Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘Gulangyu’

What Was On My Mind (III)

In Uncategorized on September 4, 2010 at 5:00 pm

The end of the year, captured in facebook statuses:

 

Maria Holland heard someone say “Not gonna lie” today and, not gonna lie, it made me realize how long I’ve been away from America.
May 12 at 11:35pm

Maria Holland is still delighted every time I realized I can speak and read Chinese. Does it ever get old?
May 15 at 12:36am

Maria Holland It would have been nice to know we were climbing a mountain after Mass today, because the clothes I usually wear to Mass are generally not the best for mountain climbing. But, I’ve now climbed a mountain in peep-toed sandals and a skirt and feel more Chinese for the experience.
May 16 at 10:00pm

Maria Holland is spending the night at the church on Gulangyu. I’m planning a peaceful and quiet night, praying for Uncle Daniel and Robert, Nick, & Lonnie on the anniversary of their deaths. Glad we got to know you, Daniel.
May 18 at 5:12pm

Maria Holland had a beautiful night on Gulangyu. I took in a violin concert, savored the silence of the island broken only by piano music, slept three doors away from the choir loft of a century-old Catholic church, went to morning Mass, and had porridge with the bishop.
May 19 at 9:46am

Maria Holland got a SEVEN on the HSK!!!!!! I could theoretically go to college in China . . . but I think I’ll head back to TU and finish up there.
May 19 at 11:55am

Maria Holland it is May 2010 and, just like May 2007 and May 2008, I am making my way to the northeast of China. It’s almost like going home . . .
Meat sticks, I’m coming for you. Get ready!
May 20 at 2:54pm

Maria Holland is in Hunchun, the (0,0,0,0) coordinate of my life in China! I’ve been living with Xiao Zhang and Xiao Li, visited Mob Boss and MacGyver, eaten at DongFang and am currently preparing for an epic Shell birthday dinner complete with my cake and homemade dairy products like you wouldn’t believe.
Be jealous.
May 23 at 4:43pm

Maria Holland is in Hunchun at the farm today, for the third anniversary of my first day in China, and the third International Day of Prayer for the Church in China. Please join me, il Papa, and Christians around the world in praying for love, mutual understanding, and unity (both spiritual and political) between all 基督徒 in China.
May 24 at 8:34am

Maria Holland met up with Zaibin, my very first Chinese friend, today and we went to see Goose Lady!
May 25 at 8:52pm

Maria Holland has spent nine months in China!
May 26 at 10:31pm

Maria Holland is going to Xiao Zhang’s to learn how to make jiaozi and sugared potatoes! This means no internet ’til Sunday night though . . .
May 27 at 3:21pm

Maria Holland it is 10 a.m. in China and I’ve already stolen someone’s identity and broken the law. I’m currently sitting in what seems to be a love motel that I have rented by the hour. This has been a great trip . . .
May 30 at 10:39am

Maria Holland is back in Xiamen, happy to be out of Jilin but already missing Hunchun.
Also, how is it almost June??
May 31 at 10:52am

Maria Holland I live on a tropical island. Today is the 2nd of June. I wore my winter coat to go to dinner. One of these things is not like the others . . .
June 2 at 9:42pm

Maria Holland taking advantage of the rain to have the laziest day ever. Entire day spent in pajamas – check. Lunch delivered – check. Dinner delivered – check. Four seasons of Psych on DVD – check.
June 3 at 8:38pm

Maria Holland found out that Chinese people think mixed-blood babies are exceptionally beautiful and smart. Whatever. It’s when it turns into a matchmaking service designed to match me with a Chinese husband that I start to mind. Also, does EVERYONE have to participate? Random old man on the street last night, I’m talking about you . . .
June 5 at 2:56pm

Maria Holland watched Iron Man 2 (钢铁侠2) in theaters today and then bought both 1 & 2 on DVD immediately afterwards, for less than the cost of a movie in America. Sweet!
June 6 at 8:49pm

Maria Holland enjoyed an hour-long massage for $5 this morning. Yeah, I’m doin’ alright.
June 8 at 11:09pm

Maria Holland has still not bought return tickets. Maybe I’m not quite ready for that step . . .
June 10 at 12:52am

Maria Holland has pancake mix, dried pasta, marshmallows, chocolate, nutella, condensed milk, brown sugar, powdered sugar, and most of a bottle of gin . . . . and I am determined to use all of it before I leave this country, despite lacking an oven or any discernible kitchen.
June 10 at 5:41pm

Maria Holland had a great time watching the opening game of the World Cup. It’s a weird feeling, though, probably like what Harry Potter felt upon discovering this whole other world that only cares about one sport, a sport that you’ve never heard of.
June 12 at 1:01am

Maria Holland US vs. England in our first World Cup appearance – at 2:30 a.m. on a Saturday/school night? Why certainly!
June 12 at 11:12pm

Maria Holland needs more soccer-related vocabulary if I’m going to continue watching the World Cup in China. Tonight’s 生词: “draw” = 平. 我为美国加油! (I’m cheering for America!)
June 13 at 5:01am

Maria Holland Tomorrow would be the perfect day to leave Xiamen, because I just had the perfect Last Night in Country: singing French drinking songs on a bus that we flagged down at 2 a.m. and convinced to take us to a bar.
June 18 at 3:39am

Maria Holland is gearing up for a showdown between America and Slovenia – basically, me vs. Kristina. 美国 para ganar!
June 18 at 8:41pm

Maria Holland is really getting this football thing. Not getting the whole sleep thing, though. The two may or may not be related.
June 19 at 3:19am

