CHINA JOURNAL---EASTER SUNDAY, MARCH 31, 2002
Easter Sunday and I had found an International Fellowship to attend. We woke up to a beautiful blue skythe first Iıve seen (though it disappeared within a few hours.) Fu Ling was worried about my being able to get there by myself, so she arranged for Cui Hua and Zhang Jie to go to church with me. I didnıt fully appreciate the impact of her decision at that time and, as I think about it, Iım not sure she is aware of the possible impact of that decision. Cui Hua figured out the route, and the plan was that Zhang Jie and I would leave the house at 8:30 (for the 10:00 service) and meet Cui Hua at the place where we were to catch the second bus. Zhang Jie seemed excited about going to church for Easter even though she has no real idea what either ³going to church² or ³Easter² means. She came in and asked if she needed to wear a skirt since I had one on.
We met Cui Hua, transferred to another bus and got closer to our destination. Since we were there in plenty of time, we walked around the park, a perfect Easter Sunday activity. Then we took a taxi for the third leg of the trip to church. As we got close I saw a whole procession of Anglo looking families walking toward the church area so I knew we were in the right place. In turns out they were walking from the Sheraton Hotel swimming pool where they had just baptized seven peoplesix children around eight years old and one young Negro man. The Fellowship meets in a large, comfortable, modern auditorium of the Travel University (which apparently trains travel agents and tour guides.) We walked up three floors to the auditorium entrance. A lovely man and woman and two children greeted us and very nicely, and a bit apologetically, asked for our passports. It turns out that ³freedom of religion² in China means that a church can exist only if given registration privileges by the government. The non-denomination Christian International Fellowship is allowed to exist as long as it abides by certain regulations imposed upon it. One is that persons can not attend unless they hold a foreign passport, which meant that Cui Hua and Zhang Jie could not come in. I debated about whether I should just not go in myself, but I realized they had gone to a lot of trouble to get me there so I should stay.
It was a funny sensation because I realize that I had not been around anyone but Chinese since I arrived and had seen only a few Anglos at a distance mostly in tourist spots. Here I was in a room of about 200 blondes and light haired people with lots of little children all dressed up in Easter finery. It was a bit of a disconnect. There were a few blacks and a few Asians, all of whom hold foreign passports. Several of the families had an Asian child who has been adopted and holds a foreign passport. The crowd was definitely on the young side. We had lots of good singing of the old favorite Easter songs and one which was new to me. The man who gave the sermon was excellent. What was different? There was no cross in sight. There was not a single flower. There was no offering taken. At the end of the service, they asked anyone who was there for the first time to stand. There were around a dozen of us. Then they asked anyone who would be leaving on reassignment to stand so people would know and could say goodbye. Then they asked if anyone would be traveling out of the country this week and would be willing to hand carry letters out. (Apparently these three questions are asked weekly.)
Afterwards I talked to the man whose family was sitting next to me. It was a Jim Chalmers from Washington state who has been teaching at a technological school for a year and a half (and they have an Asian daughter). He filled me in on some of the constraints. There is to be absolutely no proselytizing. That I knew. You are not even to talk about religion, although you may answer questions if asked. The church which I had been calling a Catholic church (because that is how the building is identified on a map) is not a Catholic church, because the government wonıt register one since the Catholic church preaches loyalty to the pope. However it is filled every Sunday with apparently Christian worshippers who are Chinese. It is called something like the Three Shapes faith. Iıd like to go there some Sunday, if that is allowed. Jim said that the government doesnıt like you to preach about certain things, such as Revelationsnothing that might foment revolutionary tendencies. I also asked about the little home fellowships I had heard mentioned. He said they are not registered and if a foreigner were to go to one with Chinese and the group was caught it would be closed down. This is why I wondered if Fu Ling realized the full impact of sending the girls with me to church. She very possibly is not aware of the regulations since they are in place to ³protect² her.
When we got out, here were Cui Hua and Zhang Jie out on the grass with lots of little children playing with two tiny white bunnies. Those two dear girls had wanted to get me something for Easter because they knew Easter was special, so while I was in church they bought these two little bunnies and two little purple wire cages to carry them in with a piece of cornbread in each one. Cui Hua said they couldnıt find any colored eggs! It is amazing how much they know about extraneous things. Today on the bus Zhang Jie said, ³Tomorrow April 1st, April Fools². They learned that in middle school. Iım going to keep track of how many days it is before the rabbits outgrow their little cagesif they live that long.
I had invited them for lunch after church, thinking we would try the Sheraton Hotel. I was curious to see what the menu was like in China and to give them a different experience, as they have been giving me. The Sheratonıs restaurant wasnıt operating so we kept walking and found a very nice Japanese restaurant. Neither of the girls had ever eaten Japanese food! We were in a little alcove (the bunnies on the floor) next to a table that had a Japanese man who has been here a month and is teaching Japanese to his companion, a darling girl around the age of Cui Hua and Zhang Jie. We had a charming conversation going in English, Japanese, and Chinese with no one speaking more than two of the languages. The Japanese man spoke no more Chinese than I and a similar amount of English, so his student would translate his Japanese into Chinese and Cui Hua would take it on into hesitant English. Great fun. The waitresses were all dressed in the Japanese kimonos, but they were Chinese. I asked about that when I realized they were making a lot of noise with their clog shoes because they walked like the Chinese instead of sort of sliding along quietly like the Japanese women are trained to do from birth.
From there we walked to the Tianjin Radio and Television Tower, which is a tall landmark seen from all over the city. It was built in 1999 and, at that time, was the tallest in Asia and the third tallest one in the world. Since then Shanghai has built a taller one. This one is slightly lower than the Empire State building in New York. It is erected in a large water pool where they have a very large fountain that dances in the summer. We had just finished eating what the Chinese would call a fairly expensive mealY150 (around $19 dollars for the three of us) but the entry to go into the tower for the three of us was also Y150. I think the common people donıt get to go to the tourist sights which are all around that price. We took the elevator up 14 floors (but there were no stops where a person would get out). The first floor of this satellite way up high was called the ³Bird View Gallery² with a 360 degree enclosed walk around. From there we walked up quite a few stairs, past the working technical floors, to the 360 degree restaurant which rotates slowly. Then we walked up another few sets of stairs to the open air 360 degree view. It is encircled with an open grill enclosure for protection. All around were little locks that had been locked onto the grate. These are memory locks. A boyıs lock is green and a girlıs is red. If they are locked together it means they are a couple. Sometimes there were four locked together. That means either that was placed by a family or a group of four. The latest additions, which you can purchase at the entry, are heart shaped locks. You have a key so you can come back and take a lock off if you change your mind!
Ding Bai and another couple joined us as we left the tower and we all (and the bunnies) got a taxi home. The girl in the other couple, a school friend of Zhang Jieıs, stayed for dinner.
That was my Easter. A really nice day. Such a mixture of feelings was going through my head by the end of the day. Foremost was a feeling of great gratitude that I am privileged to live in a country where I am free to worship or not worship God in my own way. I realize how very risky that can be for people who live in a country where the leadership is jealous of any devotion given to a higher power than the state. Iıve been praying for real guidance in relation to my talk on holidays, culture and history in the United States. It is impossible to talk about any of those without referring to religion. When I started listing the holidays, I realized anew how completely the fabric of our country is interwoven with religion, even as we defend the rights of many religions to worship freely. So I am praying that I can present the holidays and history in a way that is enlightening, positive, and inviting, without overstepping the bounds set by the government.