Reflections on Glory Week

We called it “Glory Week” because “Hell Week” sounds self-defeating. With all the events going on concurrently, any officer would be forgiven for throwing up their hands and beg for mercy. Mercy, since money wasn’t available for more resources.

All the CGs were coming into Beijing, so the Embassy was going to hold a conference for them. The PCOs also came in for their quarterly meeting. Normally, we would have a separate itinerary each for our DAS and our HR team from D.C., but nearly half our staff was already in Tianjin either teaching or receiving what was being taught. With so much of the trade and economic leadership in town, it was decided that giving a briefing to the business community and holding a reception for 200 people would be productive, too. Throw in the Indiana Governor holding a reception at the Ambassador’s house for good measure.

The one thing I enjoyed the most, and what truly made it glorious in the end, was working with the local staff. These are people who do not report to me. They know I have no authority over them. Yet, we were united by a common cause: to do a good job.

The experience reinforced the lesson I learned from the past: effective delegation. Define major groups of duties: i.e., venue setup, vendor liaison, RSVPs, entertainment, escort, etc. Have control officers for each group of tasks. The primary control officer is the primary communicator, the one who knows all the pieces, and can immediately empower the secondary control officer to solve specific problems.

The alternative is doing everything yourself. I remember hating team work in high school, college and graduate school because I could always do a better job than my teammates. For large, complicated endeavors that involve multiple outside stakeholders, going solo is not an option. At least, it’s not a sane one.

I ought to acknowledge their contribution by praising them to senior management. Be as detailed as I can about their contributions. This would be a precursor to an award nomination.

I was only responsible for the briefing and reception for the business community. While I was still nominally responsible for the Indiana Governor’s reception, I worked with a colleague from the ECON section to actually work on the visit. The Indiana reception required me to cooperate with Protocol and the CMR staff. I also worked with Protocol to issue invitations to the business community. Since there were breakout sessions, I also interacted with Consular, RSO, FAS and the Front Office for parts involving the Ambassador. My team worked with GSO, Facilities, PAS, the local guard force, the Hilton Hotel, and the three U.S. trade associations. These were all stakeholders that expected me to convey all information that might affect them.

The image of a spoke and wheel is helpful to describe the experience. My core control team was like the hub of the wheel with spokes representing their relationship with those various stakeholders. This wheel could only turn and support movement because of our unity of purpose.

I was fortunate to request and obtain a team. Delegating earlier would have helped identify the need for additional LES to stay behind in Beijing. Some other officers couldn’t get enough help.

Other lessons learned:

  • Name tags are always a nice touch.
    Table tents with names of briefers is better.
    Have introductory remarks ready, either to use personally or pass on to another speaker.
    Have closing remarks ready
    Bracelets are better than stickers. Stickers fall off.
    Have a clear program for all principals, including your own section chief.

My Daughter’s Love

My daughter, M., sent me these chat messages with my wife’s phone this afternoon as I traveled to Tianjin:

I remember when she was still an infant, how I hoped to one day hear M. say that she loves me back. For years now, she has returned my love and I believe it. The love is genuine. She’s not just repeating some words mommy and daddy taught her to say. My daughter really loves me.

If this is how I feel, how does Our Heavenly Father feel when our souls mature enough to genuinely love the First Person of the Trinity in return?

The Old Open West

By the time I finished lunch on Sunday, it was already 5 o’clock in the afternoon in Tianjin. I had traveled with some work colleagues two hours Southeast from Beijing to open our Commercial Tradecraft training for the local staff on Monday morning. After checking in to hotel and meeting with one of the trainers, I finally got lunch in the mid-afternoon.

If not for the Holy Spirit nudging me to check online for local Mass times, I would not have discovered St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Tianjin. It is only a 25-minute walk from the St. Regis Hotel. The last Mass was at 7 o’clock.

