Dad was not feeling well today. The day before yesterday, he started going a little bit hoarse, and by last night’s dinner he was not speaking at all, trying to conserve what little voice he had. (Lucky Bisterbosch family, right??) Because of this, he stayed home today to rest while Mom and I went out adventuring.
After spending much of my night on Beijing’s public transportation website, I had complete information on how to get to the South Cathedral for Mass. We walked to the nearest bus station, caught the 104快 to 崇文门西 and got off, just as planned. We also caught the right bus from that stop, 特2, but – you guessed it – in the wrong direction. We got off to change directions at the train station, which so confusing that we ended up just grabbing a taxi.
Even resorting to a taxi, we barely arrived before the 10:00 Mass time that I found on the internet. Good thing Mass started at 10:30! In the end, all my attempts at choosing the right route came to nothing, but the fact that I found the wrong time saved us. Oh, the irony . . .
The South Cathedral isn’t exactly what I would call beautiful, although the outside is striking in a European-church way.
The inside is kind of random, looking like a second-hand shop for church decorations.
Once Mass started, though, I found myself appreciating the patchwork-like decor of the church because it seemed to reflect its congregation. The South Cathedral is the center of Beijing’s international Catholic community. Interestingly, their ‘international’ Masses (of which they have two) are not just ‘English’. The readings were read in French as well as English (and let me tell you, it was a treat to hear 1 Cor 13 read in French).
It was nice to go to English Mass – almost my first one in 5 months because I’ve barely understood the few I’ve been to in Xiamen. It was certainly the first homily I’ve understood more than 10% of since coming! Instead of murmuring English to myself throughout Chinese Mass, I now mutter a combination of Latin and Chinese after the English responses. It was also great to hear some familiar church music, but it kind of made me miss my wonderful Newman choir even more :(
After Mass we went to check out the gift shop. It was a good call, because they had so much great stuff! I laboriously pored over Chinese titles for quite a while before making some great finds. I found a tiny tiny [what I think is a] breviary in Chinese, as well as an English-Chinese Catholic Dictionary and a Chinese-English Catholic Practical Handbook. The last thing is so amazing because it’s just what I wanted – in fact, it is so exactly what I wanted that I never even considered that it might actually exist! But there it is, with such hard-to-find translations as the Prayer of St. Francis; the names of saints, the books of the Bible, religious orders and missionary societies, the ecumenical councils, important encyclicals; a list of China’s seminaries and important missionaries in China’s history; and a Chinese version of O Sons and Daughters (one of my favorite Easter songs). I was so happy . . . I bought two!
Mom and I had a good lunch and then headed out along the rest of my perfectly-planned itinerary for the day. Unfortunately, this morning’s misadventures were a mere foreshadowing of the afternoon. I wanted to go see the North Cathedral but after taking the indicated bus to the indicated stop, we had to walk at least a mile before even finding the street we were looking for. After numerous backtracks, a kindly woman directed us right to . . . a Protestant church, were we nearly walked in on a Korean service. We gave up on that and went looking for the tomb of Matteo Ricci, the first Catholic missionary to China (and possibly the first Westerner to enter the country after Marco Polo), who was buried at another church in the area. Although I had a wonderful time telling people we were looking for a place “where they put people underground after they die” because I didn’t know how to say cemetery, this search was also a failure. (In my defense, I have found at least two addresses online for the location of this tomb, neither of which come with a Chinese name for the church they’re buried at.)
Despite my failing record in Beijing, I would like to point out that I have basically mastered 8 other Chinese cities and gotten myself and others around pretty well. Also, Beijing suffers from a complete lack of decent maps; the only one I’ve found depicts the entire city, making street names illegible and even the Forbidden City almost too small to see. I find out each day how inaccurate Lonely Planet’s maps are, so I basically have no resources to rely on. What I’m saying here is . . . it’s not my fault – blame Beijing.
Despite the logic presented above, I was feeling thoroughly defeated by this time. We were 0 for 2 on the day’s planned itinerary. We got on a bus to go home and, since I had triple-checked the posted route, was fairly confident we were going to make it.
Then our bus got in an accident. Yes, I’m serious. It was ridiculously minor – in fact Mom and I didn’t know anything had happened until the driver turned off the engine in the middle of the road – but apparently the driver of the other bus thought it was a big deal. They got out and started yelling at each other in the streets while Mom and I got out to take pictures of the perfectly-intact buses.
We opted not to wait for the resolution, and got out to walk. Luckily, we were on an interesting road. Apparently we were in Trophy District, because every store for blocks and blocks sold personalized trophies, banners, coins, and buttons – but mainly trophies. (Okay, there was one store selling long underwear but they probably won’t last long.) Seriously, I want to know who was the 40th guy to open shop on this street? Did he look around and think to himself, “You know, there’s a niche in this area just waiting to be filled by my custom-made trophies.”? How much of a market is there for this stuff in Beijing, and how much business do each of them get? I’m fascinated even by the idea of a Trophy Street.
For an idea, here are photos of a very few selected shops on Trophy Street:
We had plans to stop for noodles on the way home and, since I was hungry and my pride was at stake, I vowed to find the restaurant no matter what. Although it took us 2 phone calls and one helpful Chinese passerby, we did eventually find the Ajisen ramen shop, in the basement of an enormous shopping mall, a block away from where LP said it would be, and with a different name.
We caught a motorized 三轮车 (three-wheeled vehicle) home, which turned out to be the second high point of the day. The driver was a jolly man, sort of a mixture between Santa Claus and Grandpa Garibay. Unlike the taxi drivers we’d had so far – reticent to the point of being mute – he talked to me like I had heard Beijingers would. He told me I need to stop enunciating so much, made me practice saying “yī èr sān sì wǔ liù qī, qī liù wǔ sì sān èr yī” (1 2 3 4 5 6 7, 7 6 5 4 3 2 1) over and over, and sang us a song. Wonderful.