Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas is for Shopping...

Every year that I'm in China over the holiday season, Christmas becomes more and more commercialized. In 2003, there was barely a mention of Christmas. It was all about the upcoming Chinese New Year. Now you see Christmas trimmings, huge Christmas trees and lights everywhere-especially in public shopping areas. There is even a section of DaHu Tong (A huge wholesale shopping district) which now sells all kinds of gaudy Christmas junk! "What do most Chinese think about Christmas?" I asked my local friend. "Don't you know?" she responded in disbelief. "It's for shopping and giving gifts...and of course for going out with your boyfriend on Christmas Eve to Bin Jiang Dao! That's fun!" I will admit that it is nice to have a little Christmas spirit here as opposed to nothing at all, but Christmas as we know it in the West is nothing like Christmas in China. This year our organization was asked to get associates sing Christmas songs on a huge stage on the busiest shopping street (Bin Jiang Dao) in Tianjin just before midnight. Having been on this street last Christmas and witnessing the craziness of an all-out New Years Eve type of party with 10,000 of your closest Chinese friends, I was not anxious to do that again. But since this was for the organization and we would be receiving both money and publicity for JHF's Special Education Program, I agreed to participate. It was a freezing cold night with 40 mph winds to boot. Because there is no snow here, the organizers has snow machines going to simulate the effect. Unfortunately, the flakes were made of soap, which I didn't find out until after i tried to catch a snowflake on my tongue! Yuck! There were jugglers, magicians, and even Michael Jackson look-alike dancers making merry on the stage. In the crowds. people donned their Santa hats, costumes, devil horns, Halloween and Mardi Gras feathered masks and blinking bunny ears in preparation for a good time. Just before midnight, our "choir" took to the stage to perform. Knowing as foreigners we would have serious "crowd-drawing" power, the officials sent their best 24 Kong fu riot police to stand in front of the stage and hold back the would-be rowdy crowds. When we sang JingBells and the crowd got excited- joining in the singing! We followed up with Joy to the World and whipped up a frenzy and when we got to We Wish You a Merry Christmas (in both English and Chinese) the crowd went wild! We were rock stars, man! Screaming girls, flashing cameras and the TV station filming for a showing at a later date. We counted down the seconds (10, 9, 8....) until 1 and then the cannons shot off millions of little pieces of gold confetti into the air as people shouted "Merry Christmas!" We had to leave the stage for a few minutes and then came back for an encore of Silent Night in multiple languages. People were swaying back and forth holdingup their cell phones, and battery operated lights as if they were really believing the message. This was anything but a Silent Night! These are the times when I realize how foreign I am in this culture and how foreign my beliefs are as well. Sometim es I ask myself how these two world can ever be on the same page with the deep things of life, but that's when I remember that these are not new questions. They have been asked for centuries. This is the very message and mystery of Christmas. Those things that are beyond human understanding have already been taken care of. There is a perfect plan, a perfect child, a love that makes all things new and in the fullness of time it will be seen. In most every culture Santa has his place but...Joy to the World the Lord is Come!


Sunday, December 13, 2009


Although I can't be home for Christmas to enjoy all the celebrating of the season, I have come to the conclusion that Christmas can be celebrated anywhere at any time. Yesterday was the first Christmas party I've ever hosted in China. I invited all the teachers from my school and any of their friends that they wanted to bring. Since my apartment is relatively small, I wasn't sure if it could hold everyone, but I was willing to see just how many we could cram into my living room. This is never a problem for the Chinese. They are used to being crammed into small spaces! Fortunately, there were only 12 of us in total, but it made for a fun time. We had a blast acting out "The 12 Days of Christmas" as we sang the song karaoke style! We had a scavenger hunt race to look all over my apartment for pictures and texts from the Christmas Story and then, after sequencing everything in the right order, we listened as one of the women read it aloud to the group . After some yummy snacks, we made gorgeous glass bead bracelets. This was my Christmas gift to them, drawing analogies about making their bracelet to how they were each created with specific gifts and talents which make them beautiful, and valuable and loved. We laughed, shared, and got answers to questions. We ended the afternoon a "White Elephant" gift exchange, which was actually pretty funny because no one quite understood that "White Elephant" gifts are supposed to be useless, ugly, used things, so people actually brought some not so bad stuff! I will say it was a ton of work putting all of this together, but the truth is, I loved it ...and the result was really great! A lot of gals heard new ideas that they had not heard or understood before and were really touched by the stories and my gift to them. It is easy for me to get sad about not being home with my family, not being able to celebrate with fellowships, and feel lonely being here with only a few other foreigners; but I am really thankful for these opportunities to share the meaning of Christmas with my teachers and other Chinese friends. The greatest gift was already given to me and I am grateful that I have this gift to share with them. It's an amazing gift that money cannot buy...and it's not a "white elephant."


