Life’s Good.

I feel speechless but I feel obligated to relate what I have encountered.  Let me begin with this premise: I was “bored” which 95% of the time is a synonym for “feeling lonely” and this was no exception.  I don’t mean lights off, chocolate stuffing, stuffed animal cuddling lonely.  Just a vague sensation of diminishing in importance, a lingering effect from the change in my romantic status, I suppose.  It’s this precise semi-loneliness that I become increasingly susceptible to searching the internet for something that provokes me into something; it’s a vain attempt to find a catalyst when my own motivation fails me.

It was in this dusk of emotions that I stumbled on someone’s soul.  I feel like lightning cracked and fizzled me into the ground.  I have met this person several times but I am not sure he would remember me.  I have a sharp appreciation for even sharper wit and it was hard not to notice his, but for all intents and purposes I was a mute.  He bleeds into his writing.  Not the sort of self-indulgent marshmallow writing that one reads in alternative rock, teenage poetry or from bitter cynics who believe they are intellectual because they debate about God.  It was real.  The soulful stuff that makes you realize all of the emotions you have been hiding because they can’t be portrayed in a Disney film.  Yes, I am a happy person.  I love my life.  Sometimes I resemble some sort of freaky Anne of Green Gables/Spongebob Squarepants hybrid.  But loving one’s life doesn’t mean cramming all of your fear, anger, sadness, and frustration into a hole in the wall that you put a bookcase in front of.

So, Mr. Brilliant Writer Semi-strangerpants, thank you.  You’ll probably never read this only because you barely know I exist, so perhaps this thank you is fairly arbitrary.  All the same, while I have been doing a lot of laughing and playing around, thanks for reminding me that I can love even better when I figure out my own shadows that slip into my mind between the time the light goes out and dreams begin.

I want to stop carrying some things around.  I love lists so here it goes:

1.  I want to believe that marriages can not only last in my day and age, but that they can be happy.  I want to believe that they don’t “get old” and dull and that by 30 you are so sick of each other you daydream about affairs or at least about a weekend away from your spouse.

2.  I want to believe that most men love romance too and that our definitions of romance both involve love.

3.  I want to forgive the people who have hurt my family.

4.  I want to forgive the people who gave me reason to believe that I was an incompetent artist.  I am tired of feeling mediocre and of creating excuses to not show up to an audition or express myself or even just read a play.

5.  I want to return to my bold determination to not shy away from the fact that I’m bipolar.  I’m functional and happy.  If people think I’m going to whip out whiskey and a machete a la Jack Nicholson in The Shining at any moment, they are so willfully ignorant that I couldn’t hold a conversation with them anyway.  My feelings are just as real and legitimate as anyone else’s.  Unless you are Jack Nicholson in The Shining.  (Note: I have mused long and hard on the improbability of the story.  I strongly dislike the horror genre, but it’s just an empty hotel, buddy.  No need to get your panties in a wad.)

There are other things that I so desperately want to open up about, but they aren’t my shadows, they are someone else’s and when you love someone, you don’t blow their cover.  You go around walking a little bit heavier, hoping they are a little bit lighter.  But the beautiful thing about a God that is good is that even while you’re walking heavy, he’s distracting you with some pretty fantastic scenery.  I don’t talk about God enough because I am so freaking terrified about offending people, but part of world peace stems from not trying to slice each other’s souls in half.  I’m not trying to meet some kind of God-conversation quota; it’s just when you meet someone that changes your life, you talk about that person.  It’s just strange when there is a hurricane of labels waiting to attack you by saying you are a member of a judgmental, close-minded cult.  Or Glenn Beck’s best friend. I’m not sure which is worse.

The whole point of this post is to comment how I loved falling into delicious writing, peeking into what makes me scared, and to thank a very real and personable God for creating a way to forgive people for stupid choices, including myself.

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The Day My Feet Were Not My Friends

My View of Wangfujing Whilst Eating Papaya Gelato

I Proudly Present the Peking Opera

The Stage

Delicious watermelon made for an excellent opera companion.

Me on a rickshaw!

Day 9: Wangfujing, Peking Opera, and my beloved rickshaw

This day in China I woke up feeling as though every muscle in my body was calling in sick and my brain was the only one left in the office.  But since it’s not every day that I find myself waking up in Beijing, China, I went through the routine.  Eat breakfast.  Shower.  Make my hair look like something that doesn’t resemble a lint bunny.  The usual.  Mari had a meeting with some sort of professional woman in order to straighten out the details of her internship for the summer.  (She is currently assistant stage manager for a major musical in Beijing–she’s working with the musical director for Grease and the choreographer for the Broadway version of Lion King.  She is amazing.)  The meeting took us back to the tourist haven of Wangfujing, which you will recognize from my earlier exploration.

