When we had checked into the hotel on Saturday, I had asked about Catholic churches in Ningde and was told there were 好几个 – quite a few. So Sunday morning, I got up early and took a taxi to a nearby church, arriving a half-hour early for 7:00 Mass.
I talked to a man outside for a few minutes, and then a woman insisted that I come in and sit with her. (It turned out that these people were, respectively, the priest and a nun, but wore no distinguishing clothing so I think my ignorance is understandable.) I had arrived in time for their pre-Mass prayers, which I never do in Xiamen, so that was interesting to witness. I’m pretty sure they were praying the rosary – in fact, the woman leafed through my notebook until she found the Hail Mary and pointed to it – but I couldn’t even manage to read along with them. They were chanting and, as far as I can tell, completely omitting all consonants, so it just sounded like overlapping waves of sounds. Very pretty, very Chinese, but not very intelligible to an outsider.
Luckily, once Mass started I was totally good. The priest spoke very clearly and, even better, they showed the entire text of the Mass on two TV screens at the front of the church! Between reading and listening, I could recognize each of the readings. The first reading was something about oil and bread and never running out (Elijah and the widow); the second from Hebrews about Jesus dying one time, not many times; and the Gospel was Jesus comparing the poor person who gave a little bit of money with the rich people who gave a lot of money. Except for communion – when the priest took a host back from the man in front of me – the rest of Mass was as I’ve gotten used to in China.
After Mass, the woman who sat with me invited me to breakfast with the priest and two other nuns. When we got there, the table was spread with fish, meat, and veggies that had clearly been out overnight and were completely unappetizing. I was trying to convince my stomach of the need to be polite and eat when I happily realized that food was not for breakfast. Apparently the Chinese can’t stomach it at 8 a.m. either! While we broke the fast with hot milk and mantou – huge fluffy rice buns – we talked. I learned a lot from this conversation. For instance, I learned that the Chinese word for ‘nun’ is 修女, which roughly translates as “women who repair things”. I learned that Xiamen seems to be an island of non-Catholicism in the province, which alleviates some worries that I may have about traveling Fujian. I learned that, wherever I go in China, I can get information about local churches by dialing 114. I learned that the church was not technically opened yet, and that I was more than welcome to return for the dedication on the 2nd of January.
I also learned that they usually hold every Mass in the local dialect, but the priest used 普通话 (Mandarin) because I was there. Wow. I was so grateful when I heard this!
After we finished eating, the priest and nun drove me to the bus station. Despite a mix-up between Ningde’s north and south stations, I arrived in time to run and board the bus. The ride to PingAn was fine, but then we had to take another bus to BaiShuiYang – 40 minutes with the woman next to me throwing up almost continuously. Have I mentioned yet how 麻烦 (frustrating) this trip was?
Perhaps this will help illustrate the point. Having spent over 4 months total in China now, I’m no stranger to Chinese-style toilets – “squatty potties” as we call them. I’ve done it in squatty potties before – in the dark, with no toilet paper, on moving trains, and combinations of all of the above. Thus, it takes quite the toilet experience to warrant a mention . . . and this was quite an experience. The bathroom consisted of about four little cubicles, mostly walled-in to a height just above my waist, but without doors. A trench ran the length of the bathroom, with a water spout on one side and on the other, presumably, a drain. When it flushes (at some predetermined interval, not when you personally are done), your business becomes everyone else’s. Literally.
Anyway, the 麻烦 was not over once we got to BaiShuiYang. The entrance to the scenic area was 80 kuai (over $10), but we hadn’t come this far to not go in. Food was also easily 3 times the Xiamen price, so after laughing in the vendor’s face we sat on a bench and shared a few oranges, some Pringles, and “toughness biscuits”.
After eating, we went into the park. We had a 15-minute cart ride and then a 15-minute walk before arriving at the main destination: the place where we could walk on water.
It’s basically a wide, very shallow river where water flows over a bed of rocks.
It was nice, but I couldn’t help but think of all that we had gone through to get there and wonder if it was worth it (answer: no). I did, however, enjoy the chance to see some fall colors, which are totally absent in the palm trees of Xiamen.
We caught the bus back to PingAn by a minute, and then caught the bus to Fuzhou (capital of my province) just after arriving in PingAn. It was a “4-hour ride”, but we stopped for about 15 minutes out of every hour, so we didn’t get to Fuzhou until 8:30. Contrary to what we had been told, there were still buses running to Xiamen. However, this trip, too, went long – 5 hours as opposed to the usual 3 1/2 – so we didn’t get to Xiamen until 1 in the morning.
The last leg was alright, though, because I ended up sitting next to a Chinese guy and getting several hours of Chinese practice in. There were several interesting parts of our conversation:
- While he was looking at my journal, he noticed how I wrote the date: 8 Nov 09. He commented that Chinese people write the date in the opposite order (year, month date). I said that, actually, most Americans write the date as month, day, year, but that I’m not used to writing it that way. He was surprised by this – “You’re an American and you aren’t used to the American way?” I started to explain that my dad was in the Army and always wrote it that way, but he interrupted me after I said “我爸爸是. . .” (My father is . . . ) to say “中国人?” (Chinese??). We both had a good laugh about that one, especially because I know what my dad looks like (which is to say, incredibly handsom, but totally Caucasian).
- I think it was after that that he told me my laugh was 爽朗, which (I just looked up) means “refreshingly clear” or “cheerful”. He also told me that my confused face was 可爱, or “cute”, and managed to do both without them seeming fake. Every day, I have people telling me that I’m beautiful, or that my Chinese is great because I managed to say “thank you” or “hello”, but genuine compliments have proved pretty hard to come by, so it was a very nice change.
- We got to talking about boyfriends and he asked me how many I had had. Apparently 5 is a lot compared to most Chinese girls, but I totally surprised him by telling him about friend (who shall remain nameless) who has dated over 30 guys. He said she must be very pretty!
- I asked him about his impression of America, and he said that it seems like people can do what they want, that other people don’t tell you what to do. It’s funny because I think so much about freedoms like those in the Bill of Rights, but the Chinese people are missing more than just that. They don’t have much control over the course of their lives, which must seem more desirable than the slightly more removed, say, freedom of press.
Anyway, we arrived back in lovely Xiamen, where I wanted to kiss the shiny bus stop signs. We took a taxi back to campus and finally – after approximately 18 hours on buses – the 麻烦 was over.