Think You Know Your Countries? Try This Quiz!

Where is this scene?

Match each statement to the correct country below. Possible answers are Ecuador, Russia, China, United States, Kazakhstan, Chile, Greenland. No cheating! Don’t look at the answers below until you’ve given your best answers.

  1. This country has 56 recognized ethnic groups—nine times that of the United States. Your answer___________.
  2. This country has only one time zone. Your answer ______________.
  3. More than 30 million people in this country live in caves. Your answer ________________.
  4. More people go to church every Sunday in this country than in all of Europe. Your answer ________________.
  5. A man claiming to be the brother of Jesus led a massive rebellion in this country to set up a theocracy, killing millions of people in the process. Your answer __________________.
  6. This country and its northern neighbor are home to a desert covering 500,000 square miles. Your answer _________________.
  7. All Pandas in the world are on loan from this country. Your answer ________________.


Answers: This is a trick quiz. China is the answer to all of the questions (though possibly not the only answer to question #4). I’ll bet you’re a bit surprised. Comment with your biggest surprise. The picture above is the Gobi Desert, which stretches across parts of China and Mongolia. The Gobi Desert is home to a large population of wild camels.  


What it Costs to “Ask Google” and Why It’s Cool to be Uncertain

I recall my two-year volunteer church service in Hong Kong more than 42 years ago. My sweat and the excessive humidity soon rotted away my leather watch band, leaving me with no convenient way to tell time. Fortunately, my companion and I most often visited vibrant, mixed use residential areas where ground-level one-room shops, called “pou-taus,” were prevalent. Each of these pou-taus prominently displayed a clock on the back wall. Because we had scheduled numerous appointments, knowing the correct time became critical.

On one occasion, I asked my companion to poke his head in the doorway of the nearest pou-tau and tell me the time.

“It’s 6: 42,” he said over his shoulder.Clock showing 6:42

“Good.” I smiled confidently. “We have plenty of time before our 7:00 appointment.”

A few minutes later, we walked by another pou-tau. Glancing up, I saw the time: 6:40.

“Oh no!” I yelled. “Something’s wrong! That can’t be right!”

Then it became a race from pou-tau to pou-tau. We soon realized that every shopkeeper had a different time on their clock. What had begun as a certainty that we had plenty of time became anxiety about being late. When we only had one source of information, we seemed quite confident in that information. Once we expanded our sources, our degree of confidence dropped dramatically, leaving us anxious.

From 1962 to 1981, “the most trusted man in America,” Walter Cronkite, signed off his television news segments with, ” . . And that’s the way it is,” and we believed him. We harbored no suspicions that Walter was withholding any important truths from us, or that he was skewing the facts to fit a political agenda. We enjoyed the certainty of his voice and the surety of its message.

We live today in a world rich with news sources. We can construct our perception of “reality” from information gleaned from several broadcast news stations, numerous cable news sources, so called “info-tainment” programs, newspapers, blogs, vlogs, tweets, social media sites, podcasts, and word of mouth. We don’t need to wait for the nightly news anymore. We can get it as fast as it can be fed to us, and the “feeding” is much more personalized. We can receive just the right kind of news, with the most appealing “slant,” sent directly to a device in our hands, with audio piped only to us through earbuds in our ears. And it isn’t just news. We basically have the world’s collective knowledge at our fingertips. We no longer need to wonder about anything! Because we fear uncertainty, we are relieved to believe we no longer need to be uncertain about anything. In the time it takes to wonder, we can pull up a massive volume of possible “answers” to our questions.

Sounds great, right? But what’s the cost?

Based on my experience with the clocks, one obvious cost in having so much data at our fingertips is an increase (yes, that’s right) increase in uncertainty. What are some other costs? In our yet-to-be-published book, Surviving by a Thread, we discuss benefits of uncertainty and outline some ways in which technology is creating a situation where, ironically, we are surrounded by data but ever-lacking understanding or wisdom.

From Chapter Six, “Embracing Uncertainty,” we read about another side-effect of attempting to eliminate uncertainty:

Chuck continued, “I’ve only recently gotten into the habit of using my smartphone to give me step by step verbal directions to wherever I’m going. Until now, I’ve been very proud of my ability to navigate, even in the most unfamiliar locations, even if it meant calculating directions based on shadows and the time of day. After a few weeks of ‘Okay Google,’ however, I’ve noticed that my internal direction finder is being supplanted by the soothing voice of . . . of whoever that woman is on Google. I no longer even look at landmarks or wonder what the shadows are telling me. I have turned into a bit of a robot. It scares me to the point I now limit the number of times I will ask Google for directions. And asking for directions is just one question we can ask of our technology. We can apparently remove uncertainty about nearly everything! Just ask Google!” 

