Pick a Name, Any Name (Well, Not Any Name)

September 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

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For two years in the late 90s, Peter Hessler taught English in Fuling, China, as part of the Peace Corps. His experiences are the subject of his best-selling River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze.

In one passage, he writes about the interesting English names that his students had chosen for themselves, including a girl who was named Keller, after Helen Keller:

This was a common pattern; some of them had taken their names from people they admired, which explained why we had a Barbara (from Barbara Bush), an Armstrong (Neil Armstrong), and an idealistic second-year student called Marx. A few had translated their Chinese names directly—House, Yellow, North. There was one boy whose English name was Lazy. “My name is Lazy,” he said, on the first day of class. “I am very lazy. I do not like to play basketball or football or do many things. My hobbies are sleeping.”

Other names made less sense. There was a Soddy, a Sanlee, a Ker. Some were simply unfortunate: a very small boy called Pen, a very pretty girl named Coconut. One boy was called Daisy . . . .

Not all of the “unfortunate” names came from the students themselves. When the students asked for surnames to pair with their English given names, Adam, Hessler’s fellow teacher, gave Nancy the last name Drew. And when Mo asked Hessler for a surname, he became Mo Money.

I have some friends from Taiwan with less than mainstream English names. But who can blame them? Aren’t a lot of American names just a combination of letters, with no real meaning or heritage? And don’t people sometimes take common words and turn them into names for their children? Yes, both are true, but for some reason, some names seem to sound less right than others. Why not Mray? Why not Cabinet?

But who am I to judge? Before I moved to Taipei, I asked a friend from China for a Chinese name. He gave me Ke Lai, based on the sound of Craig. I liked it. And even after my new friends in Taiwan said it wasn’t a great name, I hung on to it, even going so far as to come up with a tortured defense for it. Ke means “overcome” and lai means “come,” so I figured that my name could match up with the first words spoken by the Master in The Analects of Confucius: “Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application?” (overcoming?) and “Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters?” (come).

“Okaaaaaay . . . ,” said my my gracious friends, “but maybe it’s not quite right. It doesn’t sound Chinese.”

I didn’t want to give in—it was my name—until I realized that the Chinese for Chrysler is Ke-lai-se-le. I didn’t mind that my name sounded foreign, but sounding like a foreign car company was a little too much.

So how would you help an international friend who’s looking for an English name? Maybe you’d like to point them to the Bible as a good source for names. According to the Social Security Administration, during the first decade of the 2000s, 8 of the top 10 baby-boy names came from the Bible. But the Bible isn’t failsafe. Not every biblical name should be considered a good candidate. Some names have bad backstories (think, Judas and Jezebel), and some just don’t pass the sound test (for example, Shammua and Abishag).

To help out, below is my contribution to the cause. It’s a list of over 170 biblical names that have, over the years, often been used in the US. Following each name is its designation for males or females, its meaning (if it’s known), and some of the more well-known people (or in a few cases, places) in the Bible with that name.

By the way, this list makes up an appendix to Putting Words in Our Mouths: A Look at Biblical Expressions in American English. I started in Genesis, and I’ve made it through Revelation, explaining over 150 entries along the way. If you haven’t already, please drop by. You’ll probably be surprised at how often we quote the Bible without even knowing it.

So from Aaron to Zachariah, here we go. (Sorry, Zuriel didn’t quite make the cut.)

Aaron (m), possibly “teacher, lofty, mountain of strength”—Moses’ brother, first high priest

Abigail (f), “father’s joy”—King David’s wife

Abraham (m), “father of a great multitude”—father of the Hebrew people

Adam (m), “earthy, red, human”—the first man

Alexander (m), “defender of man”—member of the Jewish ruling council; man expelled from the church

Amos (m), “carried, burden, weighty”—Old Testament prophet who wrote the Book of Amos

