Bucket List v.2

I made a bucket list back in September 2012, which was just after I moved to my current home, and about a year before I moved to China to work for two years. It heralded a time when I wanted to try new things and embrace life for all it was worth. Here is that list copied here, with a bunch of things crossed off… a very exciting discovery for an afternoon on January 29th, 2017.

A growing list of things that would be cool to do before I die, but don’t desperately need to be done.

  1. Ride in a hot air balloon.
  2. Go horseback riding. (At a fair gallop.) SPRING 2015
  3. Spelunking. MAY 2013, DEC 2014
  4. Ziplining.
  5. Surfing.
  6. Scuba diving.
  7. Skydiving.
  8. Read The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
  9. Sew and make a bag or a piece of clothing.
  10. Knit something.
  11. Learn martial arts, preferably Wing Chun. AUG 2015 – ?
  12. Learn to play guzheng. Own a guzheng. (Chinese zither)
  13. See the Aurora Borealis. (Northern Lights)
  14. Shoot firearms. FEB 2013 (a semi-automatic pistol and a revolver) JULY 2013 (a Chinese military surplus 1960s rifle)
  15. Go to Europe: England, France, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Poland, Sweden SUMMER 2017
  16. Go to Subsaharan Africa and see safari animals.
  17. Climb one or more of the following mountains: Kilimanjaro, Fuji, Matterhorn JULY 2017, Logan, Jiu Hua Shan, Tai Shan, E Mei Shan, Doi Chiang Dao DEC 2014 Huang Shan JULY 2015

Additionally, I also…

  1. Made my own jam JULY 2012
  2. Was in a wedding AUG 2012
  3. Drove a right-side steering car in Japan DEC 2012
  4. Welcomed a puppy into my life JAN 2013
  5. Ran the Tough Mudder MAY 2013
  6. Lived in Hangzhou, China JUL 2013-2015
  7. Travelled to these places in while away: Hefei, Wuzhen, North of Indonesia, Shanghai, Bangkok, Dali/Yunnan, Suzhou, Nanjing, Tongzhou, Winnipeg, Riding Mountain Ntl. Park, Maxville for the Glengarry Highland Games, Xi’an, Jiuzhaigou/Sichuan, Chengdu, Chiang Mai, Lijiang, Shangri-La, Lhasa/Tibet.

So that’s exciting. Except that I didn’t really do much new in 2016 beyond continuing with the Wing Chun classes.

Sometimes we try really hard to do new things, and sometimes we don’t even realize all the other great stuff that is happening right under our noses. May we be ever more aware.


Positive Psychology – do you mean joy?

Biblical principles sneak up everywhere to me: usually it’s literature, but today, it’s contemporary psychology.

From Australian psychologist Lea Waters’ talk on positive psychology.

There are various negative psychological states that characterise mental illness:

When psychologists try to help people in such states, should they focus on the burden or the blessing? (Dealing with the negative state or encouraging positive attitudes.) Waters’ answer is BOTH.

Positive Psychology:

She calls these attitudes “an armour against life’s challenges.”

Excuse me while I mentally connect each one to a facet of Christianity: Hope in God’s Plan, Trusting in God’s Goodness (through anything), Expecting and Undergoing Trials and Tribulations, Giving Thanks to God, Persevering in Obedience and Resisting Sin, Compassion. And are we not told to put on the armour of God? The assurance that if God is for us, none can be against us – not even the dark forces of hell.

Furthermore, that question of whether we focus on the burden or the blessing, and the answer being, “both.” When we recognise the burden of our complete depravity (sinfulness) AND the blessing of God’s complete goodness and sacrifice for our sakes we are much closer to the untouchable armour that is the joy of grace accepted.

Modern psychology just corroborated the truth of the gospel and Christian living.

Her talk is here:


The punitive God of the Old Testament.

That’s what people think.

Joshua and the Israelites are told in chapter 8 to do to Ai as they did to Jericho, only taking its spoil and livestock, but killing the people. This kind of thing is what skeptics hold up as barbaric and indicative of biblical madness meaning either that God is a gleeful and sadistic lover of violence, or that the Bible is not a holy and revealed word but made up by sinful people, leaving us no actual guideline from a lofty, non-specific kind of god.