St. Joseph's Cathedral in Tianjin
St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Tianjin

I used good ol’ Baidu Maps to help me get there. I sat down in time to join over fifty Tianjin Catholics pray the rosary in Mandarin. The image of Christ’s Mystical Body came to mind and I felt closer to the Chinese people than I ever felt in my life. I felt affection for them like a forefinger might feel for its neighbor, the thumb. We are part of the same body, and the Holy Spirit is the soul that unites us. The parishioner two rows ahead of me is oblivious to my presence, just as any cell in my body is oblivious to another cell. Yet, if such a cell could feel gratitude, it would be grateful to share the nourishment of Christ’s Body and Blood in just another hour. As the cells of my body rejoiced from the Shabu Shabu hot pot I ate for lunch, so will the souls of Christ’s Body cry out in happiness from the Eucharist placed on our tongues.

View of the Altar Inside the Tianjin Cathedral
Statue of St. Joseph (left pillar); Statue of St. Therese of Lisieux (right pillar)

The devotion and liturgy washed over my senses, and I felt my soul lifted up in anticipation. Eyes and stomachs are thrilled but patient with all the fanfare that goes into a formal, fancy reception. The liturgy is more than just public worship, it’s a feast for the soul!

I was sharing this with all these Chinese Catholics, and their devotion was both familiar and different. Familiar in that I know they were praying the Hail Mary in Chinese. Different because the cadence and rhythm was like the Buddhist chants I’ve heard at temples. I appreciated it all the same. One Body, many parts… and I was about to see how Our Lord fed His Flock in Tianjin.

The Mass was in Mandarin. So, I followed along using “The Word Among Us” from the Kindle app on my phone. The readings in Tianjin on this 25th Sunday in Ordinary time are the same in English as it is in Chinese: Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-8; and Luke 16:1-13.

The first two readings were about the rich taking advantage of the poor. Christ seemed to challenge me in the Gospel to be more than just the shrewd steward who partially forgave the loans of his master’s debtors in order to make friends before getting fired. Christ wants us to be like the prodigal father that He talked about in the parable He told the crowd just before this one.

I couldn’t follow the priest’s homily in Chinese, but I admired his delivery. The parishioners sang and responded. I heard women’s voices as well as the rich timber of men’s voices from the pews. I prayed for the parish, and I prayed for the Chinese people.

During Communion, people walked up and kneeled in front of the Communion rail. Several priests walked left and right to give the Sacrament. The image reminded of blood cells gathering and clumping up near the heart. We were being fed, much like our blood cells are fed with oxygen when they return to the heart. Here, we return to our pews and will our souls to the will of the Holy Spirit. We pray with His love, but cooperate by bringing our intentions. Our Lord involves us in the work of salvation. How cool is that?

I felt so blessed to go to Mass at the Tianjin Cathedral. It’s also known as 老西开教堂 (lǎo xīkāi zhǔtáng) or “Old West Open Cathedral.” Beautiful art and statues.

Old Fogies at Modernista

My wife and I went out on a date with some friends in Beijing, tonight. We don’t go out enough. Our six-year old was crying as we left our house. H. wasn’t used to us leaving. M., I suspect, was content that we weren’t around to nag her. She barely looked up as we walked out the door while her younger sister waved tearfully from the window.

We met up with our friends in Sanlitun, a modern outdoor mall concept that’s hip with the youngsters. Run by Swire Properties, the building complex meets LEED Gold standards, which would please the environmentally conscious millennial.

This was our first time at Bottega, a fancy Italian restaurant. You could tell because the cocktails had large cube ice cubes. I ordered an Earl Grey Old Fashioned. My wife tried The Ambassador, a gin and tonic cocktail.

I tried the fried calzone, and ordered the large antipasto meat plate for the table. A. ordered an avocado salad.

“Happy birthday!” DL greeted me. We ran into each other after getting out of our Didi. I shook her husband’s hand and gave him a bro-hug. ML is the operations chief for the Universal Beijing Resort in Tongzhou. We haven’t seen each other since summer started and I was glad to hang out with them.

