CHINA JOURNAL‹Friday, April 19 through Sunday, April 21, 2002
What a wonderful day this (Sunday) has been. Before I tell why, let me dispose of Friday and Saturday.
Friday morning I was at the office working on the WTO proposal papers. On the way there I saw the first group of draft animals I've seen in townŠfour big mules pulling four big carts loaded with a heavy looking load of bricks on their way to a construction site. They walked in the bicycle lane rather than the car lanes. The carts are built so that the back end is lower than the front end, almost like stair steps. And I just heard that there are cats in Tianjin, but they are all house cats so you never see them outside. The Chinese have disciplined themselves well to avoid huge numbers of wild cats. Zhang Ji Sheng came home with, of all things, two rabbits! These are about the size the Easter ones would be if they had lived, but are as coal black as the Easter ones were snow white. Poor little things.
At the office we heard the sad tale of how Sun Zhi Hong lost US$4000 to a pickpocket in Holland at a quick food stand while he was rushing to get on a train. He carries his money in a leather container similar to a lady's envelope shaped purse. I was flabbergasted that he was (1) carrying that much cash, and (2) that he carried it in a loose bag rather than hidden on his body. He does it around China all the time, but it displays a naiveté about foreign travel. No wonder he doesn't understand my push to find out about the availability of ATM machines in Tianjin. They are so limited in their locations (tourist hotels) that the general populace is probably not even aware of that great service but American teachers coming over certainly want to use them.
The China Daily (which I actually got four days in a row this week) had a revealing comment by Li-Ping who is the top legislator in China. He is quoted as saying, ``Šparliaments are an important part of a country's political system and a bridge between people and government.'' Contrast that to the U.S. where the parliament (Congress) IS the government (at least 1/3 of it).
Saturday we spent all dayŠand I mean ALL day, from 8:30 to 6:15 at the office. I was getting the proposals sent out to all my friends and researching other sites where it could be posted. It was very frustrating because I filled in all the information to post it on the first site and came to the end where it should refer people to our website for further informationŠand Mr. Fung had not gotten that set up yet. So I had to delete all that I had written. Grrr. The desk where I work is really too high to be comfortable for a computer. By the end of the day my shoulders and back really ached. Cui Hua gave me a good karate chop treatment for the few minutes while we waited for everyone to gather to leave. We drove for quite a distance in a part of town that was new to me and ended up at the Tianjin Home Club. It looks just like a Home Club in California, except that I can't read the labels. The other big difference was the check-out line. It was very inefficient. There is very small counter space to pile your goodies. The clerk scans them and then sets them on the other side in a very small counter space where the customer is packing them. The space is so small that, with a big load, the customer really needs to be working at both ends of the basket, and the lane is too small to pass next to the basket. Then when you show your card and pay, the clerk leaves the station for quite a long time. He finally comes back, enters something in the register, and gives you your change. So at any one time, half of the clerks are away from their stations and the people are waiting quite patiently.
We came home around 8:15 (a twelve hour day) to a late supper. Zhang Jie followed me into my room when I left the table and motioned for me to lie down. She gave me a fantastic massage for almost a half hour. It was just what I needed and felt so good. The Chinese really know how to give a good and varied massage.
Yesterday while Liu Yong and I were working together, one of the questions on the teacher proposal that came up was about the availability of church services in English at the Catholic Church. Sun Zhi Hong had stated definitively that there were none, but I knew that he had not telephoned. It turns out that Liu Yong's mother-in-law had been a member of that church and so his wife (who is not Catholic) had gone to that church several times with her mother. I mentioned how much I'd like to go there sometime. He called and, before I knew it, we were going to go to the 7:30 (biggest service and with music) the next morning! He even checked it out with Fu Ling.
Liu Yong and his charming, attractive, and intelligent wife Liu Xiang Qiang picked me up at 6:50 this morning. Her father, who just died two weeks ago, was a professor of English at Tianjin University but she doesn't speak any English. We drove downtown to the large church that I had seen at the end of Bin Jiang Dao street. The scene outside was like the courtyard of the old Jerusalem churches as we always show them in pictures. Here were the lame and the blind, sitting or standing around quietly waiting for offerings of money. The sign still indicates it is a Catholic church, even a cathedral. There were throngs of people and, by the time the service started, there were people standing in the aisles. Between their four services, three in the morning and one in the evening, around 2,000 people attend each week of all ages. Christianity is alive and well in China!