Andrew (m), “manly, strong man”—Jesus’ apostle

Anna (f), “grace”—New Testament prophetess

Bartholomew (m), “son of Tolmai”—Jesus’ apostle

Benjamin (m), “son of the right hand”—Jacob’s son

Bethany (f), “house of dates, house of misery”—village east of Jerusalem

Caleb (m), “dog”—one of the Israelite spies sent to bring back a report about Canaan

Candace (f) possibly “one who is contrite”—queen of Ethiopia

Claudia (f) possibly “lame”—follower of Jesus in Rome

Dan (m), “judge, judgment”—son of Jacob

Daniel (m), “judgment of God” —Old Testament prophet and writer of the Book of Daniel

David (m), “beloved”—king of Israel who wrote many of the Psalms

Deborah (f), “bee”—nurse of Rebekah, Isaac’s wife; prophetess and judge of Israel

Eli (m), “lifting up”—Old Testament high priest

Elisabeth (Elizabeth) (f), “God is her oath”—John the Baptist’s mother

Ethan (m), “enduring, strong”—descendant of Judah; descendant of Levi

Eve (f), possibly “life, giver of life”—first woman

Gabriel (m), “God is my strength, champion of God”—angel

Hannah (f), “grace”—mother of Samuel, the Old Testament prophet

Isaac (m), “laughter”—Abraham’s son

Jacob (m), “one who grabs the heel, supplanter, deceiver“—son of Isaac, father of the Israelites

James (m), “supplanter”—Jesus’ apostle, brother of John; Jesus’ apostle, son of Alphaeus; Jesus’ brother and writer of the Book of James

Jared (m), “descent”—ancestor of Noah

Jason (m), “one who heals”—Thessalonian Christian; Paul’s relative

Jeremiah (m) “raised up by God”—Old Testament prophet who wrote the Book of Jeremiah and Lamentations (and possibly 1 and 2 Kings); Old Testament priest

Jesse (f/m) possibly “gift, wealthy”—King David’s father

Joel (m), “the Lord is his God”—Old Testament prophet who wrote the Book of Joel

Joanna (f) “the Lord’s grace”—manager of King Herod’s household and follower of Jesus

John (m), “the Lord’s grace”—”John the Baptist,” prophet who announced the arrival of Jesus and baptized him; Jesus’ apostle and writer of the Gospel of John, Revelation,  and 1, 2, and 3 John; “John Mark,” companion of Paul and Barnabas, writer of the Gospel of Mark

Jonathan (m), “the Lord’s gift”—son of King Saul and friend of David

Jordan (m/f), “descender”—river in Israel

Joseph (m), “increase”—Jacob’s son who was sold as a slave by his brothers and who gained great authority in Egypt; husband of Mary, Jesus’ mother; Jesus’ brother; “Joseph of Arimathea” in whose grave Jesus was buried; one of two Christians presented as possible replacements for Judas as an apostle

Joshua (m), “the Lord saves”—leader of the Israelites after Moses died, writer of the Book of Joshua

Judith (f), “of Judea”—Esau’s wife

Julia (f), “downy, soft hair”—Christian in Rome

Leah (f), possibly “weary”—Jacob’s wife

Lois (f), possibly “better”—grandmother of Timothy, who was Paul’s companion

Luke (m), “light giving”—a physician and Paul’s companion who wrote the Gospel of Luke and Acts

Lydia (f), possibly “woman of the province of Lydia”—the first European to become a Christian

Mark (Marcus) (m), possibly “polite, shining”—companion of Paul, Barnabas, and Peter and writer of the Gospel of Mark

Martha (f), “lady, bitterness”—sister of Mary and Lazarus

Mary (f), possibly “rebellion”—Jesus’ mother; Martha and Lazarus’ sister who anointed Jesus feet with perfume; “Mary Magdalene,” follower of Jesus who was first to see him after the resurrection

Matthew (m), “gift of God”—Jesus’ apostle who wrote the Gospel of Matthew

Micah (m), “who is like God?”—Old Testament prophet and writer of the Book of Micah