“Do you know where we’re going?” asked ML. I showed him the face of my phone, indicating I was using a map. Turns out Baidu Maps was better than Apple Maps (at least in China).

RP and KP also greeted me with happy birthdays. This wasn’t my party, but it was very nice of them to acknowledge. W and M were there, too. W spent the summer traveling throughout Central Asia, like Tajikistan. He works for ConocoPhillips in Beijing, and recently had lunch with my section chief, CG.

We laughed and talked about different things. M spent some time taking about this new Chinese guard working at ISB who could pass as the Chinese Bachelor. RP noted the irony that the men at the table wouldn’t be able to get away with talking about women this way. It is the #MeToo environment, after all. Still, we all enjoyed laughing about the girlishness of it.

The highlight of the evening was watching “Steve Mac & the Mac Daddies” play at the Modernista. This bar/venue is hidden in the hutong alleys near the Lama Temple. “Where the ‘Dolly Lamb-Uh’ once teached,” RP joked, emphasizing the Lama in “Dalai Lama” with a common American mispronunciation.

The venue at Modernista is also a fire hazard. Should any emergency break out, the only exit is up a narrow flight of rickety wooden stairs. We then would have to cross a crowded balcony full of tables and drinks, through a smoking lounge on the same upstairs floor, then down a different flight of dangerously small stairs into the packed entrance for Modernista. Like responsible parents, we left the place ten ’til eleven and got home to relieve the babysitter by 11:35pm.

Of course, we enjoyed a 50-minute set from the band. They did mostly covers of popular songs from Maroon 5, Bruno Mars and The B-52s. A., DL and M got up to dance. I even danced for a little bit. It was really fun to go out, drink, laugh and dance. Turning 40 this year made no difference. I’ve always acted like an old man and I wasn’t disappointed to go home.

I spent over 15-minutes holding our hamster, Creampuff. That was a nice way to end the evening.

Monday, 14th Week in Ordinary Time

I went to confession again, today. This is the third time in seven days. What a wretch I am. The Lord knows I’m a sinner, and I’m ashamed that I have been falling into mortal sin so frequently.

These feelings of shame are counter-balanced with feelings of gratitude. I am grateful for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. What an incredible mercy that God gives us! I commit a mortal sin, deserve to be cast into Hell, despite living an otherwise righteous life, but this Sacrament is here to wipe my sins away, again. Oh, Lord you are so merciful! How can this be? I don’t understand this love you have for me, but I’m grateful.

Inspired by the diary of Saint Faustina, I asked the Lord to be one of His Chosen. He asked me if I knew what I was asking for, and I replied that I do not know but I completely trust in his Mercy and will accept what he gives me. My prayer life was increasing in intensity, and God allowed the old temptations to come back in order to test my resolve.

Obviously, I failed. Yet, God was teaching me that I have yet to rely on his strength. If I want to be one of His Chosen, then I need to turn to him always. I still need to learn how to fight my basic temptations. These old battles need to be fought again before my Lord and Commander gives me more difficult assignments. The Holy Spirit is revealing that my old weaknesses are still there and may never go away. So I need to learn to rely on Christ always. 

The enemy will set traps and I need to be vigilant. The enemy knows my weaknesses, too, and will exploit them. The only way I can defeat their efforts is to struggle with prayer during those moments of temptation. If there Our Fathers is not enough for those temptations to subside, then say a whole rosary. If a whole rosary is not enough, then kneel and do a chaplet of Divine Mercy. I have other spiritual weapons at my disposal and I should familiarize myself with them, as any good soldier would before battle.

I will be mortally wounded, like I was yesterday. Whether the death was by the enemy or by my own carelessness doesn’t matter. There is no need for me to walk around dead, like a zombie. I can be healed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I can always start over after a mortal “game over” until the power that keeps my physical body alive is shut off. Praise be to God. Have mercy on me. Train me to be a better soldier. I want to do battle for you.

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