Weird day. It started off with some 拉肚子 (diarrhea) due to either the new restaurant we tried yesterday or the Kraft mac & cheese I made last night. Personally hoping for the restaurant, because such a vehement rejection of one meal of cheedust certainly fortells epic intestinal woes upon my return to America and heavily processed food. Been there, done that, and would love to never go back.
I skipped my morning class to be on the safe side, but went to this afternoon’s newspaper reading class. I spent the break thinking about what people think Chinese sounds like – what I used to think Chinese sounded like. A simple pleasure of mine is collecting phrases of actual Chinese that sound like fake Chinese. I’m storing them up for when people ask me to say “something in Chinese”, just to be ridiculous. My favorites include 这场战争 (pronounced ‘zhè chǎng zhànzhēng’), which means “this war”, and 常常上长城 (pronounced ‘chángcháng shàng chángchéng’), which means “often climb the Great Wall”. I wish I knew how to share audio on here . . .
This evening I went to church for the Chrism Mass. Is it weird that I have favorite Masses? At any rate, the Chrism Mass is definitely a fave. This is only the second time I’ve been – in fact I didn’t know it existed until last year – but it quickly earned a place in my liturgical calendar. The Chrism Mass usually takes place on Holy Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, when all the priests of a diocese gather with their bishop to bless the holy oils that will be used in the upcoming year.
The blessing of the oils is a nice ceremony, in which we pray for all those on whom the oils will be used (in confirmation, baptism, and anointing of the sick), but that’s not the [whole] reason I love it.
It’s like a big family reunion, the one day a year when the diocese gathers as a community. Last year in Tulsa and this year in Xiamen, this means seeing people from different parishes (laity and priests) that you rarely get to see. The priest who worked the last TEC retreat, the nun I shared a room with in Shanghai, our old Newman Center chaplains, the 3rd Fr. Cai who I only met once, the seminarian who’s studying across the country – they all show up for the Chrism Mass. I love the feeling of belonging to a parish community, and am keenly aware of the fellowship of the Universal Church, but the sense of belonging to a diocese was a pleasant new feeling last year.
It’s also a celebration of abundance in a way. The most striking memory of my first Chrism Mass was an altar full – literally! – of priests from the Diocese of Tulsa. In China, where I notice almost daily the scarcity of Catholics, seeing 9 priests on the altar was enough to nearly stun me.
In both cases, I was happy to see so many familiar and beloved faces up there. (Interesting note: there are way more foreign priests in Tulsa – a missionary diocese helped out by priests from Africa and Vietnam – than in Xiamen, which has none.)
We sang a new song for the closing hymn. I liked it because it fostered the sense of belonging I was feeling. Below is the Chinese and my really pathetic attempt at translating it:
Because we are all travelers on the same road, we experience the same things
Because we are all travelers on the same road, we seek the same things
The same sweetness and bitterness, the same trials and tribulations;
We only have our dear fellow travelers on the road.
The same tears, the same joy,
We only have our sincere fellow travelers on the road.
Thank you, God, for these people that we happened to meet, who have become fellow travelers.
The same song comes forth from our hearts, praising the marvelous salvation
Our spirits become one and understand each other
The precious hope of the eternal kingdom is always ours.
Things got a little weird after Mass, mainly due to an old friend who showed up at tonight’s ‘family reunion’. I met Jiang LiuQin on the trip to Shanghai and have mixed feelings about her. I think she’s fun and she seems to like me, but the language and cultural barrier is higher with her than any other Chinese person I’ve ever met. She loves to tease, joke, and make fun – all of which inevitably goes over my head, causing her to tease and joke more. Being with her means mental exhaustion and a lesson in humility. She’ll blow through complicated sentences with difficult vocabulary and expect me to understand, then slowly say “We. Are. Going. To. Walk. To. Zhong. Shan. Lu. Do. You. Understand?” in the slowest Chinese I’ve ever heard. She’ll bring up random stuff with absolutely no context or even internal logic, and then berate me for not understanding. For example: “We’ll pay for dinner tonight, so America better not invade China tomorrow!” Seems like it would be a nonsequitur in any language, right? When it took me 3 or 4 tries to understand, though, she said that “Foreigners are too much of a hassle”.
I felt like a foreigner today – not just fat or tall, but foreign. What I find really strange is how easily that feeling coexists with my sense of belonging in the church here.