Culture Shock! Culture Appreciation!

26 Sept 2010
For those not in the know, meet my new family!

Has it really been six months since I blogged? Thanks to those who emailed me expressing their concern about my well being since they hadn’t read any updates on Chilli and Lime and were a little worried about me. Well, rest assured I have been well and now I’ll try to capture the highlights of the past six months as succinctly as possible. (The above pic was taken during a mission trip - they really aren't my kids!)

In the month of June, I went up to Western Kenya – to Asumbi, Homa Bay and Kisumu, known also as Obama land as that’s the area where President Obama’s father was from. It was a breathtaking change of vistas from Nairobi as we travelled over 400 km passing altering landscapes from the wide expanse of the great Rift Valley through the dry arid plains and on to the verdant undulating hills of tea plantations, corn and millet fields in the area of Kisi. Most of the roads were relatively good until we got to Kisi, Asumbi and Homa Bay where the roads were  filled not with pot holes but rather craters! So much so that at times, it was better to drive at the side of the road rather than on it. (look out for them craters in the pics!)

Sr Annie (my companion) and I were on a mission trip at the invitation of the bishop of that area. We visited schools, institutions ad parishes with our media materials. It was wonderful to see the hunger for the Word of God and Life through our books and AV materials among the children as well as the adults we encountered.

Life on the road was tough at times, with different lodgings to adapt to as well as the great challenge to eat ugali (corn meal cooked to an extra hard paste over there) not once but twice a day! I also took all the necessary precautions against Malaria as the area is known to be a highly Malaria infected zone. Fortunately none of us succumbed to the mozzies’ virus although we had our fair share of bites. At one point in time both of us fell ill – Annie with a cold and myself with diarrhoea – certainly not something you’d appreciate having while on a mission trip but we overcame our woes. Hunting for a pharmacy in a very rural village like Asumbi though can be likened to a treasure hunt!

A major culture shock (apart from the ugali experience) that will stay with me forever is when we visited the blood sister of one of our Sisters and she introduced me to another woman in her home as her “co-wife”! She said it so nonchalantly and I had to beg her pardon and ask her to repeat what she said, which she did, without blinking an eye. “What on earth is a co-wife?” I asked myself and ignorant as I was, I had to ask out loud, “Um… co-wife? What do you mean?” Embarrassing myself but possibly not her, she explained to me that her husband has a second wife and that that lady was her. In fact they were building a smaller house just next to the one we were in for her “co-wife” to stay with her daughter and expectant baby! I was too dumb struck to say anything for a while after that. It turns out that their particular tribe in Kenya – the Luo tribe – still practise polygamy today! It’s a complex pastoral situation for the Catholic church as you can imagine. That both wives can live together still amazes me. Paul, the seminarian who was accompanying us is also a Luo but I was relieved when he later expressed his own disappointment that members of his tribe still practise polygamy. He said the message a polygamist would give to his first wife is that she is just not enough. I told him how glad I was that he was counter cultural to his own tradition and tribe in this aspect and that perhaps later when he becomes a priest, he could further enlighten the Luo men and empower the women as well.

On the way to Homa Bay from Asumbi, we stopped at  Paul’s house which is a typical African mud hut where we were treated to roasted maize freshly harvested. In fact I helped his niece  harvest the corn from their “shamba” (farm). Straight from the cornfield, we gathered firewood from branches and soon the maize were being roasted in another mud hut which was their kitchen. It was one of the most delicious snacks I had during that mission.

When we reached Homa Bay I finally set my eyes on the famous Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa and the largest tropical lake in the world. (see pics below)  In Kisumiu, Sr Annie and I had an afternoon of R&R (well actually it was only a couple of hours) and visited the Impala Park where we walked amidst the impalas which was one of the coolest experiences for me because I absolutely love them. We also saw some other wild animals but these were behind fences. After the park, we drove to the shores of Lake Victoria at sunset and to my amazement we came across a car wash centre! The water is free so people go the shores of the lake to wash their cars, bikes etc!!!

Here are some of the pics taken during our mission trip. I had a fascination with the women of this area using their heads to carry almost anything so look out for them in the pics. Apparently they can carry up to 70% of their body weight. In other parts of Kenya, the women use their backs to carry things, usually holding the load with a strap across their foreheads.

