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the remnants of my surprise Shanghai visit two years ago.

The last time I returned to Shanghai was almost two years ago, for a quick 3-day 2-night getaway. This was about a month after I started working in Grace AG. It was a last-minute arrangement as my former boss needed an urgent favour. He paid for my air tickets and I thought it was a great opportunity to spring a couple of surprises on some friends as well as to bring home the extra luggage that I couldn’t carry with me the last time.

This is my walk down memory lane…

The first surprise I pulled off was on Kay and the second surprise that I pulled off was on the youth group that I had served with. I remember my heart beating rapidly as I drove to the home church where youth service was held. I had planned to attend youth service as a regular attendee – I didn’t tell anyone and arrived without much fanfare.

It was great to see so many familiar faces as I climbed the flight of steps to the fifth floor. And it was priceless to see the shocked faces when they said hi to me. The youths greeted me like they would anyone. But it was the second wait-a-minute-that-can’t-be-Joey look that I will remember for the rest of my life. I remember Janelle poking me to check if I was real. It was wonderful to be greeted by so many hugs, smiles and conversations, as well as to share a meal with Bryan.

The third surprise I pulled off was on my cell group – the wonderful group of people who took care of me when I was there. I arrived early and remained in my car while I waited for them to arrive. I remember stalking from my car when they strolled into the premise after dinner. My heart was in my mouth when I exited the car to sneak up behind them. I walked towards them covering my face with my laptop and Kay brought me into the lift lobby.

I was the last to enter the elevator. Cindy Hong exclaimed. Christine was stunned. Teresa was speechless. They asked in unison, “Are you real?” It was still too surreal for them even when we arrived at the 28th floor; they still couldn’t believe it even after I entered the apartment. Teresa immediately called Cindy Lee (who was sick) and Yee Kean (who had a lot of work to do) to make their way to cell now.

Cindy Lee was the first of the two to arrive. I opened the door. She screamed. In my face. And I think I saw tears moments later. Yee Kean arrived shortly after. This time, Teresa opened the door while I remained on the couch. Kay pushed my head down and covered me with her jacket. Yee Kean entered the apartment and sounded really grumpy as she removed her shoes. “I don’t want to play board games. I am tired. And I want to go home”, she sulked.

Then she took her seat beside me, still unaware that it was me. “I am also tired and I want to go home too”, I parroted her. She was stunned momentarily. Then she screamed (I think). After everyone recovered from the shock of watching each other get shocked, I shared my testimony of my journey into full-time ministry since I left Shanghai in August, as well as what’s in store for me in Grace AG. I am thankful that my decision to trust and obey inspired them to do likewise.

To my surprise this time, that cell session evolved into a prayer meeting. I received so many prayers and much encouragement and affirmation from the body of Christ. I also had the privilege to pray a prayer of blessing over everyone present. On a personal note, it felt really good to be feel so loved and wanted. I am thankful for all the da-jies God brought into my life in my short stay in Shanghai.

The other incident that I remember clearly from those 72 hours there was meeting up with Kim Soon, Kay, Kurk, as well as Cindy and Christine for lunch at Vargas. I nearly lost Kim Soon as a friend because he reacted badly to my teasing (of how Liverpool lost a game the night before). I had no ill intentions of course, but I should have seen the warning signs. I won’t give details of what was exchanged because I respect him and don’t want to paint a wrong picture of him but I learnt two things over that meal:

  1. It’s not worth risking friendship over football rivalry
  2. Not everyone shares the same harmless ribbing relationship that Xianyi and Daniel Heng and I share so don’t ever assume familiarity.
  3. When you are sorry, just say and be sorry. There’s no need to cover up or make excuses. Sincerity is the greatest apology.

But all ended well eventually so I was thankful for a restored relationship. That incident really caught me off guard.

On a happier note, my cell mates had a meal together the week before I arrived and Christine randomly remarked that she would “love to have brunch with Joey again”. And as we shared a meal on that table, she said, her “dream came true”. Sweet things like these, a sentimental guy like me will cherish for a long time.

My final lasting impression of those three days in Shanghai was heading to Loushanguan Lu to buy a bag for Huiyi from a local store that carried Korea-looking items. As I drove out of the car park, a drunkard suddenly appeared in front of me – so I had to jam brake the vehicle. Thank God I didn’t hit him. But he remained standing in front of me and kept egging me to hit him. Honestly, I wasn’t really annoyed because I just wanted to leave the car park, but on hindsight it was an extremely daring deed committed. It was the first time I encountered something bizarre like that in my two years in Shanghai.

