehearsed tirade.

“I order green tea, not black tea, okay? Is there something wrong with your brain?
My god, why can’t you speak Cantonese??”

I am Taiwanese.

But there is enough overlap, I guess, to make some mistakes.

And my boss turns on me, takes her side, and shames me publicly.

“What’s wrong with you. Why can’t you get it right.”

Something inside me snaps. Shut down.

“I’m sorry.”

I leave work feeling let down, having let down a people group. Once again.

5PM comes and I walk out the door without saying goodbye.

I’m moving quickly, weaving in between Chinese grandmas and my inner demons, making my way home.

I’m adjusting to the fast pace of the city, but if I stop myself,
just for 2 minutes, just enough time for one red light,
I can feel something trembling beneath the surface,

screaming from within.

Chinatown is a loud place.

I quickly change out of my work clothes and into my regular clothes. I am breathing heavily.

It’s been about a month and I kinda sorta know my way around now. I know which sidewalks are less crowded, where to find the cheapest parking, and where to sit during lunch break without getting penalized for loitering.

If culture is a labyrinthine,
there have been days when I could draft a rough sketch of a map,
and there have been days when I felt hopelessly lost.

There have been days when I could hold a decent conversation in Mandarin, and there have been days when I worked in silence.

And though I am Taiwanese, there is enough overlap to make some mistakes, on both sides.

It’s been about a month now.

I finish changing and collect my things. I put my working clothes in my locker, one last time, and my boss hands me my final paycheck (which in Chinatown, is wad of cash).

She tells me to be careful on the road, take care of myself, eat more food because I’m too skinny, and thanks me for working at her shop.

“Thank you. Bye bye.”

I think I mess up the tones a bit, but close enough.

She’s not an evil woman.

She’s just… her. She grew up learning and living the labyrinthine, then plunged into another completely different one. Just like my parents.

I grew up trying to learn both, and only got half-good at each.

“Wait!”, she stops me. “Here’s something for you – ” 

She reaches in her purse, digs around for a few seconds, and hands me a red envelope.

“新年快乐!”, she says in Mandarin, with a smile.

She messes up the tones a little bit, but close enough.

You’re not an evil woman. But I can’t work for you.

So I leave the job.

No dramatic plot twists, no life-defining lessons learned. Just a sobering acceptance that we haven’t changed all that much and this isn’t going to work out between us.

Maybe our relationship would be best kept from at a distance.

I forgive her, and spend my evening commute trying to figure out how to forgive myself for letting them down yet again.

I’m walking through the loud and rowdy streets of Chinatown, weaving between grandmas and vegetables. I make my way to the shady parking lot tucked beneath the underpass.

“How much?”

“Mmm… 3 dollars.”

// originally published on the raconteur collective.

now you see Him, now you don’t

the way that God works is mysterious.  and strange.  and hidden.  i don’t think many of us understand it most of the time so a lot of times, we don’t see it.  other times, our eyes are just not tuned to the spiritual work of God so we seldom notice Him.  our eyes are tuned to see other things that we deem as “important”, such as our facebook profiles, our reputations, the number of stars at the restaurant we’re eating at, our annual salaries, the college we go to, our gpa’s, etc.  i’m not saying that these things aren’t “important” or “good” but it is often these things that blind us from the work of the Lord.  in fact, God usually has to take these things away from us [often forcibly] in order to get our attention.

over the past two weeks, God sent me on a mission trip with 15-ish other crazy taiwanese dumplings to the city of Hualien in Taiwan, our homeland.  objective of the mission: none other than to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.  in a land where over 90% of its people don’t know Christ.  we must go.  the call is urgent.  the people need Christ.  mission accepted.  Jesus, I am in!

but how?!  how do we proclaim Your name to these kids and their families?  of course we could always go to their homes and shout “JESUS CHRIST” in their faces, but that might not work.  can’t take that too literally.  we need some sort of.. “vehicle”.  something that will allow us to reach their hearts.  we must first tend to their physical hunger, in order to reach the needs of their spiritual hunger.  what do the people want/need?  english.  many of the families want their children to learn some english.  so we’ll give that to them!  and at the same time, we give them Christ.  more of showing than giving, but yeah.  and so for two weeks, we taught english to around 85 kids at the donghong church, hoping and praying to God that these precious kids would come to Christ.  that was our mission trip.  the end.

a lot of people would conclude their reevaluations of a mission trip abruptly, like such^.  “oh, the mission trip was good and stuff, we had a lot of fun.  kinda tiring.  but like, it was good”.  hearing that makes me sad.  not only does it make me feel like you don’t wanna talk to me, but it also shows that you were unaware of all the work that God has been doing.  “seriously?!  nothing to share all??  there has to be at least one testimony…?  okay fine :(”

in my opinion, there should be tons and tons of testimonies to share on each individual mission trip. [btw, testimonies aren’t limited to just stories of salvation; they can be about anything that the Lord has been doing in your life].  why?  because God is always working.  to reiterate, the way that God works is mysterious and hidden.  if you can’t think of anything that God has been doing on your past mission trip, search harder.  over the past mission trip in hualien, i think God has really helped me shed my “worldly glasses” [as i like to call them] and open my eyes to see His marvelous works.  it was as if i was blind to a whole separate dimension and God just revealed the 3D world to me.  was blind, but now, i see.  it’s mindblowing.  eye-opening.  i can now see the invisible and mighty working hand of God, molding hearts, transforming lives, and even moving typhoons.  i can’t see all of it but i am so certain that His hand is there; i just know it.  there’s evidence everywhere!!

