I realize it's been a few weeks since my last post. In fact, it's been almost two months. The last time I added something to the blog, we had never been to New York City before. The last time I wrote something here, we only knew one person from China. The last time I added something, Gina was still 29. Well, as you can see from clever little preview, a lot has happened since the beginning of July.
For starters, Gina and I traveled to New York City the weekend of July 16th and celebrated her 30th birthday. It was the first trip to the Big Apple for both of us. We drove to New Jersey to stay with Joe's sister, Jenny, on Saturday. We had a great time visiting, eating hamburgers and getting a private driving tour of the city from Dan, Jenny's husband. I even got to play some whiffle ball with Robbie. We woke up early on Sunday morning and took the train to Penn Station. I have to admit, we were both a little nervous with anticipation as we got off the train and emerged among all the towering buildings. I think I made the following comment at least a hundred times: "Each street is just endless tall buildings!" You have to understand, I come from a town with 3 high buildings, the tallest of which is 11 floors. So, seeing mile after mile of 50+ story buildings was quite a sight. During the first day we got to see the Empire State Building (though we didn't fork out the $18 apiece to go to the top), the United Nations (which we DID fork out the $12 for the 90-minute tour ... well worth it), St. Patrick's Cathedral (free!) and Rockefeller Center. When I do take time to watch the news, I usually watch the Today show, so it was cool to see where Katie, Matt, Ann and Al hang out each morning. We actually had plans to wake up early and try to get on TV, but we didn't quite make it ... more on that later.
We finally got to check into our hotel room, which was right off Time Square. We splurged for a fairly schwanky (is that really a word?) hotel, which was stocked with, of all things, a treadmill! Here is Gina getting a quick workout ... as if we didn't do enough walking already. We estimate we walked about 15 miles in two days, though that might be an exaggeration. I tend to do that. After taking a long nap and getting cleaned up, we took the subway to Ground Zero, then walked to China Town for dinner. The food at the restaurant, which was recommended to us by our Chinese friends Weidong and Sabrina, was excellent, and it only took me 20 or 30 minutes to get used to eating with chopsticks. I love a meal where you burn more calories getting the food in your mouth than you actually consume. I should market that as a new fad diet. After dinner, we decided to take the Staten Island Ferry and see the Statue of Liberty at night. You must know that at this point it was almost midnight, which is pretty late for me. The ferry ride was fun, but not nearly as cool as we thought it would be. So, we rode the ferry for over an hour, walked to the subway, waited for the subway, rode the subway back to Time Square (we both found it strange how many people were still out at 2 a.m. in Time Square ... kind of like Casper, Wyoming ;-)) As you can imagine, we crashed and didn't quite make it up in time to get our 15 seconds of fame on the Today show. After eating breakfast at a bistro, we walked to Carnegie Hall, Trump Tower and Central Park. We then took the subway back to our hotel, packed up and walked back to Penn Station. By this point we were both exhausted, so we just sat on the floor of the terminal and ate Krispy Kreme donuts. We just read the paper on the train and relaxed before the long drive back home. Overall, it was a whirlwind trip but a great way to initiate Gina into her 3rd decade. As for all the walking we had to endure, I think this picture sums it up: You can see some more of our NYC photos at our Flickr site.
Another exciting thing we have been involved in is an organization called I.S.I., which stands for International Students, Incorporated. It's a ministry aimed at reaching international students for Christ, and our good friends Patrick and Christy Lynn, who also lead our small group, are on staff. We attended a couple of ISI functions this summer and got to meet some new friends from China. We also got to provide temporary housing for a student, Jiakang Lu, until he could move into his apartment. He is a graduate student starting his first year of Ph.D. work in Computer Science. I also had the chance to orient him to one of the finer things at UVA ... Cavalier Soccer! I think they had a good time, but I can't help but think that they were a little disappointed at how calm the UVA fans were. Maybe they will get more raucous as the season heats up. Gina has been a conversation partner with a nursing student from Thailand named Superat (she goes by Niko). We have enjoyed getting to know her and show her some things around C'ville. We are the host family for another Ph.D. student from China, Jiawei Huang. He is studying Computer Engineering. The most fun I've had with these students so far was taking them to Wal Mart to buy things for their apartments. I had never considered Wal Mart from a foreigner's perspective, but I have to say nothing challenges your cultural perceptions more than trying to explain why there are 20 different varieties of toilet paper. The same is true for laundry soap, microwaves and blenders. I guess we Americans find comfort in the fact that we have plenty of choices. Gina and I ask that you pray for us and the international students with whom we are building relationships, as well as Patrick and Christy Lynn and ISI. We want these students to have a positive experience studying in the United States, but more than that, we want them to return to their homelands as bold witnesses for the Gospel of Christ. These students are the absolute best and brightest from their respective countries, and it is by no accident that they ended up at UVA and hooked up with ISI. We believe God has big plans for this ministry.
I guess that is all for now. I promise to be more prompt with my next edition of the Alexander blog (didn't I say that last time?). Pray for us as we begin our second year of classes. It will be a busy year, but we are looking forward to all the things that lie ahead. Keep in touch!