Maria Holland is ready to go home, I guess. Everything is moldy and I’m tired of it. 30 days seems just about right!
June 21 at 11:06pm

Maria Holland has the Stomach Clench of Death. Come on yogurt, work your magic . . .
June 22 at 2:23pm

Maria Holland and this is why I’m loving the World Cup: sitting in a coffehouse, watching the England-Slovenia game and reading updates on the US-Algeria game, with friends from 3 of the 4 countries next to me. The US goal in the final minutes to win the group didn’t hurt either, of course!
June 24 at 12:38am

Maria Holland This may be the best line of its kind since “save a horse, ride a cowboy: “Although I’m a cowboy, I only drink milk in bars. Why don’t I drink beer? Because it’s bad for your health.” Courtesy of a Chinese cowboy song, “Cowboys Are Very Busy”
June 25 at 2:52am

Maria Holland taking a nap in my U.S.A jersey before the game. Sorry, Africa, but I hope Ghana’s out after this . . .
June 27 at 1:08am

Maria Holland Xiamen has a way of making up for Bad China Days. I had a very successful trip shopping for gifts this morning, spent a beautiful afternoon on the beach, and am headed out for dinner and the game. NEDERLANDS!!!
June 28 at 6:59pm

Maria Holland plans to enjoy each of my remaining days in China as much as I did today. Lunch with friends, afternoon on the beach, winning two games of 6-player Catan tonight. Spain and Holland play this weekend and we’re celebrating the Fourth on a boat, then I go to Hangzhou to see Matt Thomas! 挺好的 :)
July 1 at 1:38am

Maria Holland has a plane ticket! On July 20th at 8 p.m. (Beijing time), I will begin my adventure towards home. Expect me around 9 a.m. Central on Wednesday, July 21st at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport – allowing, of course, for 48 hours of possible “adventure-related delays”.
July 1 at 12:20pm

Maria Holland is feeling far from home right now. Didn’t realize how important the internet is to keeping me connected, until they shut off our electricity today and I missed the news of my aunt’s heart attack. Please pray for my Aunt Cathy!
July 3 at 9:34pm

Maria Holland This was the best Fourth of July ever . . . if I do say so myself. Wait for pictures if you don’t believe me!
July 4 at 8:34pm

Maria Holland is not quite caught up from an amazing Fourth of July weekend but, ready or not, I’m off to Suzhou and Hangzhou tomorrow afternoon!
July 6 at 12:07am

Maria Holland Spain vs. the Netherlands in the World Cup final: two countries with the best-looking football, the best-looking footballers, and some of my best friends. I cannot lose!
July 8 at 4:29am

Maria Holland had Papa John’s delivered and ate it with an old friend from elementary, middle, and high school. BTW, I’m still in China. That’s crazy, right?
July 8 at 9:20pm

Maria Holland returned to Xiamen for the last time. The next time I return somewhere, I will be returning to the United States. 11 days . . .
July 9 at 8:55pm

Maria Holland will miss many things when I leave here – but not The Key anymore, and never the giant kamikaze bugs.
July 11 at 2:00am

Maria Holland is getting ready for three finals: the World Cup at 2:30 a.m., Listening at 9:00 a.m., and Grammar at 10 a.m. I predict domination in all three!
July 11 at 9:31pm

Maria Holland AAAH. This morning was amazing, between the game, the glorious sunrise, and the celebratory s’mores that we ate (possibly for breakfast). No longer tired. Two finals in three hours.
July 12 at 6:06am

Maria Holland is so tired. My sleep schedule has been messed up by constant goodbye parties and the month-long World Cup, but if I can keep it up for 8 more days maybe I won’t have jet lag when I get back home?
July 13 at 1:58am

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The Plan Seems To Be Working!

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2010 at 10:49 pm

I woke up early this morning to return to the main island for Mass.  Yes, we were already next door to a church, but weekday Masses are on Xiamen so I took the ferry back with Fr. Zhao.  It was a hazy morning, which felt about right as mornings in Xiamen usually are hazy, but it felt strange to be seeing Xiamen’s skyline through the haze instead of the familiar green contours of Gulangyu, punctuated by European-style architecture.

After Mass I went looking for Sister to ask about paying for the room last night.  She didn’t understand the question for quite some time – she couldn’t understand why I was asking her how much money she wanted.  Apparently the question was really ridiculous, because once she understood she called the bishop over to tell him the joke.  He invited me to join them for a breakfast of porridge – joking that it would cost 15 kuai.  This is the Bishop Cai I know and love! 

I’m beginning to like 稀饭 – porridge that basically looks like rice being slowly drowned in its own juices.  Throw a couple peanuts in there, some tofu or veggies, and (if you’re unlucky) some pickled radish, and you’re good to go.  I’m seriously becoming Chinese . . . I felt especially native today, as I got off the ferry from Gulangyu carrying one of the trademark small duffle bags containing Gulangyu 特产, some dried meat products that especially come from this island.  The general rule for foreigners is that 特产 are nasty, but I’m going to visit Chinese friends in Jilin and, as it’s practically required that every Chinese visitor leave with bags full of this stuff, I figured they might enjoy some. 

When I left after breakfast, I said goodbye to Fr. Zhao.  He’ll probably be gone by the time I get back from Jilin, and I don’t know when or where I will see him next.  I never really like goodbyes, but this one was particularly hard.  In my culture, a goodbye like this calls for a hug, but between the discomfort that Chinese people generally display when I hug them, and the fact most American priests don’t even hug, I didn’t dare.  So sad. 