Jesus passes most of the postmodern scrutiny, but Jehovah? Where do we find the punitive spirit of this bloody passage in the compassion of Jesus, if they are supposed to be one God? Actually, as I was thinking about it this morning, we kind of do. Jesus’ compassion extends to the depth of forcefully removing all that could separate us from him, surgically if necessary. Jesus calls on two occasions in Matthew’s gospel for us to tear out our eyes (Gloucester-style) and cut off our hands and feet if they cause us to sin. (Matt 5:29-30, 18:8-9)

Sometimes, when caught off guard, I don’t know what to say to such objections about Jehovah’s cleansing instructions. It is a matter of state of mind: If I’m not absolute enough with myself, I’m going to be offended when God is absolute with other people.

I normally do not consider cutting my arm off. It sounds barbaric. If I were Aron Ralston (in 127 Hours) trapped between a rock and a hard place with the choice to die there or to cut my arm off and possibly escape, I might consider it. And funny enough, Gloucester ‘saw better’ which son loved him and which one did not after he lost his eyes.

127 Hours


Gloucester Edgar

Edgar finding his father

The Scoreboard of Life

This is ultimately not about the World Cup happening right now this beautiful 2014, but the title was inspired by it being that I think scoring goals in soccer / football is not just due to skill and teamwork but also a matter of psychology. You know when you are so sure that a certain team is not going to catch up after losing a goal? I don’t think it’s purely thanks to skill and teamwork, but also the momentum of morale at that point.

Anyways, these are actually thoughts about living faith and the psychology behind it that I got from some insights about the psychology of learning.

Carol S. Dweck speaks about the psychology of learning in education, and has an acclaimed book entitled Mindset. This is my transcript from the first part (the first 2.5 minutes) of a talk she gave on the subject, entitled How to Help Every Child Fulfil Their Potential:

Here’s that talk:

  • [Picture of a happy baby.] We all come like this: infinitely curious, always experimenting, always learning, and addressing the most difficult tasks of a lifetime with tremendous gusto. You never see an unmotivated baby. [Picture of a bored, smoking baby ‘bum’, face propped by up a hand.] Nooo. And yet, just a few years later, you start seeing lots of kids who look as turned off as that baby. [Picture of a young student in a pose like the baby, minus the cigarette.] Not so different from the baby.
  • But what we have now discovered is that mindsets are at the heart of this kind of problem. Mindsets that make kids afraid to try, and make them easily derailed by setbacks. But what’s important is that we are also discovering why this happens, and what to do about it.
  • In my work, we find that some students have a fixed mindset about their intellectual abilities and talents. They think intelligence is just a fixed trait: you have a certain amount and that’s that. This is the mindset that makes kids afraid to try, because they’re afraid to look dumb.
  • But other students have a growth mindset. They believe that intelligence can be developed through their effort, dedication, learning, and mentorship from others. They don’t think that everyone’s the same, or that anyone can be Einstein, but they understand that even Einstein wasn’t the guy he became before he put in years and years of dedicated labour.

It’s a great talk on its own, but being the distracted listener that I am whenever someone gives an informative talk, I started to draw the parallels between a mindset about intelligence with a Christian walk and the mindset about faith:

  • Babies are born with an openness and willingness to know God, and most children too. After some years, you get teens who become doubtful, skeptical, or legalistic, and they can grow into adults who are even more so.
  • Our mindset about faith and its cultivation at the heart of this problem. Certain mindsets make us afraid to trust God and easily derailed by setbacks. As such, we do not live freely.
  • Some Christians have a fixed mindset. This could be because they see ‘faith’ as a binary of believing or not believing, so you either have it or don’t have it. God chose you and that’s that, so we have no obligation to do more. This could also be because they see faith associated with ‘legitimate’ activities showing the abundance of your faith: working in ministry, being a missionary, successfully making lots of money (to tithe though, you know), being married, being a mom/dad… This mindset makes Christians narrow-minded and focused on the Scoreboard of Life. If they are hitting certain checkboxes they are on track as Christians, and easily satisfied by things other than God and God’s plans. If they fail in that work or lose that role, they do not know their purpose or value, and this can cause them to be embittered with God. They are afraid of change, because it takes away the confidence of faith they’ve built up in their chosen check points.
  • But other Christians  have a growth mindset. They believe that faith can be developed through their effort, dedication, learning, and mentorship from others. It’s not that they think everyone can save themselves through those efforts, but they know that after God has set us aside and saved us, we must respond by taking personal steps of faith, and not just to meet a set of standard criteria set by societal norms or even church norms. They understand that even the greatest men and women of faith put in years and years of dedicated labour, and even Jesus as a child made an effort to learn and know God’s Word well. They understand that faith is a constant development and that there is no plateau to reach and no stagnancy in what God expects of us. We are not to look constantly at a Scoreboard of Life on which we decide how successful or unsuccessful we are being as Christians personally, but we are to fix our eyes on Jesus, author and perfecter of our faith, not to grow weary with sin or prideful with success. They understand that being too occupied with the things of this world that can be seen is not the best that God intends for us, and they hold things and people loosely before God, despite loving them deeply.

