This morning, I met my new Polish (and Catholic, of course) friends to go to Mass together. We met at 9, giving us an hour to get to the church on Gulangyu, the small island off Xiamen (which is itself an island). We walked to the bus stop, took a bus to the ferry quay, and pushed (mooooooo!) onto a crowded, tourist-filled ferry to the island. By the time we landed, it was almost 10. After consulting a map and realizing it bore absolutely no resemblance to the one I had traced off the church’s website, I decided to just ask around. Finally, I saw the huge white steeple and hurried over.
As I approached, I heard the tinkle of bells, which I should have realized was a bad sign. They were the little ones that they use for consecration, not the big ones that signify the beginning of Mass, but I still figured it was just starting later than advertised, like the Chinese service had last week. The priest and deacon looked a little surprised as we walked in and squeezed into pews, but it took me a good 30 seconds to get settled enough to realize that 1) the words currently being sung were “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”, and 2) the altar was covered in golden dishes and the priest was holding a host.
I checked my watch – 10:10. Mass only lasted about 15 more minutes, the entirety of which I spent trying to figure out what had happened. Afterwards, I asked the laowai (foreigner) next to me and found out that Mass actually starts at 9:30 sharp. Obviously.
I really couldn’t concentrate, even for the few minutes that I was there. Looking around, I realized that there were surprisingly few foreigners there – maximum 20, out of the 100 or so people there. Most of the laowai were from places other than UK, Australia, or the States, though, so the vast majority of the congregation was attending Mass in a language other than their own. I just think it’s interesting, because the whole point of changing the language of the Mass was so that people could worship in the vernacular. Hmm.
Ending what was probably the shortest visit to Gulangyu EVER, I took the ferry back to the big island and made my way over to the south part of Xiamen. That’s where my new Chinese family lives (with the kids I’m teaching), and I had arranged to meet them for lunch. Mrs. Chen and her daughter, HuaHua, picked me up at the bus stop and we went to the apartment where Mrs. Shang and her son live. HuaHua is 14, and the little boy (English name Jerry, as in “Tom &”) is about 10.
We talked over lunch, mostly in Chinese but I taught them a lot of English words (including but not limited to: mushroom, take a nap, strange, badminton, bell pepper, minorities, jet lag and time difference, suburbs, and webcam). I also got to name HuaHua! Her English teacher (who is Chinese) had named her Betty, but we all thought that name wasn’t suitable. I decided on Hannah, which seems to fit her and has the added benefits of 1) sounding similar to her Chinese name and 2) not making her seem like a 70-year-old woman.
At one point, Mrs. Chen made a phone call to her husband. They’re both from Fujian (the province that Xiamen is in), and I guess they use the local Chinese dialect, Minnanhuan, when talking to each other. Anyway, I can now officially say that Minnanhua and Putonghua (standard Mandarin) are mutually unintelligible. For those of you who don’t know, Chinese has a lot of dialects, the most widely-spoken of which are Mandarin and Cantonese. They all use the same writing system, so anyone can write something in Chinese characters and it can be read and understood by anyone else, but they would use different sounds to verbalize the message. Let me pause while this blows your mind . . . . . . Okay, so I heard Minnanhua spoken and, to my fairly stupid ears, it sounded about as different as Korean or Japanese. Mrs. Shang made me feel slightly better by telling me that she, too, 听不懂 (listens but can’t understand).
In the evening, we went out for dinner. I had told them I didn’t like fish, and so was a little bit confused when the restaurant we entered had half an ocean’s worth of seafood on display in the entryway. The meal was interesting . . . I had never seen/eaten most of it before. I broke the foremost rule of dining in China, which is to never ask before eating. The first dish, slices of something round, was described as “something-something of duck”. Then one of the women began spelling it out for me in English: T-E-S-T-E. I was deeply unhappy at this (mainly at the thought of having to pantomime the word she was asking about) until she corrected herself and tried again: T-A-S-T-E. Oh, what a difference one letter makes! After this came several more dishes:
- shrimp (with the heads on ‘em and everything, which is actually the way I prefer to eat shrimp now)
- egg and 苦瓜 (“bitter gourd”, looks like a cucumber with warts)
- some part of a pig
- clams? (I ate one for the first time. Not a fan.)
- noodles with duck skin
- duck soup (for real, not the Marx Brothers movie)
- tea balls (hard shell around creamy green tea paste with a center of sesame seeds. Very odd, but not bad).
After dinner, we went for a walk on the beach. It was a beautiful night and the sand was soft after we took our shoes off. I took a picture with each of the families and one all together, but until I get the issue of this firewall resolved, I can’t post them :(
On the bus ride home, I made a new Chinese friend, Jessica. She started walking back to my dorm with me, until we ran into a laowai friend of mine and talked together for a while. While we were standing there, another laowai joined us. She’s from Belgium and just arrived, having also received the wrong information from the government. I’m guessing more will trickle in as we approach the fake date of September 12th . . .
Tonight I’m going to end with a trivia question: what is the tallest country in the world (as in, residents of what country are statistically the tallest)? No outside sources – I want your guesses!