Today, May 1st, is 五一. This literally means “5-1” (as in, May 1st) which officially makes it the most boring holiday name ever, right? But I think the holiday is technically called 国际劳动节, or International Worker’s Day. It is also, on church calendar, it is the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
I had forgotten about the last point but, in typical me fashion, had heard about a trip to another church this morning and signed up. We met super early over by LunDu to board buses. (Interesting fact – not many foreigners hang out at the sketchy ferry port at 7 a.m. on national holidays. Who knew?) We then drove to another location – not entirely sure on the details because a) I have no sense of direction and b) I was asleep, of course.
So all of a sudden I wake up, look out the window, and see a huge church with an even bigger mountain in the background. Impressive, to say the least (although this picture is not that great).
Even more overwhelming than the mountain was the number of people there. (Later, I would find out that this was to be the theme of the day.) Despite the crushing crowd, my Chinese mom (note to self: learn her actual name) somehow managed to find us seats right up by the altar. Correction – she found us space up by the altar. Only the 7 concelebrating priests had seats as far as I could tell; everyone else alternately sat or knelt on kneelers. Some were obviously taken from inside the church, but otherwise I think it was BYOK.
After Mass ended, they had Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction. While I kind of wish I had taken some pictures, I do hope that the mental images never fade – especially of Fr. Cai (as of next week, Bishop of Xiamen) holding the monstrance aloft and staring at it with an intense gaze.
As the priests processed out, the ruckus began. It was even louder than I expected the crowd to be, and I found myself with an overwhelming urge to duck and hit the floor. Maybe the news of all the attacks in Chinese elementary schools has me on edge, but I really thought someone had opened fire on the congregation. It turned out to be fireworks . . . (By the way, Chinese fireworks are not the pretty ones we fire on the 4th of July. They’re like blackcats on steroids, basically sounding like a thousand machine guns firing simultaneously. Festive, no?)
Chinese Catholic churches are just like American Catholic churches – breakfast often follows Mass, especially at large events. Unfortunately, no donuts and coffee over here. Instead, standard fare is 米粥, or rice porridge (hope you remembered to BYO dishes!). It’s alright, but today’s was served out of enormous tubs on the floor, and – call me crazy – I have this ‘thing’ about eating food from the floor. Also, there may or may not have been worms among the various things added; no big.
I found several things interesting about the morning’s excursion. First of all, I really like the feeling of community in the Xiamen diocese. There have been several times throughout the year where the diocese has come together to celebrate special events – the ordination, two First Masses, the choir competition, the Chrism Mass, and several church’s feast days. Even I, the epitome of an outsider, have found it easy to attend these events because they are publicized and the church takes care of the details.
Secondly, Chinese people no longer look all the same to me. This has actually been some time coming, but today especially illustrated this to me. As I looked out on the crowd, my eyes would immediately seek out “my people” – the ones I know by name certainly, but also the ones that I just see in the pews every week. I admit, it’s still hard for me to remember what those I just met look like, but I could never mistake the ones I know.
Third, despite trying really really hard, sometimes I just can’t think of the behavior that Chinese people find acceptable at Mass as anything above repulsive. Today’s service was outside, so things were even worse than usual: The man spitting on the tree behind me. The little kid eating a bag of chips on the altar stairs. The people discussing where in the missal to find the readings, in “outside” voices directly next to the altar. Perhaps worst of all, the seating area after everyone cleared out:
I’ve seen fairgrounds and public restrooms that look better than this. Judging by the refuse, somebody enjoyed a banana during Mass while someone else ate a stick of tubed ham. Seriously, guys??
We took the bus back to Xiamen, but it only went as far as LunDu. It’s usually only a 15-minute bus ride back to campus from there, but today it took me an hour to get home. Happy holidays!
Yong Zhi called me in the afternoon to see if I wanted to go to Gulangyu. I didn’t know how to say how I was feeling (“I’d rather shove bamboo shoots under each of my nails than go to Gulangyu on a national holiday”) in Chinese, so I just offered another suggestion. We went shopping at West Gate, prepared the food in my room, and then went to the lake for a picnic.
The lake was beautiful, there were guys break-dancing down on the pavilion, and we had food. Oh, the food! We made sandwiches and salsa, bought Tostitos from the Fake 7-11, and made a fruit salad of strawberries and mango. I thought it was all insanely delicious, and it was certainly the best sandwiches, salsa, and tortilla chips that Yong Zhi had ever had because he’d never had sandwiches, salsa, or tortilla chips. Now, pause a moment to reflect on that and think about how lucky you are.
We lingered over our meal, but eventually I had to go to church again. ** Fun Catholic Fact of the Day: There is a Mass for every day of the week, including Saturday – and not just the pre-Sunday Saturday night vigil. (I literally did not know this until I went to college!) So this morning’s Mass was Saturday’s, and tonight’s was the Sunday vigil service. **
I met up with Kartika, an Indonesian classmate who has started to come to Chinese Mass sometimes. We met up at West Gate and, right around the time we finished sharing our life stories, realized that none of the buses we could take to LunDu had come yet. We decided to get on the next bus that came by, and ended up at the botanical gardens. It wasn’t much progress – basically a lateral move – but at least while we waiting in growing desperation for the right bus, we were waiting in peace instead of in a teeming mass of humanity.
While we had joking talked about walking to Mass, it probably would have actually been a good idea. As it was, we hung out on the bus as it inched along at the approximate rate of growth of my fingernails. While it was 7:10 by the time we got to the LunDu bus stop with about 7 minutes of walking still to go, we figured that Mass (which had started at 6:30) wasn’t entirely hopeless yet. But . . . we thought wrong! As we climbed the stairs, the first people were leaving – Mass had just finished. The sound of a silent church? That’s the sound of an epic fail.
We prayed by ourselves for a few minutes and then reluctantly set out on the way home. Lundu was a chaotic mess, so we walked through ZhongShanLu, which was also a chaotic mess, until we found a bus headed home. Summary of the evening’s adventure: over 3 hours, for nothing.
So yeah, I wasn’t feeling super disposed towards the average Chinese today. Probably the largest cultural obstacle I’ve found since coming here, even worse than the 麻烦 of paperwork, is the indifference (slash astounding rudeness) with which strangers are treated here. Even after 8 months, I haven’t completely let go of my irrational hope that, if I persevere in treating others with respect, they will return the favor. Over here, though, this attitude just sets one up for disappointment – the law of the land is “shove or be shoved”. I watched “Take the Lead” this evening and realized how much I miss common courtesy when I felt my heart melt when Antonio Banderas opened the door for a lady – not because he’s Antonio Banderas, but because he opened the door for a lady.
On a very related note, I’ve officially decided I’m not going to Shanghai for the World Expo. A bunch of tourists from all over China converging on a single location? Basically feel the same as I did about going to Gulangyu today – bamboo under the fingernails would be preferable.