Saturday, October 22, 2011

Love.Hope.Believe. DaYe Church, part 1

Last year Brad and I both worked on Sundays and couldn’t take part in the great Christian ex-pat fellowship in Qingdao. (In bigger cities foreigners and nationals cannot worship together, unless at a government sponsored Chinese church.) We were able to go occasionally and from there were able to join a small group of couples, but it just wasn’t the same as being able to go to church every week. I missed more weekend church last year than I probably had my entire life previous. Church became a luxury, a sought after event. I hated it – but I realized that was probably a good lesson to experience. Having only ever experienced life on an American public school system calendar, I have never had to sacrifice going to church before.

Being able to participate in church services was a must as Brad and I considered our options for this year. When we voiced that concern last spring to Mei and Mr. Embree they assured us Sundays off. We were thankful and excited about getting back into worshiping with other believers, especially English ones. (It's tough for me to stay focused when I sit through a whole service in a different language.)

Then we got here and realized we WERE the English speaking believers in Daye. Our little school was actually still hoping that we would be able to teach on Sundays since that is one of their busy days. Should we have made Sundays off such a big deal?

We were told there was a church in the city. Brad tried to ask around the office for directions but it was hard for the others to explain them (if they knew at all) so it was up to us to find it on our own. We’ve averaged one good, long walk a week since being here. Two weekends ago we walked in the direction of where Brad thought the church to be. Since he has superhero super directional abilities, of course we found it.

It was about 1:20 on Sunday afternoon. The gate was open a bit at the front of the grounds so we walked through and peeked in the windows and through the smidgen of space between the doors of the sanctuary. A lady walked up behind us and started talking. Even though we can recognize the “Where are you from,” and “what do you do” questions, what she was saying had us at a total loss. She motioned for us to follow her.

She led us to the building behind the sanctuary where she knocked on a couple doors and said something which encouraged people to peek their heads out to look. The man who must be entitled Bearer Of The Keys (in Chinese of course) quickly slipped out of his inside slippers and into his outside shoes and led us back towards the sanctuary where he opened the side door. A few others followed and sat with us inside. They knew enough key words in English and we knew enough key words in Chinese to figure out that the church had three services: 7:00AM, 2:30PM (the lady who initially spoke to us was here for that service) and 8:00PM. Since I was sporting Nike shorts and sweat, I preferred to come back to the later service. They seemed excited to have us back and told us to get there by 7 because it would get crowded (…we think…).

We got there a couple minutes before 7:00 and were the first ones to arrive. We were quickly greeted with water by this sweet older lady who we realized later was the gatekeeper. She spoke no English. A few minutes later we were greeted by Jenny, who knew enough English to explain that she had been through seminary in Wuhan. The older lady left and came back a few minutes later with a bag of little green oranges. Jenny left a few minutes after and came back
with….um… something else. The older lady also gave us her Bible covered in dark pink felt. After showing her our own, she accepted hers back. There aren’t many times when China reminds me of Ghana, but this was one of the times it has. People in the church being so happy you’re there they bring you whatever they have as a gift.

By 7:10, 20 people had arrived. At 7:15 we
started singing out of the hymnal. The music leader sang a few notes and the congregation mimicked his notes. I tried to mimic. I thought I was so cool, learning to sing in Chinese.

That is until I realized I recognized the sounds a little too well - he was teaching the song using solf├Ęge syllables! My 9th grade chorus teacher would have been so proud. Also like my 9th grade chorus teacher, he was a stickler for making sure everything was right! If he thought the congregation wasn’t singing up to par, he shook his head from side to side, sang it again and made them repeat. “Ra-me-fa-so-sooo.” It wasn’t until much later when he trusted them enough to let them sing the words. He continued to correct as needed.

By 7:30 there were 80 people. We started to hear the choir practicing in the foyer. Their sound competed with the sound of the congregation singing the SAME SONG they had for the past 15 minutes. As Brad put it, "they're bringing it, aren't they!?"

At 7:45 (125 people?) the piano player started accompanying the congregation on their sole hymn, taking the music leader by surprise. He flipped around to see what was going on behind him. I guess he didn’t feel his people were ready. A few
minutes after that the choir had their processional down the middle aisle, sang a couple songs and then exited to the right to find their reserved seats.

Around this same time we met the evening’s preacher. Since he’s an English teacher at a nearby high school, he came to chat with us for a second. He’s been part of this church for 20 years (this specific building has been here for 13) and is a volunteer preacher on a monthly basis. He said he used to teach Chinese, but about 20 years ago he started to teach himself English, and has been teaching English to high schoolers ever since. His English was actually pretty good – impressive! He then excused himself and went up the stage to prepare for his 8:00 start.

I seized the opportunity of a minute sans Chinese/English conversation to snap a picture. The music leader started talking to the congregation. Apparently he was alerting everyone to our presence. As I lowered the camera after not finding a suitable scene, I noticed Brad waving. I wondered to whom he was waving and looked up to see everyone turned and staring at us. Nice. The congregation turned back around. A boy about 4 on his grandpa’s lap, in a row close to us, started blowing kisses to Brad. Brad blew kisses back. The boy returned the kisses again and then giggled. His grandpa laughed, squeezed him in a hug, and curled him up on his lap.