We quickly lose our capacities. We no longer have to remember phone numbers, thoughtfully plan out a route to a destination,  communicate that route verbally to a friend, or exercise patience. We are willingly and gleefully stunting ourselves. The book also touches on the mental clutter and triviality that can take over our lives as we immerse ourselves in data:  

Another benefit [of uncertainty] is in setting priorities. In the past, we made mental notes to look up an answer to a question. Half the time we forgot about the question, thus allowing our own faulty memories to act as a kind of filter allowing only the most important questions to survive. Now, we clutter our minds with the most trivial questions and easy answers. We distract ourselves with triviality.

Some surprising benefits of uncertainty are also found in the book:

. . Other benefits relate to our ability to think and to solve problems. When we’re left to wonder, we often form hypotheses, do diligent research and form reasoned arguments. Now, we simply accept what is so quickly served to us by a search engine. I foresee some problems with this as our children move into adulthood. . .

The solution is not to avoid technology, but to use it differently. The book offers some specific examples of how to use uncertainty and miraculous, adventure-producing technology in beneficial ways, especially with our children:

“Above all,” Chuck continued, “I think we should recognize that uncertainty is very much related to curiosity. Let’s make sure our children’s curiosity is rewarded not with quick, conversation-ending answers, but with stimulating journeys.”

The Tianjin Riverfront

We were not expecting the city of Tianjin to be so nice.  The river winding through the city is lined with beautiful European-style buildings.  You can walk along the waterfront for miles and we enjoyed a river cruise that evening.

Mike & Ruthann Martin, our traveling buddies


Sun glinting off of modern buildings along Tianjin’s waterfront.


Example of European-style architecture in Tianjin


A very big Ferris wheel resting on a bridge over the river. Similar to London’s “Eye”


This Catholic church was built in 1869. It is still being used.


Beautiful old church


The Ferris wheel was all lit up at night.


Night along the Tianjin river


China Porcelain House in Tianjin

The China Porcelain House or “China House” sits on an otherwise mundane-looking street in a residential area of Tianjin. It is made up of broken pieces of porcelain cemented together to form the structure of the house and everything in it.

The House Made of Porcelain. Every part of this house is made with porcelain. The pieces are mostly intact but others are broken off


The House of Porcelain

We enjoyed the city of Tianjin with fellow BYU China teachers. Jolene and Neils Thompson, Alan and Shelly Holt, Mike and Ruthann Martin


If you look closely, you can see the individual pieces of porcelain that make up the structure


These spirals are also made of tiny pieces of porcelain


These pots are molded together with cement in between them


We walked along little streets making our way to the Porcelain house


Playing games is a favorite pastime of many Chinese gentlemen


Pedaling to Harmony in Beijing

[The following article was written in October, 2018 by Charles J. Chamberlain. All rights reserved.]

Rounding a busy corner one unusually clear morning, I guided my bicycle carefully into heavy two-wheeled traffic. Suddenly in front of me was a pig-tailed young school-girl sitting side-saddle. Her mother pedaled furiously, and the young girl sat casually behind her, reading a homework assignment while simultaneously eating a breakfast roll and occasionally grabbing mom’s jacket for balance.  I marveled, not so much at the sight in front of me but at the apparent ordinariness of it all, at least in the eyes of the Chinese people around me. No one batted an eye.

Beijing bicyclists

Beijing bicyclists. Courtesy of GettyImages.

Key to Chinese Culture

That morning, the girl and her mom were only two people in a sea of millions of “rush hour” commuters on bikes, scooters, taxis, vans, private cars, and vehicles that defied categorization. What these millions of travelers taught me that morning and hundreds of other mornings was a key to understanding important aspects of Chinese culture, and ultimately human nature.

The ancient Chinese Capitol city of 23 million boasts wide streets flanked on either side by bicycle lanes, which are also bordered by brick sidewalks. It sounds like a city planner’s dream until you see how these channels of humanity are used. At times, the roadway becomes a pedestrian walkway, the sidewalk transforms into a thoroughfare for scooters, and the bike lanes turn into bus routes. In addition, notions of “drive on the right” or “drive on the left” are often tossed out the window like day-old rice.

Most Americans would call it chaos. The western world, with its emphasis on “rule of law,” cringes at the thought of such “disarray” and disregard for safety. However, any westerner who spends more than a month or two amidst the pandemonium must come to a stunning realization: Dang it. It works.

Bicycling safely around the streets of Beijing leaves you with the disorienting suspicion that you’re missing something, like entering a room illuminated with ultra-violet light, when your eyes strain to see things that are just beyond their capability. When you navigate the streets of Beijing on a bicycle, you participate in an intricate dance with an unknown set of rules, using an unknown method of communication. It seems just beyond your human capacity to understand why you arrived safely at your destination.

The bedrock of American society is its system of laws. Americans assume that road safety is a function of obeying a rigid set of traffic laws. Even though the Chinese have traffic laws, they don’t look at them or follow them in the same way. No, there is something far more compelling than laws to keep the roadways safe. This intangible “thing” is difficult to describe but has a wider impact on China and its people in all areas of life. This “thing” represents a fundamental difference between two cultures. What is it? It’s harmony based on trust. The Chinese people have a profound trust in each other and the harmony of their society, not in sterile text written in dusty law books.