  1. changed hearts and changed lives – hearing from last year’s missionaries, there were supposedly only around three local TA’s.  very small youth fellowship.  this year, there were over fifteen.  i know that still doesn’t sound very impressive but the amount of growth that their ministry has gone through over the past year cannot be underestimated.  some of the TA’s have only been attending this church for six months!  and hearing from their stories, they went through dramatic change in just that short amount of time.  some of them were [i quote] “mean”, “scary” and “gangster”and yet, i didn’t see any of that.  i saw a loving and mature christian with a good heart.  it’s hard to believe that they went through so much change in six months.  and there was the hand of Yahweh.
  2. numbers don’t matter – on saturdays, the donghong church has a youth fellowship that welcomes anyone from middle school to college who wishes to commune with other believers and God.  this is similar to the “Friday Night Fellowship” that we do at East Valley, except with maybe less than a third of the people.  i’m pretty sure our EV team made up almost half of their attendance that day.  we could all fit within the first row of pews.  and somehow, i was still blown away.  not because of their attendance, but their passion.  their numbers were so few, yet their spirits were so strong.  when they played games, they were so excited and enthusiastic; when they fellowshipped, they were overflowing with joy; and when they sang…   wow.  i still don’t understand how they sang so loudly with so few people.  it wasn’t so much the skill of their singing [though they are good], but more of the heart behind it.  when they worshipped God, you could really tell that they were worshipping God.  they were passionate, bold, and unashamed.  it was so beautiful.  i couldn’t even understand the words to the songs [they sang in Chinese] and i still wanted to cry!  and there was the hand of Yahweh.
  3.  fruit – during our trip, we also spent our afternoons and nights visiting the families of the children who attended our english bible camp.  our goal was to be salt and light to their households, make a lasting [good] impression on both the kids and the parents, and ultimately, invite them to become church members at donghong.  most of our visitations were very successful; the families were mostly open to the idea of allowing their children to participate in church activities.  a couple of families even told us they would send their children to sunday school every week!  the sunday right after our team left hualien, there were already new kids.  and there was the hand of Yahweh.
  4.  coincidence?  i think not – God?  i think so.  july19th was our second and final day of english bible camp; we were already packed up and ready to leave hualien that afternoon.  we traveled by train and 2-3 hours later, we were back at the Taipei Main Station.  we all passed through the gate and showed our tickets.  well, all except one.  one of our team members somehow lost his ticket, causing us to wait for 5-10 minutes as he searched his bags and pockets.  thankfully, our team captain had a receipt of all the tickets so we didn’t have to abandon him but as we were about to leave, another group of 10+ asians speaking english passed by us.  i didn’t know who they were but they randomly stopped to ask me if we were a mission team.  it turns out that they were also a mission team from irvine, ca [not too far from us] sent to hualien for a mission trip for two weeks and they came back on the same train as us.  whoa!!  what the crazy.  now that i think about it, if our team member hadn’t lost his ticket, we probably wouldn’t have ever bumped into them.  fast forward 3 days.  me, my brother, and another church friend [J] were flying back to LAX; i kept trying to see if there was anybody on the plane that i knew.  but no dice.  as we were passing through immigration, J was telling us about the person who was sitting next to her; he was a caucasian male who was a missionary that was sent to taipei to learn chinese and spread the gospel.  and he just so happened to end up in the seat next to J and wanted to share with her.  whoa!!!  what the crazy.  if that wasn’t enough to swallow, it turns out that there was in fact somebody that i knew on the plane: my old small group leader that i met at a church winter retreat two years ago!  he also was sent on a mission to taiwan to spread the gospel with a team of 14-ish people.  WHOA. WHAT THE CRAZY.  what is going on.  from these different observations, i think i finally began to realize that God truly is working in Taiwan.  through this trip, i’ve learn to pray some prettyy bold and extreme prayers, one of them being the salvation of the entire city of hualien.  i prayed that hualien would become a beacon of light for the rest of Taiwan and soon, the whole country would know Jesus.  and throughout the course of these seemingly disconnected events, i think God was trying to tell me that He really was there.  right there in Taiwan.  doing His work.  doing His thang.  He gave me this assurance that..   that He was, in fact, answering my prayer.  of course, Taiwan won’t become christian overnight but i could see that God was doing His work.  werk it.  and from that moment on, i felt more at peace.  coincidence?  i think not.  God?  i think so.  and there was the hand of Yahweh.
  5. go away and never come back – i really don’t know about this one but i’d like to think that the typhoon was His doing.  originally, there was supposed to a severe typhoon hitting hualien on the first weekend but the typhoon shifted direction and went up north to Taipei.  had the storm hit us, we would have had to cancel one day of english bible camp, and that, in my opinion, would have made a big difference.  but instead, there was no storm, only a light drizzle.  and there was the hand of Yahweh?

these are only a few of the dozens of things that showed God’s work; i assure you that there are many many more.  there is a certain Jana Alayra song [woot] that goes “come and see what God has done, all the wonders under the sun..”;  we sang this many times during singspiration in those two weeks.  every time we sing it,  i am reminded of all these things..  the changed lives, the new church members, the “coincidences”, everything.  and it always blows my mind to think about it.  God’s fingerprints really are everywhere, we just have to open our eyes to see them.  perhaps it isn’t because these things are hidden, but more so the fact that we are blind, that we fail to acknowledge God.  perhaps we rely too much on the eyeballs of our face, rather than the eyeballs of our hearts.  next time you go on a mission trip, pray to God that you would be able to see things beyond a worldly perspective and i assure you that your trip will become so much more meaningful.  and bring it back home with you, too!  don’t just leave your spiritual glasses in the mission field.  don’t forget that you are always on a mission, whether you’re in taiwan, or back at home.

as i have learned to appreciate the invisible, yet awe-inspiring works of God, i have also consequently learned to worship that same God on an even deeper and more profound level than ever before.

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”  – C. S. Lewis