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Noodle Guy

Noodle Guy
Originally uploaded by chinachick61
This guy was showing us his stuff as he made noodles outside a restaurant in Bazhong, a small country village in Sichuan, China. He is probably the owner of the restaurant and not doing this aa a "tourist" thing-because there aren't any tourists in Bazhong...just foreigners like us who come occasionally to do an English camp for the children. This is his job everyday and he's a master at it!


River Rafting in Guilin, China

Originally uploaded by chinachick61
What beautiful scenery in southern China's, Guilin and Yangshuo areas. Living in Tianjin, a city of 12 million, this was a real breath of fresh air...literally! Now this is what I consider "real China."


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Swine Flu or Not- Any Flu Stinks!

I just had a bout with one of the worst cases of flu I’ve ever had. Two and a half days of non-stop misery, including all the trappings of a typical flu. My head felt like it was about to come off of my shoulders and no matter what position I was in, I could not get the rhythmic thumping to stop throbbing inside my skull. The most moving I did was from the bedroom to the bathroom to the couch and back. I was too weak to even make myself if I had an appetite! Was it the dreaded H1N1? Who knows? Two weeks ago our school was shut down and all the students were sent home because of a couple confirmed cases of H1N1. The officials did the typical thing of taking every student’s temperature before they could enter the building. We all lined up to do our duty, sometimes a little too playfully for “such a serious matter,” but I think everyone felt that it was slightly overkill on the part of the powers that be. I experienced shades of this in 2003 when 25,000 students around me were quarantined because of the fear of SARS. Unfortunately for me, that meant I had to go back to the US before I had expected to, which for me was more devastating than having SARS. So this time, I decided to just relax about it, do what I was told and stay home for the 2 weeks. Who’d of thought I would end up feeling like I was hit by a bus! In China when people get sick, they get some standard advise from everyone around them. “Drink more water! Eat some medicine! Get more rest!” If that doesn’t work within a couple of days, people don’t go to private doctors or clinics, but head directly to the hospital. Private places are much too expensive and the hospitals are relatively inexpensive. Just the opposite of the way it is in the States. The standard operating procedure when you walk in the door of the hospital is to register with the department that deals with your specific problem, choose the doctor you want to see-usually based on how much money you want to spend for care, and then have an IV stuck in your arm to hydrate you. You also, will be given “special” medicine to make you feel better. I have no idea what that medicine is, but people expect that if they go to the hospital, these two things will definitely happen. Can you imagine going to the hospital in the US and saying to the doctor, “Ok, where’s my IV and my medicine? Come on. Hurry up, I’m sick you know!” My friend knew I was really sick ( an possibly delirious) when I decided that if I wasn’t better by the 3rd day, I was going to the hospital to get an IV and some medicine! Never in a million years would I have believed that I would say that, but maybe this H1N1 is as bad as they say. As of today, I am definitely on the mend. No, I didn’t need to go to the hospital to be hydrated or eat some of that mysterious Chinese medicine that everyone demands, but I am certainly glad that’s over and I can get back to feeling human again.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

