Happiness is waking up every day at 6am in the village, jogging in the freezing cold underneath a canopy of stars with the missionary doctor, chatting about God and life, and eating hot, steaming roadside fare.

Happiness is spending the first day of your trip exploring the place by yourself, with no guide, nobody at all- and feeling completely at ease in the midst of humble, quiet people.

Happiness is taking public transport by yourself on your second day in a foreign land to a lake with thousands of seagulls, sitting on a stone bench and overhearing a conversation in simple Mandarin:

” Mama, wei shen me zhe zhi mao mei you er duo? (Mommy, how come this cat has no ears?” A little boy comes up to where I am sitting and stares curiously.

“Yin wei… yin wei ta bu ting hua ya… Ni kan, ling wai yi zhi mao duo ting hua ya! (Because… because it was naughty and didnt listen to what its mommy told him… See, the other cat has ears because it was a good boy!)”

The little boy, holding his mommy’s hand, uses his other hand and scratches his ear, before coming over to feel the ear-less, naughty cat.

Happiness is enjoying colourful messiness, and seeing Beauty in it.

Happiness is seeing a poor villager’s life changed- being able to function again after having a leg and fingers burnt by acid- because of what the missionary doctors and God’s love have done for him. Happiness is seeing the missionary doctor give him a haversack, and a jacket and seeing him overwhelmed with joy and thanksgiving.

Happiness is seeing how a little girl, dulled by mental retardation, constantly salivating and frowning because of her inability to walk, go completely ecstatic when you take a picture with her with a flash. Happiness is hearing her scream and shriek with joy, and seeing her mother smile.

Happiness is spending two hours to travel to another hospital, and helping a village family pay for their hospital expenses, partly with money a classmate gave you ” to use it in whatever way you want to help the poor, I don’t care how you use it…”. Happiness is praying for the family and the father who has terminal cancer, and seeing their tears of gratitude when you open your eyes.

Happiness is laying shoeless on grass, and seeing nothing but blue skies, and clouds

Happiness is walking by miles and miles of sugarcane fields, and biting refreshing sugarcane freshly chopped in front of you by the village farmers.

Happiness is throwing up all night, feeling giddy and weak but laughing the next morning at church, grateful to God for the Beautiful experience.

Happiness is feeling physically weak from puking and pooping, and emotionally exhausted- but knowing you could do it all over again.

All over again, because it makes you Happy.

Thank you all for your thoughtful emails, notes and prayers for me.

I arrived at 2am this morning, after a memorable gastronomical spewing session on the aircraft due to the result of staying for a few days in a village and eating with the beautiful people there. Miles and miles of sugarcane fields, endless cloudless blue skies, and humble, hospitable, quiet people. It was worth it.

I’m sorry I could not share Stories with you all till now. For some reason, I wasn’t able to access this space during my stay in China. Apparently, some sites are restricted in China, and this happens to be one of them.

Many sights, sounds and Stories broke my heart there. Talking to villagers stricken with lethal diseases but too poor to afford a stay at the hospital, listening to the poor tell you how they wanted to end their lives after losing their limbs in unfortunate accidents but could not afford even the most basic operations, and seeing how humble and simple people can and ought to be- can break your heart in ways you don’t even imagine.

Then you see how missionary doctors there send out teams to collect the poorest and neediest villagers, from the most inaccessible of places in the mountains, send them to hospitals to give them new hope for a new life; you see how they give them money, friendship and love; you see how they give them hope to want to live again- and something deep inside you breaks in a Good way. Like you know you could do this someday. Like maybe, for all your pampered upbringing, you could. Maybe, more than maybe- you could, and will.

The place that broke my heart the most must have been the Rehabilitation Centre.

I was on my way there when I crossed a huge park in the city, bustling with activity. In the morning, crowds of elderly people exercised, danced, played instruments and played with their grandchildren. It was a joyous, beautiful sight, brimming with energy and life.

At the end of the park were dozens of people squatting by the side, offering to polish the dirty winter boots of passers-by. I hardly stopped to look at each of them because there were so many, each doing the same thing for a living. Different lives doing the same thing to live. But she caught my eye. She caught my eye because there she was, sitting in the sunshine on a frosty winter’s day, squatting by the side, waiting to polish the dirty winter boots of passers-by… and she had no feet. Where our feet start, hers ended in stumps, as if her feet were buried under the cruel metal concrete ground below.

She had no feet, and yet, squatting by the roadside, she held a polishing cloth, waiting to polish the dirty winter boots of passers-by, boots that enveloped the very things she did not have. I watched her, rooted to the ground, outraged by the audacity of the irony. Suddenly, in that poignant moment, everything faded away. I wanted to go up to her, talk to her, but what could I say that would bring comfort or peace to her? So I watched her, rooted to the ground.

I caught her eye, and I did the only thing I knew- I smiled her my best smile.

In return, she smiled her Best smile back. It was a radiant, Beautiful smile, shining in the winter’s sunshine, without a hint of malice, or resentment at the lot life had dished her.

I turned the corner, then had to sit by the roadside where she could not see me. And I started to cry.

I pick myself up and make my way to the Rehabilitation Centre, the place where villagers who have met with devastating accidents are given new life and new hope because of what the missionary doctors have done for them. “Go and talk to the patients and spend time with them. Just, spend time with them.” the missionary doctor had told me.

I am a stranger there. With no one to tell me what to expect, I find myself shocked and deeply saddened by the sight of a man, burnt and terribly disfigured from head to toe. His skin is deep red, brown and pink. He hardly has eyes or a nose. He comes up to me with a group of patients and I brace myself.

I find it very awkward at first, and they seem not to welcome me very much. But they soon open up, and I make friends with Mei Yun (Beautiful Cloud), Xu Hai, and Tian Zi Shu.