The minister started his sermon. The music leader came to the pew to the left and in front of us, smiled at me, and sat down. The minister acknowledged his two non-Chinese speakers by calling out in English the text of the sermon. We quickly flipped to Matthew 15. The orange giver - gatekeeper had been sitting all along one row behind us to our left. She leaned forward and peeked at my Bible. “Yingyu, English,” I replied. She repeated my words and smiled and then pointed in her Bible to the number 11. The music leader, sensing that something was going on behind him (that most likely needed his attention) turned to be involved in our conversation. I pointed to chapter 15 and said “she-woo (15).” The leader nodded and smiled. The woman waved her hand and went back to pointing at her Bible. She then leaned forward and turned my Bible pages back for me to find chapter 11. She pointed to chapter 11 and smiled. The music leader grimaced at her, waved his hand in front of her face, and helped my pages find their way back to chapter 15. She sat back and turned ahead a few pages in her Bible. Having figured everything out, we all leaned back in our separate seats and finally started to listen.

Jenny had situated herself directly in front of us. Every now and again she turned around and translated as best she could. “Faith is built on God’s Word which is good and right…’Lord help me’ is a beautiful prayer from your heart…Pray from the heart and spirit. Worship from the heart and spirit… Love, hope, believe.”

Love, hope, believe.

Here’s looking to many more Sabbaths off from work.

pictured above: bearer of the keys is the sole gentleman, next to him is the gatekeeper, me, jenny is in the front in the short-sleeved sweater over the black and white shirt, jenny's daughter (English name = Sophia) is next to her.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

DaYe = Big Smelter

Monday, October 1st was National Day. Last year we were given a week off from work for this holiday, which was when we went to visit our friends in Hangzhou and heard the awesome house band sing “Enter Sandman” as close to perfectly as China can get. This year we were scheduled two days off. It seems our little school only closes for Spring Festival / Chinese New Year in late January; otherwise different teachers have off different holidays. (What, am I a nurse now?)

When public schools are not in session (i.e. summers, weekends and holidays) is when training schools like ours have their busy season. The plan was to have an outside, ‘public’ class on both Saturday and Sunday, the weekend preceding National Day. Instead, the rain started on Friday and didn’t stop for 3 days. Our outside classes were canceled and in turn so was our school. We were all given 4 days off, Sat-Tues., instead of two. Our actual class schedules were rearranged and the public classes were postponed until the following Wednesday. (They ended up being fun and hilarious at the same time.)

After we were told on Friday that we would have the next FOUR DAYS off from school Brad and I hit the internet in search of the most convenient and CHEAPEST trip possible. Many flights to nearby cities were full and everything not booked was so incredibly expensive. We were told by our sweet new friend and coworker Silla that buses and train tickets would be hard to access as well, unless we wanted to stand on the train the whole time which most Chinese do. We didn’t.

We were asked by a girl in charge late Friday afternoon, “So where will you go?” We disappointingly told her our findings and she then informed us many people travel during this holiday and we should have bought our tickets a month ago. She recommended that for Spring Festival we buy our tickets earlier. Thanks. This conversation was repeated almost exactly first thing Wednesday morning. Thanks again.

Mei, the school’s Chinese headmaster, who was actually in Beijing, felt badly we had so many days off in such a small city (a mere 800,000), so she contacted her brother, also the school’s driver, and scheduled things for us to do on Sunday and Monday. This was SO nice of her.

We were told to be ready and outside at the road by 8:30 Sunday morning in order to be picked up for the Daye Copper Museum. We were. A bit past 9:00 we walked back inside and thought there was a mix-up in communication. (Brad had tried to call Mei, but her phone was turned off.) I was secretly okay with this as it was a rainy day and I had a book to start reading (this is no offense to any Chinese, I found out last year I’m an introvert so it’s totally cool). I put on my comfy clothes and settled in for the morning. Then the phone rang and they were here. hmmmmm

Mr. Embree has bought this little matchbox van (how I envision it) for the school. He told Mei it looks like a toy car. She finds this comment hilarious and has repeated it to us on more than one occasion. It has four regular car doors, but the back seat doors open up to two bench seats, the first being a two-person seat, the back being for three. A huge JUST ENGLISH logo is able to be EASILY read over the red paint... by anyone a good mile away. :)

We assumed we were going to be taxied there and home. When Brad opened the door and stepped in, the car was full except for the two-person seat for us. The driver and his wife were in the front and there were three teens and one 6 year-old smashed all in the back.

Brad: Oh my! Shen-ma-ye-se??? (What is this?)

Reaction: giggling

Brad: (to the kids in the back) Who are you?

One of them: I am fine, thank you, and you?

Dana: (thinking I was being polite, I posed Brad’s question my way, with a smile. My mom would have been so proud.) Hi, I’m Dana.