I made it back to campus in plenty of time to get to class.  We started a new text in Grammar class, representing a new pinnacle of achievement as far as most boring 课文’s EVER go.  I’m quite pleased to be missing the next four classes, in which the rest of the class will hopefully finish discussing the harmful effects of playing too many video games. 

As class ended I heard that the HSK scores were out, so I ran back to my room to check.  I put in my information and clicked 查询, expecting to see a big number in the range of 3-8, hopefully a 4 or 5, but whatever, no pressure . . . Instead, I see this:

Fullscreen capture 5192010 35941 PM.bmp

A bunch of numbers, none within the range of 3-8, the possible scores on the beginner/intermediate test that I took.  Hmm.  So I dig out my HSK handbook and started paging through it, looking for something to help me interpret these numbers!  I finally find it, but I must have looked wrong, because this couldn’t possibly be right. 

Because there’s NO WAY I got a 7 on the HSK.  6 is the grade you need to go to college in Chinese, and 6 is the grade that I hoped for in my heart of hearts.  5 was my personal challenge and I would have been okay with a 4 I guess, but 6 was as high as I dared to even consider. 

Yes, 321 points is in the 7 range, but they must be talking about a different number.  Yes, 中等B级 is a 7 but that’s impossible, so I look again.  This stupid booklet is entirely in Chinese – if I had gotten a 7 on the HSK (which I couldn’t have!), I should be able to figure it out.  As Sheldon would say, “Catch 22, thou art a heartless bitch.”  I call XuLei and beg her to come up and check this; she reads all the scoring rules and details and confirms it – I got a SEVEN on the HSK!  I got a 6 on Listening, 8’s on Reading and Grammar, and a 7 on the Comprehensive section, which adds up to a 7.

Sweet.  Ridiculous, but freakin’ sweet. 

While this is probably more attributable to my test-taking superpower than to any mastery of the Chinese language, I choose to interpret this score as complete vindication.  I am assuaged of any guilt over my impromptu trip to Guangzhou and Hong Kong the week before the HSK, and get to totally preempt any guilt over my impending 10-day trip to Jilin and the quick visit I’m planning to Hangzhou/Suzhou during the final week of classes.  Dance classes, eating my weight in eggplant each week, going to every single event offered by my church, and personally getting to know every employee of Coco – this is all part of my master plan to learn Chinese, a master plan that only includes attending class when no better language-learning opportunity presents itself.  Apparently it’s working! 

I’m still busy today trying to get things done before leaving for Jilin tomorrow.  Pretty much the only thing I have time for, besides getting ready, is getting excited.  Really, really excited.

O Death, Where Is Your Victory?

In Uncategorized on May 18, 2010 at 9:32 pm

I started the day with Mass.  I haven’t made it over to church on weekday mornings much this year, but today I really had to.  My uncle, Lt. Col. Daniel Holland, was killed in Iraq four years ago today, and while I’ve since observed this anniversary in very different places, they have all had one thing in common – prayer for the repose of his soul.  In 2007 I was in Rome, where we offered Mass for them at the Pantheon and said the Stations of the Cross on the Santa Scala; in 2008 I was in Poland, where we offered Mass for them in Krakow and visited Auschwitz; and in 2009 I was at my grandparents’ cabin in the mountains of New Mexico. 

At noon, I met some friends for lunch on campus; it was an opportunity to catch up with Vikki, who I hadn’t seen in a long time.  I had two classes afterwards but skipped the second one because of a headache.  I felt much better after sleeping for a few hours so I got up, threw some things into my backpack and 赶快ed over to Gulangyu. 

I have said before, and I’ll say it again, that I’m not the biggest fan of Gulangyu (the small island off my island).  I contest its status as an idyllic serene paradise; the droves of paradise-seeking tourists tend to ruin the idyll and serenity.  But I wanted to see it in another light – namely, no light.  I figured that it would be a much more peaceful place at night, and decided that today was the perfect day to make a small retreat to the small island. 

The island has an international youth hostel and several other places to stay, but a guy from church said that if I just talked to Sister, they would let me stay at the church.  One of Xiamen’s two churches is on Gulangyu, and the priests and sister live in the adjacent building.  I just mentioned it to Sister on Sunday, but apparently that was all it took because Bishop Cai asked me this morning if I was still coming.

So I made my way over to the church, where Fr. Zhao let me in and showed me to a simple room with two beds.  I dropped my stuff off there and went down the street to the concert hall, where I met up with some friends for a violin concert.  I know, right?  So classy!  It was the senior recital of a XiaDa student, and quite a nice way to begin my night on Gulangyu, which is alternately known as Piano Island and Music Island.  I wasn’t incredibly impressed with her playing because (is it cliche to say this about a Chinese musician?) it lacked emotion.  Her teacher was quite good, though, and the duet they ended with was really enjoyable.  In addition to that, it was worth going just to hear the super-enthusiastic announcer (seriously, he made my day), and to watch the poor girl get inundated with approximately 200 flowers and – no joke – two life-sized stuffed animals at the end of the recital. 

Aleid, Jelle, Yerkin and I shared a drink (Dan would approve, right?) on a balcony with a view of Xiamen’s skyline, then they went home and I returned to the church for the night. 

IMG_2798

Even more than the free room on the island, I appreciated the proximity of said room to the church.  Specifically, if I exited my room, walked down the hallway past three doors, turned a corner, and went up about five steps – I found myself in the choir loft of our quaint century-old church.  It was perfect, just where I wanted to be this night.  I stayed there for about an hour before going to bed, just spending some time in quiet prayer. 

