My winter vacation has officially started as of January 8th, and it worked out astonishingly well as my dear brother Drew K and his wife Megan, along with Megan’s sister Amy and mother ‘Mama J’ flew into Shanghai within hours of the commencement of my new found freedom. I spent as much time as I could with them and it was a super huge encouragement having them around. Also joining us was long time friend and beloved Chinese sister Da Yu, who is usually the life of the party, and again a huge encouragement to me and pretty much anyone who runs across her path. We did a few tourist things, such as Shanghai’s infamous Nanjing Road and Yu Garden. We even took a daytrip to Suzhou, but most of the time was spent chatting and catching up, which is infinitely more valuable to me. They got a little taste of Shanghai and my life here, then were off to their next destination. I was sad to see them go of course, but at the same time I know I’ll see them again in the near future in some form or another.
What can I say about my life, other than the simple fact that God is good and has blessed me beyond all measure here in Shanghai. It’s a great place, as is the rest of this marvel of a country, and it’s eerily starting to feel like home. I will be heading back to my 家乡 (hometown) Brainerd MN, on January 24th, and already I feel like I’ll be missing Shanghai. Don’t get me wrong, it’s going to be awesome seeing my family and friends for 3 weeks. My brother and I are even planning a snowboarding trip in the Rockies which is going to be amazing. But something about this place just sucks you in, and despite its cultural differences and crazy language, I honestly think I’ll miss China a bit while I’m home. It’s gradually becoming the place where I reside, and America is becoming a travel destination instead of the other way around. It’s a weird dichotomy I know, but one that I’ve come to terms with. I’m open to God’s call, wherever that may be, for now it’s here in China. And I hope it stays that way, but if I know one thing about our Lord, it’s that my plans often differ from His. So I’ll wait.
After the departure of my dear friends Drew, Megan, Amy, Mama J, and Da Yu, it was back to just me vs. Shanghai. I made several New Year’s Resolutions this year, one of them being to make an attempt at doing more social things, and using my apartment for some gatherings instead of just sitting around in it all by myself. So naturally I threw a party. It was a grand time with a good showing of Chinese friends and foreigners alike, both Chinese and Western food including some dishes I attempted to make. I have to give all the credit to my Shanghai sisters Shao Jie Mei, Christine and Rebecca, as they came in in and saved the day helping me cook. So it turned out well, and gradually went from pig out on food to social hour to dance party, all in the span of about 3 hours. Then, as the subway was about to close, there was a mass exodus of people heading home at about 10:15. Which is fine because it gave me plenty of time to clean up! Kudos to Yannick, Laurie, Jocelyn, and Apple who refused to let the dancing die and stuck it out till 11:00. Thanks everyone who came! I hope you had as good of a time as I did! 1st New Year’s Resolution complete.
That brings us to the next portion of my break. Seeing as I have one week free before I head back to the motherland, I decided to visit a city in southeastern China I’d always wanted to see called Xiamen. And more importantly, it would give me a chance to continue onward to the southern city of Dongguan, in my typical fashion: Chinese sleeper trains. (By the way, if you have ever ridden a train in China, then you positively MUST check this link out: http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMTc4NjUzMTI4.html Even if you haven’t ridden one, it’s hysterical, but it makes more sense if you know a bit about Chinese culture). Xiamen is a relatively famous coastal city known for its European influence in architecture, mild climate and prestigious university. It’s also been voted “China’s most livable city.” Then there’s Dongguan, a city with a notorious reputation of crime and corruptness. Dongguan is apparently quite famous for being the worst city in China, so I’d get to see quite a stark contrast from Xiamen to Dongguan. So why would I want to go there? Well my good brother Dustin is working there and I’ve been praying about it as a place to do ministry as well. I don’t remember Paul going to cities because they were the “most livable,” rather he was simply obeying the call of the work God had set before him. We’ll get back to Dongguan in a minute, first here’s XIAMEN ON A SHOESTRING:
I flew in to Xiamen as there were no sleeper trains leaving Shanghai, and the high speed train tickets were about as expensive as flying. I got in late, checked into my hostel, nicely surprised that I was the only one staying in my 8-bed dorm. Fortunately for me, and one of the perks of having been a college teacher here in China, it seems I know someone in almost every major city in China now that those students have graduated. Xiamen was no exception as I found out from my sister Da Yu that another sister and friend, Echo, is now living and working in Xiamen. I gave her a text and she was able to get off work early the next day and meet me to play tour guide and show me around. We started at Gulangyu Island, a small island off the coast that Xiamen is famous for, and for good reason. You can easily walk around it in a day, but to see all its little nook and cranny alley ways may take several. It’s a photographers dream, too bad I’m a poor excuse for a photographer. At any rate, here are a few little goodies of Gulangyu:
Chinese Barbed Wire
Next we head off to one of China’s most coveted Universities, Xia Da:
Echo at the University park.
