Church in China (part 3)

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Continued from Church in China (part 2) and Church in China (part 1)

I went to bed early Saturday night so I would be able to get up and be ready for church on time. I knew I would need a shower and then extra time to let my hair air dry. I got up at 5 a.m. to start getting ready. At 6’o’clock, Vivian had not gotten up yet, and I started to get worried because I knew it would take us about 30 minutes to get to the church. I sat on my bed in my room waiting for Vivian’s door to open. 6:30 and nothing. So, I texted her to ask if we were going to church. She texted back that Music, Secret and Flower wanted to take me to a church in Beijing today and that they would leave at 8:30 a.m. (Sadly, Vivian did not accompany us.)

I was so relieved that I would not miss church. I thought if we missed the 7 a.m. church time that I would miss my opportunity to go to church this week and that made me very sad. I should have known to let God take care of it and not get all worked up because things weren’t happening on my schedule–well, not really my schedule, but the one I knew of.

So, at 8:30, Music, Secret, Flower and I hopped on the bus to Beijing. We arrived at 10 a.m. and headed to the subway. The church, I learned, was all the way on the other side of Beijing–we came in on the east side and the church was the next to last stop on the west side. That was another hour ride across the city on the subway. Once we got off, we started walking. We had a little trouble with the directions, but luckily Sharon, a friend of Flower’s sister, met us and led us the six or so blocks to the church. We got there just as the service was starting and it was standing room only. Sharon disappeared for a moment and then returned to drag me to sit squished between two tiny but friendly Asians.

It was a service in English (those dear teachers looking out for me) and was filled with a mixture of Chinese and a few westerners. The message was good. The band sang songs I knew. What a special blessing to finally get to worship at a church here in China, and how exciting to see such a thriving one. It has a big sanctuary and five services each Sunday, four of them in Chinese.

November 27, 2011. The sanctuary. The walls to the left and the back are lined at least three rows deep of shoulder-to-shoulder people.

After the service we were invited to lunch. The group of people that Sharon introduced us to insisted I meet an older couple from Ohio who hold a Bible study in their home on Sunday afternoon. They call the couple Grandfather and Grandmother. So after lunch we went to the grandparent’s house for the Bible study. It was mostly in Chinese, but often people would answer in English. Many times they would answer one way and translate their answer in the other language. The study was over Moses and the ten commandments. I was excited for it being in Chinese because I knew the teachers would get something out of it because the service was too hard for them to understand.

At 5:00 p.m. we had to leave to figure out how to get back to Yanjiao. We caught a bus to a subway stop and began our three-hour trip home.

November 27, 2011. The giant Christmas tree in the parking lot. They were having a tree-lighting ceremony that evening. But we had to get back before the buses stopped running.

November 27, 2011. Flower, Laura, Music.

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Church in China (part 2)

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Continued from Church in China (part 1) 

Once I had asked my roommate, Vivian, the school director, what religion she was after reading about the many different “religions” practiced in China. She gave me a confused look, not understanding what I was asking. I tried to specify, “are you Buddhist, Christian, or do you study Daoism or Confucianism?” She was still confused. I tried to mimic the pose of the happy fat man I see related with Buddhism and talked about the temples and monks. Finally she understood and told me that she didn’t have a religion but that she tried to be a good person. She said not many people in China have a religion at all. “How sad,” I thought, “to live in a faithless country.” I couldn’t even imagine what that must be like.

Every now and then I would tell Vivian that I wanted to find a church, that it was one of the things I missed most about my life in America. One day, just before Thanksgiving, she ran into our shared office at the preschool with a big grin on her face. “I found a church in Yanjiao!” she exclaimed as she grasped a small pamphlet. She said we would all (meaning all the teachers) go to it on Sunday. She wanted to investigate it for a possible field trip to teach the students about Christmas. I was thrilled—at the prospects of going to church, with the teachers, and about teaching the children about the real meaning of Christmas.

The Saturday before, three of the teachers, Secret, Music, and Flower, had invited me to lunch. We shared a delightful meal of dumplings and jovial conversation. On leaving the restaurant they asked me again if I believed in God. I nodded. They told me they had found a church and would take me there soon. I figured this was the church Vivian was talking about.

The next Saturday, Vivian, her husband, and I went shopping at a mall about an hour away in SanHe. On our way back home, Vivian wanted to try to find the church so we would know where we were going on Sunday since service started at early. She was expecting a big beautiful church building, but was disappointed to find it was a room in an apartment building. I thought it was beautiful. It was on the top (30th) floor of the building and had a grand view of the city. The room was spacious and looked church-like. There were chairs stacked along the wall that they must use to set up for service. There was a piano and some other sound equipment so it looked like they have a band that plays. I was excited. Vivian was disappointed and asked if I still wanted to go. I told her YES! So we had plans to go to the 7 a.m. service on Sunday.