I was really happy with how everything worked out.  I leave for Jilin in two days and there’s a lot to get done before I go; I knew that if I stayed in the dorm I would end up saying a few quick prayers but anything more would get lost in the shuffle.  I was feeling pressured and a little bit stressed out, but as soon as I left the room (and my computer, and my textbooks, and my to-do list) behind, I felt light and free. 

Also, I know that if I had stayed in my room my main way of remembering Daniel would be to read through the journal entries I wrote immediately after his death and in the months following.  May 2006 was a really difficult period in my life.  Uncle Dan’s death was obviously the worst thing that happened, but the fact that it came just days before my graduation from high school and days before me breaking up with my boyfriend of nearly two years certainly didn’t help things.  Needless to say, going back to read those entries is like walking down memory lane, but it’s a lane that’s haunted and reeks of despair.

But tonight I didn’t allow myself to brood over those entries and to relive those feelings.  Instead, I prayed the Office of the Dead, featuring this reading from 1 Cor 15:55-57 – “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?  But thanks be to God who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Instead, I said a rosary and meditated on the Glorious Mysteries – including the Resurrection.  Instead, I found myself reminded not of the pain of his death, but of our faith in Christ’s resurrection and our hope in eternal life.  It helped . . .

LTC Holland - Composite

If you’ll indulge me, I’ll share a little bit about my uncle.  He was the youngest of my dad’s nine siblings, the spoiled baby of the family.  He was also the fun young uncle, the one who either willfully broke rules or believed they didn’t apply to him.  He lived all over the world as an Army brat and then an officer himself, but never lost his Texas drawl. 

I spent most of my life living far away from my extended family, but we lived in the same state as his family for a while when I was young, visited them often when they lived farther away, and once even went to Germany to see them.  We played a lot of games together, especially group Solitaire (the Holland family tradition, of which he was the undisputed champion).  I also remember being unusually outdoorsy with him – going swimming and tubing, playing (okay, watching) basketball, and shooting guns. 

He went to OSU (no bio, however short, would be complete without mentioning that) through the ROTC program and went straight into the Army as a member of the Veterinary Corps.  Yes, the Army has veterinarians; they take care of military working dogs and horses, oversee food supply to bases, and do humanitarian missions.  Daniel went to Iraq with a civil affairs unit in April of 2006; in one of the few emails we received from him he told us that they went out to:

evaluate Iraqi sites that pertain to public health, vet med, animals, or agriculture.  The idea being to encourage civil participation, collect civil information, and to positively impact the average Iraqi citizen by helping them with their subsistence style of ag/animal husbandry.  Frankly, we can make more progress helping
here than working on huge national problems that take forever to impact and don’t resonate with the average Haji. 

He was killed when the Humvee he was traveling in hit an IED.  Nick Cournoyer, Robert Siedel, Lonnie Allen, and an Iraqi interpreter were also with him in the vehicle that day; they died together and today I remember them together in my prayers.

I’ll never forget the way he would say hello to me (a rib-crushing hug and a lilting “Hey, Li’l Cissy!”), but his trademark was the way he said goodbye.  Without fail, he would say “Glad you got to see me!” with a grin on his face that showed how inordinately pleased he was with his clever farewell.  Now it’s engraved on his tombstone, but I find it no less fitting since he passed away – because we are glad that we got to see you, Uncle Daniel.

Does It Count If I Hear Voices In My Sleep?

In Uncategorized on May 15, 2010 at 12:49 am

I had a dream – a nightmare, basically – in which various Chinese friends repeatedly told me to wear more clothes, drink hot water, and go to sleep earlier.  Every problem I had – worries about not getting into grad school, missing stuff back in America, not understanding usage of the particle 了 – would go away if I would just dress warmer, drink 开水, and rest more.  Then I woke up and realized that I live this nightmare every day.  Bummer.  But more importantly, does this count as dreaming in Chinese?

Class was cancelled today, so I made plans with a friend to go to Gulangyu.  ZheMing is a guy from church that I met a few weeks ago during preparations for the ordination; he worked at the Gulangyu hospital for two years and wanted to show me some places he knew. 

On the ferry ride over, we spotted a man in a Roman collar and tried to decide if he was a priest and if we should talk to him.  It turned out that he was with a group from Zhejiang, the province north of us along the coast, who had come to Xiamen on a pilgrimage.  (By the way, I was the one who figured this out, by reading their nametags.  It still amazes me sometimes, that I can read Chinese!)  We welcomed them to Xiamen, and then we turned around and there was YuanHong, a woman from church!  I love the coziness of a small community, even more so when I unexpectedly find that coziness in a city of 2+ million people. 

We first went to a small bar/coffee shop where where we had a breakfast of milktea and cake.  From there we went to 逛逛 around the island, making stops to visit his former coworkers at the hospital, grab barbecue and sesame treats, etc.  At one point my sandal broke; we walked about 5 minutes to a small alley where there were no less than four people with specialized sewing machines awaiting our business.  This is one of the things I love about China! 

We talked a lot while walking.  One interesting conversation concerned his description of the perfect life.  You’ve heard the joke:

In Heaven, the police are British, the cooks are French, the engineers are German, the administrators are Swiss, and the lovers are Italian.  In Hell, the police are German, the cooks are British, the engineers are Italian, the administrators are French, and the lovers are Swiss.

Well, the Chinese version is:

  • British salary
  • American house
  • Chinese food
  • Russian wife

We had lunch in a tiny restaurant on a cool antique/food street.  The menu included 五香肉 (a special Xiamen meat dish), an omelet with oysters, and – of course – gelatinized worms.  I’m really making progress on the worm front; I ate two or three pieces just fine!  Teacher said it takes three times before you like it, which means I’m only one more meal away from becoming a tried-and-true Fujianren.