Girl teen: I know (sweet, alright... your name's top secret. i get it.)

Turned out Mei’s son (16) was with us as well as her niece and niece’s boyfriend (both 20) home from college for the week. The 6-yr-old was the driver’s son. We were dropped off for the museum tour with the kids, as the parents stayed behind in the car. It worked out well actually, because they knew their way around the grounds of the museum and knew enough English to help explain a few things.

I thought the museum was pretty cool. I was a dork and took down notes. The others must have been wondering what I was doing for I overheard Brad explain to them, “We’re history teachers in America… blah, blah blah,” but even he laughed at me and took a picture to prove my nerdiness. (No worries, I’m totally cool with my inner nerd as well.)

Did you know that there’s a special kind of plant nicknamed “copper grass” that grows over copper mines? That was one of three ways ancient Chinese knew there was copper underground. How cool is that? Something else that’s cool is that it turns out Daye was the “original site of the Chinese bronze culture.” The first copper mine in ancient China may have been this one in Daye! It seems that archeologists found the site in 1976 and excavated it which then “explained important historic puzzles about …copper in the Chinese bronze dynasty.” Who knew?

After the museum we were taken to Mei’s sister’s house for lunch. They made sure I ate veggies, fish, and tofu because it was good for the baby. Not too long after lunch they sent us home so the baby could rest. Nice – this baby thing’s not too shabby…and totally helps out my inner introvert!

The next day the same group (minus a son in exchange for a cousin) went climbing (as much climbing as one does walking up stairs) up the small mountain in the city.This of course was wonderful.
We climbed to the top of this tower looking thing. They forgot to install an elevator. On the way down I tried to count the stairs, I got distracted somewhere after 100 and lost count.

Highlight of the day was when we tried to get the lady selling snacks to eat one of our apples with peanut butter on it. She was very hesitant and had to think about it for a while. I looked away to give her some privacy for her tough decision. When I snuck a peak a few seconds later half the apple was gone.
Great Success.

Not too shabby of a vacay. Shout out to Mao, and a big thanks to Mei and her sweet family.

Monday, October 3, 2011


We were able to spend a few days in Shanghai on the way into Wuhan. The hotel where we stayed was conveniently located in the middle of the airport. We picked up our luggage, divided them onto two carts, and rolled them straight into our hotel room. Nice!

We got to our room between 2-3 PM and immediately crashed. I woke up somewhere between 1-3 AM (Brad of course continued sleeping peacefully) and read a little out of my What to Expect When You’re Expecting book. Unfortunately, I read a long excerpt on the importance of healthy eating as I snacked on a bag of candy corn. It wasn’t enough to make me part with the candy corn, as the Halloween sweet was my source of American comfort in a faraway place, but I at least started to take smaller itty-bitty bites and let each morsel hang out in my mouth just a tad bit longer.

The next two days we spent touring the city. A tram / subway stop was right at our hotel in the airport.

  • Shanghai was HOT.
  • There were SO.MANY.PEOPLE. everywhere.
  • There were a lot of foreigners walking around so no special attention was on us; we were still treated as being somewhat normal.
  • There were just as many Starbucks in Shanghai as any big US city. I rationed my preggo-daily caffeine intake to be a tall (small) coffee (light) frappachino. Oh how that was the very best part of both days…. I’m closing my eyes and remembering my last tastes of real coffee… please excuse for a minute…. Any ideas on how to send me a smokin’ hot Starbucks pumkin spice skim latte? I’ll be your best friend…. Can you wrap it up in a football game-day schedule?
  • Starbucks was our only refuge. It was still hard for us to find western-style food to eat the second day. We were told by one China door man that the city had no western food. I didn't 100% believe him, but I was tired, hungry and preggo. Hungry won out.

The days in Shanghai really were great, the first especially. We got on the tram and traveled close to an hour I would say to the center of the city, but at least we had a seat since we were an early stop. We walked down touristy streets, filled with Chinese and non-Chinese faces and strolled into whatever shop we wished. The streets were clean, there was a blue sky overhead (which amazed Brad the most), and the air was devoid of the overwhelming aromas that often plague a busy Chinese city or small town. I allowed my nose to breath at will.

We got back on the tram after dinner each night. OH.MY.LADY.GAGA. there were so many people. About 2/3rds of the way back to the hotel everyone (practically) on the tram had to get off, walk across and get on the opposite one to continue going in the right direction. If you ran fast enough and pushed your way around the crowd, you could hopefully find a seat on tram #2. Night #1, I waited patiently to get off the subway and board the next. Night #2, I knew better and my feet thanked me immensely. Brad finally found a seat next to me about 3/4ths of the way back home at which time I promptly fall asleep on his shoulder.

The airport was the last stop at which time our weary feet made the final trek up the subway stairs and toward the direction of our room. We crashed immediately by 8PM or so… and then I woke up somewhere between 1-3 AM.

Will someone please send me a new bag of candy corn? I promise to take super small bites.