The mission trip was a refreshing change from my usual apostolate in the Audiovisuals sector as much as I enjoy doing what I do. So far we have finished the Swahili dubbing of The Choice, the Sacrament of Holy Orders and I finally figured how to create a menu on DVD Studio Pro with the option for different languages so this particular DVD has now the choice of audio tracks of French, English and Swahili.  The major project I have been working on - a compilation of seven scripture music videos - is almost complete. The songs for the videos reflect a variety of genres including hip-hop, raggae and bossa nova.  I’m currently working on the final parable which will be the only animated music video. Prayers are much appreciated as this is the first time I’m attempting an animation project and am still familiarizing myself with the software, Anime Studio Pro.

Apart from periodical classes with the novices on our Pauline Charism, since the start of August I also began teaching a small group of aspirants who are with us for their 3-month Come and See program. My classes with them are on Vocation in the Bible. I always end up learning more when I’ve been assigned to teach so although I took on this task with a little bit of reluctance (due to the added work load), I realise now that it’s also helping me deepen my own understanding of my vocation in many ways.

Speaking of vocations, our African delegation (which includes Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Southern Sudan and Nigeria) was blessed this year with the Perpetual profession of two sisters (Kenya and Nigeria) and the First Profession of five sisters (3 from Nigeria, 1 from Uganda and 1 from Kenya). So we have been quite busy with celebrations.

Our tiny Singaporean gang here also had our share of celebrations – with a popiah party with home made popiah skins! (see below) as well as a national day cum farewell to the Lims at the Blancs. I even made pisang pengkat (a dessert of sweet bananas cooked in coconut milk with sago) which fortunately turned out pretty yummy. (see pics by clicking - Popiah Party and National Day )

Thanks to my Singaporean friends here, I get to indulge once in a while in some great Singaporean dishes. At the popiah party Linda also made rempah udang – inspired by the TV series Little Nyonya! And it’s also thanks to that series (and Linda who lent it to me) that brought me back to a deeper appreciation of my roots as a Peranakan! It was the first in long while since I actually sat down and watched a drama series but I loved it as it reminded me of my grandmother and aunts whose lives were practically lived in the kitchen. It also brought to mind the virtue of filial piety, an Asian heritage that should be treasured and nurtured. 

Scene from Little Nyonya

When I completed the series, Linda insisted I watch another – this time a Korean series. I was not terribly keen but she said it was ten times better than Little Nonya so I gave it a shot – reluctantly. Boy am I glad I did! After the second episode I was totally hooked. Having completed all 70(!) episodes, I would say it’s a masterpiece! To adapt a quote from The Times about Lord of the Rings, the world is divided between those who have watched Dae Jang Geum (aka Jewel in the Palace) and those who will watch it!

DJG is such a beautiful story that apart from the cast and director who have garnered critical acclaim, I would like to credit the writer Kim Yong Hyun above all for weaving her intricate plots to make the entire period drama (15th century Korea) so exciting yet heart wrenching but above all so inspiring while keeping it totally wholesome and entertaining. Accompanied by an amazing and haunting sound track, this wonderful work of art explores the themes of moral integrity, heroism, sacrifice, perseverance, diligence, indomitable willpower, feminism, friendship, loyalty… and it does not stop there but I will. And I won’t attempt a synopsis of any kind as I myself plunged into the series without having a clue to the story line and I believe that’s one of the best ways to watch it so the element of surprise is always there.


Initially when I mentioned about the series to my Sisters in the community, no one was interested especially when it meant reading subtitles throughout the entire series. But after raving so much about it, they decided to have a look at it too and now the whole community is hit with DJG fever! In fact on Saturday nights, there are two groups simultaneously watching it – the Junior Sisters (who are students and can’t watch it on school days due to assignments and papers) and the rest of the Sisters (plus our visiting priests) who catch a couple of episodes on weekdays too. Check them out checking out DJG:

