This past week Dave and I have had a houseguest from Bangkok staying with us here in Winnipeg.
Joop in high school in Manitoba in 2007
We first got to know Joop Rathlertwongse in 2007 when he was an international exchange student at the Steinbach high school where Dave and I were teachers. He was living with a host family but when they went away on a trip Joop came to stay with us for a while. During his year in Steinbach, Joop learned to love Mennonite food, got to try skiing, ice-skating and snowmobiling. He even learned how to build a quinzee. Before coming to Manitoba Joop was attending an all-boys school during the week and spending weekends at his family home in Bangkok. Joop enjoyed learning about Canadian culture during his year in Manitoba. He made lots of friends.
We next saw Joop when we made a trip to Bangkok in 2010. Joop picked us up from the airport and spent a day showing us his home city. He took us to a water market and…down to the riverfront, and out for a great Thai dinner.
Joop also took us to the Mahidol University where he was working on a social science degree. At the time he was hoping for a career in international relations and was about to go to Myanmar to do research for a paper he was writing on the elections there.
In 2011 Joop came to visit us in Hong Kong just before we moved back to Canada. I took him to visit the famous Che Kung Temple. We went out for Italian food one night and we took Joop along to our final karaoke night in Hong Kong.
Fast forward to 2019 and Joop is back in Manitoba this time to attend the wedding of the daughter of his host family in Steinbach. He decided to stay for ten days or so to meet up with old friends and that included us. We have hosted him for several nights. Last night he took us out for some great Thai food at the Sabai Thai Eatery. Lots of things have changed in Joop’s life since we saw him last. He has graduated from university and has established a successful career in procurement with a major oil and gas company. His job takes him regularly to Papua New Guinea and he works closely with colleagues in other countries. He has his own condo in Bangkok now and drives out to see his parents and two brothers on weekends. He is still looking for adventure and thinks about taking a job posting in another country or continuing his studies in Canada.
Joop will be here with us till Monday. It is interesting how often our paths have crossed with Joop’s in the last fifteen years. I’m wondering if they won’t again in the future?
Ivan Was Here
Introducing Visitors from India and Hong Kong to Mennonites
The Temple of Dawn
Filed under People, Thailand
I’m on the bus and suddenly it pulls over to the side of the road. A transit van is there to meet us and two transit employees board the bus and move to the rear. We all turn around. A man is lying on the floor. The transit employees try to wake him up to no avail. They call the paramedics. A fire truck pulls up and four paramedics jump out. They gather around the man and speak to him in the most polite and kind way. Calling him “my friend” or “buddy” or even “sir.” Trying to gently shake him awake. Taking his vital signs. Asking him politely if he has taken some medication. Reassuring the rest of us that they will try to settle the situation quickly. Finally supporting the man on both sides they are able to get him to walk off the bus and we continue on our journey. The entire time the man is treated with respect and civility.
I’m at the Millenium Library. The guards who screen my purse and bag at the front door do so respectfully. They are friendly and polite. They ask me how my day is going. I am looking for about a dozen books I want to read by authors who will be presenting at a children’s writing conference I plan to attend. I no sooner enter the children’s section than a helpful technician approaches. “Can she be of assistance?” I hand her my list and within five minutes or so she and her colleague have found every book for me.
I’m breezing through Winnipeg Square hurrying to the bus stop on Graham. A young man just ahead of me stops at all four sets of doors we pass through to hold them open for me. What a gentleman!
On the bus, a young woman in a nurses’ uniform who looks like she has just finished a long day of work, gets up as I make my way down the aisle of the crowded bus and offers me her seat. Do I look that old? I thank her but tell her I will stand.
There are plenty of well mannered and neighborly people in this world. I see them every day and experience their kindness and courtesy every day. Yes, there are some folks who are rude or let their anger get the better of them but I want to be more diligent about noticing and appreciating the way most people are friendly and polite.
A Terrifying Story Politely Told
“Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
On Sunday the theme of the sermon in our church was that question from the poem The Summer Day by Mary Oliver. Our pastor talked about people she felt had done incredible things with their one wild and precious life.
One example she gave was Rachel Held Evans a 37-year-old best selling author of four books and mother of two young children who died suddenly on May 4 from a brain infection. I have been reading Rachel’s blog for many years and admired her.
