Just got back from six days in China! Wow, what a trip!
But before I get into that, I wanted to talk a little bit about what happened just before I left. Sunday afternoon and evening I went shopping for China with my Chinese friend Lee. He showed me a lot of new stores I hadn`t been to in Nabari. I got new boots, warm underclothes, and a hat. And boy am I glad I did! Beijing was 20 degrees Fahrenheit some days (-6.5 degrees Celsius).
One store we visited sold pets! I grew up in a house with ten cats, two dogs, a snake, turtles and fifty fish. We also had rabbits, guinea pigs and ducks at various times. Not being allowed pets in my apartment is maddening! So I got my kitten holding fix. This is me and a Scottish fold. You can`t really see the fold in it`s ears at this angle, plus it`s a little fuzzy, but don`t you think it`s the cutest little kitten you ever did see?
Tuesday I had dinner with the nurse and her daughter Asahi who took care of me when I had swine flu. We`re getting to be good friends! And I just love their little dog Sora.
On Wednesday I went to a Christmas party thrown by my adult students. We were hoping more English teachers would show up, but it was just me, Jonathan, and Patrick. Here`s a picture of everyone:
We met at Mr. Toshi`s (not Pastor Toshi from my church) huge house and ate lots of traditional Japanese food! I am getting addicted to Japanese cakes. They`re so cute and delicious! Because they`re so small, it`s very easy to say to yourself, “just one more.” One of my New Years Resolutions is to cut down on my sweets intake.
Also, I wanted to take a picture of Mr. Toshi`s house shrine. It was the first one I`ve seen. It`s to his dead wife and has her picture over the top and her name plate on the side. Every morning, he told me, he prays to her spirit in front of the shrine, along with all her ancestors. I`d heard about, but never seen ancestor worship in Japan. It`s a little disconcerting:
Thursday morning, I heard the music class practicing “Silent Night” with chimes. Curious, I walked in and watched them practice, and they invited me to sing with them! Before Christmas every year, one of my favorite traditions is going Christmas caroling, and I was missing that. So their invitation really made my pre-Christmas. This is our performance for the teachers. Notice how the Japanese totally freak out when they mess up and bow far more times than necessary. As for myself, I don`t sound great; my voice broke on a high note. But here it is:
Thursday evening we had my free English class at the church, and lots of people came! I wrote the word “Christmas” on the board and circled the world “Christ” and the word “mas.” “Christmas literally means `Jesus worship.` ” I explained. They were shocked! No one had ever taught them the meaning of the word. I went on to explain the story of Christmas and it`s significance in the grand scheme of things. In short, I explained “Christmas is the day Christians all over the world celebrate God coming down to Earth to fix this mess we`ve made for ourselves. Jesus lived the perfect life we should live but can`t, and died the death in punishment that we should have died. But then he rose from the dead, conquering death. In heaven, God is throwing a party. But because God is perfect and just, He dosn`t want to hang out with people like us who are always hurting each other and destroying the planet He gave us. Has anyone here never hurt anyone else in action or thought, or acted irresponsibly? Of course not. Besides, would you want to let someone into your party who`s constantly ignoring you and then expects to be let in? So the only way to get into the party is if you know the person throwing it, the only perfect person who ever lived. If we know Jesus, if he`s our friend, then he`ll say to his father, “It`s OK, they`re with me.”
Of course, that`s a very rough, perhaps poor illustration, but it`s a starting point. Sin, its infecting the world and how we become friends with Jesus can be saved for later lessons. The point is, what I said made sense to them. They listened, they nodded, they asked questions and I could answer them. Now does that mean they`ll become Christians? Maybe yes, maybe no. That`s up to them and the Holy Spirit.
Thursday night after class as I was going to the post office to send off my family`s Christmas presents, it started snowing. How lovely! It was a perfect going away present. I got to bed around midnight and woke the next morning just before 5:00am, grabbed my things, and caught my train to Osaka at 5:23. I was in a bit of a panic because that was the first train out, and if everything went smoothly (which it rarely does), I wouldn`t arrive at the airport until 7:45 and boarding for the plane quit at 9:15, so I`d have only an hour and a half to get through security and find everything, and that`s if everything went smoothly! But I had no reason to worry. I`m very thankful for Pastor Toshi for helping me find the best way to the airport from Osaka. The bus, not the train! Everything was extremely well labeled, so with only three minutes transfer time, I was able to catch the first bus to the airport from Osaka Tsurahashi station just as it was leaving. And due to the fact that it was early morning, there was no traffic, so we arrived at 7:20, even earlier than expected! From there everyone was very helpful; I was able to check in and get through security in less than an hour. So if you`re ever flying to or from southern or mid Japan, KIX (Kansai International Airport), is a great way to go!
I would not recommend Air China, however. While it was extremely cheap and had excellent service (we even got a meal for an only three hour flight), the vents weren`t working. I got extremely air sick. On the way back, they worked a little, but my seat wouldn`t recline, and neither would the one beside me. So it was pretty uncomfortable both ways.
Going through customs and immigration was pretty easy and when I finished, Lu was right there to meet me with his dad at the exit. Oh, I should probably step back and say that the whole reason for me going to China was to visit my friend Lu that I met when I was in college at the University of Tulsa. We met through a mutual friend named Richard. I mentioned to Lu in an email about three months ago that I would like to visit China someday, and he invited me to stay with his family and said he would guide me around Beijing! I could hardly believe it!