I highly recommend Dae Jang Geum if you have not seen it yet. It has and is still taking the world by storm. Last I heard, New Zealand TV bought the broadcast rights to air it and even Hungarians are fans of it! It has truly become a classic Korean export. If my words do not persuade you enough, here are a couple of reviews (but be warned they contain spoilers) : / one of which compares the characters of the series with the heroes of Victor Hugo’s novels.  Best of all you can even watch the entire series online on Youtube. (each episode is in 5 parts)

Mdm Han with little Jang Geum (left) and adult Jang Geum (right)

One of the inevitable consequences of watching this remarkable epic is that you will likely be drawn to some of the characters. Apart from the protagonist Jang Geum, who especially as a child and later as an adult is simply alluring, another character I grew to love was her mentor, Madam Han, played so elegantly by Yang Mi Kyung. Behind her seemingly serious and at times stern front is a kind and wounded soul who trains Jang Geum by example on the fundamental values of not just her duty but of life.

I have since become a fan of Yang Mi Kyung who to my delight happens also to be a Catholic and hangs out with nuns and priests in their charitable and social efforts.

Well as a fan I would of course like to watch her other projects as well as the other works of the same writer as DJG! So that’s it! I’m now a total Korean drama convert and all things Korean, which should please some of my Korean Sister friends. They in fact had already started me on my inculturation some years ago when we met in Japan for a meeting. Here’s me in a Hanbok, the traditional Korean costume!

 But for the record I also tried the kimono!

On that oriental note,  may I conclude and pray that we continue to open all our senses to the myriad of cultures around us, be shocked and scandalized by some, be delightfully surprised by others and perhaps truly appreciate and embrace those that touch us. After all, we're called to be "all to all" (cf 1 Cor 9:22). Wishing each of you a very pleasant final quarter of 2010 with all the blessings and graces you need from our good Lord who remains as steadfast and faithful as ever in His abundant love.



  1. Thank you for a very inspiring post - it was worth the wait.
    The Korean telenovelas have not reached the UK, as far as I know, but all the people at home are hooked on it as well. I watched some episodes with Mamang, and I agree that they are good.
    You look great in the kimono!
    Wishing you all the blessings you need on your birthday tomorrow. I will remember you in prayer especially through the intercession of Lorenzo Ruiz.

  2. A timely update on the eve of another milestone. Many happy returns of the day!
    God Bless and Take Care.

    Yatto, a post from you!
    My parents are crazy over Korean dramas too, while I'm still sticking to Jap dramas 'cuz I just do not have patience for lengthy dramas. My parents were hooked to this Korean war drama loaded with history that ended on Sunday on KBS channel. I dunno the title of the show though.
    Oh! And I started taking Jap language a few weeks ago 'cuz am planning to go there to work.
    Gotta end here now, will continue to keep ya in prayers!
    Luvu luvu
    Evil twin.

  4. Hi! Wen,
    I am very proud of you and enjoy all the pictures taken at your mission.Glad that you are protected from malaria inspite of so many bites.
    Will continue praying for your safety and the good Lord will shower you with all His blessings and protect you from harm.
    Continue with your good work.

  5. Wendy, u look the part in the kimono!!!! Wow!!! I am so astounded to find out that I infected the entire clan of Daughters of St Paul with the Korean drama serials!!! Hahaha.... it goes to show how a good "emotional" investment in drama serials never esacapes us! I still have a luggage full of dvds in case you sisters can't get enough of the dramas, ok? ;-)

  6. Beautiful account, Wendy. I felt like I was with you!

    I now have the website for the Korean drama (our employees watch them, too!) and will catch up.

    There is nothing like a good story as you show us in your blog and share with us about Korean soaps!!

  7. Wow twin! I enjoyed reading your post. This is the second time i read it. How i wish i can write like well and so exciting that i can imagine your experiences. You are also very convincing that i am now looking for the dvd of the korean drama series!!! Really i haven't heard about it because i have not been watching tv for a long time.
    Take care always wend and God bless you...luvs n prayers,
    Jopet ang kambal mo

  8. 안녕하세요 = An nyoung ha seh yo... Sr Wendy,

    Thank you for sharing with us your wonderful and exciting mission journey in Africa.

    Gee...I missed your mum popiah ;p

    Keeping you in prayers.
    Jo ^_^