Michael (m), “who is like God?”—angel

Miriam (f), possibly “rebellion”—Moses’ sister

Moriah (f)—possibly “chosen by the Lord”—region where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac; “Mount Moriah” where Solomon built the temple

Naomi (f), ”lovable, my delight”—mother-in-law of Ruth

Nathan (m), “gift, given”—Old Testament prophet

Nathaniel (Nathanael) (m), “gift of God”—Jesus’ apostle

Nicolas (m), “conqueror of the people, victory of the people”—one of the seven chosen to serve the church in Jerusalem

Noah (m), possibly “rest” —man who built the ark and whose family was saved from the flood

Paul (m), “little”—Jesus’ apostle who wrote 13 books of the New Testament

Peter (m), “rock, stone”—Jesus’ apostle who wrote 1 and 2 Peter

Philip (m), “lover of horses”—Jesus’ apostle; one of the seven chosen to serve the church in Jerusalem

Rachel (f), “sheep, ewe”—Jacob’s wife and mother of Joseph and Benjamin

Rebekah (f), possibly “ensnarer”—Isaac’s wife and mother of Jacob and Esau

Ruth (f), possibly “friend”—non-Jewish woman who married Boaz and became an ancestor of Jesus, subject of Old Testament book named after her

Samuel (m), “heard of God, asked of God”—Old Testament judge and prophet, and possible writer of Judges and 1 and 2 Samuel

Sarah (f), “princess”—wife of Abraham, mother of Isaac

Seth (m), “compensation, a substitute”—son of Adam and Eve

Sharon (f), “a plain”—coastal plain in Israel

Simon (m), “he hears, hearing”—original name of Jesus’ apostle Peter; “Simon the Zealot,” Jesus’ apostle; Jesus’ brother; man who carried Jesus’ cross

Stephen (m), “crown”—one of the seven chosen to serve the church in Jerusalem, first Christian martyr

Tabitha (f), “gazelle”—Christian woman with a reputation for helping others, she died and Peter brought her back to life

Thomas (m), “twin”—Jesus’ apostle

Timothy (m), “honored by God, honoring God”—companion of Paul, who wrote 1 and 2 Timothy to him

Titus (m), “honorable”—companion of Paul, who wrote the Book of Titus to him

Zachariah (Zechariah) (m), “God remembered”—king of Israel; Old Testament prophet; father of John the Baptist

(Peter Hessler, River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, Harper, 2001)

[photo: "This is not my name," by Jasper Visser, used under a Creative Commons license]

From Film House to Ghost House: 8 Former Embassies around the World

September 10, 2014 § 1 Comment

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SPOT – Taipei Film House

The latest issue of Travel and Leisure includes a “Definitive Guide to Taipei.” I guess I’m a little out of touch with the magazine’s regular readership, because I lived in Taipei for 10 years and I’ve only been to one of the hot spots that they listed. I’m not talking about the general areas. I’ve been to Daan, I just haven’t sipped tea at Cha Cha Thé. And I’ve spent time at Beitou, but I’ve never experienced the hot-spring spas at Villa 32.

One place I have been, though, was mentioned as a favorite by one of their “insiders.” Designer Chrystal Wang tells readers,

Catch a movie at Spot, a colonial-style mansion turned theater that shows indie and art-house films. The charming café next door is the perfect place for afternoon tea.

While Wang’s description is accurate, it’s somewhat incomplete. The building us much more than just “a colonial-style mansion.” It’s the former US embassy.

Built in the 1920s by the occupying Japanese, the building housed ambassadors until being closed in 1979, when the US severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Then, after being abandoned for nearly 20 years, the renovated structure reopened in 2002. Now the ambassador’s garage has become an 88-seat movie theater; the coat room is a gift shop; and the reception room is the C25 Coffee Shop.

The embassy in Taiwan is not the only one that has been given a new identity. Many structures around the globe have shed their diplomatic functions and have taken on new roles.

Here are seven:

The US embassy in Tehran

The site of the hostage crisis that began in 1979. The building is now an anti-US-themed museum.