We agreed to meet at the chic, two level McDonald’s in a little over an hour.  I was given her cell phone and my allowance of RMB and told to explore on my own.  This was mostly exhilarating.  I say “mostly” because I began to realize the precariousness of my complete and total lack of the language.  I can say “hello”, “thank you”, and “McDonald’s” in very poor Mandarin.  I wandered sheepishly amid the glittering shops and attempted to walk into a mall, got incredibly lost in a maze of jewelry shelves, and ran back out.

However, I found a little gelato shop in the center of the Wangfujing pedestrian highway and experienced the frequent delight I had in China of finding flavors I am unaccustomed to in my motherland.  The young Chinese man waited patiently, guessing correctly by my body language that I was trying to decide, until I pointed and said “papaya” in English, to which he pointed and said “papaya” in Chinese, after which I nodded.  He made the sign for 10 RMB in Chinese, which is making an X with your first two fingers on both hands and I paid him in kind.

The gelato was not that great but it was exotic and I found so many times in China that my tongue is adventurous and seems to prefer a new taste to dance with rather than have a tried and true partner.  I sat on a bench and oogled some more since I was, after all, in Tourist Land. then I moseyed over to McDonald’s where I reunited with a pleased, professional looking Mari.

However, as we determined to make our way to the Summer Palace, I found my feet struggling to stand.  We sat in a mall, ate those dumplings in the food court I told you about again, and I decided I couldn’t make it.  I have no reason other than my feet mutinied against me, but I was so weak I surrendered.  I believe Mari’s feet had joined the revolution as well, for she seemed relieved at a bit of a break.

We made our way to the house, did who knows what for a few hours, and then once we had regained health points, we set out for the Peking Opera.  This was the latest we had been out just the two of us and I felt my earlier fear of the day creep back in, but I slammed it’s fingers in the door and focused on finding the tea house where the opera was.  It was a little known spot, but it seemed as though only the tourists went there for when we walked in, I saw only people who looked similar to me except for one table where a Chinese man would sing along to the Monkey King’s role.  I wonder if he too, is a performer.

It was a breathtaking place to be in, everything neat and ornate.  We were given sugary nuts, a strange candy, watermelon, and tea and all but the latter I sampled.  I have always been an avid believer in complimentary food samples.  The lights dimmed and a woman in traditional garb came teetering out, gave an announcement in what I discovered halfway through was intended to be English, then repeated it in her comfortable Chinese.  I can’t blame her.  I’m not sure she would have known I was saying “Ni Hao” if I said hello to her.

The opera began, and I was thoroughly engrossed.  I don’t know how many Americans are familiar with this art form, but it was far different from anything I have ever seen in person.  Due to my theatre background, I had become acquainted with some Japanese art forms called Noh, Kabuki and the more recent Suzuki and it was similar to this in the rigidity of the performance.  There was a screen that shaped the lilting notes of the performers into English, sacrificing poetry in the process.

I am not sure even now if I particularly enjoyed the notes of the music and the harsh clanging of instruments, but I was enraptured by the preciseness and beauty of the performance.  Every body movement from their feet to the placement of their fingertips had a purpose.  I so desperately wanted to unlock the code of the performance and understand the emotion being conveyed when their fingers twirled the air or their foot suspended in the air.  The characters themselves are stock characters, so a more educated audience member than myself can identify guaranteed characteristics of a persona on stage.  My favorite was the Monkey King, a mischievous acrobat who taunts and teases to get his way.  I encountered the story of a princess, trying to please her mother in law by catching fish, dancing with the pole throughout the story.  I watched as a man told the story about guarding the wall, but failed due to the antics of the Monkey King.  And my favorite story was the last, where the Monkey King battles the Princess only to escape her clutches and have her determine to find him in the end.  The battle was stunning in its precision and choreography.

We left the tea house, babbling the sort of theatre babble that artists so frequently employ, and decided that we were tired of walking and we were going to mutiny against our feet.  We found a corner full of smoking men waiting on their rickshaws and Mari drew a hard bargain to get us to the subway station.  The nearby men laughed at her knowledge of how to manipulate down to the real price.  That’s the thing in China: there is the initial price, the real price, and the price for foreigners.  You can guess which one is the highest.  I don’t speak Chinese, but I heard the word “li hi” which means “legit” or “hardcore” in English.  It’s basically a compliment that the other men were giving to Mari telling her that she is acting like a real Chinese person.

