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Home for Christmas: Birth, Endings and Marriage | #18 | December 2019

I returned from Mongolia to the States for 12 days this winter! It’s the first of my three stories picking up from my adventures away.

With a confluence of reasons to see the States this year, plus some for China, this felt like the perfect Christmas journey. I open with Advent meeting my baby nephew, then Christmas among my family in Vegas before my travel to Reno (my college town) for a wedding and my return to Vegas. Then I left to China. 

Settling In: Stateside Once More

Having set a new record for days outside the U.S., my late-December return marked nearly seven months overseas. 

Upon returning to the state my family occupied, Nevada, I learned its population just passed 3 million. My state’s population nearly matched Mongolia’s! But with the Vegas Valley, its population hits nearly twice Mongolia’s capital. 

But as for temperatures, comparisons stop there. By the time I reached Vegas, I’d shed my puffy winter coats and stuffed them in my backpack. Vegas sat at a toasty 15°C (59°F), compared to Mongolia’s -30°C (-22°F). And Vegas friends said their weather felt cold!

Reunited in Vegas

My first days back at the house, caught up with my four siblings who reassembled. And I ate copious amounts of food, of which I’ll write a couple blog stories from now.

I would bring music, photos, some of my journals, travel souvenirs, Bibles and letters as keepsakes for my continued service in Mongolia. Special thanks to my 23-year-old brother for helping me through my college boxes in the garage. 

I love rainy days. They remind me of Mom, too, at times. 

My older brother gave me plenty tech support, including helping me get downtown to replace my Surface that’s been faulty since Dad bought it three years ago. (Free upgrade!) I also backed up files to cloud storage I could access from Mongolia. 

I also kicked up a K-Pop playlist with recommendations from friends and my 18-year-old youngest bro. The list used to just have songs I encountered at Kiwanis CKI events and a few from my 17-year-old Mongolian host sister. I felt needing K-Pop’s positive vibes and high-energy, as opposed to American pop’s tendency toward symping. Why dwell in darkness when I have the light?

But here’s the key reason I came back to Vegas early. I needed to sort through our late mother’s belongings. I’ll touch on this during the next blog story, about my return to China. Thank you to those who supported me through the sorting.

Baby Wally

I returned home for Christmas for a huge reason—to finally meet my nephew, Wally! 

Squishy baby Wally came from Ohio with my 42-year-old half-brother and my sister-in-law one night, the fourth week of Advent. 

Meeting them the next morning felt amazing. 

I’m an early riser, and his family was still on Eastern Standard Time. After finishing hard drive backups upstairs, I walked downstairs to the kitchen, where Wally stared at me from his rolling chair a long time. He was eight months old. 

I loved his marshmallow hands and how he babbled both incomprehensible murmurs I repeated back to him and vaguely word-seemingly things like, “dada.” I probably only held him a couple times, but we made up for that with how long others held him while he continued to gaze at me.

My brother said Wally really liked me. 

I mentioned a little how the toddlers at the orphanage, too, seemed fascinated by me. Someone somewhere told me babies, kittens and puppies must sense goodness in people. 

Christmas in America

Leading up to Christmas, my family attended Simbang Gabi, a Filipino Catholic celebration during Advent. Since Dad had my siblings and I come, we also got to see the Filipino family ours has evidently spent time with. It reminded me somewhat of the Feast of Santo Niño I attended three years ago in Reno. 

I loved getting to experience at a beautiful church the whole Mass in English—my first back in the States. The Filipino pastor gave a very Vegas homily, in how our vibrant Catholic community sets an example for this city. The Mass also featured a presider I recalled would sometimes say Mass at our church we’d attended since moving to Nevada a decade before. Afterward, we enjoyed a reception featuring copious amounts of Filipino food and music, per usual. 

Midnight Mass

As is Christmas tradition, my family attended Midnight Mass at church. But this year, my 20-year-old sister drove so we could attend carols early. Our music even included hymns from Afro-Caribbean traditions, in addition to choral classics. I recorded clips from caroling and shared with fellow Peace Corps Catholics and Mongolian friends. I wore my silver Mongolian дээл, since this could be the only year I’m back for Christmas while a Peace Corps Volunteer. 

During Mass, I remembered baby Wally when our new pastor spoke of baby Jesus. (Our past priest announced his relocation during my final Mass in the States seven months ago.) Anyway, babies are outstandingly helpless. They require others to survive and thrive. And humans seem biologically programmed to love and care about infants. 

Yet I considered Easter Vigil (my favorite Mass), too, since our Midnight Mass began with a hymn like, “The Exultant.” So I felt somber, considering what mankind one day does to who was once this poor infant. 

After Mass, I greeted a high school friend who’s stayed involved in Kiwanis Circle K International at UNLV and still sings in our local church’s choir. Like many, he felt astonished I could come home from Peace Corps but gleeful nonetheless. 