We went back to the bar after a while so ZheMing could take a nap (seriously; 午睡, basically ‘siesta’, is a big deal deal here).  I forsook the nap in favor of a conversation with 老班, the owner of the bar.  We started out talking about marriage and divorce, then moved on to politics and government.  He had only good things to say about his government, praising the way Hu Jintao (personally) keeps all 1.3 billion Chinese clothed and fed – as opposed to the American government, which only has to take care of 300 million.  He also drew unfavorable comparisons between the handling of the Wenchuan earthquake and Hurricane Katrina.

I found the conversation very interesting.  It’s one thing to hear about how the average Chinese is willing to sacrifice freedom and autonomy for economic growth and security, and another to converse with someone who dismisses your concerns about holding the government responsible as irrelevant because everyone has a job and food to eat.  It’s one thing to hear people complain about there being “too many of them”, but another – quite shocking – thing to watch someone justify the controlled society they live in because “there’s too many of us, and things would get crazy if we had too much freedom”.  Is there any sadder phrase than “necessary evil”?

The overwhelming impression I was left with was the total complacency of this man, and my feeling of fear and horror in reaction.  Sometimes Americans can be polarized, overly aggressive and outspoken, and unwilling to compromise.  But, given a choice between this extreme passion and the complacency I often witness here in China, I realize that I would take the passion.  Complacency is a compromise, an acceptance of 还可以 (fine) right now instead of striving for 棒 (amazing) in the future.  Is it ever acceptable?  Even when we’re satisfied with our own lot in life, we should still strive for the betterment of others’! 

As we continued walking, I asked ZheMing about his family and his childhood.  He grew up Catholic; his mother and her parents are Catholic but his father converted some years ago from Buddhism.  Here’s how he explained his father’s conversion: “I just reasoned with him.  I told him that I’m Catholic and won’t be able to burn incense and scatter ashes on his grave after he dies, so it would just be better if he entered into the Church; then I could pray for him and offer Masses for him.”  His father now goes to church more than his mother does.

In addition to his family, he seems to have a very definite sense of belonging to this church community.  He referred several times to “Fr. Jiang and the sisters, who watched me grow up”.  He had such wonderful things to say about Fr. Jiang, whose “homilies always have so much truth in them”, and which he apparently never reuses.  I’ve definitely always had a sense of missing something when I don’t understand the homily, and I figured that he had something better to offer in Chinese than the rather generic English homilies he reads, but hearing his positive testimony made me aware of just what I’m losing out on. 

Our last stop on the island was the church.  He called Fr. Jiang, who let us in and invited us up for tea.  I usually find Fr. Jiang nearly impossible to hear clearly (and thus to understand) in both English and Chinese, but I guess the environment was just right today because I had no problems.  I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk to him, especially after the conversation I had just had with ZheMing.  I got clear answers about his life – 73 years old, spent 20 years in a labor camp before being declared innocent and released, not ordained until 1994, learned English mainly by himself (and even worked for 13 years as an English teacher) and Latin at seminary – which made me even more appreciative of him and more sad at what I’ve been missing out on.  I’ve resolved to go visit him a few more times before I leave, both as an opportunity to help him with his English and to learn from him whatever I can. 

There was a party tonight at some friends’ place.  It was my kind of party, the one that starts with guacamole, rolls on over into the refried beans and tortillas, and finishes up with sangria and maybe some tequila.  Chatting with everyone along the way, of course.  I was devastated to learn of more goodbyes approaching so rapidly, but it’s not like it’s a surprise that we’re all going to part ways at some point this summer.  没办法, all we can do is enjoy what we have while we have it! 

Peace out, all. 

If It’s Tourist Season, Does That Mean We Can Shoot Them?

In Uncategorized on May 2, 2010 at 1:42 am

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). 

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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:

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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. 

A Trip to the Botanical Gardens

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2010 at 1:35 am

The Xiamen Botanical Garden is free if you go before 7 in the morning.  It is also free if you go in by the secret route that consists of climbing a mountain by a barely-discernible path. 

Getting up was obviously out of the question, so we climbed the mountain.  There was me, Carlos, and Aleid, plus DongWei (a mutual friend of Carlos and me), three of his classmates, and another friend he got to guide us into the gardens. 

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The mountain climbing wasn’t actually too hard – although it was possibly the first time I heard a Chinese person say that it was still “very far” to our destination.  (It was also definitely my first time hiking through a palm tree forest!)  It was quite hot, though, and unexpectedly so.  We were in the high 20’s today (mid 80’s), which is definitely the hottest day we’ve had yet this spring.  It was okay once we got to the top of the mountain, where we had a great view of most of our island – including our campus and Gulangyu in the distance.

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Truth be told, I wasn’t incredibly impressed with the botanical gardens.  The only really cool 植物 that we saw were in the cactus garden. 

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It reminded me of my  Abuelos’ place in El Paso, with a little touch of Udall orientation thrown in. 

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They seriously had every kind of cactus there.  There were ridiculously colorful cacti:

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There were cacti that looked like octopi:

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There were cacti that looked like old bearded men:

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There were cacti prickly enough to give you nightmares:

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There were cacti that looked like a piece of art because of their detailed ornamentation:

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There were cacti that looked like birthday cakes, complete with candles:

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There were cacti that looked like they were dressed up for Easter with flowers in their hair:

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There were cacti that looked like they would be more at home in the ocean than in a desert:

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There were even cacti arranged to form a map of China and the characters 祖国万岁 (Long Live the Motherland!):

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But the real joy of the day’s excursions was walking around in a nice environment, enjoying the beautiful weather, and chatting.  For instance, we learned that Chinese people can’t tell us apart either and that certain trends (Pogs, Tamagotchies, and Furbies) were nearly universal.  In the perfect end to a great morning, we had lunch at a Sichuan place on ZhongShan Lu with the best tofu I’ve ever had.