Alright, I don’t know if my theology is completely straight with every word there, and I know for sure there are other good parallels I am not drawing, but I think the general outline compares well. Am I fixing my eyes on the Scoreboard of Life (I have a job, I’m witnessing to co-workers, I have a Christian husband, I have a beautiful family, I have smart well-adjusted kids…) or am I fixing my eyes on Jesus, counsellor for the one who gives and takes away?

To go further, Carol Dweck lists 3 worlds in which the mindset about intelligence works:

  1. Goals
    1. Fixed mindset: look smart at all costs
    2. Growth mindset: learn at all costs
  2. Effort
    1. Fixed mindset: it should come naturally; if you have the ability you don’t need effort
    2. Growth mindset: work hard, because effort is key
  3. Setbacks
    1. Fixed mindset: hide mistakes and deficiencies
    2. Growth mindset: capitalise on mistakes and confront deficiencies

I can see this translated too for faith:

  1. Goals
    1. Fixed mindset: look smart faithful at all costs
    2. Growth mindset: learn develop faith at all costs
  2. Effort
    1. Fixed mindset: it should come naturally; if you have the ability faith you don’t need effort works
    2. Growth mindset: work hard, because effort actively trusting God in everyday things is key
  3. Setbacks
    1. Fixed mindset: hide mistakes sin and deficiencies
    2. Growth mindset: capitalise on mistakes and boast in deficiencies and confront deficiencies sin


The Sestina of a Lifetime

If you are not aware of the poetic structure of a sestina, it is a poem of highly structured word repetitions (6 words) following this pattern of retrogradatio cruciata: wherein all six chosen words appear in every end-position possible within 6 stanzas of 6 lines.

Table of sestina end-words (columns for stanzas, rows for lines, order+word listed as number+letter)
1 A 6 F 3 C 5 E 4 D 2 B
2 B 1 A 6 F 3 C 5 E 4 D
3 C 5 E 4 D 2 B 1 A 6 F
4 D 2 B 1 A 6 F 3 C 5 E
5 E 4 D 2 B 1 A 6 F 3 C
6 F 3 C 5 E 4 D 2 B 1 A

This is followed by a final 3-line stanza, the envoi, containing the 6 words again in this order: 2-5 / 4-3 / 6-1.

You might surmise by now that a poem with such rigid and repetitive structure that lasts for a significant number of lines (39 in total) is good for expressing something about the more repetitive things in life. I’ve seen good ones about a long train ride with strange people (Sestina of a Train by Al Purdy), and obsessive lovers who can’t stop thinking about each other (The Lover’s Sestina by Bruce Meyer). Both poems capitalised on the repetitive aspect of the sestina form to create that (oppressive) feeling of reading the same words over and over. But I really wanted to try a sestina in which the words clearly repeated without such a heavy feeling of them repeating. For this I had to choose the kind of words that could have varied meanings. I did “cheat” in that I intentionally chose to make one of the six words change throughout the poem, but I decided that before even beginning to write. Besides that disclaimer, I don’t want to over-explain the poem. Here is my attempt:

The Sestina of a Lifetime

9 months she ate the things she craved to eat.
On Monday noon he heard the doctor call,
with trepidation rushed in from the hall,
to see his babe emerge from head to feet,
untangled from the womb to be set free:
To hold her was to see her as The Only.