Aside: Somewhat related pictures (i.e. the view from the church window)? This was the view out the kitchen window of my apartment in Yanjiao which was on the 26th floor. I don’t know what direction this was looking but I think we’re on the edge of town as there weren’t many tall apartment buildings in this direction. We were at the end of the bus line to Yanjiao, too. It was a rare day when we could actually see clouds in the sky and the mountains in the distance rather than the usual orange-tinged smog. This usually only happens after the rain or a very windy day.

August 18, 2011. Looking straight out the kitchen window.

August 15, 2011. The view to the right. It seems to be a mostly industrialized area. I wonder what goes on in those huge flat buildings…

August 15, 2011. A look to the left out the kitchen window. Grain elevators? And a yard for construction materials for the virus-like expansion all over China.

August 15, 2011. To the left of the sand pile in the last picture were these buildings. They are the closest thing I’ve seen to houses here, they even have yards. But I never saw people or cars around them. Maybe I was too far away. I always thought I should take a walk and investigate them closer but I didn’t want to get lost.

August 15, 2011. Looking straight down you can see the parking lot for the apartments and the bus yard. It’s rare to find a parking lot this empty.

Church in China (part 3)

Church in China (part 1)

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Hello Faithful Readers. It has been another two months since our last post. In that time Maggie has returned to the US for good and I made a quick visit to the US to see my sister graduate from seminary and my niece graduate from high school. Someone wondered if we could still call the blog 647 Miles Apart since were were now so much farther away, but I am resistant to change in general.

I thought not having any of my family here in China would make it even more lonely. Perhaps it was the visit home, or the fact that I am now so very busy every day and even on the weekends, or maybe that I have only two months left here, but I seem to have a new peace and patience, even to the point of thoughts of returning for a longer stay sometime.

Though I could write much about my thoughts in that direction, I promised a post about church in China and so the next few days will bring stories of my experiences in my quest to find other Christians. Here it begins…

Church in China (part one)

One of the things I most missed when I came to China was my church family. Church has been a part of my week from infancy. In the US, six days of the week were spent at my church since I also worked there. So not having a church to call home left a big hole in my life in China.

Since I had heard that Christianity was a sensitive subject in China, I had been keeping quiet about my faith. I wore a cross daily hoping someone might ask about it. I had tried searching the internet to find a place to worship but as I was behind the Great Firewall information was limited (plus I still didn’t really know where I was living).

One day I was riding an elevator with some of the preschool teachers. When the door closed one of them with passable English asked me, “Do you believe in God?” My pulse traced a little and I nodded. She motioned to two of the other teachers and told me they believed in God too as they looked at me with bright, eager eyes. “Finally!” I thought.

I asked the two if they went to church and was pleased when one of them nodded. “Take me!” I said eagerly. She nodded. Our elevator ride was over as was our discussion.

I kept waiting for the invitation to go to church with her. The other teachers lived in a dormitory in the apartment building next to mine. I didn’t see them apart from school so I didn’t know how they spent their weekends. The weeks of waiting began to add up and eventually became months.

Aside:  Someone mentioned it would be nice to have more pictures. I’ve been taking pictures aplenty always with a thought of the stories I would tell you. At first, behind the firewall, it was hard to get blog posts published let alone pictures. But now that we have a way to tunnel through (called a VPN–for those planning a trip to China a necessity if you wish to still have decent internet access) posting pictures isn’t a problem. So, just to start wading through the big backlog, here are some somewhat related pictures. ;-D

August 25, 2011. The Yanjiao staff on our way to lunch.

August 25, 2011. Lunch with the Yanjiao staff in the Cook’s apartment.

When I first arrived in China, the Yanjiao preschool was just getting started. The building was new (one of the tasks Maggie, Molly and I had was to decorate a room “western style”). We didn’t have a kitchen yet, but we had a cook. We would leave the preschool at lunch time and walk to the cook’s apartment which was in the building behind the preschool. [It was on one of these trips that we had the elevator discussion about church.]

We all scrunched around a small table sitting on chairs, stools, overturned buckets, and anything else that might make a sitting place. The two cooks are on the far left and far right.

Church in China (part 2)

One Unscrupulous Camel, My Family, Slug Bugs, and Rampant Toursits

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Over Spring Break in America (Chinese schools have no equivalent) part of my family was fortunate enough to come and visit! Namely my Auntie Poo (my mom’s younger sister), her daughter Addison, and my “adopted” 姐姐(big sister, pronounced ‘jie jie’).