This evening I had the joy of a Mass buddy.  JunCheng is a Korean classmate of mine who noticed the crucifix necklace I always wear and asked if I went to church here.  He just got to Xiamen a few weeks ago and had been looking for the church without success.  We made plans to go tonight, which was really nice for a change.  We were joined by a Chinese friend of mine along the way, and by the time we got to the church and I was greeting the familiar faces around me, I felt connected again.  I really missed Chinese Mass last week, I’m realizing, and it was good to be back.

Bejing’s Four Seasons

In Uncategorized on March 16, 2010 at 1:07 am

We’re finishing up our first lesson in the main Chinese course.  Next up is a dialogue titled 北京的四季, or “Beijing’s Four Seasons”.  Of course.  Approximately one-half of the texts and dialogues in our courses concern the four seasons of Beijing; sometimes for variety the four seasons of Beijing are contrasted with the four seasons in other Chinese cities, but that’s about as exciting as it gets. 

In spring they have peonies.  In summer they climb the Great Wall and go rowboating.  In fall they look at red leaves.  In winter they eat jiaozi.  There, you have now learned an entire year’s worth of Chinese culture.  This is all you will ever need to know about China, or at least that’s the impression we get from our classes.  It certainly doesn’t leave a good taste in my individualist American mouth.  I don’t buy into the Red Scare, but the texts do conjure up images of 1.3 billion Chinese robots glancing at the calendar, noticing that September has come, and automatically heading to the hills to collect red leaves; and there they stay until December, when they return to their homes with one accord to eat jiaozi for the next three months. 

Scary?  I think so.  At least depressing.  It also makes me run from the mere idea of reading an entire Chinese novel, because I don’t think I could stand a description of spring flowers that lasted for a quarter of a book which, based on my exposure to Chinese literature thus far, is what it would undoubtedly consist of.

This afternoon I went to my very first optional class.  I’m taking a preparatory class for the HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi or Chinese Level Test), the standard exam for foreign Chinese-learners.  I’m pretty militantly anti-test prep classes, but I’m making an allowance for this one because a) it’s free and b) I’m hoping to at least be able to understand the basic directions before test day. 

This week is American Music Week over on Gulangyu, and Andreea picked up tickets for tonight’s performance.  Tonight’s guest was William DeVan, a solo pianist from Alabama who played some Beethoven, Chopin, and Debussy.  I don’t necessarily think of classical music when I think of American music, but that’s certainly more understandable than the fact that half of the week’s performers were Greek – as in born and raised, not Greek-Americans. 

The concert was nice but I have a hard time relaxing so completely.  I like to always be doing things – reading, writing, knitting, etc. – and listening to music does not count.  With nothing else at hand, I read and reread the program and learned some musical words in Chinese: flat (降), sharp (升), major scale (大调), minor scale (小调), allegro (快板), adagio (慢板), etude (练习曲), and opus (作品).

On the ferry ride back, Andreea and I had a good conversation about our futures.  She’s really looking forward to going home this summer before returning for another year or two in China, and each day I get more and more excited to return to my life back home.  I can’t tell you how relieved and happy I am that I feel this way.  A lot of people (okay, Tanner) told me that I was going to get sucked into studying Chinese and would never finish my ME degree.  I didn’t think that would happen, but really what do I know?  At times, I wondered if the only reason I ever studied engineering was because this crazy circuitous route my life has followed was the only way God could get me to consider Chinese.  With just over four months to go, though, I can say that it’s not the case.  I’ve greatly enjoyed this random amazing opportunity that I’ve had this year, and I still am deeply unsure about what will happen next, but I know that I can’t wait to get back to the logic of math and science instead of the memorization and guessing of Chinese. 

English Mass, Revisited

In Uncategorized on March 15, 2010 at 1:03 am

I didn’t feel like adventuring all the way out to church yesterday, so I went this morning.  The weather was better – overwhelmingly gray but surprisingly warm and mostly dry.  This was my first time going to English Mass on Gulangyu in several months, and it felt really weird.  For instance, instead of carrying a huge bag containing dictionary, Bible, two songbooks, and the Order of the Mass, I just took my wallet and daily necessities. 

On the way over, I met up with some other XiaDa students who were going to Mass.  A number of people greeted me before and after Mass, even asking me to do the first reading.  I found this interesting because the lack of any sort of welcome was one of the reasons I figured I might as well go to Chinese Mass.  How would things be different now if someone had greeted me when I first came?  

So there were some nice things about English Mass on Gulangyu, but I am not about to make that my usual weekend Mass.  In the intervening months since I last went, I’d explained to so many people my choice to go to Chinese Mass that I began to question if my memory wasn’t deceiving me.  Is it really that hard to understand?  Answer: yes; I honestly understand more of the Chinese Mass by now (if I have a missal!), and am able to sing along almost as well.  Is Gulangyu really that repulsive on Sunday mornings?  Answer: absolutely yes.  Even on a day like today, when the weather could only be considered tolerable in comparison to the misery of yesterday, the ferry was packed with tourists and I got stuck behind at least four tour groups on my way to church.  During the service, you can hear tour guides yelling “And here we have a Catholic church!” in various languages through bullhorns.  People who describe Gulangyu as a quiet escape from China are crazy high on drugs.  Yeah, I realize that they don’t allow cars but at some point the volume of a few thousand tourists > the volume of a few hundred humming engines.  I would rather live on (or go to Mass at) Disneyland, I think.