The French Embassy in Tokyo

Scheduled for demolition in 2010, the former French embassy to Japan opened its doors to nearly 100 French and Japanese artists for a giant art exhibit, entitled “No Man’s Land.” Arstcape Japan reports that the installations included one room with every surface covered in clay, “manga-inspired paintings that juxtapose Japanese ultranationalist and grotesque horrorshow motifs,” and “surreal photos of hermit crabs.”

The Iraqi Embassy in Berlin

Abandoned since 1990 when East Germany became no more, the “Ghost Embassy” is open for anyone to wander through. The United Arab Emirates’ newspaper The National, reports that the rooms of the crumbling building are littered with broken glass and abandoned files. Owned by Germany but leased perpetually to Iraq, the property seems to belong to no one. Desolate and available, the embassy became the setting for a music video made by Irish composer Eutechnik (Brian Smith).

The Somali Embassy in Rome

In 2011, the dilapidated building was home to over 100 Somali refugees waiting to receive asylum status. The compound has been abandoned since the Somali government collapsed in the 1990s. “Rats are our neighbors,” Mohammed, one of the refugees, tells Radio Netherlands Worldwide. “No, our friend,” says Ibrahim.

The Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

The Neo-Renaissance building is going to get an 8-story addition and will hold over 100 upscale condos. The Washington Post quotes the zoning commission as calling the finished product “a modernist ‘hyphen’ connecting the old with the new.” It will include six residences set aside at “affordable” rates for people who earn 80% or less of D.C.’s median income.

The Canadian High Commission in London

In 1961 the Canadian diplomatic mission moved into the former US embassy on Grosvenor Square, in London, naming it MacDonald House. The Canadians have since left, and last year, the Indian Lodha Group bought the seven-storey building for over half a billion dollars. Of the location, Abhishek Lodha, the group’s managing director, tells The Guardian, “1 Grosvenor Square is the best address in the world and we will create a world-class development which befits the status of this address.” The newspaper calls the planned residential project “another super-luxe enclave for the world’s super-rich.”

The Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C.

If you’re in the market for a move-in ready space that’s cat friendly, here are some of the salient points from an ad for the Historic Chinese Embassy Luxury Condos on 19th Street in D.C.

Price Range: $515,000 – $995,000
Sq Ft Range: 1,030 – 2,314 sq ft
Year Built: 1902
Style: Repurposed
Private Outdoor Space: Yes
Doorman/Concierge: No
Pets: Cats Only

(“T+L’s Definitive Guide to Taipei,” Travel and Leisure,” September 2014; “SPOT-Taipei Film House,” Taiwan Ministry of Culture; Alan Gleason, “No Man’s Land: Artists Amok in an Abandoned Embassy,” artscape Japan; David Crossland, “Iraq’s ‘Ghost Embassy’ in East Berlin,” The National, May 10, 2010; Angelo van Schaik, “120 Somalis Stuck in Former Embassy in Rome,” Radio Netherlands Worldwide, January 5, 2011; Christine MacDonald, “Developers to Convert Former Italian Embassy into Upscale Condos,” The Washington Post, February 5, 2014; Jennifer Rankin, “Indian Developer Pays 306m for Canadian High Commission Building,” The Guardian, November 29, 2013)

[photo: "The Spot aka the Taiwan Film House," by ctsnow, used under a Creative Commons license]

When I Was Eleven . . . No One Made a Movie about Me

September 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

6878794757_82b564e1a2_mWhen I was eleven . . . no one made a movie about me.

The same cannot be said of Jiter, Goh, Siham, Giorgi, Jack, Oliver, Billy, Obey, Remya, Rika, Vandana, Priya, Dagan, Sree Kutty, Sam, Sahin, Luca, Fang, Osama, Kim, Grace, and Sharif. They are the subjects of a documentary, filmed over a period of six years by Australian Genevieve Bailey, called I Am Eleven.  The children, all (of course) eleven years old, are from India, Thailand, Morocco, France, Bulgaria, England, the US, Australia, Japan, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, China, and the Czech Republic.