The church was built in 1915, designed by a French architect after an existing French church. In the patio is a large, high stone grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes with many flowers placed around. In the car on the way down, Liu Yong had said that there was also Christian church close by. He described the difference as the Christian church is about Jesus and the Catholic church is about Mary. Inside it looks like a European cathedral with three aisles, two side wings, a semicircular apse, and tall columns. The coloring is very FrenchŠcream with pale blue and light turquoise with a touch of rose. The seats are hard, narrow wooden benches with straight backs and are not bolted down. The columns on either side leading into the altar have large statues. The one on the left is Joseph (not Mary) holding Baby Jesus. The one on the right is St. Theresa. On the wing to the left is the large Jesus statue. The wing on the right has the large Mary statue. You cannot see the statues in the wings from the main part of the church, only if you enter the fairly small wings. Back in the apse was the tall altar table holding the host in a large white draped cabinet. On top of it was a tall stone canopy which enclosed the cross (not a crucifix). On either side were two semi-circular empty niches which would each normally hold a statue. Each of the niches was outlined in small light bulbs (like the lighting around a make-up table). The free standing Eucharist table had a painting of The Last Supper on it. Hanging high above that table was a huge crown like the ones in paintings. Four long red drapes came from the crown and were swung to the four columns.
When we entered the church at about 7:20 the only seats we found were on the front row (no kneeling benches available there). There was lovely chanting going on. A leader in the back choir loft sang an opener and the answering chant went on for quite awhile. Then at some signal I couldn't identify, it stopped and a new one began. Just before it was time for the service to begin, colored lights all over the hanging crown lit up looking like jewels and the lights all around the altar went on. There were people who chose to spend the whole service at the kneeling rail, where all spaces were taken. There was a choir and organ in the back loft. A group of about ten boys from ages six to sixteen came in wearing white robes and red shoulder capes. Then came six girls in white robes. Finally the procession which included the priest came from the side front around the kneeling rail in front of us to the middle aisle and up in place. There were no altar girls, only altar boys.
When the offering was taken, the altar boys each picked up a very long pole with a yard deep velvet bag hanging at the end and started through the crowd. They seemed to simply scan the people and if anyone looked like they wanted to put something in they stuck out the bag. To bring it forward, they came in twos with their poles crossed high in front. They laid them on the floor in front of the Eucharist table still crossed. There were two songs whose melodies I knew, both Easter songs. One was ``Christ the Lord is Risen Today.''
The service was the comfortably generic Catholic service that can be recognized and basically followed in any language. The girls did the scripture readings and Chinese students, unlike most American students, know how to use a microphone well and project clearly. The serving of the Eucharist was interesting because there were so many to be served. The main priest served almost everyone himself. Two other priests materialized whom I had not seen helping before. They each served just a very few, which didn't quite make sense to me. The main priest had the same styrofoam wafers our churches often use, placed in the cup in such a way that they apparently touched the wine. He never stopped walking. At every other step he put a wafer in someone's mouth while the altar boy held a tray under it and moved right with him. Lines three deep formed in back of people who were kneeling, and as soon as someone was served he stood up and the next person moved in. The altar rail is marble, which stains easily, so a white cloth was hung down on the inside of the altar rail. When the Eucharist was being served, people pulled the white cloth up and over to cover the railing and their folded hands.
After the Mass was over, the priest and retinue recessed out the side, but nobody moved. Some men moved the Eucharist table to the side and dropped red kneeling pads in a large semicircle in front of the apse. Then the priest and retinue processed in again, this time with all the altar boys holding candle stands as tall as themselves. They all came in and knelt on the pads forming a semi-circle of red capes and tall burning candles with the priest front and center before the host container. The priest brought what I think of as a reliquary (all my terms may be off base) out and then knelt in front of it for quite awhile. The choir sang and organ played. Then the people sang. The reliquary was like a golden starburst on top of a small stand with a blue glass center for the relic. Two altar boys hold the sides of the beautifully embroidered stole out to make a semicircle in which the priest swings very smoky incense. Eventually they fold the cape up over his shoulder, he stands up and, holding the relic stand in his cape-enfolded hands, displays it to the congregation. When I asked what their relic was, someone said the body of Jesus.