Back on ‘my’ island (Xiamen), I met up with some friends for lunch at the dumpling restaurant.  I had just been informed that the 老板 (boss) was back after his months-long absence, which definitely called for a visit.  A big plate of 炸饺子 (fried dumplings) and 珍珠奶茶 (pearl milk tea) from the place next door was the perfect lunch.  The best dumplings contain pork, so it (along with my dinner of kungpao chicken) was a much-appreciated Sunday indulgence :)

And now, a dumping of my thoughts: 

I may have thought of another way to tell if someone studied a language in a classroom or in-country, but it only works for Chinese.  How many ways can you say “Chinese”, as in the language?  You may learn two ways in class (汉语 and 中文) but once you come to China you will more often hear other ways to say it (普通话,中国话, 国语) that you were never taught in class.  Also, if you know the name of any dialect (Cantonese included), that’s probably a good indication that you lived in China. 

In my time here in Xiamen, being surrounded by foreigners studying Chinese, I’ve had an interesting international experience.  I am a more familiar with other foreigners’ accents, but actually more so in Chinese than English.  Even though I have a really hard time distinguishing them by appearance, I can usually figure out if someone is Korean, Japanese, Thai, or Filipino once they start speaking Chinese.  Russians are also quite distinctive. 

Sometimes I hurt my brain by trying to think about how I sound in Chinese.  Like, try to envision a comparable accent, vocabulary, and grammar in English.  When I speak Chinese, do I sound like XuLei speaking English, or June, or (I wish) like Wang Pu? 

I’m also quite tickled every now and then when I realize that I can read pinyin.  It’s way easier than characters obviously, but still – I remember a time when I would look at a word like ‘lvyou’ or ‘nvren’ and have no idea where to even start, or when I would try to make ‘shi’, ‘si’, and ‘sui’ rhyme.  It reminds me of a friend’s shirt that said “You know you’re from St. Louis when . . . you know how to pronounce Loughborough”. 

I got to experience one of the most elusive simple pleasures of learning Chinese the other day.  We were walking back from the shoe repair shop when a sign caught my attention.  It said 不锈铁 – 不 as in ‘not’ and 铁 as in ‘metal’ and 锈 as in ‘a character I hadn’t studied yet’.  Despite never having seen that character before, I immediately and instinctively knew its meaning – ‘rust’, making the entire phrase “stainless steel”.  I figured it out only partly based on the connotation; what actually helped was the composition of the character and the verbal Chinese I learned back on the farm.  The left part of the 锈 character is a radical that means metal (金), the right side is phonetic based on the character 锈 (pronounced ‘xiu’), and I remembered at one point learning that ‘rust’ was pronounced ‘xiu’.  Put the clues together and it’s quite obvious that the character and pinyin were one and the same!  How fortuitous that I didn’t learn characters that summer, as it made yesterday’s joy possible.  We just learned another character in class that is just as obvious – 驴, which is pronounced lǘ and means ‘donkey’.  The left half of the character is the horse radical (马) while the right side is a phonetic based on the character 户 (pronounced ‘hu’).  Delightfully simple, although I didn’t have the pleasure of figuring it out myself. 

At the party that the Dutch guys hosted last night, they introduced me to one of their Chinese friends.  I said, “Hi, my name is Maria”, to which he immediately responded “Holland?”  I was really surprised/creeped out that he knew my last name . . . until I realized he was guessing at my nationality.  I stammered for a few seconds before being able to tell him that I am American.  I do think it’s super cool, though, that both my first and last names have official Chinese transliterations: 马利亚·荷兰. 

There was an article last week on the Union of Catholic Asian News that hit close to home – literally.  The title, “Fujian Priest Detained Over Youth Camp” caught my attention pretty quickly, because I live in Fujian.  It was in another diocese, and a priest of the underground church, but the idea that there is religious persecution and suppression going on now, in the same country as me, is very sobering.   

In other Google Reader news (seriously, it’s a lifesaver), I am now subscribed to the world’s most popular blog.  韩寒, a Chinese racecar driver, singer, author, and hearthrob (I know, right?) has a blog that has received over 330 million views.  It’s the first Chinese blog that I’ve subscribed to, but seems like a good choice because of its popularity and the possibility of controversy

Dad’s Bucket List: Check, Check!

In Uncategorized on January 18, 2010 at 12:21 am

Today my parents had their first Western meal in China.  It wasn’t that they couldn’t take Chinese food anymore after only four days – there were other factors.  I had invited two of my Saudi Arabian friends, who took me to my first Western restaurant in Xiamen, and they don’t really eat Chinese food.  Also, the Pizza Hut that we went to happens to be on the 24th floor of a building along the waterfront

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and has a great view of Gulangyu

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(or, from where we sat, a maze of typical Chinese streets)

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I’m glad my parents were there for my first Chinese Pizza Hut experience because, while I thought it was delicious, it’s hard for me to tell if Western food is actually good or if I’m just so desperate that I’ll eat anything remotely resembling cheese.  Apparently Pizza Hut’s food is pretty legit, because we all thought it was great.

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In the afternoon, we went to Baicheng (the beach side of XiaDa) and rented bikes.  One item on Dad’s bucket list was to ride a bike in China, so we paid a few dollars (for the kind of bike you would expect to get for a few dollars) and got to cross that off the list. 

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The sun was out but the wind was too so the temperature was perfect.  There were a ton of like-minded people renting bikes, but luckily no shortage of bikes to rent.  There were single, double, and triple bikes and even bikes for four people arranged in two rows.  We only biked for an hour (from my beach to the next one up the coast) but it was just about the right amount of time.