But the craziest thing wasn’t him acting crazy but the parking warden and the security guard who did absolutely nothing about it. “Bear with him – he’s drunk”, said the former, matter-of-fact. “Call the police – we’ll be your witnesses”, said the latter, nonchalantly. No wonder I wasn’t all that surprised by the recent videos that came out of China – the inhumane running over of the little girl, and the intoxicated lady who got molested in broad daylight – to seemingly oblivious bystanders.

On my flight home, I remember looking forward to returning home quite badly and realised that Huiyi and I would really struggle to survive another long-distance relationship. It’s a miracle in itself how we managed to pull through 15 months of that!

I know this post is random and appeared from out of nowhere but it feels good to finally transfer these memories out of my system. I really miss Shanghai. Hope I get a chance to return someday.

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God’s cultural sense of humour.

I took this picture on the 1,865-metre ascend up to the top of Huangshan in Anhui Province, China.

As HY, CH, KP and I climb every step, we marveled at its ever changing landscape and just how amazing the whole sight was. We unanimously agreed that that was only one word to describe the scene – majestic. Wikipedia quite rightly described it to be an “area is well known for its scenery, sunsets, peculiarly-shaped granite peaks, Huangshan Pine trees, and views of the clouds from above. Mount Huang is a frequent subject of traditional Chinese paintings and literature, as well as modern photography. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of China’s major tourist destinations.”

The interesting thing is, as we observe the yellow rocks (hence the namesake), you will, in your mind’s eye, conclude that these rocks just had to be from China; I guess this could be because hand-painted portraits we are see from time to time physically depict Chinese mountains in this particular physical appearance and hence we naturally match such landscapes to oh-this-has-got-to-be-from-China.

I wonder if this particular rock formation was there from the start (not likely), eroded into this state (more likely), or man-made (unlikely – you’d have to be REALLY bored to accomplish this). Either way, I reckon that God doesn’t just have a sense of humour, but a sense of cultural humour; it’s like He knew what would have tickled the Chinese bones. Well, it could have been a Westerner in a tuxedo, an African in a loincloth or a Japanese in a kimono… But no, this rock formation just had to be a Chinese farmer wearing a straw carrying a straw basket with a wooden stick picking herbs!

It doesn’t get any more humourous than that. I’m inclined to believe that God really understand us. And the Chinese would simply say, “哈哈哈”.

shanghai part 3 – lost in transition.

After I waved goodbye to my new-found friend, I knew something was definitely amiss when I found myself still at the baggage collection belt – 10 minutes after he left. Yes, the inevitable happened; the 27kg box arrived but the 13kg box did not. I was tired, frustrated and worried (that the fish meat might spoil) but I was also amused at the ironic unfolding of events.

The driver came to receive me and sent me back to my uncle’s house after we dropped off the fish meat at the factory. It was good to see my relatives again, in Shanghai, where I spent nearly two years. I was kept abreast of the company’s situation and I was really glad that I pulled out early. I called up SQ, finally got through after being put on hold for 15 minutes, and tracked down that missing box, which was on its way to Shanghai onboard the 10am flight. I didn’t push for it but I was a little disappointed that SQ offered neither apology nor compensation – after all, I did have to pay excess baggage for it. Poor public relations, I think.

On the way back from the airport, I got a little nervous about going to WK’s place to surprise KP because I didn’t know what my opening line would be. WK told me that KP enjoyed Mee Jiang Kueh so I brought some over for her. So when I walked over to WK’s apartment, I really felt like I was in a cinematic moment, pulling off a surprise that you’d only see on TV screens. My favourite couple in Shanghai were having breakfast when I sprang the surprise.

JA: *knock, knock, knock* [heard muttering of “So early, who’s that?” in the background]

WK: [opened the door] Oh, Kay, it’s the postman, your package. [closed the door]

KP: For me? Really? *flip flop, flip flop* [opened the door]

JA: Hello, mee jiang kueh for you?

KP: [stared] [registered face] [screamed] [opened the door wider] [covered mouth] [screamed again]

JA: [walked in, saw WK laughing in the background]

(This is the really funny part…)

KP: [still responding] [composed herself] [RETURNED TO SEAT] [RESUMED BREAKFAST]

JA: [still standing at the door] Erm, welcome to Shanghai?

KP & WK: [broke into laughter] [rose from their seats] [realised they haven’t welcomed me] [exchanged hugs]

It was an amazing feeling to see my buddy and neighbour back in Shanghai again. It truly was. I was delighted to embrace them and to just be in their presence. We had a good breakfast together and I regaled to them my divine appointment. Then I knocked out on WK’s sofa for a good 45 minutes before I woke up to join my uncle and aunty for lunch. So far, so good.

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