October 2008

It’s hard to get video feed coverage of the American election. The internet is slow here, and you have to multitask and be patient. But at my age, patience is something I do well, so I am pretty well up to snuff on what our American friends are up to. I wonder if America knows, however, how the rest of the world (TROTW) sees what is happening in America. The election in the States may still be up for grabs, but TROTW doesn’t think so.

The Economist, which I buy occassionally, has taken the trouble to find out. They have divided up TROTW into electoral college votes, just as America itself does, according to population. Then they have taken an online poll on McCain/Obama and published the results on their homepage. There is no contest.

McCain leads in just four countries: Georgia, Moldova, Macedonia, and most surprisingly, Cuba. Obama has all the rest, including Canada. But what is most telling is the margin of victory. McCain leads by a slim 52/48 % in Moldova, and no higher than 55/45 % in Cuba. Obama, by contrast leads by 83/17 % in China, 86/14 % in Russia, 88/12 % in Canada and 92/8 % in Saudi Arabia. In Indonesia, where Obama spent part of his childhood, he is running 97/3 % ahead of McCain. Here in Malaysia it is a more modest 89/11 %. TROTW has spoken, and it speaks well of Obama.

As fun as this kind of thing can be, there is a serious message here. The world has given Obama, and through him, the United States, a huge benefit of the doubt. The world wants to believe, needs to believe, that the United States can once again be a power for good. There was a time when America was so highly respected and admired that emerging countries, like Malaysia, adopted their national flag after the American pattern. An incompetent Johnson, a venal Nixon, a genial, but equally venal Reagan, a philandering Clinton, and two of the worst presidents in American history, both named Bush, have done much to tarnish the American image abroad. But maybe, just maybe, the world will get what it has long waited for: An America worth respecting again.

Join the fun. You can vote online at http://www.economist.com/vote2008/

Kathmandu is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. At five thousand feet, it is certainly one of the highest. For a long time it has been the royal city of Nepal, and there are a lot of palaces representing the various dynasties that have ruled here, along with huge pools and parks indicative of their historic wealth.

Although there are a lot of Hindu temples in the city, Nepal was also the birthplace of the Buddha, and there is a strong Buddhist influence in the architecture as well, making for an interesting and eclectic mix. When our kids were younger they had all kinds of fun climbing up the Monkey Temple and exploring the narrow market streets with their overhanging levels of their houses forming a kind of canopy that was delightfully medieval.

Pam will get a day in Kathmandu in flying out of the country, but most of the time she has spent in Butwal, closer to the Indian border. Pam describes her stay as amazing, getting to meet many listeners of the programs that Trans World Radio broadcasts into the area. But it has also been physically challenging, as conditions in the area are pretty primitive, and accommodation has been quite basic.

For those of you who have written and are wondering when you will get a response, Pam should be back in a place where she has access to the internet by Tuesday. She tells me that she is fine, but tired and looking forward to getting some time back in Malaysia after so much time away.

Pam left for Cambodia on September 1, shortly after we got back from Laos and Thailand. With the exception of a week together preparing for her conference in Singapore, she has been gone ever since. It is Tuesday evening here in KL and a week from today, on October 22, my sweetie gets back from Nepal. It has been another long stretch.

We knew before we came here that her ministry would mean long stetches away. We were prepared for it, and at our age it is certainly manageable. I iron, clean and cook with the best of them, and the work load, even with all the prep and marking I do, is manageable.

But you don’t marry because you are not able to look after yourself. You marry because you have found someone that in some way that only the heart truly understands, completes you. To be separated from that one is hard, regardless of how well you manage the details.

I know Pam cannot read this where she is. It has been hard enough just establishing a text message connection for a brief “I’m okay.” But whereever you are sweetie, whatever you are doing, I love you and miss you, and wish you Godspeed.

Pam’s conference is over, and from the brief conversation I had with her it went extremely well. All the women who had registered were able to get their visas and the conference was a great encouragement to them. Just to be among others who were engaged in a similar ministry of outreach was affirming and positive. The speaker was excellent, and Pam’s efforts with organization were appreciated.

Now it is on to Nepal with a much smaller group to see first hand the work of Trans World Radio in some of the most remote parts of the world. They arrived in Kathmandu around 3 in the morning, EST and by now should have arrived in Butwal, which will be their base for the coming week. Flying into Kathmandu from the south in an amazing experience as the green tree-covered hills look absolutely tortured from tectonic uplift. I know because we all took that flight on our way home from Bangladesh. But flying through the inland plain with a view of the majestic Himalayas must have been an awesome sight.

