Today I adventured to a new church for Mass. I went to St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Wangfujing, also known as 东堂 or East Church. I think that means that I win Beijing Catholic bingo – I’ve now been to the South, West, North, and East churches.
I went to the 4pm Mass because I was meeting friends afterwards. Only as I walked up to the church did I remember that it was an English Mass. I’ve generally avoided them (or, rather, not gone to any extra effort whatsoever) because after a few weeks I found that I caught as much or more of the Mass in Chinese than in English when spoken by a Chinese priest.
We had an Indian priest, though, which oddly makes me feel like I’m back in America? Foreign priests are commonplace in the US; Tulsa was even a missionary diocese, to make our dependence on international priests explicit.
We did several of the Mass parts in Latin chant. I’ve always treasured the time I spent with one of our priests at the Newman Center in Tulsa learning Gregorian Chant, including the entire Missa de Angelis, and it has served me well. (Speaking of, that was an option at karaoke yesterday. Along with the Regina Caeli. Odd?) And in my capacity as choir director at the Newman Center, I advocated for at least a basic familiarity with chant and the Mass parts in Latin, because Latin is the language of our universal Church. This conviction has been reaffirmed in my international travels – Latin is our common denominator. Plus, if the Chinese can learn it (they don’t even get any cognates!), there’s just no excuse for English speakers.
After Mass, I met up with some family friends from the States. It was incredible to see them – they’re wonderful people, and I felt so happy hearing those Oklahoman accents. It was also a very vivid reminder of how much time has passed since I was last in China. They came over to China in March of 2010 to adopt a son, and I flew over to Guangzhou from Xiamen to hang out with them while they dealt with the paperwork. I got to help a tiny bit with communication, and got them a few memorable meals (some for good reasons, others because there were cornflakes on the salad). Five years later, that son has grown into a hulking football player, a high school graduate, and a sharp young man.
Similarly, another of their sons was just learning Chinese when they came over for the adoption. He was full of questions – “how do you say ___” – as a beginner asking someone more advanced. Since then, he’s spent a year at Peking University studying Mandarin, picked up a few more languages at school, and is off to Japan in the fall for a year of study there. Now when we talk, it’s much more as equals, and more about experiences than vocabulary. “Do you feel like you’re a different person in China?”, that sort of thing.
He’s also way more of an old Beijing hand than I am, having spent a year here. I told him a bit about the difficulties of my third week here – I never realize how deep those emotional pits are until I’m out of them, but being sick, fretting about the lack of progress at work, dealing with a straight week of worst pollution I’d experienced, and various other collisions of expectations with reality really did a number on me. He said that he loved Beijing, but “it can really chew you up and spit you back out”. Sounds about right.
We went to 南锣鼓巷街, a touristy market street on the west side of Beijing. We walked up and down, grabbing dinner and several beers at a restaurant and capping the night with 绵绵冰, my favorite Taiwanese dessert (super finely shaved ice topped with fruit). It was cold and delicious, basically everything I was expecting.
It was great to see them! As we were parting ways in the subway, we saw a woman carrying a bag that we became obsessed with:
Fate is like a strange
It is just so ridiculous that our paths have not only crossed once again, but that it happened in China! Fate is, indeed, like a strange.