We hopped onto the man’s rickshaw and he went pedaling through the night and it was magical.  I could not stop giggling!  I didn’t want it to end as we zipped and zoomed in between buses, cars, other rickshaws, pedestrians, any sort of moving object, our chain smoker found a way through.  The night air was rich and smelled like Beijing–a conglomerate of too many people, cigarettes, and good food.

I ended the day believing there should be rickshaws everywhere.

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The Day With Old Chinese Men in Speedos

Right outside of the Forbidden City

A Magical Glimpse of Bei Hai Lake

Gorgeous.

People reading the newspaper

The Speedos.

Day 8:  Everything awesome.  Awesome includes, but is not limited to, the Forbidden City, Bei Hai Lake, Hou Hai Lake, Drum Tower/Bell Tower, Hou Hun Dun, and Hot Pot.

This was by far one of the greatest days I have experienced to date.  That sounds dramatic perhaps, but it was the day that I realized in full how desperately I need to travel and see the world.  It feels bigger than just having a nice vacation or a change of scenery.  I’ve experienced that before.  This was the day that reminded me that simply walking around a lake in a country I had only seen in film, could completely change and shape the way I view people.

We began at the Forbidden City which was one of my favorite places I have gone.  It is a whole web of buildings and walls, filled with furniture that the old emperors used to use.  Of course, you view the furniture through the window so you don’t have the full pleasure of laying on the bed of an Empress, but it still fuels the imagination.  The architecture was breathtaking and I felt that same old quiet tranquility that I felt so often in China that for whatever reason, I rarely have felt in the United States.  Perhaps it is my personality and circumstance, but I feel as though China is pulled towards the calm, balanced nature of their past and the USA is pulled towards their passionate, headlong rush into the future.  We ate lunch we had packed in a small, exquisitely carved gazebo; I felt like I was in a dinner theatre and the entertainment was watching all the other tourists gawk at me and my American face.

We moseyed our way through the intricate web of the Forbidden City, pausing on a bench to rest and in the process, getting our picture taken with a couple of bold, adorable Chinese toddlers.  We also counted how many matching couples we saw.  It’s some kind of trend in Beijing.  You can see in the picture the affectionate pink garbed couple.  They were two of many.

We continued this mosey pattern until we reached the exit and proceeded to make our way to Bei Hai lake.  Oh, dear readers.  If you have ever imagined a world of fairies, mermaids, and water sprites, I believe I could have found them at Bei Hai lake had I hidden myself in the lush green until nightfall.  There was that familiar Chinese calm hovering around the place.  We explored around a little island in the center that was rich with a million different versions of green and discovered another richly ornate pagoda which of course, sparked an impromptu version of The Sound of Music, specifically “I am 16 Going on 17”.

We then went to a lake a little more chic, but a little less magical lake entitled Hou Hai Lake.  In a culture where money is tight and space is even tighter, they find ways to cut corners and give people the luxuries of life.  It often results in a communal creative solution such as posting the newspaper up on the wall where people stand and read the events happening in parts of the world where people read their newspapers on a computer or on a couch.

And then, that’s where it happened: we saw the old men in Speedos.  I am not sure where this event falls in the scale brushing one’s teeth to the dawn of a new millennium, but it seemed fairly typical for old men to be swimming in Speedos.  Mari and I located a multi-generational playground (their playgrounds are for the elderly to loosen their joints instead of children to scream bloody murder) and began swinging our legs on one of the devices.  In true, American pervert fashion, we giggled as we watched this incredibly fit old men trounce around in their Speedos.  During this fit of amusement, a middle aged Chinese woman with a camera began to laugh heartily and made the motion of taking a picture, to the which I of course conceded.  Somewhere out in the universe, there is a precious picture of me until my heart is sore on an old Chinese person’s playground with my dear best friend.

I did not want to induce hair-pulling frustration by adding even more pictures, but if you would care to see more from this day I would be delighted to share and have an occasion to talk about myself further.  After Hou Hai Lake, we walked past a fresh flowers shop that had the extra perk of delivering those flowers to you by clown.  Yes, I said that correctly.  A clown would bicycle on over to wherever your hutong was and give you those flowers you ordered.  I then walked into Hou Hun Dun, a restaurant that has become like a torrid, long lost lover for me.  The taste of those dumplings will follow me to the grave.  Whenever I eat a dumpling or a boiled peanut, I see the ghost of the quaint, rainy restaurant.