After the ride, we had an appointment with a friend of mine to do something else from Dad’s bucket list – play ping pong with a Chinese man.  Mr. Hou is one of the men that I dance with and I recently found out that he plays ping pong every night before dancing.  He wasn’t there last night, but we luckily ran into him today and he had some free time.  Dad was really excited for the match until my friend pulled out his own ping pong paddle in a special ping pong paddle case.  Dad didn’t even have a paddle, much less a case! 

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We think (slash are really sure) that Mr. Hou was being easy on him, because after winning the first two games Dad won the last three to be crowned the victor. 

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We weren’t quite ready for dinner afterwards, so we decided to go up to the top of the Tall Building.  I had to convince the guard to let us go up, but it was totally worth it for the view.  I had been once before, but it was right when I got here and I didn’t know what I was looking at.  You can see basically my entire life from up there, though – XiaDa, Baicheng, Hulishan, West Gate, Nanputuo (pictured below), Gulangyu . . . my island! 

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We just happened to be up there for the sunset, which was of course beautiful. 

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For dinner, I took my parents to the School Friends Cafeteria, my favorite restaurant by West Gate.  We had 拔丝地瓜 (candied sweet potatoes), 咖哩鸡肉 (curry chicken), and 地三鲜 (my favorite dish, with eggplant, potato, and hot pepper). 

We ended the day a little bit early because we have to pack for the next leg of our trip.  Tomorrow we fly to Guangzhou (known in the West as Canton).  I can’t believe I’m leaving Xiamen (which besides being amazingly beautiful, is also my home right now) for three weeks!  Actually, I still haven’t exactly figured out what I’m doing once I say goodbye to my parents in Beijing, so it may even be 4 weeks! 

My China: Eggplant, Sunsets, Church, and Dancing

In Uncategorized on January 17, 2010 at 1:29 am

We slept in a little bit today and, after a quick Chinese lesson, met some of my friends for lunch at the restaurant on campus.

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The main attraction at lunch was 炭烧茄子, the best eggplant dish in all of China.  It was a big hit all around, as were my three wonderful friends (Carlos, Pun, and Vikki).

Then we went back to LunDu, where we boarded a ferry.  We opted for the scenic boat ride, which took us all the way around the small island of Gulangyu in about a half hour.

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When we landed, we headed in the general direction of my church so I could show them the beautiful old building where I sometimes go to Mass.  I’d only been before on Sundays for service, so I hadn’t realized that it’s not open the rest of the week.  In one of those circumstances that happens to me way too often to be luck, we were seen standing at the gate by the sister who lives at the church, who let us in.  She opened the church so they could look inside and then invited us up to have tea, where we also got to see the two priests that live there. 

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After visiting the church I didn’t have any specific plans for the island so we just wandered.  We came across a small park, built in honor of a woman named Lin Qiao Zhi, who was a Chinese OB-GYN.  There was a statue and a collection of stones engraved with quotes of hers, like this one: 

“It is more significant for me to spend my birthdays in the delivery room than anywhere else.  As an obstetrician it is my responsibility to be present at the birth.  After the baby comes into the world, the cries are the most pleasant paean of life.  To me, indeed, that is the best birthday gift.”

She really seemed like a remarkable woman.  Most interestingly to me, she came across as a profoundly pro-life person – not in the narrow sense of opposing abortion, but just by cherishing life.  Her job was bringing life into the world and protecting it, and she loved that. 

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We continued on, following the sun towards the shore.  We ended up on the beach just in time to watch the last half hour of the sun’s descent, which produced some beautiful colors before being suffocated by the perpetual haze. 

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My parents got a taste of the real China when we attempted to take the ferry back just after sunset, along with half of Xiamen’s population and a delegation from every province of China.  It was a little ridiculous, but we made it back to Xiamen safely.

We made it to the church just in time for Mass, but too late to find a good seat for the three of us.  We ended up sitting upstairs, so Dad got some good (and relatively unobtrusive) photos of Mass.

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Afterwards, of course, we took the mandatory altar photo.

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The friends in the photo had asked to take us out to dinner, but time was relatively short because of my plans to take my parents dancing, so we took them to dinner instead.  Unfortunately, they had planned to take us to a 5-star hotel restaurant, and I took them to a hole-in-the-wall where we sat on plastic stools and had to bring our own drinks.  We did, however, arrive in style, because their driver gave us a ride in their personal car.  The husband is the head of a major joint venture company here in Xiamen, and can’t imagine how different their experience must be here in Xiamen.  Yeah, I felt a little silly bringing them to my little restaurant, but I think everyone thought the food was good (or at least the couple, who are incredibly gracious, acted like they thought it was).  Anyway, the Xiamen part of this trip is about showing my parents MY China, which is definitely more plastic-stools-on-the-street than Marco Polo. 

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We arrived late to dancing and caused quite a stir.  Most people knew my parents were coming, and anyway it wasn’t that hard to figure out the new foreigners had come with me.  My parents got to see me dance, and Mom even got asked a few times.

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Afterwards, I acted as a translator between Dad and one of the men who is a military teacher at XiaDa.  He was quite impressed that Dad went to West Point, and Dad made his first Chinese friend.  He also impressed them all by bidding the “ladies and gentleman goodnight”. 

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My parents are really loving China so far, or at least Xiamen.  They say it’s like a dream, that no one’s life can be like this.  I hope they enjoy the rest of their trip as well, or I’m afraid they’re going to get to the Great Wall, sigh, and say that the lit-up highways in Xiamen are better!