More Chinese break dancers.
My sister and tour guide, Echo, and I grabbing a snack after a long day of sight-seeing. I bet we put 20 miles on our shoes!
The next day, I hit up a hot spring outside of town (thanks for the tip Arthur!) and then hopped on a night train to Dongguan in Guangdong province. The first thing you do when you arrive in a new destination in China is find a ticket out. And seeing how Chinese New Year was rapidly approaching, a time when half the country is traveling home to see their families (you can do the math on that one), I knew finding a train ticket was my first priority. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the morning I arrived was the first day for ticket sales of the ‘Chinese New Year’ tickets. This meant, I couldn’t get tickets at the station and I’d have to go to an off-site ticketing booth. To call it a booth would be a gross underestimation. After having the taxi driver escort me around to the ATM, we found the ticket ‘booth’ and I got out sort of bewildered. I asked the guards where it was, and they pointed that I keep walking straight ahead. I did, and found a long path, about 50 feet wide, 1km long, with fresh new temporary walls up along the sides. I thought to myself, “this is so pointless, why would they make me walk all the way down here to buy one lousy ticket.” Then I reached this place, there were several of these buildings actually:
This is where the masses of people come to line up and get whatever train ticket they can to get home for the holidays. It’s all completely temporary, and I had arrived early in the morning of the first day, so hardly anyone had showed up yet. Another huge blessing, I got the first ticket I asked for! A 15 hour sleeper back to Shanghai 3 days later. Praise the Lord! If it would have been a day or two later, heck even an hour or two later, it might have been a different story. It was then that I realized that 1km long corridor I walked down would soon be filled up with people, waiting all day, or days, to get a ticket home.
Then I hopped a bus to Dongguan where I met up with Dustin. It would good to catch up with him, and I was eager to see and hear all about what God’s been doing in Dongguan. Dustin brought up a bunch of his students to Inner Mongolia last summer where I was volunteering, and we all became pretty close. That night I got to meet up with several of the girls, Alice, Faye, Eve, Julia, and Lynn, who had made the trek to IM, and we ate some Hunan style food (Dustin had to work):
The next day was just spent cruising the town, getting a feel for it, visiting the now barren University (students gone home), and praying a bit with another Chinese brother Jack. I even got to attend a Chinese group that night which was half believers, half non-believers. So it was cool to see the Lord working in the hearts of many. They even nominated me to play impromptu guitar for their worship time, which I absolutely butchered. But that’s why I love Chinese people, they withhold judgment and moreover, they don’t need perfect guitar skills to worship Jesus. The next day we took a little hike in the park:
Then it was off to hot pot for dinner with new friends!
Dongguan, from what I’ve gathered thus far, is a city of crime and corruption. Everyone has a story, if not several, of something getting stolen from them. Dustin even had his laptop stolen off his lap in front of his eyes by a drive by scooter thief! There’s lots of need there, like many places, and I could definitely use your prayers for discernment as I am considering relocating there next fall to serve with the Body there. You can also be lifting up the people who are there already, and are doing the Lord’s work in one of China’s roughest cities. God bless.