60 Years of Communism

On November 1st, all of China will celebrate National Day. This year is the 60th Anniversary of Communist Party and that is a very big deal! Preparations have been going on for months to make sure this is the biggest celebration ever. You thought the 2008 Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies were elaborate? They pale in comparison to what has been planned for the celebration in Beijing. Security around Beijing (and all over the country for that matter) has been stepped up considerably in the past several months. Popular internet sites like Facebook and YouTube have been blocked as well as tons of blog sites. The only reason I am able to access mine is because a friend of mine purchased a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for me that gives me a US ISP address so I can get around the Great Firewall. The truth is, I’m a little confused by all this. China has become more and more open to media influences and is beginning to establish itself as a developing, stabilizing power on the global scene. So, why the need for such heavy handedness when it comes to the media? I realize there is always some nut job out there that wants to disrupt significant events by doing outrageous things, but please! Shutting down the internet? Having check point miles and miles away from Beijing to ensure that nothing happens? Who is this massive celebration for if no one can get into Beijing to see it. Is it for the people or just for the broadcasters to give the world an image of what a "new China" looks like. I have heard Chinese both applauding the government and criticizing it for this showy display of progress. It gives some a sense of pride in the accomplishments that China has made over the past 60 years. For others, it is an enormous waste of money and resources when the country has so many more pressing issues to deal with. Personally, I think China has changed a lot since the first time I came here in 2003. The development of industry and urban sprawl is mind boggling. Since I live in the city, I can get almost every foreign food import my little heart long as I’m willing to pay the big bucks for it! Travel is easier. I can now live in a Chinese community rather than an ex-pat development and most of the time people are pretty friendly to foreigners. It’s too bad there is still a feeling among officials that controlling things is the only way to get results. Of course, there are still plenty of limitations on things that people are and are not allowed to do. Let’s not forget that China as we know it today is only 60 years old! It has a long way to go in catching up with developed nations that have been functioning as such for many years. Will it happen overnight? Not on your life! With 1.32 billion people it is a big boat to turn and China is being very cautious about how fast and far she wants to go. I think China should be given credit for the progress that it has made, recognizing that the road ahead will require many more changes if progress is to be maintained. Will China ever arrive in its standing as an equal among other developed nations? I believe it will, but I doubt it will be in my lifetime. Although I disagree with the Communist ideals on many levels, I say that we should let China have its day to celebrate, stop being so critical of all that is wrong or things that have not yet changed and encourage China’s leaders to step up and continue making progress. Happy 60th Anniversary, China! Zhongguo Jiayou!