They all grew up in villages. Born with a disability, Xu Hai cannot walk normally. Mei Yun lost sensation of her left calf when she was little but surgery at the Rehab Centre allowed her to walk again. Tian Zi Shu sits in a wheelchair. His legs are tiny, shriveled, but his face is determined, radiant even. His leg muscles hurt when he was fourteen- they still do.

They all had one thing in common- they all told me they had wanted to die at some point, but coming to the Rehab Centre, learning about God’s love and purpose for their lives gave them new hope, new life, made them want to live again.

Xu Hai

Mei Yun (Beautiful Cloud)

Tian Zi Shu

We sit in the warm sunshine, talk, eat fruit. I meet Yang Yao, a man with long hair tied in a ponytail, and with one leg. He lost his hearing in one ear and his left leg after a mining accident.

“I heard the tssssss…. of the dynamite wick and knew haha, it was over,” he says with a smile, “I thought I would die actually.”

I ask him how long he has been at the Rehab Centre and he replies, “Oh, my treatment has long been over. My lover. This time, I’m here cos of my lover.” He says those two words with a charm I cannot fully reconcile with.

“My lover,” he says, “My wife, she is having treatment. She lost both her feet because of severe burns. Her legs are stumps. I have no job now, but we’re thankful we earn enough because she polishes boots in the day.”

Later, I learn he is the husband of the woman I smiled to at the parade square, the one who made me cry because of her Beautiful smile.

There are other visitors too. One of them comes up to tell me, “I was watching you just now with all the patients. I just wanted to say you have this special gift of involving everyone in having fun. It’s a special gift, just wanted you to know that.” Another young lady comes up to talk to me and says, “ You look like you’ve been working here for a long time. You really have a way with these patients.”

I had been there for an hour at most. One young girl who had lost her leg in a tragic car accident when she was sixteen spilled her entire Story to me within the first 5 minutes of our encounter, without me even asking her. I was afraid to ask, really. Some hurts, we as Strangers, have no right to ask.

It took me days to figure it out. And suddenly, it came to me- the reason why we became friends so easily, the reason why the patients told me, “I don’t usually share this with people. But somehow, I feel I want to share this with you.”

The answer was very simple. We, not just they, had one thing in common. We all knew the taste of depression, what it meant to want to kill yourself. We had been there and back, been there, played and toyed with it until we knew what God’s love is, what it does. We had that one thing in common, and that was enough. In that warm sunshine, we talked, and ate fruit, and became instant friends.

That night I woke up at 3am, and could no longer sleep. Something inside was stirring within me. Haunted by the day’s events and haunted by the inner demon I had promised myself to deal with, I could not go back to sleep. All my life, I have been battling with my inner demon of low self-esteem, of not feeling pretty, smart, good-enough and that night it haunted me with a hollow Blackness.

The next evening, I returned to the Rehab Centre. Cui Hua, a village lady who had lost both her legs just two years ago shared with me, ” You know, this made me feel like a lesser person. It made me feel like I wasnt good enough for anything.” She sighed before she continued, “But then I knew God, and then I felt life was worth living all over again.”

I looked at her, sitting in a wheelchair with her thighs as stumps and it hit me like a train. It made me feel like I wasnt good enough for anything, she said. The tears started to come, and I had to leave. ” See you all soon!” I said, trying to hide my tears as I turned to leave.

That night, I wept myself to sleep. I wept so hard the lady who housed me had to hold me in her arms, warm my cold, cold hands and tell me it was okay to let it all out, okay to let it all out.

Here Cui Hua was, saying she wasn’t good enough for anything- the exact same thing I have been haunted with for the whole of my life. Here these poor villager patients were, with limbs and skin and faces lost, saying they felt like they wanted to die- the exact same thing I had thought before. Except that- they had lost limbs, skin and faces… and I had…


That night, I wept myself to sleep. I wept so hard the lady who housed me had to hold me in her arms, warm my cold, cold hands and tell me it was okay to let it all out, okay to let it all out.

Suddenly I was ashamed, ashamed and thankful to the point of tears and weeping. Weeping because I was ashamed and thankful at the same time. Thankful because I felt blessed to have had the peculiar privilege of understanding the taste of sadness, of understanding the hollow, empty feeling of not feeling good enough but having my limbs, skin and face intact. I wept that night, and I kept having to feel my legs. Ashamed also, because I had everything that should seem not to warrant any of those feelings at all.

I wept my heart out that night.

I thought of the poor villager patients, their limbs, skin, faces lost. Thought of their thoughts, and mine, thought of their lives, and mine. I thought their traffic, mining and occupational accidents, and anorexia- how anorexia had been my accident which amputated my limbs, skin and face.

Most people don’t understand what a weighing scale means to someone with anorexia. It means a number, and self-worth. They are obsessed with the number, because everything in their lives rest upon it. It is an altar which they worship. Everything revolves around it, and everything important in their lives rests upon it. In deep sickness, they can weigh themselves up to more than ten times a day. I was that ill before. Even on my worst days now, I am never that ill anymore. But though I have thought of ridding it many times before, I have never been able to.

That night, I wept. And finally, I knew what it meant to be blessed. I knew the meaning and weight of being blessed. I wept myself to sleep, kept feeling my legs, legs that had cartilages worn out too soon, too early by an illness but were intact, and made a Promise to myself.

I will always remember these Beautiful people, people who were brave, strong and humble enough to grab hold of pain, wrench it dry and re-fill their lives with a brand of hope only God’s love can give.

I got home, and threw away the scale today. It went down the chute, just like the stack of micro-skirts, and my trophies. It just isn’t worth it.

Beautiful People.