Rachel was an evangelical Christian but she spoke out long and loud about making the church a place where everyone was welcome including those who were part of the LGBTQ community. She was a Christian feminist who advocated for an equal role for women in the church and in society. I especially respected her common sense approach to the issue of abortion. She encouraged people to vote for political candidates who would actually bring about the changes in society that research has shown reduce the abortion rate. She encouraged hard questions and firmly believed you didn’t need to sacrifice your intellectual integrity to be a person of faith. Rachel was respected and loved by millions. She became an articulate and powerful spokeswoman for people of faith who believed in a very different kind of Christianity than the one espoused by the supporters of Donald Trump.
Evidence of the importance of Rachel Held Evans life was clear as almost every major news source in the United States ran stories about her death. The Washington Post, The New York Times,The New Yorker, The Atlantic,CNN,CBS,NPR, Fox, Newsweek and hundreds of others. A Twitter hashtag #Becauseof RHE soon garnered a host of moving testimonies from people who said their lives had been changed because of her. These tweets were shared thousands of times worldwide.
Rachel Held Evans was indeed a person who made the very most of her one wild and precious life. She inspires us all to emulate her.
Inspiration from Poet Mary Oliver
The Woman Who Loves Giraffes
Filed under People, Religion
I have been reading Helen Norrie’s regular column about children’s books in the Winnipeg Free Press since she first started writing it in 1978. So it was a real pleasure to share a table for lunch with her at an event at the University Women’s Club earlier this week.
I asked Helen how she chooses the books to write about in her column. She told me the Winnipeg Free Press delivers boxes of new children’s books to her home, books they have received from publishers who want the newspaper to review their latest offerings for children. Helen then chooses the ones she will write about giving preference to books by Manitoba and Canadian authors. I asked her what she does with all those books she receives and she told me she donates most of them to local libraries and other charities that distribute books to kids.
I was also curious about how she had started writing about children’s books for the newspaper. She said she had been working as a teacher librarian at the time and was writing book reviews as a part of that job. She decided to send some of the reviews to the Free Press and they printed them. She has been reviewing children’s books for the newspaper ever since. She has also taught courses in children’s literature for the education department at the University of Winnipeg.
Helen Norrie at the site of the library to be named after her and her husband Bill
Since I serve on a Winnipeg Library Advisory Committee I was aware that a new library is being built in River Heights and will be named after Helen and her husband Bill Norrie who served as Winnipeg ‘s mayor from 1979 to 1992. Helen told me she is particularly pleased about that for her husband’s sake. We chatted a bit about how the role of libraries is changing dramatically. I told Helen I had grown up in Steinbach, a town without a library at the time, so I had relied on books from the University Extension Library as well as trips to the Good Will Store in Winnipeg as a source for reading material. I work together with Michel Saint Hilaire at the Winnipeg Art Gallery so I knew about the colorful mural the talented Winnipeg artist had a hand in creating to honor Helen’s husband Bill’s life. Helen told me she had been so pleased with the mural on the corner of Ellice and Langside since it reflected Bill’s interests and love for the city of his birth.
We also chatted about our families. I told her about my son’s career as a professional musician and the birth of my new granddaughter. She told me about her great-grandchildren.
One thing I forgot to mention to Helen was how impressed I had been with the address her husband gave on the occasion of our son’s graduation from the University of Manitoba in 2003. Bill Norrie was the chancellor of the university at the time and I wrote one of my columns in the Winnipeg Free Press about the inspiring speech he gave to the graduates about celebrating diversity and building bridges between all kinds of people and communities. He ended with a prayer by Sir Francis Drake I have often quoted since. You can read it here.
I so enjoyed my conversation with Helen Norrie. It was lovely to meet a woman who loves children’s books as much as I do.
A Cache of Great Children’s Books
Picture Books Have Changed
My Childhood Reading Heaven
Filed under Books, People
Ralph Connor House. I took this photo last year while attending my aunt’s birthday celebrations here .
Yesterday I was my aunt’s guest at a lecture at the University Women’s Club located in the historic Ralph Connor House. My aunt joined the club after retiring from the nursing faculty at the University of Manitoba. Her generous invitation included a lunch following the lecture. I happened to be seated at a table across from Muriel Smith. I had such an interesting time chatting with her.
Muriel Smith was the first woman to be a Deputy Premier in Canada. Here she is shown in the Manitoba Legislature with Manitoba premier Howard Pawley.