They flew into Beijing and I was allowed a week break from teaching in Hohhot to travel and stay with them and play tour guide in the capitol of China. Although it was a vacation, it was hardly easy. First of all, there was a matter of lodging. It’s expensive to fly to China (a cheap round-way ticket is in the ball park of $1,000). It would be nice to pay for a swanky hotel with English speaking staff on top of that, but by and large unfeasible. So everyone crammed into my Mom’s quarters in Beijing (a room with a double bed and one bunk bed). To be honest, it wasn’t even that bad. I loved being so close to my family that I’ve missed so much.

Second of all, there’s the matter of adjusting to the time change (it’s basically like flip-flopping the nights and days of the US). And thirdly, there’s the smog. Aunt Poo wasn’t, pulminarily speaking, in the best health upon landing in Beijing. The air agitated everyone’s allergies and runny noses and sneezing and coughing. So even from the start, it was going to be a rough week for my visitors.

Wangfujing

Megan arrived a few days before Auntie Poo and Addison, so I was able to have some one-on-one time with her. I took her to my favorite pastry shop, introduced her to the subway system, took her to Wangfujing, a world famous street of shops and malls, and bought her one of my obsessions since living in China: a Swatch (makes no sense, I know).

At the 798 Art District

Megan, Cheng, Tong, and I went to the Blue Zoo (an aquarium), we had snowball fights, we went to the 798 art district, we had fun playing slug bug (which in China means you punch someone and scream: “slug bug” every time you see a foreigner. In Hohhot, I can basically only do this when I look in the mirror), and we hung out with our American family friends who also live in Beijing right now (I fondly call them The Nilis).

A Sea Turtle At The Blue Zoo

Unfortunately for Megan, the first few days in China, she ate precious little authentic Chinese food. I can find my way around the HUMONGOUS Beijing pretty well on my own with my terrible Mandarin, but having stomached eight months of authentic Chinese food, in Beijing I appreciate the access to other types of fare. I dragged her to Italian restaurants, McDonalds, French bakeries, and other establishments of a strictly foreign ilk. I had fun watching her try to brush her teeth without using the water from the tap, and seeing her feel uncomfortable in the ZERO personal space afforded one on a subway.

Megan Trying Haw For The First Time

When Auntie Poo and Addison arrived, we only did more. We went to the Great Wall (it was a terribly windy day). Addison, Megan, Cheng (of The Nilis clan), and I all wore ridiculous hats while we climbed the amazing heights. On our way up, we stopped at a turret to pay our respects to Grandma Peggy (she said she wanted to travel the world, so travel she shall).

Badaling Great Wall

And on our way down, we found a camel who had climbed the Wall with his own nefarious designs in mind, no doubt. We forced him to take several pictures with our group.

Mom and Auntie Poo

Aside: If you’re wondering why Auntie Poo and Mom are wearing the fancy hats, it’s because they plucked them from the heads of Addison, Megan, Cheng, or I.

We went to Tiananmen square and to the Forbidden City (with a real guide this time, I learned far more and, would you believe it, it’s actually bigger than I first surmised. I think they added a few more courtyards since last time). We had Hot Pot (Chinese Fondu) where a guy came out and stretched our noodles by basically dancing, jumping rope, and kung fu fighting with them. We went on trolly rides through the skinny original streets of Beijing. We had glorious Starbucks.

The Noodle Artist

Cotton Candy

I took them to Ya Show, a five story mall with rip off Louis Vuitton and Chanel purses galore, souvenirs of every variety, and a nail salon where Megan had a shocking foot exfoliation procedure that, I swear, produced enough skin from her feet to create a whole new third foot. Addison turned out to be a shrewd haggler. We went to the Olympic Green, where we stood in the shadow of the great Nest and Cube, and walked probably a good three miles to find a decent restaurant (wouldn’t you know it, the only decent restaurant that’s not in a hotel close to the Olympic Green is a McDonalds). Did you know the apartment complexes across from the Olympic Green cost 100,000,000 RMB per month to rent during the 2008 Olympics (or so I hear. I could be wrong)?

At The Olympic Green

Having my family around was a real blessing. We were loud, we made spectacles of ourselves, being boisterous and punching each other intermittently whenever we saw a foreigner. We went to a three hour long Chinese opera and I think at one point every one of our party fell asleep.