Full Families

On Christmas Day, my visiting siblings, my younger siblings and I continued the movie-going tradition, seeing, “Knives Out.” I found it delightful, with heartwarming heroes and a clever cat-and-mouse adventure with contemporary themes. I loved its art. Plus Craig and Evans were hilariously not playing James Bond and Captain America. 

That evening, our family had a wonderful dinner, with the Filipina family over. Unfortunately, my youngest brother decided to schedule for work that night, which aggravated Father. But, we still had a nice time. I like how my siblings’ ages merge well with their ages. (From oldest to youngest goes: their oldest sister, my older brother, me, their second oldest sister, my younger sister, my youngest sister, their youngest sister, my youngest brother.) 

Plus, my half-brother, his wife and their son also attended. He sincerely thanked the other family’s mother that our dad had someone new in his life. I smiled, agreeing. It reminded me the speech he gave years ago in getting to know my mom. 

The guest family’s oldest and second oldest sisters brought their boyfriends, and my older bro brought his girlfriend, too. We’d such a large Christmas dinner that we used the kitchen island counter space for food, then the dining room and ping pong tables for eating. 

Following our meal, we exchanged gifts I’ll cover when I describe what I brought back to Mongolia.

Returning to Reno

After Christmas and further friend adventures (I’ll cover in a couple blogs from now), I flew up to Reno, my undergraduate city of four years. We’d a wedding coming.

I felt amazed to boomerang from my high school city to college town and back before my return to Asia. Even in Vegas’ airport, I saw college friends I hadn’t seen in years! Rather, they saw me, while I video called my professional mentor. They joked that they would have thrown Chex Mix at me, but they weren’t sure we had that kind of relationship. I would have loved it, haha.

On the flight, my friends gifted me two palm-fulls of Chex Mix. I felt elated. After take-off, I felt pleasantly surprised to hear and understand small talk around me. People behind me chatted about EDM music careers. From the window on my right, I saw how Nevada’s snowy mountains looked steeper than Mongolia’s. I continued rehearsing my wedding reading I copied down, Romans 12:1-2, 9-18. 

As the flight neared landing, I gazed out the window and saw the familiar Sparks hill where the house my college friends and I rented stands. After landing, I felt weird somewhat recognizing the faces of uni students around in the airport. With a Reno-Sparks population over 500 thousand, though, “The Biggest Little City” stands five times larger than the “big” city where I serve in Mongolia. 

Here to Serve

Just as I disembarked my plane began a funeral service across town for the mother of someone close to us all. While I didn’t have to come, I wanted to. I remembered how touched I felt by those who came to Mom’s funeral, even if they only met her briefly. 

When I arrived, somewhat dazed, in the lobby, the soon-to-be-weds spotted me from the pews and walked out to greet me. They brought me to sit with them, beside other parishioners from our church I hadn’t been with in seven months. As the eulogies concluded, and our priest blessed the casket with the family, we sang together.

I felt at ease among such close friends. The service felt a warm reintroduction to my college town community. For, my trip home wasn’t meant quite for me. I meant to support.

First Wedding Party

That night, I reunited with and met the many of our wedding party for rehearsals. Rehearsals went smoothly. Afterward, the wedding party enjoyed pizza and wings with the bride and groom. I felt gleeful to catch up with some of my favorite faithful folks from my final years at university.

Between wedding rehearsals and Sunday Mass, I reunited with the choir I knew and loved singing with four years, including my confirmation sponsor. Even our instrumentalist who’d since left for graduate school returned to play. Just like old times. 

That weekend, I also attended my first bachelors’/bachelorettes’ party. I felt much more relaxed among these people I’d known a while. I enjoyed the added benefit of having no college coursework to distract me from being present to those there. I felt honored to partake in the wedding tradition among such fun people.  

Christian Love

The Monday morning of the wedding, one of our choir members had a family emergency, and I received the appointment to cantor our psalm, “To You O God, I Lift Up My Soul.” So I started rehearsing from the morning-of. 

I wore the most eclectic outfit, including a normal pair of black slacks I’d known since high school in Vegas (before 2015), the golden silk shirt I bought in Beijing the 2017 week I first met Chinese relatives and the black suit jacket I bought in my Mongolian city for Teachers’ Day 2019. What a coincidence they asked me to wear golden colors, a suit and something traditional if I liked. These came together with my Reno boutonnière to form, for me, among my most meaningful outfits. 

As the hours neared showtime, our jazz cue began, and I transitioned from greeting guests at the door and choir rehearsal to assembling for the procession in. I walked in with a close friend, who I loved chatting with. I especially loved the ringbearers with the rings on their sabers. Most special, our wedding party had front-row seats to witnessing the bride’s beautiful entry and seeing the heartfelt betrothals. I felt like such a cheerleader.

I stepped up to the ambo for what the groom called his favorite psalm. I prayed for the Holy Spirit to let me be the vessel. I sang with a little soul, yay. Seeing the couple’s and my choir members’ cheer gave me strength all the way to my high-note finish. 