Muriel was the first woman to serve as a Deputy Premier in Canada. She received that appointment in 1981 from Premier Howard Pawley after being elected to the Manitoba Legislature as a representative for the Winnipeg riding of Osborne. Muriel had previously served as the president of the Manitoba New Democratic Party, and as a member of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. During the Pawley government she held various cabinet portfolios including Minister Responsible for the Status of Women.
A look at her profile in the May 2009 issue of the University of Manitoba Bulletin when Muriel was awarded an honorary doctorate degree, lists an impressive number of involvements in local, national and international organizations. She is described as a passionate advocate for human rights and gender rights.
During our lunch Muriel and I talked about our children. She filled me in on the interesting and varied lives of her four daughters. Learning I was from Steinbach she engaged me in a lively conversation about Miriam Toews’ books many of which she had read. She talked about her time spent in Oxford England where she went to university at the same time as her husband was a Rhodes Scholar there.
When she found out I had been a member of the Hong Kong Women in Publishing Association we also chatted about Karmel Schreyer, a family friend of Muriel’s who lived in Hong Kong for many years and published several successful novels for young people. It was lovely to meet Muriel and learn more about her service to our province.
Muriel and I also shared our table with another fascinating Manitoba woman. I’ll write about that tomorrow.
Dave and Renan twelve years ago
Way back in 2006 a young man named Renan Canto from Merida Mexico came to Steinbach as an exchange student at the regional high school where both my husband Dave and I were teachers. Renan was in my grade ten English class and Dave was his basketball coach. I taught journalism and one of my students Courtney Fehr did a profile of Renan for our school paper. During his interview for the article Renan talked about what a great experience he was having in Canada.
Dave with Renan at Chichen Itza
In 2007 Dave and I went on a holiday to Cancun Mexico with our friends Rudy and Sue Nikkel. We knew Renan’s home in Merida was about a three and half hour drive away but we contacted him anyway and let him know we would be in Mexico. Renan and his brother came to pick us up in a chauffered car and drive us to their family home in Merida.
Me and Rudy and Sue Nikkel with Renan and his brother at Chichen Itza
On the way we stopped at the famous Mayan archeological site at Chichen Itza where Renan’s father had arranged for a private guide to give us a tour.
Dave and Rudy with Renan’s father and brother enjoying a coconut drink in their backyard before dinner
When we arrived in Merida Renan’s parents rolled out the red carpet for us.
Me with Renan’s mother
His mother made us a wonderful supper and they hosted us for the night.
Posing with Renan and his family on the front steps of their family home in 2007
The next day before we traveled back to our hotel in Cancun Renan’s parents treated us to brunch in a restaurant housed in a beautiful old home in Merida. We have never forgotten their wonderful hospitality.
When we knew we would be in Merida with our friend Rudy this year Dave contacted Renan. He told us he had gotten married this fall and Dave invited him and his wife to join us for lunch. Renan picked a fantastic seafood restaurant called La Pigua. We had a delicious meal and a wonderful visit. Renan and Lizmar have only been married for four months and they described their month long honeymoon in France, Italy and Greece. Renan who studied electrical engineering owns a lighting company and installs commercial lighting as well as orchestrating light shows for special occasions. He told us about a light show he had done at some ruins called Teotihuacán near Mexico City. Renan’s wife Lizmar runs a dance studio where around a hundred students study ballet. We had a long visit and agreed we will try to meet again during our time here in Merida.
It was great to reconnect with Renan and to meet Lizmar!
Visiting My Students in New York
Ivan Was Here
So Proud of Her
Filed under Mexico, People
With my friend Sue in a taxi in Kyoto
On Tuesday it was my friend Sue’s birthday and also the one year anniversary of her death.
Visiting Chichen Itza in Mexico with Sue
In the last weeks of Sue’s life I would send her e-mails every few days that included photos and I would tell her about the things I was going to miss about her.
Sue and me at the Mountain Brook golf course in Gold Canyon Arizona
Among other things I said I would miss golfing with her,
Hiking the Peralta Trail with Sue
hiking with her,
With Rudy and Sue at Hecla Island
talking and laughing with her,
With my friend Sue and our sailboat captain in Florida
vacationing with her,
With Sue in a fun house in Osaka
having fun with her,
Enjoying a delicious and beautifully presented meal as Sue’s meals always were in the sun room of her and Rudy’s home
eating the wonderful meals she made and drinking her signature gin and tonics,
Playing bridge with Rudy and Sue in Thailand
and having her for a friend.
Now a year later I do miss all those things about Sue and many other things too.