Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas in China

We spent our first Christmas in China. It was wonderful, relaxing and focused. We relaxed as a family, spent time with friends, skyped with family and went ice skating. The university near our house freezes their athletic field and uses it for PE classes or recreational skating. It costs RMB 5 to skate and RMB 5 to rent skates. So it costs us a total of RMB 25 (E. owns her own skates) to skate for a few hours. In American dollars that is about $3.50.
People might be surprised that Christmas is a big holiday here. Santa is everywhere-Santa says "Christmas Merry" or even "Feliz Navidad." There are trees decorated, tinsel and glitter. I can't seem to get my pictures to upload but you might be surprised at what is here.
However, it is totally secular. There is little knowledge of the incarnation, that Immanuel has come with us. And that is sad.
We spent Christmas Eve at a local registered body. We sang, we watched a pageant performed and generally had a good time. At the end, something redemptive and wonderful happened.
Every Christmas, our daughter has had gold coins in her stocking. You've probably seen them-the coins in a mesh bag. It's a Dutch German thing. I saw them a few months ago at the foreign grocery store but didn't grab them. Lesson learned- if you want something and you see it, buy it!
Elisabeth was sad about not having them this year. She had even asked me that day if I had found any. Tradition is important when all your roots have been pulled up and everything is new.
So, as we were at the end of the service, they started to hand out candy. I looked back at what she was holding and there it was. A gold coin. A gold yuan-the old ancient Chinese money. She got her coin in a new form! It just was a wonderful reminder of a loving Father who cares for her.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A typical day.

We've had some intnernet issues that haven't made it possible for me to post. I still can't upload pictures but I can write!
Some people have asked us what our life is like here in China- what is a typical day? Well, the only thing that I can say is that no day is typical! Things that are just so different here. We have quickly gotten used to the noise, the crowdedness, the traffic. We have come to realize that everything takes twice or three times as long to get done. For example- we shop at mostly local markets. This means that when we go to the store, we walk down to the basement to get our bikes, ride to the store, go to the butcher, the fruit and vegetable people and the the main grocery. All is done in cash so if we don't have cash, we first have to go to the ATM. This takes much longer than when we were in the states and simply got in the car and drove five minutes to the store, shopped, paid with our bank card, had someone bag our groceries and drove home.
Our main activity right now is culture and language learning. We are in language school five days a week and meet with language helpers at least two afternoons a week. We are involved with an English Corner on Friday nights that is sponsored by a local group with the same world view as us. We've had many good conversations at this group. Paul is involved in a different book study on a different evening.
I tutor an ESL student one afternoon a week at the international school and am doing some teacher training at our language school.
Here are some descriptions of a few days in the last week.

Day One. It is well below freezing. Paul gets on his bike and rides 50 minutes north to a meeting which was very fruitful. After the meeting, he rides 40 minutes to the post office to pick up a package (mail doesn't come to our home). At the post office, he is told that the package is not at this post office, it's at a different one on the north side of the city. Right near where he had his morning meeting! So he rides his bike home where I am working with my language helper.
After she leaves, we get on the bus to go to the post office. It is still well below freezing and there is no heat on the bus. There is ice on the windows. Paul studies Chinese on the ride. I feel sleepy and consider whether I have hypothermia. I think about getting out and getting a taxi. Then I realize that getting off the bus will mean standing outside of in the cold and that there was no guarantee that the taxi would have heat. So we stay on the bus for the 45 minutes it takes to get to the Beizhan post office near the north train station.
At the post office, we show our passports and get a nice little package from my friend in England. Then, since we were on the north side of the city, I asked Paul if we could go to the Manna Bookstore. This is a religious store that sells books and CD's and they also have a business where they make beautiful scrolls.
We get a taxi remarkably quickly. When we pull up to Imperial Palace (the bookstore is near there), we realize that the driver has turned off the meter and has charged us three times what he should have. It's dark (even though it's only 4:30) and Paul realizes that the guy had told him that was what he was going to do. That's not an uncommon practice around the train station. So we paid and went to the bookstore.
The store was nice and the scrolls were beautiful. We bought each other scrolls for Christmas.
Then we stepped out into a cold and frosty night right around the time that the taxi driver's change shifts. We are in a part of the city where we don't know the buses so we needed a taxi. Most tell us no because it's too far across the city to take us. We were far north and we live far south in the city. Finally, one has pity and we get home. For less than what we paid the driver who took us ten minutes from the train station.
We arrive home exhausted and order Chinese take-out for dinner!

Day 2. In the morning, we took a young teacher to the airport. She has been here for a few months and it was her time to go back to the US. Negotiating a taxi to the airport takes some language skill and bargaining. We found a driver that was very reasonable and fit three people, a driver and four big suitcases into a taxi. We arrive at the airport, check her in, have a little kerfluffle about overage and overweight charges on her suitcase and leave her as she makes it through security. We took the airport bus back to the city, got off near a large grocery and went grocery shopping. I've learned to always carry a grocery bag with me! That and toilet paper.
In the late afternoon, we got back on the bus (same as the other day) to go speak at a private English school. We traveled about 45 minutes and then met the owner of the school at a bus stop. We got into his car and went to the school. There Paul taught vocabulary and the true meaning of Christmas. He had them read Christmas story from some excerpts and then we taught them "Silent Night." Many knew it in Chinese. There were many good questions and we really enjoyed talking with these students.
After the talk, the owner drove us home in his car. It was the first private car that we have been in since we arrived in China four months ago. Aside from a few taxi's a week, it's mostly buses and bikes for us! On a cold night, a car with actual heat is preferable to an unheated bus any day!

Life here is busy, complicated and demanding. Everything take a long time to accomplish. The coldis very wearing. We wear long john's all the time-sometimes two pairs! We have heavy coats, gloves and hats. I even bought a "nose Warmer." It looks like a surgical mask but really keep the face warm. Our government regulated heat keeps our apartment warm, and for that I am very thankful.
Our lives are really very ordinary. We are just trying to live faithfully in an extraordinary situation.