American vs Chinese Peace and Safety

When riding a bicycle through Beijing, your trip will be punctuated by numerous incursions into “your space” by people in various vehicles who don’t pause or even look in your direction before entering the road from a driveway, or who don’t slow down to make right turns. You will encounter people who stop suddenly in the middle of a road, leaving their vehicles unattended. You will play “chicken” with vehicles coming head-on in “your” lane. These are conditions every bicyclist will see within just a few minutes on the road.

If, while cycling in Beijing, you hold fast to the American dogma that you have been granted rights to a specific space on the road, going a specific speed, in a specific direction, and that each vehicle sits in a legally protected bubble of these rights, you will have a miserable experience. You will develop road rage as you insist on your rights, and you will “stop and go” instead of “go with the flow.”

Forming a Bridge to the Chinese Culture

If, on the other hand, you relax your guard and realize that everyone on the road is part of a harmonious, moving, flowing organism, you will participate in a relaxing cultural experience like no other. When the Chinese people put their trust in their fellow travelers, it is based on a tradition of congruency. In other words, as a fellow traveler, you are expected to make your actions congruent with your intent. If you intend to travel on the right at a certain speed, then do it. Don’t hesitate. Don’t slam on your brakes because someone has crossed your path ahead. If you intend to travel on the left, be consistent and congruent with that intent.

You soon achieve an almost Zen-like state while bicycling the busy streets. Somehow, you are relaxed yet hyper-vigilant. You can predict in advance when a fellow traveler is about to enter your lane. As you engage with others on the road in this way, you become absorbed in a trusting fellowship with the Chinese people. Your bicycle soon becomes the means of building a bridge to a strikingly cohesive, collective culture. Harmony, balance, movement, and flow are rooted in Chinese culture. One point of access to this culture can be found on two wheels.

The Beautiful City of Tianjin’s Ancient Culture Street

Mid Autumn Festival is a harvest holiday here in China. We had a day off from our teaching and decided to take a fast train to Tianjin, about a half-hour away from Beijing at over 200 mph. The city was surprisingly beautiful with new, modern buildings and older “concession” buildings which were built by various European nations that gained control of the port city after the Opium wars in China. We first visited Ancient Culture Street, a large area that has preserved the old Chinese culture.

Street Vendors


Monkey King is back


Typical shops


Shopping Ancient Culture Street


The art of Paper Cutting


Old Versus the New


Adventures are more fun with friends. Ruthann Martin is a fellow teacher at CFAU. She’s from South Africa.


This man was playing an old instrument (Er Hu, or two-stringed instrument) to entice us into the shop


Pineapple or Rice? They know how to make their rice sweet and delicious. We are not used to healthy snacks


The art of making porridge includes hot water that comes from a big tea cup. Mike Martin in foreground.


You have to enjoy the statues everywhere!


They do like their pancakes . . .but not what we would expect


This is homemade candy. They can create any shape you would like.



April 2018 — Llama Temple

If you ever have just an hour or two and want to see a beautiful Buddhist temple, try the Llama Temple (or Yong He Gong). It is perfect, but not too large to see in a hurry.

You can tell how important a building is by the number of little roof animals there are to protect it. Literally, an 8-animal roof means the building was especially important . . possibly where the emperor himself would come.



April 2018 — A Marriage Market

Because wannabe grandparents are so anxious for their children to find a mate, they come by the thousands every weekend to JongShan Park next to the Forbidden City and advertize for a mate for their son or daughter. In the rural areas, there are 30-40 million too many men, due to the 1979 one-child policy and rural families believing a son is better than a daughter. Now, there are no women to marry in the countryside. In the cities, it’s not that way, but young men and young women are not getting married and producing those precious grandchildren.

It so happens that a famous LDS landmark exists exactly where the marriage market takes place. The tree under which David O. McKay offered a dedicatory prayer, was right in the thick of the action. When we single adult advisers took our single men and women to the park to see the tree, little did we know we were taking them to a marriage market.

At our apartment are Kevin Earl, Paul, Sabrina, Eketzel, Emily, Charles and Wei Su (also Laraine in the middle) We love these people!

The famous tree. Take no notice of all the activity around the tree — the buying and selling of marriage aged children.

Listening to a reading of the description of the area in historic records while fending off curious bystanders who wonder if we have brought eligible marriage candidates.

These “ads” include a son or daughter’s height, weight, skills, education level, etc. After taking this picture, these men were anxious to see if I was married and where I was from. When I told them I was American and that my wife was over “yonder,” they lost interest. I don’t know if it was being American or being married that turned them away.

Imagine the dedication of these parents who bring these ads every week.

They all look eligible for marriage, right? These are some of the YSA’s and singles from our Branch

Chuck with the Bennetts, District President and wife.