Sunday, September 20, 2009

"Character" Education

I have to be honest and say that for most of my first year of studying Chinese, I was completely clueless. It was all Greek to me! Haha! Seriously, I wondered if I was wasting a lot of time and money trying to learn a language that was far beyond my ability to learn and frankly, I was a little worried that it would never happen for me. By faith (and probably a little stubbornness) I just kept studying, listening, and believing that somehow, someway, it would all come together. Now that I have started my second year of language learning, I am happy to say that I really enjoy learning Mandarin, which is a big relief! I also love the opportunities it gives me to have deep level talks with my teachers. That is really a plus! Actually, Chinese characters makes a lot of sense in the way that they are formed-certainly a lot more sense than how English words are spelled or put together. For example, the Chinese word for home is Jia (written in Pinyin-the Romanized spelling of the character in Chinese) The top part (or radical) of the character represents the roof of a house. The lower part (or radical) of the character represents the pig which is found on the land where the house is. Put the two radicals together and it means “home.” It’s the place where your house and your livestock are. This makes reading and remembering characters easier. If you can learn the radical then you can figure out a lot about a characters and its meaning. Of course, I can remember and read a whole lot more than I can write, but understanding how characters are formed is helpful, and makes learning Chinese interesting, and kind of fun! Writing is a whole different story. Each character has a specific stroke order which must be done correctly, to form the character correctly. This is a very tedious process which takes hours and hours of practice. I know this is something that I really need to do to be proficient, but in the past I have been resistant to the idea. I tried it early on, but after several months of frustration I gave up. I decided that speaking was difficult enough, and although reading was within reach, writing was a totally unrealistic goal. Well, believe it or not I am slowly feeling prompted to change my mind on this. I think I was so overwhelmed my first year with transitioning to a new country, that the task of learning every facet of Chinese was daunting! I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the possibility of actually writing. I mean, come on! Success for me was speaking enough understandable Chinese to survive and get my everyday needs met! Phooey on whether or not it was pretty. A win was a win! Now I’m at the point where I realize that survival Chinese is not good enough! Yes, I can usually remember how to write my name in characters, but big deal! If I really want to be part of this culture and live here indefinitely, I need to embrace language to the fullest! No, I probably won’t be getting a Chinese character tatoo any time soon, but at least I will be able to read what is written on other peoples’ bodies! And if by chance I did decide to get one, I would get something meaningful, not something stupid that I couldn’t even read! So much of a culture is wrapped up in communicating both orally and in writing! Imagine what it would be like to live your life as a functional illiterate. That’s what it’s like for me right now! I can’t read a newspaper, a menu, street signs or a simple notice on my door. It’s really hard! Not only that, but think about what it would be like being illiterate in America. Think of all the things you would never know about American culture and American people if you couldn’t read the great books of literature like the Bible, the poets, and the historic accounts of how our nation was founded! Yes, I have been re-thinking this whole language idea. If I am here to love and serve the people of China, then I need to really show it in my language learning. For me, this is the true meaning of “Character” education! It will definitely develop my “character” as I literally learn to read and write Chinese characters and i am in the process of writing my own legacy here by the way I live my keep encouraging me to "Write on!"


Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Futility of "Why?"

It’s always been in my nature to be curious, to discover the ins and outs of how things work and to question why this is so. In this respect I’m like a perpetual 3 year old, always pushing the envelope and I suppose getting on peoples’ nerves by asking sometimes unanswerable questions. Well, if it’s true that curiosity killed the cat, than I really must have 9 lives, because living in China has given me tons more opportunities to seek answers for some seemingly strange behavior.

They say that every behavior is communication and I know this is true. Behavior communicates our deepest values, beliefs, our underlying cultural assumptions and our personal ideas. Different cultures have different ways of expressing these things and believe it or not, within the context of the culture, these behaviors usually make sense.
The trick for me (and every other foreigner) is to put aside my own cultural framework and try to see the world with a different set of glasses. Not an easy task!

I want to know why~

1. People write on their hand to show me the character they are talking about instead of writing it down on a piece of paper, so I will have it available when I need it again… especially since most of the time I don’t know the characters anyway.

2. It is OK to hold a baby over a public sink to urinate when everyone will have to use the same sink to wash their hands after they go to the bathroom.

3. I have to take part in the “Human Amoeba” process of getting on a train, being pushed and shoved everywhere, when everybody has a ticket with a numbered seat already waiting for them to sit in.

4. It’s OK to tell me how fat I am, but it’s not OK to openly talk about relational issues, an impending death of a loved one, or to cry in public.

5. People think it’s OK to publicly hack, spit, pee, pick their nose, fart, or launch snot rockets wherever or whenever they feel they need to. I mean seriously! Who does that?

6. People would rather send me in the wrong direction, than admit that they have no idea where the place is that I just asked them about.

Can I explain all the reasons behind the behaviors that seem to drive me crazy in this new culture? Definitely Not! But I have come to the conclusion that it is futile to be constantly asking “why?” After being in China for just over a year now, I have switched my questioning strategy to something much more practical. More and more I am beginning to ask, “What?” ….and I don’t mean “What the @#%& is this all about?” I try to ask myself what this behavior means in this context. What does it say about China, the culture, the belief system and values? What are the assumptions I’m making from my own cultural framework that are making this behavior difficult for me to understand or accept? What am I supposed to learn about Chinese people and what am I learning about myself in the process? I am sure of one thing. I will never figure out all the whys or whats of any culture…my own included, but I know that if I am going to call this my home I sure need to keep trying!