Liu Xiang Qiang had invited a friend to join us, a Mr. Shao, a man in his fifties who is a long time member of the church. We walked around with him afterwards as he pointed out various points of interest. He took us in to the priest's office. People kept coming in to get a newly purchased religious item blessed, which he did quite graciously and efficiently with a cross and a kiss. The priest speaks English. In fact, it turns out, he has a bilingual service at 10:00, and would very much like to have me help the scripture readers improve their English pronunciation. (I told him I was willing if we could find a time.) Sitting on the floor in his office, propped against a wall, was a stunning, modern painting of a Madonna and child depicted as Chinese in traditional clothes. It always disappoints me in a non-western country when all the pictures in the church or for sale in the store are the typically western style religious art. It looked like any Catholic bookstore anywhere. While there were a few crucifixes for sale in the store, I saw none in the church itself.
I tried to find out the relationship to the Roman Catholic church. He showed me that he had a picture of the pope on his desk and assured me that this was, indeed, a Catholic church. However, I notice that when I ask certain questions, people's ability to understand English often conveniently decreases, so I am still not sure of the status of the church in ChinaŠand I doubt that it will be clear to me before I leave.
The four of us eventually went across the street to have a cup of tea and visit. It was a most interesting conversation that went back to the beginnings of Christianity in China in the 1500's (Ming Dynasty) when the Jesuits came and one Matteo Ricci, studied the Chinese culture, felt that Buddhism was not a religion and could live compatibly with Christianity, took on Chinese dress and a Chinese name, and became a favorite of the emperor's, respected for his great knowledge. Liu Yong was translating all this back and forth and mentioned how much he was learning. When we got to Buddhism, he said that now we were in his territory and he knew about it. I felt free to ask questions about the practice of Christianity today and about the attitude of the government. Basically, the government tolerates churches as long as they are registered. If, however, you are seen to be having gatherings of church people outside the church setting they get suspicious and the activity is stopped. So apparently the International Fellowship is closed to Chinese not because of the Christian religion but rather because of the government's fear about what is being discussed by these foreigners that might corrupt the Chinese. They all turned to me for clarification about the relationship of the Catholic church to the Christian church, as they call it, and both of their relationships to Mary and Jesus. It was a stimulating discussion.
Mr. Shao left and Liu Yong called Fu Ling to tell her we would be going to lunch. We then drove to a restaurant near their home (which isn't far from the Zhang's home). Their 17 year old son, Liu Ming Yong, joined us. He was delightfulŠhad a wonderful smile and a very open way about him. He was a bit shy with his English at first, and papa kept telling him to open up and to keep talking. Finally I laughingly told papa to just stay out of this; that we were just fine. And we were. Liu Ming Yong and I hit it off well. He was asking questions about a variety of things. After we had discussed something, I told him to translate that back for his mother (which gave is dad a chance to hear if he had really understood what I said.) We went back to their apartment, which is the smaller size, and continued the conversation. Suddenly Liu Xiang Chiang let out a whoop. It was 2:20 and she was supposed to be at work at 2:00. We were all having such a good time that she hadn't noticed what time it was. Liu Yong quickly drove her to work while Liu Min Yong and I talked about his photographs from a trip.
I was getting ready to leave when Liu Ming Yong got out his guitar which he is learning on his own and played a piece. That got us discussing instruments. Liu Yong got out his er-hu, a two stringed instrument with the bow permanently attached between the strings. He put on a CD ``to hide any mistakes he made'' and played along with a perfectly beautiful song. He is very accomplished player. It turns out that in school he had been first chair er-hu. He had applied for music school, but it was during the years when your whole family background was investigated to see if you were worthy. He had an uncle who lived in Hong Kong, so he was suspect and was not given a spot.
We finally did leave and, as we were leaving the complex past the clubhouse, Liu Yong stopped the car because he could hear Peking opera. So we got out and went in. In this big housing complex there are instrumentalists and former Peking opera singers. Every Sunday afternoon they get together in the clubhouse and perform. There were three different string instruments, two bowed and one plucked, a drummer whose beat led the group, and three cymbal players, each with a different cymbal type of instrument with its own unique sound. There was one man singer, and one lady singer. They use the very affected type of voice, particularly the woman's. This was the real thing and it was fascinating. Liu Yong said they are fairly good for that type of amateur group.
Finally we went home after a very full, delightful day.