We paid our dues to the Drum and Bell Towers, which used to be the method of telling time or denoting special holidays in Beijing but has now become a simple walk up a painful flight of stairs to stare out over the city.

The day concluded by a trip to a place whose name I do not remember, but I believe translated to Goat’s Head in English.  Or perhaps that was the alternative restaurant that we did not find ourselves in.  Either way, Mari, myself, and her family all went out to a restaurant which was akin to our Western fondue.  You chose the ingredients you wanted to deep fry to oblivion, shoved them all into the boiling pot of oil, and then chopsticked your selections while avoiding clashing hands and spitting oil droplets.  I discovered monto in this outing, which is a sweet, spongey bread that one dips into sweetened condensed milk.  I will locate a recipe for this bread and conquer it once and for all.  It was magnificent.

And that concludes the day of Speedos, food, and magic.

 

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The Day I Allowed Myself to Be a Foreigner

A whole aisle of noodles!

 

Just some of my favorite choices of head apparel in China.

 

My obligatory picture of the Bird's Nest.

 

 

Day 7: Ao Shan, Olympic Park, and The Acrobats

I took a trip to the ole college grounds and consequentially, have experienced yet another delay. This will never end.
Onward I go to my 7th day in China–the odious halfway point. As you know from my previous entries, I tried to mold a trip to China out of every authentic piece I could find. If I was doing something such as the Great Wall that I simply could not miss out on, I needed it to be what the Chinese would experience, not what the classic American sees. Today however, pushed and pulled me into every corner of Beijing that I had avoided and yet, I found myself realizing that every now and again, the tourist experience is part of the fun. And there was absolutely no denying that no matter how fluent I could be in Chinese or how quietly I slipped into their culture, I would always and forever be a foreigner. No clothing can hide the differences between me and Mr. Wong. (The classy driver who took us places when we weren’t subjected to the cruel standing torture of the subway.)
The adventurous duo of myself and Mari was accompanied by her mother, sister, and sister’s friend that morn. We set off in what I learned is a universal euphoria experienced by all shopping women, regardless of time zone. From what I saw, there is a significantly less amount of classic Western style department stores. Perhaps I saw only the portions that my friends chose me to saw, but it seemed as though most people purchased clothing through the markets as opposed to an air-conditioned extravaganza of options.
The destination was a place called Ao Shan which had fused Walmart and Kohl’s together to create this sort of department store. We initially went to the clothing section where I purchased my dear sister some of her precious Asian style clothing, complete with ruffles, polka dots, and pastel colors. She had given me money for me to spend on her and this was great fun at this place. Chinese fashion involves treating one’s body as a collage; colors are fluid and clashing prints live in peace. Women are bolder and seem to follow more of their own impulses in their clothing, although perhaps there is a Chinese Vogue telling everyone what impulses they should have and I just don’t know about it.
The duo then separated from the group and we slipped away on an escalator which took us down to the grocery store portion of Ao Shan.
This was probably more fun than any Chinese person could have possibly imagined for me! Something about seeing a place that looked exactly like Albertson’s or Smith’s that had almost NOTHING that I recognized on the shelves. The shelves were lined with soy sauces, oils, noodles as far as the eye could see down the aisle, and countless strange packages that resembled nothing that I was accustomed to. I did encounter some Pocky, Oreos, and Jell-O Pudding, all of course with some intriguing flavors. I bought some Oreos that were half mango and half orange, and some that were half raspberry and half blueberry in the center. I was thoroughly diverted. They had an amusing section of the home product section where they had a bin of hats that adequately represented the headgear of Beijing.

We then headed off, just me and Mari, to the Olympic Park which are probably the images you will recognize best besides the Great Wall and the Forbidden City (thanks to Mulan).  As it was a park composed of concrete, there was not much to keep me there for long so it was a brief hello and goodbye moment.

The evening closed itself on the Beijing Acrobats, which had an audience built together out of school groups and the French, who are surprisingly the primary group of Caucasian looking folk.  I was excessively delighted by the circus antics and wished for an increase in flexibility myself.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was Day 7.

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May Day at Tian’anmen Square

Me, Blue Skies, and Tian'anmen Square!

Tian'anmen Square from the Guard Tower view

Mari-Zilla

Just look at this gorgeous artwork on the guard tower in Tian'anmen Square!

 

This is the tree where the LDS church was dedicated in China.