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Shower of Shame

I never believed that I could have a more embarrassing moment than accidentally flashing the beach over Waikiki when my top flew up over my face while skydiving in Hawaii - but alas, I was wrong! I now have a new chapter in Lindy’s Most Embarrassing Moments.

While teaching at an English camp in Sichuan, China, (where I apparently was the only American foreigner ever to grace that part of the countryside) I found a new source of shame…the public shower. This was an earthquake affected area with no running water, no toilet facilities, and only one public shower spot for the entire surrounding area. As a privacy conscious American, I had been resisting the idea of showering with a bunch of Chinese strangers. For two days I had held my ground, but by the end of the third day of 90 degree humidity, I couldn’t stand my own stench. I decided to sneak down to the showering area at 5:30 pm when I knew most everyone would be eating. The first day, I met with success and I welcomed the cold water on an extremely hot, sweaty day. I thought I had found a way to beat the system and avoid curious onlookers, so I decided to do the same the following day.

Just as I was getting my long hair into a bubbly lather, I heard the blood curdling screams coming from the other side of the shower room. “Waiguoren! Waiguoren! Lai ba! Lai ba!” Which loosely translated means, “Hey ya’ll! Come! Come and see the foreigner!” I started freaking out, washing the shampoo out of my hair as quickly as I could knowing that I was slated to be the naked evening entertainment for whoever was in earshot of the invitation. I was just as horrified to be standing there naked in front of 6 women who had hurried into the shower room to see what the commotion was all about, as they were to get the full on view of my full moon over Miami! It was bad enough that I could understand parts of what they were saying about my extremely white skin and my fat behind, but when they started stripping off their clothes and beckoning me to come back into the shower with them so they could wash my back, I just about lost it.

Granted, this kind of invitation and showering practice is common, (especially, in rural China) but all I wanted to do at that moment was close my eyes, click my wet heels together and chant, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home….” Unfortunately, I am not equipped with those kinds of magical red shower slippers and the reality of laughing Chinese women around me, poking my flab was all too real. I threw on my clothes and fled the scene, wet hair flying as I bolted out the door just yards away to my room. I could still hear the playful women having fun in the shower and probably wondering why the foreigner was so rude and acting so strangely. All I wanted to do was sit on my bed in fetal position and rock until the memory went away. As I write, no such luck yet. I am confident that I will never again have the guts to go into a public shower- no matter how rank I get. I am also confident that those Chinese village women will have many stories to tell their families, their grandchildren and great grandchildren about the fat, white, naked foreigner… for years to come. Please tell me it can’t get any more embarrassing than that!


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Posts to begin again soon!

For those of you who followed Lindy's blog posts in the past....keep checking! We've found a way to continue to share with you some of Lindy's cultural experiences while she lives in China. Hopefully posts will begin again regularly in a couple of weeks. If you'd like to view pictures of Lindy's summer exploits go to


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

I am so glad that someone, somewhere decided that mothers should be given an honorary day to be celebrated. Seriously! I am blessed to have the best mother on the planet, (which I know she will be mortified to see in print) but sorry Mom...I'm not taking it back or somehow downplaying the facts. I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks their mom is the best, but since this is my blog, I can say anything I want. :)

I don't think I every really appreciated my mom's influence in my life until I had my own children. I never thought about all the lunches she packed everyday for 5 kids, the clothes that she sewed, the hot meals that we had every night, or the laundry that magically got done before I knew that I was out of clean clothing. I didn't get the fact that she sacrificed her time day and night to care for not only my physical needs, but also for my emotional and spiritual needs. If I was upset about something, I knew that my mom would be there to listen to me-and even if she didn't agree she would find a way to give me advise or correct me without breaking my spirit.