Aside: Having people around me that are unaccustomed to the Chinese way of life was eye-opening too. Megan was noticing everything that has ceased to be a wonder to me. The tints on car windows, for example. There is no restriction for how dark a window tint can be, like in the US. And most cars have tinted windows except for a small section at the front of the driver’s and front passenger’s windows, so they can see their side mirrors. There are things called Black Taxis, which are regular people who use their regular cars to ferry people around the city, charging whatever fee they deem necessary. Addison was shocked to find out they weren’t actually all black cars. The scooters and mopeds that people drive as much as cars are driven have large hand mittens that go over the handles. The drivers put their hands inside and when they leave their scooter, the hand mittens stay there, attached to the handles. It’s kind of ingenious and simple.

Mom's Birthday Feast

The last thing we did as a family was have a small birthday party for Mom where everyone drank and there was roast duck and dumplings and a room decorated with dinosaurs and then a delicious cake. That week was wonderful, once in a lifetime, spent with my family in a tiny little room. In the mornings we walked to the corner of the block where there was a bakery next to the KFC and everyone became obsessed with steam cakes.

But now it’s over, I’m back in Hohhot, and I have about a month left in China. It’s strange to me that I’ll be back in the U.S. and I’ll have this intimate knowledge of two cities in China, one of which I didn’t even know existed until I came here. It’s strange to me that life will still go on here, and that I’ll probably never be back. It’s strange to me that I feel like I don’t know Chinese, but I catch myself understanding what people say when they speak to me (if they’re kind and speak a little slower than normal and enunciate a scosh more than they normally would). I’m still shocked when I automatically hand a cashier the correct change without stopping to think and count on my fingers to figure out the amount they’re asking.

I’ve learned a lot here, and I hope that, even though I’ll be more than 647 miles apart from my Mom here very soon, she’ll be okay, on her own, in this place. It’s not the easiest thing I’ve done in my life, moving to the other side of the globe. But little things help, like having a brief respite from the world for a week with my family, like being able to have had Molly with me for half of it, like having great Chinese friends who help me with anything.

The Nefarious Camel

Day By Day

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Violets at the Temple of Heaven

Things that make me smile... violets at the wall of the Temple of Heaven.

Wow, two months since our last post. I can’t believe how quickly the time has run away from me.

Dear Readers, I’ve had the best of intentions. I’ve taken scores and scores of pictures and video thinking of the stories I will tell you… and I hope to still be able to tell all those stories. It is my deepest desire to make my reports to you part of my daily routine. The truth is that I’ve been struggling with a daily routine since I moved to Beijing.

The original move to Yanjiao was a bit of an adjustment. It was lonely and I felt isolated. I was completely dependent on people to feed me and get me where I needed to go. I didn’t know how to communicate and I didn’t know where to shop for food. Eventually, I started figuring out some of the language, people showed me where and how to shop, and the dear teachers I worked with gained confidence in their English skills (which they’d been studying since middle school) enough so that we were able to have good conversations and understand each other’s humor.

I’d eased into a daily and weekly routine that was comfortable. I learned how to get myself to Beijing. This meant I could take in an English movie on occasion, shop at western grocery stores for food I was craving, and take in some sights. I had my weekends free and most of my evenings. I decided to enroll in some online university classes (most importantly Chinese) to help occupy my free time. I could foresee the pattern of my remaining seven months and it was good. I felt happy.

Then came the sudden move to Beijing. Although I was now closer to the western amenities and had greater chances of running into other westerners, I once again felt isolated. Maybe even more isolated than before. It is strange to be in a city of 20 million and yet feel isolated. I’ve had some of my darkest days in the past two months…

The teachers at the new school have even less English than the teachers in Yanjiao. I am often misunderstood. Decisions are made and I am expected to do things that are never communicated to me. The work hours are twice as long as those in Yanjiao, with most of my non-duty time needing to be spent planning lessons. My weekends are often occupied with school duties.

I found it difficult to keep up with my studies and regretfully had to drop my online classes one by one. It was difficult to get into a routine because of the communication problem–especially when it came to communicating when I was required to “perform.” [It seems westerners here are a commodity. The best schools have one and they trot them out for display at every opportunity. While Maggie and I desire to be useful to our schools, it seems at times the only thing they really want from us is to show us off as a “westerner.” It is disheartening to feel your greatest worth is as an object.]

Finally I think I’ve managed to create a routine here. One that allows me to post more frequently and share with you all the fabulous adventures and stories I’ve been saving up. Since the recent visit of my family from the US, I’ve been in good spirits. The beautiful spring weather, almost clear skies, and scads of kites dotting the horizon have continued to buoy me.

So, here is my commitment to you to post more frequently. Really, I want to commit to daily postings, but perhaps it’s best to start with a promise to post every week to start. Tune in soon for my next post on churches in China.