Then I closed the songbook I borrowed from the Grand Knight, prepared the mic once more, probably gave a curt smile, and began the reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans. 

In Mongolia’s capital for the Peace Corps conferences, one night at dinner, one of my Catholic friends asked me my favorite Bible verse. I said, “Oh, I love these readings from Saint Paul, since he was my confirmation Saint. And reading his readings feels like reading a cosmic ancestor of mine. Especially, ‘Do not conform yourselves to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’” (Romans 12:2). After that, I went to help my student and a teacher apply for summer fellowships to the U.S. that were due the next days. After finishing those a few hours, I finally opened the bride-to-be’s message to see exactly which Paul reading she sent me. As I got midway through reading it aloud to a friend, I realized this was Romans 12 and went, “OH MY GODDDD.”

What a sacrament. I felt great hope that taking my time with relationships will lead to extraordinary joy. Choir members congratulated me on an amazing psalm. After Mass, our priest commended me as having delivered the best reading of Romans 12:1-2, 9-18 he’d ever heard. I felt stunned. 

The wedding reception felt wonderful. I spent most of my time with the fencing group. I enjoyed their fellowship, and they enjoyed my energy. I’d spend my days up to New Year’s among the newlyweds and their family still.

Las Vegas and Nevada Grow on Me

Given the subtle ways Nevada reminds me of Mongolia, I felt myself starting to feel more at-home in the Sagebrush State than when I left. From Vegas to Reno and around.

I used to loathe telling people I’m from Vegas, actually. I usually note it as the city where my family lives. But, after seven months in Mongolia, I feel like even Vegas has its charm. Hearing Panic! At The Disco on a mall radio felt right at home. 

Vegas lights appeal to many from many places—especially Asia, reports say. And that’s special. Mom liked this city.



You can read more from me here at DanielLang.me :)

Life Lately

So I had a wee scroll back and realised I hadn’t done anything on here except for reblogs and book reviews for a couple of months. So I will try and catch up on what’s been going on!

Christmas happened! As usual, it was great, and just the most wonderful time of the year. Shannon was able to come visit from Wellington, so that was very exciting. There was cocktails, and good food, and gift giving, and all the good things. I am already sad it’s over. 

New Year’s was a tad more laid back this year, we had a wee get together at Ash and Chris’s place, and I had a great time. I ate most of a block of some unknown cheese that was on the table in front of me and chair danced to all the bangers. And of course, left promptly at 12.01am because that is a LATE night. 

Speaking of New Year’s - I have not made any resolutions this year, because to be honest, I just find life a bit too hard to handle a lot of the time, especially over the last couple of years, and I find the goals just add pressure I can’t handle. That being said, I am trying to make good, focused, and thought out decisions, particularly with regard to my health/lifestyle. I have been trying to focus at the moment on exercise - aiming to do something everyday, and challenging myself. Because we are in summer at the moment I have managed to rope friends in to doing things with me as well which helps keep up the motivation. I have actually lost 3 kgs so far this year so that’s a good start (bearing in mind I gained probably 5 or more in the last quarter of last year!). 

Work is work, we are going through a restructure at the moment, so I will be getting a new boss, so hopefully that goes okay. Not much to say on work without getting depressed so we will move promptly along!

I have booked a couple of trips in; Casey and I will be going to the Hawkes Bay this Easter which I am really looking forward to! I loved our Wellington trip last Easter, and Casey has never been to the Hawkes Bay before so should be good. And I have booked a weekend getaway to Wellington later in the year as well to visit my friend Shannon and THE NEW HOUSE SHE BOUGHT! Such an achievement. Really looking forward to that trip too.

Speaking of, we are still trying to buy a house. Now looking at doing a new build/house and land package, as for just a little bit more money you can get something brand new and there are so many dodgy/leaky properties in Tauranga (The 8th most expensive place to buy a home now compared to income! SICKENING!). So now we are in the process of trying to see if we can get finance again as our home loan would need to be a bit bigger for a new build. I really hate all the waiting and depending on the banks - especially because I know we could afford the mortgage we are looking for, but hopefully something works out soon, and not too much point complaining I suppose as we really are at their mercy. 

My diabetes control has really improved over the last month or so (probably in conjunction with me attempting to eat better and exercise more - funny that) which is good, and it’s nice not worrying about it so much now that my levels seem realistic. And in a very exciting turn of events my nurse is going to get the application for an insulin pump started! I am suspicious as always but she reckons we have a good chance at getting approved and that being the case I could start on a pump in March! So really keeping my fingers crossed for that. 

I am right back in to podcasts at the moment too, which is hard, coz I always want to listen to true crime, but if I listen to too much dark stuff I can’t sleep, so I have to try and find other subject matter I enjoy! Also, we binged season 2 of Sex Education on Netflix this weekend and it was so good. Hilarious as always, but also really emotional, and had some big moments that really resonated with me. 

Hmm, so I thought I had nothing really to say, but look at the novel I have written now! That’s all I can think of the moment, but hopefully I will check back in sooner rather than later with more!