I can remember the day that my son, Ryan was born and how clueless I was about what it meant to be a mother. When the nurse came in to tell me that Ryan needed to be fed and changed, I looked around for my mom (as if it was her job to do it) and thought, "OK, now what do I do? Where's my mom? She always knows what to do." Suddenly, I realized that I was the mom and this was my responsibility. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders and for the first time ever I said to myself, "Wow! You've been a real jerk to your mom...never appreciating her, not helping her, or showing her the respect she deserves." From that moment on, I had a different kind of love for my mom. I saw her as a person not just as someone who was there to meet my childish needs.

I suppose this sort of epiphany happens all the time for first time mothers, but it was life changing for me. Not only did I begin to honor my mom more, but I wanted to be the same kind of mother my mom had been for me. Fourteen months later, I had my daughter, Lacey, so my family was complete and I was only 22 years old!
I can honestly say that I didn't do a very good job raising them for the first 12 or 13 years of their lives...and I'm not being hard on myself. I was just young, immature and selfish. I had so much to learn!! I tried my best, but I had a lot of my own stuff to overcome. I didn't have the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom but I had watched my mom, so I always had an idea of what I should be striving for. When my kids entered high school, I finally found peace with myself and God. That's when things took a drastic turn. It was like the light finally went on and I discovered how much I loved being a mom to these two great kids I had been blessed with. This is something I am truly grateful for because I know my mom was a part of that as well. I know she was praying for me and loving me from afar even living two states away.

Today I don't mind saying that I think I'm a pretty good mom. My kids know I love them beyond words and I am there for them no matter what-even if I am in China. I pray for them and love them from afar, just like my mom did for me. I know what it means to put yourself last, to sacrifice out of love-not duty, to always believe the best in your kids, to encourage them and honor them and believe that the best is yet to come for them and for their children. Although, I don't know if my legacy as a mother will ever be for my daughter what my mom's is for me, but I'm satisfied knowing I did the best I knew how and never quit trying.

So today, to honor you Mom, I want to publicly say 'Thank you! Without you I wouldn't be who I am today, and my life would never be as sweet! You're the best!"


Monday, April 13, 2009

Happy Easter!

Fu Huo Jie Kuaile! Happy Easter! In Chinese Fu (re-again) Huo (Live/life) Jie (Day). Yesterday was the first time I have attended an Easter Sunday service at the local Three Self Chinese Church. This is the official government church where Chinese believers or curious others are allowed to freely come and practice their religion within the boundaries given by government. Where I live, a large Christian church and a Catholic church are available. Being Easter, the service was a special one with Easter music sung by three different children’s choirs.
I also hear other traditional hymns and the Halleluiah Chorus. It was beautiful. There was an Easter message of victory, new life and hope given by the pastor and finally a public baptism service. Since baptism is a once a year event, cameras and video cameras were allowed. We went to the 2nd service so we saw the “sprinkling” baptism of more than 70 people. Apparently, there was also a “dunking” service with more than 100 others! It was a touching sight to behold.
In my mind, I kept thinking about all the times that I had been told (and had told others) that Chinese citizens didn’t have the freedom to worship publicly and were forced to hide out to express their faith. Had that been untrue? Well, yes and no! It depends on which area of the country you live in, who the government officials are, and what’s being enforced. Sound complicated? It is! Most people in China have the option of going to the government church. It is a structure designed by the government, lead by trained pastors in the government seminary and has a specific set of rules and doctrine to be taught. It is the only option that is legal and acceptable. In some areas you need to register as a church member and that can cause social consequences for you or your family…like losing your government job, or being shunned, etc… But in other places, it is no big deal at all. Many people go weekly to the church without incident.

By Chinese law, it is not legal for foreigners and Chinese to go to International Fellowships together. International Fellowships require participants to show their passports before they are allowed to enter the service. This is to keep the foreign and Chinese believers separate. It is not illegal for me to be a believer, but foreigners and Chinese are not currently allowed to meet with, study the Bible with, distribute literature to or lead religious activities with Chinese people. That would be illegal.

