China’s Ming Tombs

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We, the living, are often fascinated by tombs.  We can’t resist the chance to tour them, view mummies, and read about possible curses associated with disturbing the dead.  Enjoy my story of reflection as I toured China’s Ming Tombs:

Even though it was winter, the valley looked beautiful. It reached from a lake, past fruit trees, and toward several hills below mountains. Laid out in the harmonious “feng shui” design by the third Ming Dynasty emperor Yongle (1402–1424), the Ming Tombs are just 26 miles northeast of Beijing and definitely worth a visit.

Emperor Yongle moved the capital of China from Nanjing to its the present location in Beijing. After construction of the Imperial Palace (the Forbidden City) in 1420, Yongle selected his burial site and created his own mausoleum. The valley features tombs of 13 of the Ming Dynasty Emperors, some Empresses, and a royal eunuch. The tombs are spread out across the valley, many on top of hills. A great red gate marks the entrance to a road lined with huge stone statues of guardian animals and officials. Stone and waterways are strategically placed to guard against bad winds, according to Feng Shui, and create a balance between humans and nature. Continue reading

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Inside my Apartment in China

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In Russia I lived with a Russian family. For six long, cold months I stayed in a bedroom on the eighth floor of a 12-storey apartment building in Samara, near the frozen Volga River. It was crowded with three kids and three adults, yet surprisingly lonely. I took long walks through the snowy landscapes, alone. When my Russian boss wouldn’t pay me, I flew across the Black Sea to Turkey and lived for 2.5 years, mostly near Istanbul where I had an old apartment in Kocaeli. With increasing political problems in Turkey and danger to me as a part-time journalist, I took a job in China. My new company provided a free, all-utilities-pad, elegant apartment in the northeast. Wood floors, comfy furniture, modern appliances, and even a roof to walk out onto were some of its amenities.

 
Since China was having problems with the Turk-like people of its northwest Xinjiang province, my Turkish husband felt pressured to return to Istanbul. My young adult children are in California. Although my spacious apartment seems empty at times, I add homey touches and wait for someone to visit. I’m proud to have earned my People’s Republic of China Foreign Expert license and such a nice apartment. When my contract ends in June, I plan to return to California, at least for the summer. I’m trying to find a teaching job in America. If I don’t, I may come back to China next September. When you see these photos, you’ll understand why such an offer can be tempting.  See more photos of my Chinese apartment on Digital Journal.

 

Climbing the Great Wall of China

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On a cold, windy day I joined a group of Chinese tourists to climb the Great Wall of China.  It was difficult, but the views at the top were amazing and gave me new perspectives into Chinese history.  Read more about my Great Wall adventures and see photos here.

By the way, Justin Bieber had his bodyguards carry him, but this Chinese grandma climbed the wall with her cane!

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China’s Treasures

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The Empress’ throne room inside Beijing’s Summer Palace

I went to Beijing and saw some of China’s greatest treasures, royal rooms where Emperors and Empresses sat on gold and silver thrones that were surrounded by statues of cranes, lions, dragons, and the elusive phoenix.  After touring the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, we went to a fancy Chinese restaurant that recreated the Emperor’s throne room.  Here I am, sitting among China’s treasures and realizing that the greatest treasure is love, the human heart, and God sending His only Son down from Heaven’s throne for us.

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Family

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Our social group meets at a restaurant

Here I am, teaching English in northeast China, far away from my children in California.  I miss Jessica (21) and Jonathan (18).  I wish I could be with them.  There’s an old saying, “If you can’t be with the ones you love, love the ones you’re with.”

So here are some photos of my “family” in China.

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My high school students and I pose together

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Me (in the red hat) with Filipinos, Indians, and Chinese members of a local church

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See more photos of northeast China here.

Christmas and Suicide

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In the first chapter of my true cancer survival book, “Crossing the Chemo Room,” I tell about the Christmas when I was 4 years old, and my father shot himself in front of me and my mother after he had been drinking.

Twenty years later, my mother died just after Christmas, from an accidental, lethal combination of Valium and wine.  My only brother disappeared into the wilderness the next year, never to be found.  Suicide can run in families like ripples from a rock thrown into a lake, and it is not easily forgotten.

Although the suicide rate is not highest during the winter holidays, it happens because people can drink too much or take drugs to feel less depressed over lack of family or gifts.  If you see someone who is hurting, talk to him.  Learn about suicide.  Offer help.  This Christmas, light a candle against the darkness of suicide.

“Crossing the Chemo Room”

Chapter One

Childhood

“When my father and my mother forsake me,

Then the LORD will take care of me.”

Psalm 27:10

I always wanted a normal life.  You know, the kind with two parents and lots of siblings in a wooden house.  You could even add a white picket fence.  I would grow up in that same house, near cousins and aunts and uncles, in my secure, familiar American town.  I would go to school and church down the street.  I would marry the boy next door, have kids, and live near my parents and the rest of our large, happy family.