They sent her off to school when only 5:
a sandwich, fruit, and cookie she would eat,
then play with friends outdoors when time was free.
When bullies nasty names of her did call,
her mother taught her how to turn defeat
into the courage shown in concert halls.

Then, fresh-faced from her graduation hall,
she joined a firm to ‘start her life’. Only,
Monday mornings she would drag her feet
and wonder, “Eat to work or work to eat?”
She’d close her eyes her childhood to recall,
and wonder how she squandered times once free.

When dreamy man her passions did set free,
they tied the knot and filled a banquet hall.
Guests watched as pastor at the altar called
them husband wife – each other: one and only.
They barely sat to celebrate and eat;
their life would start once they had thrown their fête!

But changing diapers proved to be a feat
from which young parents struggled to be free
when seven mouths would cry, “I want to eat!”
Then soon their children passed through college halls,
and once again they were each other’s Only,
except when grown-up children came to call.

On Friday night she got a sudden call:
his heart attack had brought him to his fate,
and once again she lived with herself only,
until her soul fled too. Finally. Free.
Some tears were shed by loved ones in the hall,
then dust to dust and soon the worms would eat.

All counted, would you call your life as “free”?
Which Way goes your feet walking down the hall?
These questions, only, away at you to eat.

Banking in China (1 letter off from baking, and much less pleasant)

Being a Canadian abroad fully intending on returning to Canada in the future (read: planning to pay taxes), from about November, I started preparing to wire some money to my Canadian bank account. I will try to be informative by listing out the complete requirements at the end. [See bottom.] People say you don’t necessarily need all that stuff if you just ask a Chinese national to do it for you, if you can find one that you trust with a big sum of money. It’s not technically ‘legal’ given that there are personal yearly limits specified, and it isn’t really illegal since the lines are blurry if you just give the money to a friend to transfer for you, but I want to do this right! I’m not trying to evade taxes, and I see that I will be fully within my transfer limits as a foreigner. This is who I am: I diligently build and maintain my credit rating – both generously using and fully paying off my credit card. I will do this too, even if it means I need to obtain some official documents. With this in mind I research precisely what I need to do according to Chinese law and bank rules, looking online and asking my bank representative.
  1. November. I walk into the bank and am served by a young man who appears to know little English. He one-fingers each letter of the bank address etc. onto the form, with frequent spelling mistakes. (Wince.) He takes so long that the Foreign Transfers Counter announces their closure by the time I have the form printed. The single Foreign Transfers Counter (out of 20+ counters at this big branch) is only open 9:00-12:00 and 14:00-17:00. Each customer sits (yes, there is a chair… hint hint) at the counter for an average of 45 minutes before the business is done. The wait? No less than 30 minutes.
  2. December, the next time I have the leisure to go to the bank. I get to the foreign transfers counter after much waiting, but am told that I am missing a 9-digit CC Code. After some strained yelling across the clear plastic barrier, I obtain that this code is Institution Number + Branch number.
    “All I have is 8 digits with those numbers put together… can’t you use a SWIFT code? Isn’t that an international banking standard?”
    “ICBC cannot. You could try HSBC or Bank of China.”
    “You mean I can just take money there and do it?”
    “No, you would need to open a bank account with them.”
    “You’re telling me to take my money to another bank and open an account with them?”