Some people refuse to join the Three Self Church because they have doctrinal or policy issues with the Three Self Church and they do not want to be limited by the constraints of the church, so they form groups outside the registered church for meeting, studying and worship. These are unregistered churches and considered illegal. In some parts of the country there are no government churches at all and only these types of fellowships exist for believers. They are still illegal and members can be and sometimes are severely persecuted for breaking the law and illegally assembling.

So is one type of church better than another? Is the answer black and white? Is one right and the other wrong? Is one type good and the other evil? Again, it’s complicated! In America we tend to think in terms of black and white and have difficulty with gray areas. We don’t understand why the Chinese people don’t have the right to choose something outside the government church or why they can’t legally meet with foreigners for religious activities. The answer to that is simple: This isn’t America folks! The Chinese government has sovereignty in their own country to have their own way of doing things for their own people. Is it always right, agreeable or understandable to us? No! But is the American way of doing things always right? Not hardly! We have our issues, too!

We have so many choices on how we worship that shop for the most convenient or palatable form of religion we can find and if we don’t like it, we go somewhere else. There is no consequence, price or cost to wanting to worship. We can come or go as we please. We are as judgmental of others in our own country as we are of those in others. We look at the church across town and think, “How can they believe that? They’re can’t be “real Christians!” No one denomination or group has it 100% right…No one! There are areas in every church’s doctrine that can be questioned or debated. The Three Self Church in China certainly has its limitations and errors, but does that mean there are no “real Christians” in the Three Self Church? Certainly not! I have met some very faithful committed believers who attend the government church and they choose to work within the system for change. Does that mean that in the unregistered churches are only, “real Christians?” Certainly not! There are some that have a great fire and love of Jesus and others who just want to have the power to lead with their own ideas. The unregistered house churches are not exempt from problems. Although they are free of the government constraints to worship in a prescribed way, there is a lack of solid training and leadership which can lead to all kinds of heresies in the faith.

Maybe we ought to consider the idea that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It can be both/and. As foreigners we need to be less judgmental of things we don’t fully understand and need to be willing to look for places of common ground and cooperation between entities. Does that mean we accept ideas that are contrary to the Word? Of course not, but vilifying a whole institution such as the Three Self Church doesn’t do much good and painting everything with the same brush as “wrong” is also unproductive. We need to work toward the idea of the church being “one body of believers” both at home and abroad. That is so much more biblical!


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Matters of Life and Death

Although it’s not a pleasant subject to talk about, most Americans have had discussions with their families or friends about the subject of death. Death is really an uncomfortable topic for some, so we have developed ways of respectfully saying someone has died- like using the phrases “passed away, went onto glory, or went home.” Other times (usually when we’re talking about our own inevitable demise) we make light of it saying things like, “when I kicked the bucket, bite the dust, or go to meet my maker”….I want blah, blah, blah ” The Chinese however, rarely if ever talk about death. It’s one of those taboo subjects that some even considered bad luck to discuss. One thing about death is that everyone will experience it and nearly every culture has its own ideas about what happens to someone when they die.
Americans have their ideas about death and practices of honoring those who have passed away. People often go to gravesites several times a year to tend to the site, to bring flowers or sentimental items. This seems to help people feel close again to their loved one and also helps with grieving the loss of their presence with us. Although it may be somewhat common to go to a gravesite and “talk to” one’s departed relative, ultimately we believe that when someone’s physical body dies, there is no more that we can do to take care of them. It is out of our hands. Many Christians (myself included) believe that death is not an ending, but a beginning to an eternal life in a place called Heaven, where there will be no needs to satisfy, but only an eternity to spend with God and others who believe that Jesus is the way to Heaven.

The Chinese have their beliefs about life and death as well. There is a specific day which falls on either April 4th or 5th of the solar calendar and this is the one day a year that people formally honor their ancestors and celebrate the life they have been given. It is called Qingming Jie or Tomb-Sweeping Day. The festival is a combination of sadness and happiness. Qingming Festival is a time of many different activities, among which the main ones are tomb sweeping, taking a spring outing, and flying kites.