When I was eleven . . . I was trying to figure out the world. And I’d guess that the words that came out of my mouth were sometimes ridiculous and sometimes profound.

Sounds like these kids.

What about when you were eleven? Let everybody know at wheniwaseleven.com.

[photo: "Aluminium Tag Bingo Number 11," by Leo Reynolds, used under a Creative Commons license]

Personalities, Profiles, Preferences, and Crossing Cultures

August 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

795619869_c1c80a9a37_zWhat personality types make for the best cross-cultural workers? I like to think that there’s room for all kinds, but it makes sense that certain types of people would find themselves drawn to or more suited for vocations that cross cultures.

When Peter Farley surveyed female missionaries from the UK, he found that, using the Myers-Briggs scale, there  are more “intuitive” (N) and less “sensing” (S) women among missionaries than in the general population. (The numbers are 42% Ns and 58% Ss among missionary women compared to 21% Ns and 79% Ss as a norm). The most common personality type is ISFJ, at 23%, but that is similar to the overall female population, while INFJs make up 12% of female missionaries, significantly more than the 2% norm.

Erin Meyer, author of The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, has a different scale for evaluating personality. It’s the “Culture Profile.” By answering the 24 questions of the assessment and choosing your country, you can see how you compare to your countrymen in eight areas:

  • low vs high context communication
  • direct vs indirect criticism
  • principles-first vs applications-first arguments
  • egalitarian vs hierarchical leading
  • consensual vs top-down decision making
  • task-based vs relationship-based trust
  • confrontation as a help vs hindrance
  • linear vs flexible time

You can take the assessment online at Harvard Business Review. Before you begin, I have a suggestion. Grab a pen and paper so you can jot down your answer to each question (you respond to each one on a scale ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”). This way you can see your evaluation alongside different norms by choosing a different country each time. Otherwise, when you retake the profile, your answers are reset, and it’s difficult to exactly duplicate your responses each time, especially since it’s easy to start overthinking your responses after seeing the outcomes.

When I took the test, I found that in several areas I don’t fit in with the American norm. One of these is the high context/low context scale. Here is Meyer’s description of “context”:

In low-context cultures (such as the U.S., Germany, and the Netherlands), good communication is precise, simple, and explicit. Messages are expressed and understood at face value. Repetition and written confirmation are appreciated, for clarity’s sake. In high-context cultures (such as China, India, and France), communication is sophisticated, nuanced, and layered. Reading between the lines is expected. Less is put in writing, and more is left to interpretation.

So the US is a poster child when it comes to low-context cultures. But my answers to the profile put me closer to the high-context extreme, where China resides. Maybe that’s because my ten years living in Taiwan altered my preferences, or maybe I was originally drawn to the Chinese culture because it fit my personality. It’s probably a little bit of both.

So take the survey. It may tell you something about yourself you didn’t know. It may show you that you’re a prime example of your country’s cultural norm. It may help you see why you sometimes don’t “get” the people around you, and why they sometimes don’t get you. It may show you some changes you should make in behaviors or expectations. And it may show you a place far away where being yourself would be the perfect way to fit in.

(Peter C. Farley, “Psychological Type Preferences of Female Missionaries,” Mental Health, Religion & Culture, November 2009; Erin Meyer, “What’s Your Cultural Profile?” Harvard Business Review)

[photo: "Me, Myself and . . . Dr," by DraconianRain, used under a Creative Commons license]

Mercy Ships, a TCK, Ex-Missionaries, and Small Clubs

August 16, 2014 § 2 Comments

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“We’re part of a small club.” That’s what a friend told me not long ago.

I was at a meeting where a young missionary couple had just finished presenting why they had left their ministry and had come back to the States. A former missionary myself, I made my way to the husband to thank him for sharing. Then my friend and his wife joined us. They had returned from the mission field, too. My friend said with a sigh, “We’re part of a small club.”