I always wanted to live in the mountains.  Most of my life I have lived in lowlands, deserts, or valleys.  But for a short time, when I was nine years old, I lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

My brother Kerry and I would explore upward paths bordered by blackberries and overshadowed by pines.  We would find high meadows and streams flowing between gray boulders.  Tadpoles swam in still pools carved into the granite.  Kerry and I would catch the slippery creatures, admire their small legs, then let them go.  We would climb as high as we could, sit on the edge of a cliff, and watch the sunset change distant peaks from misty blue to gold so bright we could hardly look at it.

I wondered how a person could cross the chasm between the clifftop and those peaks.  Continue reading

Istanbul Lamps Shining through Glass on a Rainy Day

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My Turkish husband and I were wandering through Istanbul, near Galata Tower, on a rainy spring day.  We saw this lamp shop, a bright spot against the gray.  Traditional Turkish lamps hung gracefully behind the shop’s window and spilled their rainbow lights onto the rainy sidewalk.  This is one of my favorite photos of the fairy-tale land of Turkey, and I invite you to walk with me there.

The Photo that Almost Got me Arrested in Turkey

I lived in Turkey for 2.5 years and did photo essays about that beautiful country with its variety of landscapes, historical places, and people.  Then I began to write about the freedom protests that began last spring because of Turkey’s oppressive government.  That led to an article about censorship.  Turkey has more journalists in prison than any other country.  As I witnessed the freedom protests close-up, taking videos of peaceful people walking in unison for the right to speak freely in their own country, I felt a close bond with Turkey.

My Turkish husband, who had been tortured by the Turkish police, went with me to meet friends one Sunday afternoon for tea in Istanbul.  We witnessed police attacking tourists with water canon and pepper spray.  As we made our way home, the police chased us, and the pepper spray I was engulfed in made me sick for days.  Ironically, I left Turkey just days before police showed up at my old apartment door to arrest me for a photo I had published.

See the photo here, minus the woman whose image used to be in it (she complained to the police).  It shows the Kocaeli Book Fair building with a banner of Ataturk, founder of the secular, democratic Republic of Turkey next to its current ruler, the Islamist Prime Minister Erdogan, who makes his image as large as Ataturk’s.  Notice the flag poles like bars in the foreground, layers of oppression.

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Delicately Eerie: Woman Haunted by Man

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Here is one of the eeriest photos I ever snapped with a camera.  My daughter Jessica stands in a church, holding a candle, as a mysterious man watches from the background.  Jessica, like me, has been attacked by predatory men.  May Jess be a symbol–a girl bravely holding a candle–a single flame shining in the dark, a delicate resistance.

Read more here.

Surviving Breast Cancer

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Lonna Lisa Williams sits inside the cave behind Duden Waterfall in Antalya, Turkey, 2012

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so I thought I’d share my own cancer story:

I was nursing my baby when I found a lump in my breast. I told my doctor that I felt achy and tired all the time, and he said it was because I just had a baby and chased after a toddler all day. He thought my breast lump was a clogged milk duct and gave me a mammogram. Nothing strange showed up in the mammogram. But the lump didn’t go away, and I felt like I had the flu all of the time, with low-grade fevers and night sweats.

“Something is wrong,” I told my doctor when I returned, my two children with me. I knew that I was in charge of my body’s health, and I had done research on breast lumps and ways to test them.

“Give me a needle biopsy,” I requested. Jonathan started crying in my arms, and Jessica was running around the examining room.

“Just come back in 6 months,” the impatient doctor responded. “You are young, and it’s probably nothing.”

“No, do it now,” I demanded.

That action saved my life. Two days later my doctor told me I had cancer. Thus began my battle with a rare tumor that sometimes appears in women’s breasts: non-hodgkins lymphoma.

I had to stop nursing abruptly and have surgery. Luckily, I only had a lumpectomy (a lump removed from my breast). I faced four months of chemotherapy, shots, and blood work. I endured strange medical tests like CAT-scans and bone marrow biopsies. My hair fell out. I looked pale, not even eyebrows on my face to soften my vivid blue eyes. My family, friends, and church helped me by watching my children, bringing meals, and babysitting me after my chemotherapy treatments left me nauseated and weak.

I wanted to live for my children and believed that God could help me. I laughed when two boys tossed my blonde wig to each other or people stared when I forgot my wig. I joined a breast cancer support group and wrote two books about my ordeal.

Since those books were published, I have fought other battles like divorce, dependence on prescription medication, and a near-fatal car accident. I had to go overseas to teach English, leaving my children with my ex-husband. After Russia, I lived in Turkey , married a Turkish man, and took a new teaching post in China.  Now I’m trying to write my way back to California to see my children.

Last June, Jonathan graduated from high school. Jessica turned 21. I discovered that cancer was only one battle in my life, 17 years ago, and I’m grateful that the battles–and triumphs–continue.

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Read about my story in my book Crossing the Chemo Room.

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Lonna and her Turkish husband Omer at Duden Waterfall in Turkey

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Lonna with her children Jessica and Jonathan in California, 2010