Tomb sweeping is regarded as the most important custom in the Qingming Festival from which the name of Tomb-sweeping day is derived. Cleaning the tomb and paying respect to the ancestors with offerings are the two most important parts of remembering the relatives who have passed. Weeds around the tomb are cleared away and fresh soil is added to show care of the dead. The dead person’s favorite food and wine are taken to sacrifice to them. “Sacrifices” include ghost money, ghost cars, and ghost food and clothing. Ghost money and other ghost extravagance best illustrate the popular folk belief among Chinese that there is a nether world for people under the earth where people live after death in the form of ghosts or spirits who can give blessings to the living. It is not uncommon for me to see several people every week, squatting around small fires on the sidewalk, burning their paper goods
for their deceased relatives. During Qingming Jie, tablets of stone are also set up for the dead and kowtow (bowing) is made as incense is burned. As many as possible living relatives will gather at the gravesites and remember their ancestor. They offer prayers to their deceased family member and parents of children will often pray and ask for success and achievement for their children. After they are finished the next part of the tradition begins.

Qingming Jie is not only a day for commemorating the dead, is it also a festival for people to enjoy themselves and appreciate their lives. During March, everything in nature takes on a new look, as trees turn green, flowers blossom, and the sun shines brightly. It is a fine time to go out and to appreciate the beautiful scenes of nature during the festival. Spring outings not only add joy to life but also promote
a healthy body and mind. Flying kites is an activity favored by many people during the Qingming Festival. Kites are not only flown during the day time but also in the evening. Little lanterns are tied to the kite or to the string that holds the kite. And when the kite is flying in the sky, the lanterns look like twinkling stars that add unique scenery to the sky during the night. What makes flying kites during this festival special is that people cut the string
while the kite is in the sky to let it fly free. It is said this brings good luck and that diseases can be eliminated by doing this. All in all, the Qingming Festival is an occasion of unique characteristics, integrating sorrowful tears for the dead with the continuous laughter from the spring

Although my personal beliefs about death and the thereafter are much different than that of those around me, I think it's really good to get an understanding of the culturally norms so that during holidays such as this, there can be honest dialogue and sharing ideas about issues of life and death.


Saturday, April 4, 2009

My Own Attempt at Ping Pong Diplomacy

While on another one of my afternoon walks, I came across a xiao-qu (small community-something like a block of apartments in the same neighborhood) which had several ping pong tables set up. People of all ages were either playing or standing around watching the vigorous exchanges. When I stopped to watch for awhile and then started to take pictures, the games got even more competitive. The older men in particular seemed intent on showing off their skills. Then I was invited to play. Part of me wanted to join in on the fun, but I also was thinking about my expensive camera and really didn’t want to leave it in the hands of some Chinese person I didn’t know. Despite my hesitation, the ping pongers were insistent on my participation, so I reluctantly put down my camera and took up a paddle.

I kept remembering all the times I had played ping pong in the basement of my parent’s house and up at the lake. My family is pretty competetive with any
sporting activity and ping pong is no exception! I was thinking to myself, “I sure hope I remember how to do this.” It’s one thing to lose in the privacy of your own home, but it’s another thing to be the foreigner getting their tail whipped in front of 40 or 50 people standing around watching! I tried to muster up the confidence of my nephew Troy, who is known to be not only a fierce ping pong player, but can talk smack while doing it and get away with it!

It didn't take me long to realized this was not the time or place to get cocky, especially since these were daily players who took the games seriously. Even if I had been an amazing player (which I'm not), I would never have dared to beat them in their own backyard and make them lose face in front of their community. I sure wouldn't have done the dance that the guy in video did! Not cool! (click the link to view-or go to and search for excessive ping pong celebration)

So, you might ask…how did that work for you? Well, I will say that I didn’t lose face by being completely inept...I did score a point or two, but in the overall picture-I think I’ll stick to something less competitive….like photography!