It is a small club. And when you’ve come back well before you thought you would, when you didn’t come back celebrating a finished work or returning to a greater ministry, when you’re still in the process of refinding your place back home, it’s a club that can feel smaller than it really is.

A few days later, I read an article in Christianity Today about a still smaller club. It’s a club  that currently has just one member. Her name is Carys Parker.

Carys is a TCK and an MK. And she’s the only person to have been raised on a Mercy Ship from birth through high school graduation. Spun off from Youth With a Mission (YWAM),  Mercy Ships is a Christian ministry providing free health care in port cities around the world—mostly in Africa—from the decks of its floating hospital.

Carys is the daughter of Gary Parker, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, and Susan Parker, an executive assistant. The couple met while working with Mercy Ships in 1987. Carys lived on the ship Anastasis until she was 12 years old, then moved with her family, including a younger brother, Wesley, to the Africa Mercy.

At the graduation ceremony for Mercy Ships Academy last year, Carys and her two classmates, aboard their home docked at Conakry, Guinea, addressed the audience. Carys began her speech,

I grew up here.  And without a doubt, my 18 years on a hospital ship in Africa will define me—even when I no longer live here. For just as every person’s worldview develops out of their unique set of experiences, living in this place, with all of you, has profoundly formed and shaped me.  And I am deeply grateful for a lifetime in this community.

And she ended with these words:

There’s an ancient African proverb that says this: “If you want to travel fast travel alone; But if you want to travel far, travel together.” I’m glad that we’ve traveled this road together.  I’m so grateful for you—as well as many former crew, who have passed through my life and now have gone on to other things.  By God’s grace, may I always be faithful to keep the main thing the main thing. Thank you.

Carys is now beginning her second year at Whitworth, a private liberal arts university. About the decision for Carys to attend the Presbyterian-church-affiliated school, Susan told Whitworth University News, “We come from a small shipboard community, and we know that the quality of the community is directly related to the quality of the product—whether that be healthcare or education.”

According to Whitworth University, their community is a campus located in Spokane, Washington, with 3,000 students . . . one of whom grew up on a boat off the coast of Africa, with 400 crew members representing more than 35 countries.

The Whitworth article includes links to segments from a 60 Minutes show that aired last year. The first is a 12-minute spot on Africa Mercy and the inspiring work done by Mercy Ships in Togo, West Africa. The second is a closer look at the Parker family, part of 60 Minutes Overtime.

Reporter Scott Pelley spends considerable time with Gary Parker and his family, and we hear about the staff’s amazing medical ministry as well as what it’s like raising a family in a 630-square-foot ship’s cabin. “The only life the kids have known has made them strangers back home,” he says, and Susan Parker tells TCK stories about her children: In the States, Carys didn’t know what a mailbox looked like, and Wesley (a white child in a white family) came back from school one day to tell his mother that in the past Americans had made slaves out of “our people.” Producer Henry Schuster describes Carys’s life in a way that would be familiar to Third Culture Kids: “She’s got one foot in America. She’s got one foot in Africa. But she’s in this other place in between.”

Living on a ship, of course, has its tensions and difficulties. “It’s not all sweetness and light,” Pelley reports, noting that Susan has not always wanted to raise her children onboard long term. But now, she believes that a ship is the best place for her and Gary to bring up their children, and she no longer wants to return to the States. “There’s nothing wrong with living at home,” she says, “but I don’t think it’s what we’re supposed to do.”

Pelley calls the ship “a tribe unto itself.” That’s a term I’ve heard—tribe—used to describe those who are or have been missionaries. I count myself a member of that tribe. I’ve never been part of a hospital ship, but I know the camaraderie and  purposefulness of being part of a mission community.

The 60 Minutes segments tug at my heart. Sometimes it’s easy to figure out “what we’re supposed to do.” Sometimes it’s not easy at all. We think, we pray, we talk, we argue, we worry, we wonder, we decide . . . and then we stay or we go.

Hearing Carys and her family’s story helps me better appreciate my club, my tribe. But I understand that I’m now here, raising my kids here. And that means I’m no longer part of a more exclusive club, those who are still there.