    • In Which I Call TD Canada Trust Long Distance and a Helpful But Confused Representative Tells Me There is No 9-digit “CC Code” in Existence
    • In Which I Feel Vindicated but Trapped and Shed Some Hot Tears
  3. January… The young man who doesn’t know much English can recognise me now (and maybe inwardly curses the fact that I am at the bank once again), but introduces me to a Foreign Currency Expert. She says, “Oh… for Canada we usually just add a “0” in front of your Institution and Branch Number to make the 9-digit CC Code.” I had found this suggestion online already, but needed confirmation from them as the sources weren’t specific to China and weren’t fully official. We’re cutting it close to closing time but I miraculously get to sit down at the counter when a loud lady leans in between me and the counter and yells that she’s in a huge rush so the Foreign Transfers Counter guy decides to help her instead. “Excuse me?” “Come back after lunch.” I am flabbergasted and dislike his face, but get up and leave the bank quietly upset. He is, after all, the sole guardian of the counter and I cannot argue. I can’t just come back later though – I have school activities to tend to.
  4. February! I almost lose hope that there are too many people ahead of me in the queue, but the couple who are just before me seem to be having trouble with the Foreign Transfers Counter guy. He keeps yelling “CC Code” and they keep yelling, “Isn’t this the code?” (They have a SWIFT code, apparently from the alphabetical letters on their form they wave at him.) I smile sympathetically behind them and think, “Aha, my suffering will be useful!” At first they think I’m trying to cut the line or complain that they’re going to take too long (fair suspicion, given my own preceding experience), and then they see my form and that I’m also trying to wire to Canada, and begin to trust what I have to say, being that I know each of their frustrations and confusions. The Foreign Transfers Counter guy doesn’t even trust me at first, but once I speak loud enough to show my knowledge and show him my correct “CC Code” he grants that I know what I’m talking about. They give up as they realise that they don’t know the branch number and can’t find out immediately. I sit down at the counter at long last! How long does it take to complete my transaction, minus the 30 minute waiting time? 1 hour. Good heavens.
    Tired Foreign Currency Transfer guy: “You know, you should just ask a Chinese national to do this for you. It’s much less of a hassle. You don’t need all this paperwork.”
Alright, what is wrong with Chinese administration? There’s so much red tape that rebelling against an organisation is what the organisation’s representative tells you you should do. (Open an account with another bank; skip the paperwork by taking the dodgy shortcut.)
This motley of administrative traffic jams and encouragements to cut corners is precisely the kind of culture in China that means that the owner of a factory dropping heavy pollutants into a river can suffer a tiny bit of bad press, close down, and then reopen on a different river. On the other hand, you have the all too familiar, ‘Food item X is reported to have been faked with chemical Y which can cause health problems Z, T, U. Things like this make me sad and ashamed to be Chinese. These are the things we are known for in the world, not wonderful literature or innovative practices. We are a nation of ancient glories and modern iniquities.
Yes, today I am getting down on ‘my people’ and perhaps a bit too harshly, but maybe if it made more sense to play fair in China, she wouldn’t have such levels of pollution in nature and society.
——————– How to remit money from China as a foreigner ——————–
Tips for wire transfers! [See above for other details. Below is just a list of supporting documents needed.]
UPDATE: It worked! 14 February 2014, TD Canada Trust indicates that it received my amount, less handling fees. That’s pretty fast! It got there the next day. Wonders. (I had to pay fees to my Chinese bank and to my Canadian bank. 177 RMB and 32.5 CAD respectively, though I’m sure this changes from time to time.  Rather hefty at 65 bucks per wire, so don’t wire minuscule amounts!)
Officially, a foreigner can remit / wire up to 50,000 USD abroad per year. That’s plenty. You need the following items to transfer money abroad from China as a foreigner.
Before going to the bank, gather these:
  • Pay stubs enough to cover the amount you wish to remit (stamped with the official company chop from your employer) – 工资清单
  • A tax receipt obtained from the local tax office 地税局 (stamped with company chop) – 个人完税证明
    • Fun fact: The bottom of your tax receipt reads, “Thank you for your contribution to China’s flourishing and prosperity!” 感谢您为祖国繁荣昌盛做出的贡献!
  • Original work contract  (stamped with company chop)

At the bank, find and fill out these forms:

  • Before you get to the counter: Application for Funds Transfers (Overseas) – 境外汇款申请书
  • Before the counter: write a ‘letter’ of application (I, _______, apply at bank X to purchase Y amount of currency Z and to remit this amount to [insert country here] for [whatever purposes]. ID/passport number, date, signature.)
  • At the counter: 因私购汇申请书 – no English name, but it’s another application form

To the thinkers

“Understanding will never bring you Peace. That’s why I have instructed you to trust in Me, not in your understanding. Human beings have a voracious appetite for trying to figure things out, in order to gain a sense of mastery over their lives. But the world presents you with an endless series of problems. As soon as you master one set, another pops up to challenge you. The relief you had anticipated is short-lived. Soon your mind is gearing up again: searching for understanding (mastery), instead of seeking Me (you Master).”

From Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young, August 7th (read it on the 7th, decided today that it’s too good not to share)

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do no lean on your own understanding.”

– Proverbs 3:5, which sat stuck to my headboard for many many years.