 

I couldn't resist taking a very iconic "Chinese" picture

 

Some of the best dumplings I have ever had!!

 

I had to include this--it's a whitening mask because the Chinese love their pale skin!

 

Wangfujing, also known as "Tourist Beijing"

 

Day 6: Tian’anmen Square, Planning Museum, Zhongshan Park, Oriental Plaza, and Wangfujing

Well, now I feel that this China writing is more for me now as I’m sure you all have lost hope in my completing my account.  But I have good news: I finally have received the itinerary of what I did and when in China so now I can write much more regularly.  So, onward to Day 6…

This day was a packed, hot, crowded, and exhilarating day in Beijing.  It is a holiday called May Day that is akin to our Labor Day where it basically means everyone goes out and shops to celebrate the fact that they have money to do so.  Or, if you don’t have money in this Chinese version, you walk around in any public venue that you can scuffle your feet on.  Of course, I got my little paws on the first delicious looking popsicle I could find and it was by far the best I have ever had.  I don’t even know how to describe what flavors are in it, but if you go to Beijing just look for an elderly person with a cardboard box of transparent popsicles in a blue wrapper shouting “1 kuai”.  You will find it.

The day began at the infamous Tian’anmen Square which I will not be able to be flippant about.  As American as this is and as much as I am aware of how the present Chinese government really does seem to strive for the best for their people, I could not help viewing it in any other light besides that video clip I saw in a classroom with tanks rolling in, people desperate for more freedoms.  To the best of my knowledge, Carthage Jail was the only other place I have been to where I have stepped on the ground that I knew people had been brutally murdered on.  So, while it was sunny and bright and cheery, there was a small part of me that felt there were shadows walking beside my suntanned skin.

We popped into the Beijing Planning Museum; a slightly strange place where the city of Beijing is in miniature and because of the rare vast emptiness of the building, Mari and I could not resist to take Godzilla pictures.  The Museum was full of exhibits on the greatness of Beijing and plans to improve the city.  I felt both educated and propaganda-ed to death.

We briefly ran up the Guard Tower that sits somewhere in Tian’anmen Square and relished in the gorgeous view of the pulsing city.  The skies were wearing their bluest of colors which apparently is reserved only for May Day as I don’t know if I ever saw the sky wear real blue after that.  As you can see from the picture, the artwork on so many of their buildings was just exquisite.  When I tromped around England, the buildings were utilitarian and practical.  It was plain, dull stone and was built simply to keep water and bird poop (and not always successfully) off of people’s heads.  The Chinese built to inspire passion.

We then made our way to Zhongshan Park where you LDS folk will be interested to know that is where the LDS church was dedicated and you non-LDS folk will be interested to note that there was a breathtaking tulip festival underway.  Although perhaps both kinds of people will appreciate both delightful treasures this park had for me.  Since China is strict on its religious policies, there is merely a little plaque in Chinese denoting some sort of facts about who purchased the plaque, but I later learned Heber J. Grant and Hugh J. Cannon dedicated the spot.  It was a beautiful and peaceful spot.  I got to sit for a few moments, watching people live their ordinary lives around a place that I felt was a little bit more holy than the everyday existence would suggest.  It must have been what a lot of people must have felt when I walked through the Lamissary Buddhist Temple.

In this same park, there was the aforementioned tulip festival happening and I noticed on this day that the Chinese view fences/barriers/tape/ropes as much more of an interpretive gesture than us Americans.  It was perfectly normal for everyone to jump into the flowers and take syrupy sweet pictures of themselves among the tulips, so I followed suit.  When in China, do as the Chinese do, eh?  I wonder if anyone said “Lee Hi” to me; the Chinese term for “legit” to be used when someone is acting very Chinese.  For instance, if the term was to be used in the reverse for Americans, if I saw someone sitting on their couch eating hamburgers and chips and watching hours of reality TV, I would say “Lee Hi”.

My pictures are out of order, as usual, but we then proceeded to one of my few extremely tourist experiences, Wangfujing; a glamorous shopping village where one can find where the foreigners in Beijing are. This was an extremely recent addition to Beijing and one that held little joy for me simply because I could have been in America if it hadn’t have been for the amazing collection of Chinese hats I encountered.  They have the best hats.  A sequined cowboy hat was one of my favorites.