(Kate Tracy, “Carys Parker, Raised Entirely aboard Mercy Ships, Drops Anchor,” Christianity Today, July 8, 2014; Carys Parker, “Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing,” doingmercy, May 24, 2013; “Student Disembarks at Whitworth after Life at Sea,” October 16, 2013; “Africa Mercy: Hospital of Hope,” 60 Mintues, CBS, February 17, 2013; “Raising Kids at Sea: Meet the Parkers,” 60 Minutes Overtime, CBS, August 4, 2013)

[photo: "Africa Mercy," by Denise Miller, used under a Creative Commons license]

Noel, Missouri: Small-Town America and International City

August 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

10928762_e1b81e1c18_zFor many, strongman J. D. “The Ice Man” Anderson put Noel, Missouri, on the map. Leading up to his quarterfinals performance on America’s Got Talent this week, he talked about how the people in his hometown “wouldn’t even fill up the balcony at Radio City Music Hall.” He then went on to snap baseball bats in two, smash cinder blocks, and run headlong into blocks of ice.

Ask your grandparents, and they might remember Noel’s heyday as a place to send holiday mail for its “Christmas City” postmark. With the help of singer Kate Smith telling the “Noel Story” on the radio in the 40s and 50s, more than half a million pieces of mail passed through Noel in the days leading up to Christmas.

Noel’s high point as “Christmas City” is probably behind it (the high point for mailing Christmas cards anywhere  is probably in the past), and Anderson didn’t make it to the semifinals of America’s Got Talent.

But that doesn’t mean Noel’s time in the spotlight is gone. In fact, the small Ozark town can now stake a claim as an international city, with more per-capita cultural diversity than most metropolises hundreds of times its size.

The Joplin Globe reports that it all started when the Hudson Foods chicken plant in Noel recruited Hispanic workers from along the US-Mexican border. After Tyson bought the plant in 1998, more and more immigrants arrived, including refugees from Africa. Today, nearly two-thirds of the plants 1,500 workers are “minorities,” representing such places as Mexico, Somalia, Sudan, Micronesia, Kenya, Laos, Myanmar, and Ethiopia.

But the influx of immigrant workers to this town of 1,800 hasn’t always gone smoothly. A 2002 article in The Kansas City Star focuses on the difficulties—the graffiti, the stares, the shouted slurs. James Carroll, mayor of Noel, tells The Globe that when the Somalis came to town, a Mexican resident said to him, “I now know how you felt when we came here.”

According to a broadcast from Harvest Public Media, which was aired by NPR, in August of last year the tires on more than a dozen cars owned by Somalis were slashed. And Somalian workers say they don’t feel welcome at Kathy’s Kountry Kitchen on Main Street, where servers wear t-shirts that say, “I got caught eating at the KKK.”

While it’s clear that some in the Noel community wish the immigrants and refugees hadn’t come, there are also many in Noel open to the changes and helpful to the new arrivals.

“If you want to know what America is,” Angie Brewer tells Harvest Public Media, “come sit in front of the feed store and watch people go by in a turban, in an island skirt and in their overalls, and they’re all just going to work.” Brewer is principal at Noel Elementary, where about 11 languages are spoken by the school’s 400 students. She says that the schools are the “government agency in town.” “People come here if they need shoes, if they need clothes, if they’re hungry. We send 37 backpacks home every weekend with kids that just don’t have enough food.”

The schools play a big part in the lives of the immigrant children because of the opportunities that education provides. This is a theme that we hear in comments, recorded by Harvest Public Media, of the children of the immigrant workers:

Soe Soe, 18, from Myanmar, grew up in refugee camp in Thailand. Instead of going to high school, he works at the plant to support his family, taking English classes in Noel offered by Crowder College. “I have problem,” he says. “I cannot speak English. I think one day, when my sister already 18, I can go school. She say, ‘Don’t worry my brother. I gonna support you.'”