I didn`t take this picture until much later, but you`re probably wondering what Lu looks like. Here he is with me at the Great Wall:
I was exhausted, but Lu wanted to take me straight to Forbidden City, so off we went! It sounds like a scary place, but it`s just called that because it was where the Emperor, his family, and all his concubines lived from about 1420 to 1912. It was “forbidden” because no one could enter or leave without the emperor’s permission. Structures in the Forbidden City have names like Gate of Divine Might, Hall of Supreme Harmony, Palace of Tranquil Longevity, and so on. The city, supposedly the copy of a divine dwelling, reflects what the ancient Chinese believed to be the heavenly attributes of power, peace, and beauty. Recently restored, it achieves this virtues very well. Here`s some pictures: This is me in front of where we entered the Forbidden City (which we found out later is actually it`s back side):
This is the throne in the Hall of Preserving Harmony. This hall was used for rehearsing ceremonies and the final stage of Imperial examinations.
China was the first country in the world to employ examinations in 605 AD. These were used to test if someone was fit to be a state official. So technically even a peasant could become a high-ranking politician, and it did happen more often than you might think. (That`s quite a bit ahead of Europe in those days, you might note.) However, the majority of those who passed came from the gentry, because they could afford tutors and time to study, while most peasants could not.) China, not Europe, also invented the sundial, paper, gun powder, triangular sails, printing, and my all-time favorite, bureaucracy (sorry, that was a joke, stolen from Orson Scott Card).
This is a gilded ceiling. Notice the dragon at the pinnacle. The dragon symbolized the emperor, and only he was allowed to wear a dragon on his robes. For anyone else, it was a crime punishable by death.
This is another cool throne room, in the Palace of Heavenly Purity (I think). This was where the emperor usually lived. (By the way, a lot of people marvel that I can remember all these facts after a week-long trip, but to be honest, I cheat. If I can`t remember something and forgot to write it down, I try to look it up online using travel/history websites.)
This is a lion statue representing the empress. It symbolizes her bringing up the new generation of emperor, and symbolically, all of China. At first I thought she was crushing the cub, but according to Lu and a passerby, she`s tickling it! I wouldn`t want her to be my mom.
There was a similar statue on the other side of the stairs, representing the emperor. Only instead of a cub, he has a ball representing the world under his paw. By the way, for each emperor there was only one empress unless she died. The rest of his wives were just “concubines.” The empress did have some civil authority, more or less, depending on the dynasty. In one case, Empress Wu actually ruled China single-handedly after her husband died, beginning in the mid 7th century, five hundred years before such a thing could ever happen in Europe. She had a fairly long and very successful rule.
This is a colorful building on top of some sculpted rocks. I think Lu said it took about two years to carve them like that:
From the highest point in Forbidden City, you can see the Beijing skyline. Notice the skyscraper amongst the ancient temples and palaces. The old and the new. A a perfect description of Chinese life, spirit, and their illustrious capital. Very interesting.
This was my favorite building because it`s so beautiful, though I can`t remember what it was used for and can`t find a match online. Oh, well, it`s still pretty.
And this is coming out of Forbidden City, from the side facing Tiananmen Square. You can see the portrait of Chairman Mao still plastered on the front side of Forbidden City.
I lost my new purple hat at the airport, and it was below freezing, so I really wanted to get a new one. Lu suggested we go to a mall, but there was a man just outside of Forbidden City who was selling panda hats for just two dollars. He was mute so he communicated in really strong gestures, and I felt a bit sorry for him, so I bought one. Of course, you get what you pay for; the ends are constantly getting tangled, but it's a really cute souvenir. The picture at the beginning of this post shows me wearing it. I also found a Chinese flag just outside the gate. So I already had two nice souvenirs!
I wanted to go to Tiananmen square where so many famous events have taken place (including the bloody student protests of 1989), but Lu said there`s not much there to see. I asked him how he felt about the protests, and he said most people of his generation feel the police were wrong to attack the students. The government seems to have realized that too, or at least noticed the strong distaste of the whole matter from the public, so nothing like that has happened since.
Me being exhausted, we went home to Lu`s house early. As soon as we arived, his mother gave us the most delicious traditional Chinese hawthorn berry desert. They were on a stick, with a honey glaze with a papery, sugar film attached. I forgot to take a picture while I was there, so here`s one from a vendor online:
Before dinner I watched some Chinese TV with Lu and his dad. It was a comedy show with a traditional Chinese comedian wearing the ancient dress and everything. Even though I couldn`t understand what they were saying, it was still really funny! It kind of reminded me of old American vaudville, with the main comedian making grandios claims and then failing every time in funny ways. It was a lot funnier than Japanese humor anyway, which tends to focus on puns, outrageous emotion, and really annoying characters.
Lu`s mother made us a delicious dinner of traditional Chinese vegetables. The family dog Burbur was not terribly fond of me and barked constantly. But she did like treats, and would dance for me if I offered her one. Here`s a video:
The word I'm saying is "sheh-sheh" which is Mandarin Chinese for "thank you," but I think it has another meaning for Burbur, like "beg."
Then we went over to Lu's family friend's house. Lu and his parents stayed and talked until about 9:30, but I couldn't understand a word of it, and I was so tired I fell asleep listening to them. The daughter was about my age and spoke pretty good English. That night I slept in her room and she slept on the couch. I totally wasn't expecting that; such hospitality! I told her I would be happy to sleep on the couch but she insisted on me having my own room.
And that was my first day in China! This post is getting kind of long, so I`ll post about the next few days later.