I feel like I have a lot to do this week. Part of it is related to the trip I just got back from (sharing and posting pictures, doing laundry), part of it is related to my everyday life in China (doing my vocabulary reviews, putting phone numbers into my new phone) and part of it is related to Christmas, which is rapidly approaching. There are Christmas postcards to finish and mail, Christmas movies to watch, Christmas cookies to bake (in my tiny tiny oven, this could be a whole-day ordeal), and a Christmas sweater to buy.
But I slept in today and before I knew it, it was time to run out the door. I grabbed lunch to-go, which is incredibly convenient here. I got some hot milk tea and two meat sandwiches thrown into a bag, and thus had a delicious, portable lunch for $2.
I met up with my 教友 (literally, “church friends”) near LunDu and we boarded a bus headed for Zhangzhou. I wasn’t exactly sure what we were doing, but they invited me to this ‘singing competition’ and I thought it sounded interesting. While we waited for the bus, I talked with He 神父, a priest visiting from Taiwan, and learned more. It was a singing competition between the [all?] 7 churches in the diocese of Xiamen, which he proposed because the churches had no activities together.
It took us an hour and a half to get there, but I was sitting with the young people in the back and had an opportunity to talk with the guy sitting next to me. Two thoughts – he’s the first Catholic convert I’ve met (that I know of), which I found interesting. His grandmother was Christian but his parents aren’t. Also, he goes to Chinese Mass every Sunday morning and he lives an hour away as well, which makes me feel really whiney for complaining about my commute (which I originally said is an hour but, since having gotten better at transportation here, is actually shorter).
The event was bigger than I expected, which I should have expected. The church in Zhangzhou is really big, which is good because there were a lot of people – 7 church choirs plus groupies (like me). It was good to have a diocesan-wide get-together because apparently some of the friends I made on the Shanghai trip are actually from other local churches, so I got to see them again. Also, I realized how many priests I’m getting to know here! To illustrate the point, I know no less than three priests with the last name Cai! In case you’re getting confused, here’s a quick introduction of ‘my’ priests here in China:
- Fr. Jiang (Fr. Domingo) – pastor at Xiamen. He’s kind of older – the one I said was imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution.
- Fr. Zhao (Fr. Joseph) – newly-ordained, formerly deacon at Xiamen. He’s the one I met with once to practice English/Chinese.
- Fr. Cai #1 – pastor at Zhangzhou, soon to become bishop of our diocese. He went with our group to Shanghai.
- Fr. Cai #2 – newly-ordained with Fr. Zhao.
- Fr. He – visiting priest from Taiwan.
- Fr. Cai #3 and Fr. Liu – met them today, so I don’t know much – pastors at some church in the area.
The singing was pretty good. Two groups had adorable children take part, one tackled Panis Angelicus in Latin, one brought in a Chinese orchestra of guzheng and erhu, and one sang “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!” in Chinese. Despite all that, while I may be a little biased, I think ‘my’ choir was the best.
After the competition (which had judges but no winners), we took the obligatory group picture in front of the altar.
Then we went to dinner – pretty much the whole diocese together. Notable for two reasons: first, I ate a lot of things I had never eaten before. Besides whole shrimp which I’m already quite used to, there was an entire crab! And it was furry! The guy sitting next to me had to instruct me on how to eat it – twist off the legs, bite off the joint, and then bite down on the shell of the leg until the meat squirts out. It was actually pretty good, so the process was worth it, but then he had me break open the body. He pointed to the clear jelly-like stuff and the vomit-looking stuff and said 很好吃 (very good). I tried it and, let me tell you, it’s not. I felt like I was eating his Last Meal, the food he had consumed right before being killed. I mean, I know that’s what the food chain is but this food hadn’t made it quite far enough through the system to be appetizing again.
The second notable thing was the toasts that occurred throughout dinner. Starting with orange juice, passing through Tsingtao beer and some truly horrible red wine until I finally discovered the Sprite, we 干杯-ed (literally, “dried our glasses”) every few minutes. People from every other church came to our table to toast us, then the priests made the rounds (and there were a lot of them), and then we went toasting.
Fun, but on the bus ride back I swore to never drink again. It’s not that I was drunk – far from even being lightheaded – but what is it about the smallest bit of alcohol that shrinks the bladder? In China, this means either unfortunate bathroom experiences or uncomfortable bus rides; tonight I had both.
Oh, and in case you didn’t read the bit about the priests, I’ll say it again – I have independent confirmation that Fr. Cai (#1) is soon to become the bishop of Xiamen! (Unless there’s another role that involves wearing a hat, carrying a stick, and being at ordinations . . . )