Needless to say, I merely skimmed the premises, and then starving to the point of desperation, we raided the Oriental Plaza (a Western style shopping mall with no recognizable stores to Americans) and ate at their food court, which makes our American food courts look as though we eat out of dumpsters and serve it behind a counter.  There were a great collection of eateries and due to the complete lack of English, I was forced to sniff and watch what their hands were smacking, pulling, chopping, and frying behind the counters to determine my choice.  Nothing was frozen, upon first glance, and from my passionate culinary standpoint, I determined then and there that I would cook more.  I decided upon some of the best dumplings a girl could ask for and gorged myself shamelessly.  I ate almost my entire plate.  See the picture.  You will be astonished at my lack of ladylike eating.  (For you other foodies, the celery inside those heavenly pockets of dough was perfection.  They must have had a celery garden behind that counter.)

We snagged ourselves some semi-cold bottled water (the classic complaint of all internationally traveling Americans) and I snapped the picture of one of the amusing differences in our countries.  While we have women frying themselves silly to get wrinkles 15 years earlier than the natural aging schedule pens out along with inserting numerous skin tumors within their body, they have women coating themselves to be as pale as milk.  In fact, women walking around on this May Day were carrying umbrellas to avoid the killer rays of the evil sun.  I was tempted to buy one of these whitening masks and now wish I had, just to see if they worked.  And just like our fabulous Orange Glow zombies running about, they too, had their ghostly, caked on skin colors to try and hide any yellow tones in their skin.

And that, my friends and family, was May Day.  My blisters, happiness, and myself all slept very soundly that night.

 

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Itinerary on Pause

Hello readers! This is me informing you that I have gotten a bit muddled with some of the upcoming events in my China saga so I’m waiting on Mari to email me the itinerary that we wrote down so that way I can properly convey my sentiments to you. If you would like, I am more than happy to inform you when things get rolling again!

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Ignoring the Chinese While Praying in an Office

Day 5:  Church (No pictures)

Yes, there are members of the LDS church in China.  However, for a church that is miraculously connected and while I did feel that much of it was the same, there were some key differences that those of you who are LDS as well or perhaps just interested in religion might want to note.

While China did declare “freedom of religious belief” in 2005, and you can believe whatever you would like now (go China!), practicing it is a whole other story.  There are 5 legal and state recognized religions in China: 1. Buddhism 2. Daoism 3.  Confucianism 4.  A form of Protestantism that I can’t remember what they call it, but it’s pretty different from what we know in the West 5.  A type of Catholicism that is also different than what we’re used to.  For example, they can’t declare allegiance to the Pope because you can’t declare allegiance to a foreign figure.  While other religions aren’t banned exactly, there are quite a few restrictions that make it so you feel like the government could come in and kick you out of the country at any moment.

If you are not one of the aforementioned state-sanctioned religions, you have to register with the government and be invited to worship by the Bureau of Religious Affairs.  You also have to have a permit in order to gather with over 50 people in one spot and regardless of the number of your congregation, you have to start every meeting reading an announcement from the government not to talk about religion to any Chinese National.  So for you missionary-minded folk, your work is absolutely and completely 100% illegal here.  Active and passive proselyting is prohibited.  I heard of a family who started to get a little bit too vocal about being Christian and they were exiled from China.  They were told to pack up all of their things and had 24 hours to leave the country.

Now, while this doesn’t paint China in too fancy of a color for us independent Americans, I have to say that it never felt hostile.  Provided you obey the law, they don’t give you any trouble.  So while being told from the pulpit not to tell the Chinese about my religion was definitely strange for me, at the same time, it is nothing like the Mao days where I would be imprisoned and beaten to an inch of my life.  So it should be known that they are far, far away from where their government used to be even though they are communist.

The strangest thing about this experience was how there was a Chinese National branch.  Not only do I have NO clue on how they would have been able to form a branch and be a part of this church while still following their country’s rules, but as foreign members (the vast majority of the LDS presence in China are foreign passport holders) can’t talk to the Chinese Nationals about church.  At all.  So we would see these Chinese members in this office building where we meet and we could just say hello and talk about meaningless things.  If you had wanted to invite them to a Relief Society event, you might as well buy your plane ticket because the government will somehow find out.  You can’t meet in a church building if you are a minority religion, at least that was my understanding.  Hence why we met in an office building.

So, in closing, I found myself worshiping the same as always, praying to the same God, with a typical looking ward although incredibly diverse in nationality, with Chinese people right next door having their Sunday school.  I couldn’t help but want to talk to them.  I think for the first time in my life, I understood the depth of why people have fought so desperately for religious freedom; we’re just hardwired to open that office door in between so we can all be in the same room, praying for the same kinds of things.  Even if half of us would be praying in Mandarin Chinese.

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