Please continue to pray for Pam’s safety and her growing understanding of the spiritual and medical needs of the women she feels called to reach. This is an enormous work she has undertaken, and only God can divinely superintend its outcome, and give her the strength and wisdom she needs to be an effective minister for the Lord.

Singapore is a city of almost five million people, and it is confined to an island to the south of Malaysia. Being geographically limited in size, however, has not limited its appreciation of nature. East Park runs for miles along the Straits of Malacca, from just outside the core of the city all the way out to Chaingi Airport. Its paved walkways and manicured lawns and beaches are a great place for a swim or a stroll. But even more remarkable is a stretch of untouched rain forest, the Bukit Timah Natural Reserve in the heart of the city.

It is a stiff climb to the top of the hill, but the main path is paved, and even the forest trails are well maintained so that one can take a leisurely hike down through the forest. On the way to the top I caught sight of a troop of monkeys grooming one another. They were not spooked by my being there, nor were they eager for a handout. These monkeys behaved normally, neither in fear nor in dependence of man.

I saw lizards as well, some as long as your dining room table and plenty of butterflies, but not many birds. Many of the trees had small informational signs posted in the ground for those of us who like to know that kind of thing, so I was able to identify banyans and tamerinds and many kinds of palms and lianas that I hadn’t known about. Lianas (the vines that climb tree trunks) make up about 40% of the canopy in a rain forest. That’s a huge amount of oxygen production that is also lost when the tress are cut down, as lianas depend entirely upon those tress for their support.

How do you rate a city? What is your personal yardstick? Is it the height of the buildings, or their architectural excellence? Is it the night spots, the city life, the ease of traffic flow or its congestion, the level of public art or its civic governance? Perhaps you avoid cities entirely, as I did for the twenty or so years that we were raising children, preferring small town friendliness to big city angst.

Having grown up in what used to be one of the world’s great cities, and longing for that elan and flair, that sense of excitement combined with a sense of security that Toronto has long since traded in for mere size, I can tell you precisely what I look for in a city: people space. Cities that make space for its people, attract and keep quality people who appreciate the respect they are given by a city that values them being there.

What you are seeing are pictures of the Botanical Gardens in Singapore, a huge park in the center of town, about five minutes from the top of Orchard Road, the Bloor Street of the city. Within the park is an outdoor concert pavilion which was setting up for a Chopin concert on the Sunday evening. Note that the concert shell looks a little like the top of a pitcher plant. Note too that while there are chairs for the musicians, the audience is invited to sit on the lawn and enjoy the beauty of the surroundings.

In addition there are sections of the park set aside for spice and herb plants, fruit trees, palms of various descriptions, banzai trees and orchids, for which Singapore is internationally famous. There are over a thousand species of orchids on display, many of the newer hybrids being cultivated right on the spot and named after various visiting dignitaries, like the Princess Diana orchid, all white of course, and the red and black Nelson Mandela orchid.

Everything was laid out with such care that you couldn’t help feeling relaxed and at peace. The walkways were clean, the plants were well looked after, the staff were courteous. Even the food, normally a problem at such places, was excellent. Cities that makes such spaces for their citizens, that care about more than just the financial well being, but the social and emotional well being of its people, attract people and keep them happy. Singapore is fundamentally a happy place.

You can not live with someone as long as Pam and I have without sharing some fundamental pleasures in life. Kids, yes. God, yep, Him too. Love for travel; we both have that in spades. But there are many other things as well that we both enjoy doing, and one of them is looking at the beauty of God’s created world.

We had the great privilege of visiting the Jurong Bird Park in Singapore last week, and it was just amazing. There are over 9,000 birds in this park, many of them flying freely around large netted enclosures that cover about 50 acres of property in western Singapore.

This is Pam clearly enjoying feeding a pair of parakeets which were dazzling in their variety. We also saw larger parrots and macaws and hundreds of other species, including Malaysia’s famous hornbills. There were flamingos in every shade of pink (apparently that is from their diet) and penguins, both standing and swimming.

It was kid’s day at the park, but like everything Singaporean there were no line ups, bratty kids or litter. We spent the entire day, and it was well worth the visit.

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