Eighteen-year-old Oscar is from Mexico. He came to Noel with his mother when he was two and was a senior in high school at the time of the interview. “Right after high school, I will be going to college. I will be the first of my family to go to college. That’s what motivates me, right now, to finish high school.”

Brewer and her colleagues want to make sure that none of the children miss out on the benefits of a good education. They want to make sure that none miss out on having any of their needs met. “No one’s going to fall through a crack in Noel, Missouri,” she tells Harvest Public Media. “It’s not going to happen. I mean some of these are my own children’s friends and these are my friends. They’re real people and you’re not reading about them on TV or hearing about them. They’re people that I know. I’ve been to their house. I’ve sat on their couch. I’ve held their hand. They’re real people and they deserve the best.”

(“Noel Christmas Postmarks,” Noel, MO; Wally Kennedy, “Somali Refugees Follow Mexican Immigration to Missouri Community,” The Joplin Globe, May 7, 2011; Donald Bradley, “In Small-Town Missouri, a Collision of Cultures,” The Kansas City Star, June 11, 2012; Abbie Fentress Swanson, “Noel, Mo.: Schools Build Safety Net for Immigrant Children,” Harvest Public Media, October 27, 2013; Peggy Lowe and Abbie Fentress Swanson, “Their Dreams, in Their Own Words,” Harvest Public Media)

[photo: "Immigrant Nation," by Ruby Sinreich, used under a Creative Commons license]

The City with the Most Cosmopolitan Skyline in the World—Gets an Update

July 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

519MBW3HVQLIt’s the most globalized, most international, most architecturally inclusive city in the world. The fact that it’s fictional is irrelevant.

It’s Babe’s city, and it’s the setting for one of the best cross-cultural films ever made—Babe: Pig in the City. When Babe and Esme Hoggett travel from their English farm to big-city USA, it’s not just Europe and the Americas colliding. There’s all sorts of collisions between species as well, with—to name a few—humans, dogs, cats, apes, mice, a duck, and, of course, a pig.

A wide shot of Babe’s city shows a wonderfully crowded skyline of landmarks from around the world. There’s the Chrysler Building, Big Ben, the Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower, Christ the Redeemer, and more, all brought together in one metropolis.

Babe’s city was first revealed in  1998, and now, years later, it looks as if several skyscrapers have been added to its horizon. Not only that, but Franklin Templeton Investments has joined the neighborhood. The evidence is the Franklin Templeton commercial “Global Perspective,” which shows the additions of Burj Khalifa, the Petronas Towers, London’s “Gherkin,” and the list goes on. Of course, development comes with a price, as it seems that several structures had to be razed to make room for the new arrivals (Christ the Redeemer’s outstretched arms are nowhere to be seen). Makes sense. Rarely do you have enough real estate available to put in your own Mount Fuji.

So where exactly is Babe’s city? Well, in the movie, it looks as if it’s on the East Coast. And in the commercial, we can narrow it down to an area above Ben Franklin’s left eye. If that doesn’t make sense, you’ll need to watch the ad—and while you’re at it, see how many landmarks you can identify.

Brian Stokle at Urban Life Signs has analyzed the Franklin Templeton commercial and shows some pretty good evidence that the city has been built up on Downtown Vancouver. But I’m not convinced. To my knowledge, Babe has never set foot in Canada. (Visit Stokle’s post, “World Skyline,” for a rundown of the landmarks in the commercial, as well as a shot-by-shot description and other “geeky analysis and research.”)

“Global Perspectives” has been around for a couple years, and I may have seen parts of it before, but it caught my eye two weekends ago when I saw Taipei 101 sporting Benjamin Franklin’s face. That’s not as far-fetched as it might seem: According to a recent China Post article, Franklin Templeton Investments occupies office space in the Taiwan skyscraper. No word yet on when Ben’s face will actually adorn the facade.

(Brian Stokle, “World Skyline,” Urban Life Signs, June 20, 2012; Ted Chen, “Chinese Company to Establish Office in 101,” The China Post, July 5, 2014)

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